here are more than 170 countries where United States citizens can travel to without a visa. But if they would rather work in a country rather than just visit, in most countries, the process then becomes difficult—especially if their way of working does not fall in the traditional work-from-office framework.
Many people who are working abroad remotely are doing so, often unwittingly, illegally. Others find themselves stymied by bureaucratic processes that were created for a pre-digital world.
Ireland, for instance, allows entrepreneurs to work in the country after applying for a one-year residency, but the visa is not guaranteed. If you’re not looking to start your own business, but are instead interested in working in Ireland, the actual visa process is more arduous, requiring the applicant to possess a special skill set or provide proof that additional labor is needed in that specific field.
For “digital nomads”—people who use technology to live and work all over the world—these processes are especially cumbersome.
It was a different time when laws that barred nomads from entering countries to work. There were no smartphones and no internet or online platforms that connected aspiring nomads to new possibilities. But today, starting a new career is as easy as a tweet or a click on a LinkedIn job description. Gone are the days where you’d send a resume by mail or meet face to face for an intro to a new opportunity—neither of which moved at the speed information travels today. All of this means that global governments are going to have to adapt and embrace the age of the digital nomad.
Digital nomads are a highly skilled and growing community (some estimates suggest that the number of ‘digital nomads’ is set to top one billion by 2035). Countries should want to attract them, and to tax them.
Estonia is one country that is trying to accommodate digital nomads. It is planning to launch a Digital Nomad Visa, which my company helped plan by offering advice, polling the digital nomad community, and bringing together key players in the space, in early 2019.
Nomads who apply for and obtain the visa will be able to legally reside in Estonia for a year as remote workers. The visa will also entitle holders to a “Schengen” visa, which allows digital nomads to visit countries in the Schengen Area—an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished passport controls—for up to 90 days. Schengen is made up of countries including Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, and Sweden.
Estonia isn’t the only country that understands the need to revolutionize visas in the 21st century; Thailand recently introduced its Smart Visa.