Is “Digital nomad” the new buzzword in global mobility? It is certainly being talked about more even since I posted this in May of 2019. The term "location-independent entrepreneurs" has also been used synonymously as these workers combine working remotely and traveling for various reasons and lengths of time. The digital nomad lifestyle is now a more attainable choice as technology helps to keep people connected, wherever they are in the world. Now that people have had a taste of working outside of the office, many like it.
While there are many cool things about being a digital nomad, there are numerous challenges too. In fact, maybe there are 99 problems? If you want to review them all, André Gussekloo, author of "Digital Nomads: How to Live, Work and Play Around the World," published a Medium article called "99 Digital Nomad Problems (But A Boss Ain’t One)." Don't have time for all 99? Try this blog post from Krisp then. If nothing else, check out the comic graphics in the article...fun!
Society thinks you sit on a beach drinking beverages out of coconut cups, friends think you're partying with cool new friends all over the world, your family thinks you are a vagabond, and what you are actually doing is nothing like any of this as you crunch over a laptop balancing work and the details for getting to your next location.
Owl Immigration recently ran a webinar looking at this from the immigration perspective, examining if digital nomad visas really are a “thing” or not. They looked at who they’re for, and explored some of the associated tax and social security risks. I highly recommend checking it out and following it up by reading their article: "Digital Nomad Visas — is this a thing now?" They share details on what a digital nomad visa is, who is eligible for one, why some countries have these visas, who is using them, what the tax and social security risks are, and where these visas exist and may exist soon.
Interestingly, EuroNews shared the top 10 destinations for living and working as a digital nomad based on the following criteria:
- Cost of living: How much is your average cold beer at the end of the working day?
- Safety: What are the crime rates like in that area?
- Average internet speed: How clear will your Zoom picture be?
- Number of adventurous activities: What enriching things can nomads do on the weekends?
- Number of relaxing activities: What are the ways you can unwind?
- Places to work: What are the co-working spaces, cafes and bars like?
Here's their list:
- Phuket, Thailand
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Krabi, Thailand
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Jimbaran, Indonesia
- Singapore, Singapore
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Cancun, Mexico
- Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Canggu, Indonesia
From a company perspective, compliancy is a big issue with which to grapple. Digital nomadism has surged since 2014, having grown by 49% in 2020 alone to a total of 10.9 million people, according to MBO Partners. Although digital nomads have gotten younger overall, older age groups continue to be well represented, with 28 percent aged 45 or older and 8 percent aged 65 and older. 19% are Gen Z, 42% are Millennials, 22% are Gen X and 17% are Baby Boomers. To leverage the talent of these nomads, companies have to address employment law, payroll and tax compliancy issues, and ensure that they are not risking creating a PE (Permanent Establishment) for each specific instance.
We’re talking about digital nomad visas – to what extent these exist already, and what the risks and pitfalls are. We’ll look at some live programs in practice now as well as some legislation that’s still in development. Finally, we’ll hazard a few guesses as to what might come next.