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Vote for Antony Antoniou

Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election


 Living the Digital Nomad Dream

Packing up and working from exotic locations is an increasingly tempting prospect

Where in the world would you work from if you could? A hilltop village in Croatia? The hip surfing town of Tarifa in southern Spain? Or the lively city of Bogotá in Colombia? All three have recently emerged as locations that are now tempting people to pack their bags and work remotely thanks to their respective digital nomad visas.

With 50-plus countries (the number is growing all the time – the Czech Republic is one of the latest) enticing digital nomads with a visa typically lasting a year or longer, the ability to work from anywhere has become a more appetising proposition – especially with the cost of living crisis hitting pockets hard in the UK. It has really taken off after the coronavirus pandemic.

As the UK heads into winter, a fair few people will be mulling over the idea of setting up shop in another part of the world for a spell.

One recent report said digital nomads “have moved from eccentrics to mainstream in less than a decade”, with one in nine (11%) US workers now describing themselves as one. Another said it expects the global number of digital nomads to top 40 million this year, and rise to about 60 million by 2030.

However, the visa schemes vary, with some more restrictive than others in terms of how they operate and who is eligible.

Previously largely a “tech” crowd, nowadays the nomadic demographic is interspersed with more traditional professions such as lawyers and accountants.

My Life as a Semi-Nomad

Hands up – I’m a semi digital nomad. Since 2012 I’ve taken my backpack or suitcase and worked from locations as varied as Hsipaw in Myanmar and New York.

As an on-off digital nomad for more than a decade, what have I learned?

First, if you are travelling solo, you need to be comfortable spending a lot of time on your own. Although I’ve made lifelong friends and had lots of rich experiences – from dinner with a family at their home in Buenos Aires after meeting them kayaking, to long conversations with strangers on buses – there will be times it’s just me, myself and I. That can be challenging at times, especially when faced with not one but two rabies scares after a monkey and dog attack in Bolivia and Myanmar, respectively.

However, before a trip, I ask friends and contacts on social media if they have any local pals they can put me in touch with. One request led to me staying with Vicky in San Francisco for a few nights – saving me hundreds of dollars. Many have become good friends.

Over the years I have learned that I enjoy it and feel more productive if I put down some roots and stay in one place for months at a time. That way, you can find your feet, shop at the local food market, make stronger connections and understand the culture more. Although a privilege, constant travelling and lugging suitcases around every few days can feel exhausting at times, and it can be hard to focus on work when you are always on the road.

It is worth avoiding non-owner-occupied Airbnbs, given the impact they have on communities. Instead, ask friends and contacts on social media if they know anyone renting out their place while they are away. Also, booking spare rooms via Airbnb is not only considerably cheaper than a whole apartment, it means you can interact more with a local person.

I love volunteering in the UK, and when I’m overseas I’m always keen to engage with local communities. For example, I’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen in New York, an animal sanctuary in Bolivia and a refugee camp in Berlin. I also use my time overseas to scout out local stories – for example, interviewing former political prisoners in Myanmar.

Tips from a Seasoned Nomad

Chris Cerra, 30, the founder of RemoteBase, an accommodation-focused newsletter aimed at remote workers, has been a digital nomad for six years. Currently in Bulgaria with his partner, Cerra says he usually visits a place for a month or two before moving on – and, in many cases, returning at a later date. He sticks to a schedule when it comes to work, and generally keeps exploring to evenings and weekends. “You need to find a sustainable balance for you.”

He avoids travelling in high season: “Visiting before or at the end of peak seasons means you can still have good weather and a nicer experience without all the tourists.”

As well as checking for strong wifi, he advises travellers to opt for places that are time zone compatible, “unless you’re a night owl”.

When it comes to accommodation, Cerra recommends checking out local platforms such as Flatio and Idealista in Portugal and Spain, and Blueground in the US.

Other options that could help preserve money include housesitting through sites such as TrustedHousesitters, home swaps through websites such as HomeExchange, and chipping in with some work through Workaway in return for free accommodation.

Another option – and a way to combat loneliness – is to stay in a co-living residence.

“One of our main values is connecting people in a physical environment,” says Emmanuel Guisset, the founder of Outsite, a co-living company with 50 locations ranging from Mexico City to Biarritz. “They become co-workers, business partners, and some find love.”

Outsite’s prices vary – at the time of writing, for example, you could pay just over $1,100 (£902) a month in Tulum in Mexico, or more than $3,300 a month to stay at a Chelsea brownstone in New York.

Recently, the nomad community has attracted a backlash for contributing to gentrification and pushing out local people. Guisset attributes this to people from other countries renting and buying houses rather than digital nomads.

But he is aware of the chasm and is introducing ways for nomads to easily integrate and contribute more to the local community. “We have people with strong skills and quite a bit of spare time, so this year we will be connecting nomads up with mentoring programmes with local entrepreneurs and running more regular volunteering initiatives.”

Family Life on the Road

“We try to integrate into the local culture – for example, our children are now fluent in Spanish and currently attend local clubs in Guatemala,” says Lauren Hill, 41, a business strategy consultant who has been travelling with her daughters, 11 and nine, and partner, Tom, since autumn 2020, when they took off on their sailing boat. “We deliberately look for more local experiences.”

How does Hill manage home schooling? “We have a routine where the kids will work alongside us and self-study using online programmes. We manage it using Trello boards [to plan lessons], so we can see what they have to do. We also link what they are learning to travelling, so they are not sitting in front of a screen all day. For example, when they were studying the Romans, we visited amphitheatres, and we’ve taken them to a slave museum in St Lucia.”

To ensure work goes without a hitch, they pack extra necessities. “Video calls can be difficult if there’s too many people using a network. We use Starlink [a satellite internet system], which costs us $100 a month, and travel with mini generators so we can deal with short-term power outages.”

Taxes and Legal Considerations

Before digital nomads head off, Morag Ofili, a managing associate at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, says they should check the terms of any double tax treaty between the UK and the other jurisdiction.

“This is often a useful starting point to understand what income will be taxed, when and by which country,” she says. “You should tell HM Revenue and Customs that you are leaving the UK if you intend to work abroad for at least one tax year, or if you are permanently emigrating. This ensures that your tax records are accurate and gives you a way to reclaim any UK tax that you are owed. Also, ensure that you have a right to work in the country – you may not be able to work on a tourist visa.”

In practice, most digital nomads prefer to just be taxed in the UK unless they move to a country for a long period.

As for employers, they should ensure that payroll and social security are managed properly, and that they are complying with local labour laws, Ofili says. “Facilitating a shorter move is easier than most employers think but long-term moves require more careful consideration, as it would trigger a change of residency status, may create a permanent establishment for the company, and could require consideration of broader business operational factors.”

Balancing Travel and Climate Concerns

Is being a digital nomad tricky when we are living in a climate emergency?

“I probably take fewer flights than people who take holidays three or four times a year,” Cerra says. “And we spend longer in a place. But I think there’s bigger fish to fry with people flying in private jets.”

Those mindful of their carbon footprint can find more sustainable options. Having ditched flying and stuck to overland travel for the past four years, I can vouch for a huge network of brilliant and cheap trains across Europe to take advantage of.

Or, if you are feeling more adventurous, there’s also a spot on a cargo ship if you have the time and patience.

The Benefits Outweigh the Hassles

But speak to any digital nomad and the benefits they reel off make it worth any delayed bus (or rabies scare).

“We get to work hard at work time but on our doorstep have new cultures, languages, amazing food, natural beauty that is available to explore and is constantly changing with every new destination,” Hill says.

“Most importantly, we get quality time with our kids as they grow up and raise them to be true global citizens.”

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