Why is this interesting? - The Geo-Arbitrage Edition

On mobility, remote work, and crossing borders to live

Colin here. I wrote the other week about the end of the cushy ex-pat gig, arguing that the old way of companies sending senior employees around the world in a little protected bubble might be on the outs. But what will the new iteration of non-company sponsored international living look like? There’s always been a fringe type of worker, dubbed digital nomads, who take advantage of geo-arbitrage, video conferencing, and borderless work to have a better, more interesting life. The first wave of this was high tech-focused. I can remember meeting itinerant coders in the early 2000s, living a nice life moving around more cost-effective cities in Europe, working their hours, and availing themselves of the local cuisine, party scene, and whatever else when they wanted. Their actions portended a bigger trend. 

Now, the world has changed, remote work is no longer just for those that can write code or spin up a dropshipping business. While it’s yet to be seen how much will stick, it’s safe to say a significantly larger portion of the white-collar population will have the ability to work from home or anywhere else in the future.  In recent months this has led to countless articles about the drain from large US cities into other places (and their corresponding lower costs of living). But for some portion of the population, the draw pulls past the borders of America as they look to explore, work, and live in other countries.

Why is this interesting? 

Most current visa schemes are generally structured around a company sponsoring a visa for employment, with its attendant fees, bureaucracy, and legal work. As more people are interested in tasting life in another country but don’t have a large company wanting to underwrite this process, what are the options? Typically work permit issues are slow-moving, but there’s starting to be some interesting, innovation-minded things happening.

Thailand, for example, just announced a tourist long-stay visa, valid for 9 months and renewable twice after that. It is an effort to provide a boost to the decline in tourism, but also requires a 14-day quarantine for those coming into the country. Several other countries reliant on their tourist economies have started to offer visas that allow foreign nationals to live and work for at least six months. 

There’s been a slew of other early movers, many of whom have more specificity when it comes to their COVID-catalyzed approaches. The Times reports:

When it announced its 12-month Welcome Stamp program in mid-July, Barbados became one of the first of several countries, in regions from the Caribbean to Eastern Europe, to create programs for remote workers. The programs employ either special visas or expand existing ones to entice workers to temporarily relocate. Other countries offering similar visas currently include Estonia, Georgia, and Bermuda.

A substantial drop in these countries’ tourism numbers is a key reason for the new programs.

“Tourism is the lifeline of the country,” said Eusi Skeete, the U.S. director of tourism for Barbados. Tourism accounted for 14 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product in 2019, according to data published by the Central Bank of Barbados, and had a record number of international arrivals of more than 712,000. But in 2020, the number of visitors during the months of April, May and June were near zero.

Estonia, who in the past had experimented with an “e-residency” program, has rolled out something more real. Estonia’s new digital nomad visa, which began Aug. 1 and is an extension of its e-Residency program, will allow visitors to stay in the country legally and work remotely for their employer for up to 12 months. 

All of the programs require application fees but are generally trying to open the doors to fill the gap vacated by travelers in COVID. They require the typical safeguards of most visas, albeit at a lighter level to keep things above board: a fee and also proof of verifiable income. 

Georgia has also rolled out a similar scheme, according to the Times, “Georgia’s program, called ‘Remotely from Georgia,’ allows workers to stay and work there for up to six months. Like Bermuda, Georgia currently does not require that applying workers show a monthly minimum income; applicants however need to make the case that they have sufficient means to support their lifestyles.”

As with other sea changes in the world, like the on-demand or “gig” economy, sometimes government policy has a hard time keeping up with the pace that technology can alter society. Certainly, in this case, the policy and legal structures of countries are being stressed with the triple whammy of increased global mobility, remote work, and the need to boost revenue after a global pandemic. It will be interesting to observe how creative and/or permissive the policies become as tourism pain intensifies. (CJN)

Mix of the Day:

While we can’t go out and see our favorite DJs live, we can support musicians by actively buying releases, streaming mixes, and generally being ravenous music consumers. We loved this mix from a friend of WITI, Ryan Elliott. A Detroiter by background, he’s been a long-standing Berghain resident and one of the most skilled house and techno DJs around. He’s also launched a new label, Faith Beat, which has been keeping the releases coming. This mix, recorded for KMA60, is very much worth your time. (CJN)

Quick Links: 

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

PS - Noah here. Variance, my new company, is looking for sales, marketing, and service teams who have recently gone remote and want to try out our new product to help drive team alignment and tool adoption. If that sounds like you, please request an invite on the site. Thanks.

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