Digital nomads and COVID: What’s next?

Before the pandemic, the digital nomad lifestyle was taking off around the world. But with travel still off limits, what does it mean for digital nomads?

In the years leading up to 2020 the digital nomad lifestyle was taking off.

Remote workers and freelancers flocked to countries around the world to combine career, travel and a flexible lifestyle.

They would make money on the road, working from laptops, and contribute to the local economies where they were temporarily based.

Digital nomads were embracing the freedom of an open world and the ability to work from anywhere, whenever they wanted.

Then 2020 rolled around and COVID-19 grounded flights, closed borders and forced most of us to stay at home – wherever that was.

Now, in 2021, there is no sign of global travel opening up soon. At least not in the same way as in pre-COVID times.

What does this mean for digital nomads? Is the lifestyle temporarily on pause? What happens next?

When COVID closed down the world

If you search for digital nomads and COVID in Google you will find many stories about how these people were impacted by the first lockdowns last year.

Most of them were very far from home. Some managed to get a flight back to their home country. Others raced to airports only to find planes grounded and flights cancelled.

Many simply had to stay where they were and wait it out. This meant experiencing extreme isolation in a foreign country, like a digital nomad in Buenos Aires who ended up spending 130 days alone in an apartment.

In a Medium article, Cait Sarazin describes leaving a small town in northern Argentina to get back to Buenos Aires as “overwhelming”. But says she then took the opportunity to reconnect with herself during the long period of isolation in a city apartment.

While another article on World Packers details the experience of being in India as the pandemic hit.

Writer Ayla says she felt “physically sick” as borders closed and flights were cancelled, and explains how she witnessed racism towards foreigners as panic set in.

After such traumatic experiences last year, are people still aspiring to the lifestyle?

The general consensus online is a resounding ‘yes’ and that the pandemic will actually usher in a new era of work. One that is geared towards remote working and travelling the world.

It’s also predicted that digital nomads will take advantage of this once travel fully opens up again.

However, it might be more structured than before with the arrival of dedicated short-term visas.

The rise of remote work visas

After the initial shock of the pandemic eased last year, several countries announced new visas to tempt freelancers and remote workers to their country.

One example is Dubai, which launched a one-year remote work visa in October 2020.

The aim is to attract professionals, entrepreneurs and start-ups to the region. With year-round sunshine and no income tax for residents, it’s a tempting option.

But you need to earn a minimum of US$5,000 per month and provide proof of employment. So this visa is tailored more towards high earning employees with the ability to work remotely and not necessarily digital nomads.

Then there is Mexico, which in 2020 welcomed many digital nomads from Canada and the US. These people took advantage of temporary visas to work in the sunshine instead of being holed up in small apartments at home.

Other places embracing the remote work and digital nomad culture are Greece, Croatia, Estonia, the Portuguese island of Madeira and several Caribbean nations.

All of them offer temporary visas for workers, often with minimum income requirements that vary depending on the location.

In a nutshell, the world has become more accessible for remote workers and digital nomads. While, paradoxically, international flights and travel in general continues to be restricted.

Will the situation stabilise in the coming months or years to find a happy middle ground? Perhaps.

But one thing is certain – with so many options now available to choose from, a flexible lifestyle (either now or in the future) is looking much more achievable than it used to be.

Have you experienced the pandemic as a digital nomad? We would love to share your story. Get in touch.