Are you a remote worker? We may have found your next home base

Posted: 4 September 2020 10:09 am

Woman working at home

These four countries are welcoming digital nomads from the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many people make a living, as companies like Facebook and Twitter, along with smaller digital companies, are allowing employees to work remotely full time. Self-employed folks may also be looking for ways to maximize their flexibility.

Several countries around the world are hoping to attract digitally savvy nomads with remote worker visas, which allow US residents to live and work abroad without paying taxes or worrying about a soon-to-expire tourist visa.

If you’re looking for a semi-permanent change of scenery — most of these programs last for up to a year — these countries will welcome you in:

1. Barbados.

The Barbados Welcome Stamp visa allows remote workers to settle down in this Caribbean island for up to 12 months. It costs $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a family. While there, you won’t be subject to the Barbados income tax, and you can travel in or out of Barbados as long as your Welcome Stamp visa is valid.

2. Bermuda.

Its Remote Work visa costs just $263 and means you can hang out on the island, which is directly east of South Carolina, for up to a year. If you love it there, you can apply for renewal at the end of that period.

3. Estonia.

You can apply for a Digital Nomad visa, which will allow you to live and work in Estonia for up to a year. Applications are available through the Estonian Embassy, located in Washington, DC. You can also apply for an e-Residency online, which is similar but means you’ll need to pay Estonian taxes.

  • Where is Estonia? Estonia is in northern Europe, with Finland to the north, Russia to the east, Latvia to the south and the Baltic Sea to the west.

4. Georgia.

The Remotely from Georgia program allows you to stay and work in this country for up to a year. Residents of 95 nations are welcome to apply, including people from the US, Canada and the UK. It doesn’t cost money to join Remotely from Georgia — a perk compared to the pricey Barbados program.

  • Where is Georgia? Georgia is at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, bordered by Russia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia and Turkey to the South, and the Black Sea to the west.

Even in cases where these countries are closed to US tourists due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a remote worker visa is your golden ticket for entering. For instance, though Georgia isn’t allowing US visitors, you can enter as a member of Remotely from Georgia.

What’s in it for them?

There are multiple motivating factors for these countries to incentivize US workers to come stay, including:

  • Make up for lost tourism dollars. The economies of countries like Barbados and Bermuda rely heavily on tourism and have suffered during restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic (in 2018, travel and tourism contributed about 41% of Barbados’s GDP, according to data from Knoema). Local governments are hoping that inviting remote workers to come for the long haul may help kick-start sluggish economies.
  • Promote slow travel. Think of slow travel as the antithesis of tourism. It’s a mindset that encourages travelers to spend enough time in a place to soak up the authentic culture, getting to know people who actually live there, eating the regional foods and living as a local. Ideally, a remote worker visa would allow people to do exactly that.
  • Bring in new ideas. Diversity benefits everyone, both visitors and locals. Countries issuing these visas may be hoping to attract top tech talent (web designers and computer programmers) and entrepreneurial minds to help fuel a culture of idea sharing and innovation.

How are remote worker visas different from tourist visas?

Since the legal ramifications of working full-time on a tourist visa can get dicey — immigration law hasn’t exactly kept up with the remote workforce — a benefit of these remote worker visas is peace of mind that you’re not violating any international tax laws. Basically, you’re free and clear to conduct business on a remote worker visa, while tourist visas generally don’t allow that.

Do I qualify for a remote worker visa?

Each country has its own application criteria, but you generally need to show proof of a stable income, have a clean criminal history and be at least 18 years old. As an example, here’s the application criteria for the Bermuda Remote Work visa:

  • 18 years or older
  • No criminal history
  • Proof of travel health insurance
  • Proof of employment
    • Self-employed workers can provider a letter outlining the details of their work situation
  • Application form
  • Application fee

The criteria for Estonia, Barbados and Georgia is similar.

Do I still need to file taxes in the US?

Yes. These digital nomad visas are not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You still need to file your taxes in the US, and self-employed individuals will still be liable for the 15.3% self-employment tax on up to $137,700 (and 2.9% on any more than that). That said, you may be able to claim an exemption with the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion if you meet the requirements.

Our advice? Partner up with an accountant or tax specialist if you’ve got questions about how taxes will work if you’re living and working overseas, because it can get complicated.

Tips for deciding on a city or town within your destination nation

After you choose which country to adopt as your new temporary home, you’ll need to decide where, specifically, to live.

“It’s a good idea to know what you definitely want and don’t want from the start so you can build some expectations to more easily carve out a unique experience that meets your needs and standards,” said Melanie Huddart, a Canada native who has spent the last seven months living and working remotely in sunny Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.

To decide on a specific location, be sure to consider:

  • Cost of living. Look for places where rent and the cost of food is within your budget. You may also want to consider opening a checking account with a bank that has ATMs located in your target destination to avoid pricey international transaction fees.
  • Quality of life. Since you’ll be maintaining your day job, you’ll need a place that has dependable Wi-Fi and quality amenities, like a table and desk chair. Huddart advises looking for places with a high walkability score or easy access to public transit since you probably won’t have a car after jet-setting overseas.
  • Access to quality healthcare. Research the medical facilities in the area to make sure there’s a hospital nearby if you need it. If you take prescription medication, you’ll also want to make sure there’s a capable pharmacy.
  • Crime rate. The US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) has information about the crime rate in cities around the world. There, you can learn about the local police, the risk level for US citizens and other pertinent personal safety info.
  • Proximity to an international airport. In case there’s a stateside emergency that requires you to return in a hurry.
  • Availability of outdoor activities and adventures. Thinking you might pick up a morning surfing habit? Then you’ll want to find a rental on the beach. Likewise, avid hikers may want to stay by a nature reserve.
  • Access to an international school (if you have kids). Huddart moved to the DR with her 9-year-old son. But first, “I looked at where international schools were located, their educational philosophy/mission statement and their tuition fees.”

You can do most of this research online, leaning on sites like TripAdvisor to suss out the personality of different places. “Expat Exchange has an expat chat forum for any location you decide on, to get a clearer idea of what you’ll need, what to expect and the nuances of relocating from people who have already done it,” added Huddart.

How can I find housing?

It may seem intimidating to book accommodations so far from home, especially since you probably won’t want to stay in a hotel for a year. Here are some ideas:

  • Airbnb. Long-term Airbnb rentals come with major discounts of up to 60%. Right now, you can book a private cottage in St. Michael, Barbados, from January 1st to December 31st, 2021, for as low as $776 monthly — including Wi-Fi and one bedroom. Including service and cleaning fees, that’s just $10,268 for the year!
  • Vrbo. Similar to Airbnb, you can score long-term rentals on Vrbo, which specializes in entire property rentals. We usually suggest Vrbo for families since you don’t need to filter through single rooms or shared spaces to find your dream vacation rental.
  • Local realty company. Of course, you can work with a local agency to find the ideal long-term rental for your remote worker stay. If the details of your location are important to you — proximity to the beach, grocery store or nightlife — and you want to establish a connection with a team of people on the ground in your destination, this may be the best option.

Also keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to book one place for the whole year. You’ll have a better idea of your surroundings after the first few months, and building flexibility into your stay may actually be a positive.

“I started off in a lovely Airbnb owned by expats who have been here for 20 years and eventually graduated to a little two-bedroom house located among Dominicans, surrounded by the jungle and a five-minute walk from the beach,” said Huddart, who takes surfing lessons and enjoys daily seaside walks — far away from blustery Canadian terrain.

Photo: Getty Images

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