What is a digital nomad visa? (And do you even need one?)

Digital nomad woman working on laptop next to resort pool.

Are you a remote worker or aspiring digital nomad pondering working while traveling abroad? If so, you have probably wondered if a digital nomad visa is necessary and if it is the right choice for you.  

Digital nomad visas are special visas that legalize the right to work remotely in another country.  These visas also allow you to stay longer than typical tourist visas and can provide certain tax benefits.  

While a remote worker or digital nomad may be able to enter a country on a tourist visa, tourist visas do not confer the legal right to engage in paid employment while traveling.  

If you want to work remotely from another country, it is important to understand the reasons you may need a digital nomad visa, the legal and financial benefits of digital nomad visas, and cases in which you may not need a digital nomad visa at all.

In this article, I will answer some of the most important questions regarding digital nomad visas.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or an accountant. This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer

What is a digital nomad?

Digital nomads are people who can perform their work online from any location with internet access.  They are not bound to a specific country or location and take advantage of this freedom to travel and explore.  Anyone who can perform their work remotely while traveling can be considered a digital nomad.

With the rise in remote work during the pandemic, many people enjoyed a new freedom in the ability to work from anywhere.  The digital transformation and cultural shift of remote work have many dreaming of the digital nomad lifestyle.  The benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle include working from locations with better weather, a cheaper cost of living, new cultural experiences, and a less stressful work environment.  

According to MBO Partners, an independent contractor service provider, in 2020 there was an increase from 7.3 million to 10.9 million in the number of American workers identifying as digital nomads.  An estimated  19 million American adults plan to start the digital nomad lifestyle over the next 2-3 years and 45 million Americans are considering it.  

The remote work revolution and the growth in the number of people identifying as digital nomads have increased the demand for legal schemes that permit remote work while traveling abroad.   Countries all over the world are adapting by launching new digital nomad visa programs to attract remote workers and the economic boost they bring.  

What is a digital nomad visa?

A digital nomad visa is a country-specific permit that legalizes the right to work independently and remotely while traveling in that country.  The primary benefit of digital nomad visas is being able to legally stay in a country for longer than allowed by typical tourist visas.

Digital nomad visas are a relatively new concept so the language used to describe them sometimes varies from one country to the next.  Digital nomad visas are sometimes referred to as “freelancer visas” or “remote worker visas.”  Some countries are using branded names like the “Belize Work Where You Vacation” and the “Dominica Work in Nature Program” to sell the fantasy of working from paradise.

Because of the wording differences, it is important to read the details of each digital nomad visa carefully.  Some digital nomad visas are restricted to freelancers and entrepreneurs who work independently.  More and more digital nomad visas are becoming available to remote workers who are employed by companies registered outside of the digital nomad visa country. 

Unlike traditional work visas, digital nomad visas do not require a work contract with a local company.  In fact, almost all digital nomad visas specify that you cannot perform any work for clients or companies registered in that country.  The government does not want you taking away work opportunities from the locals.

What is the difference between a digital nomad visa and a tourist visa?

A simple tourist visa allows citizens from one country to stay in another country for a specified period of time.  Typical tourist visas allow individuals to stay in a country for 1-3 months (with a few countries offering longer tourist visas).  Each country sets its own tourist visa lengths and policies, often depending on the tourist’s country of residence. 

Digital nomad visas allow stays of anywhere between 6 months to 2 years before requiring renewal.   

A tourist visa is usually easy to obtain but only allows the individual to engage in tourist activities while in the country.  Technically, you are not allowed to work while on a tourist visa.  There is some ambiguity since many people will do some work (for example answer work emails or calls) while they are on vacation.  

Digital nomad visas give legal permission to engage in all work activities while traveling, as long as you aren’t working for a company registered in that country.  

Digital nomad writing on laptop while sitting on wooden deck surrounded by mountains.

Do you even need a digital nomad visa?

This is a controversial question and it is important that you understand this article is not giving legal advice.  For specific questions regarding the legality of working abroad, you should contact an immigration lawyer or the embassy for the country in which you would like to work and travel.

Some digital nomads and remote workers find it easier to travel on tourist visas if they do not wish to spend more than 1 to 3 months in a single country.  They enter countries on tourist visas, keep their work activities to themselves, and may or may not continue paying taxes in their home country.

Generally speaking, most countries do not allow tourists to work while visiting on tourist visas.  This is based on an old definition of work where workers performed their duties in local physical spaces like offices, stores, and factories. 

The requirement of a traditional work permit protects locals from having to compete with foreigners for jobs.  Because digital nomads don’t technically compete for local jobs, some digital nomads have felt the ambiguity allows for remote work while traveling.

Many countries previously chose to turn a blind eye to tourists and digital nomads working online and earning income while traveling.  Remote work is such a recent social development that laws are often outdated and governments are still adjusting.  That being said, laws are changing quickly and since the beginning of the pandemic, dozens of countries have rolled out or announced new digital nomad visas.

To avoid any legal issues, if you want to stay and work remotely in a country that offers digital nomad visas, then you should consider applying for their digital nomad visa.  

The legal right to work remotely while living in another country is one of the many benefits of digital nomad visas.

View of Eiffel Tower from bridge.
View of Eiffel Tower from bridge. ©J Dubois

Can a digital nomad visa lead to permanent residency and citizenship?

In general, digital nomad visas do not lead to permanent residency or citizenship. The time you spend in the country with a digital nomad visa also does not apply to the number of years required living as a resident before you can apply for citizenship. There are a few exceptions, like Latvia, where a digital nomad visa can lead to permanent residency.

Why would countries want to offer digital nomad visas?

As remote work and the digital nomad lifestyle grow as cultural concepts, more countries are offering digital nomad visas and freelancer visas for the following reasons:

  • Digital nomad visas allow governments to monitor this group of visitors
  • Governments can potentially capture revenue from taxes
  • Digital nomad visas encourage remote workers to stay longer
  • Digital nomads spend a lot of money while traveling 
  • Digital nomads benefit local economies without taking jobs away from locals
  • Digital nomads can help revive rural communities that have declined in population
  • Digital nomads boost the tourism industry that suffered greatly during the pandemic 

Who is eligible to apply for digital nomad visas?

Digital nomad visa applicants have one of three employment types:

  • An employee of a foreign company in a role that can be performed remotely
  • An entrepreneur or owner of a business officially registered in another country 
  • A freelancer contracted with clients based outside of the country for which they are applying for the digital nomad visa

It is important to know that some digital nomad visas are available only to freelancers and entrepreneurs/business owners.  Other countries will accept applications from all three employment types listed above.  All applicants must be able to conduct their work independently and remotely online.  Generally, you cannot contract with or work for local companies or individuals.  

Most digital nomad visas have a minimum income requirement, although this requirement is generally low.  The minimum income threshold ensures that you will be financially self-sufficient during your stay and not become a burden to the government.

Your current country of residence and nationality may also determine if you are eligible to apply for a country’s digital nomad visa.

In most cases, you must have a clean criminal record and provide documentation such as a police record or FBI background check.

All digital nomad visas require applicants to be at least 18 years old. Many programs allow you to bring a spouse or children with an additional fee and/or income requirement.

How much do digital nomad visas cost?

Digital nomad and freelancer visa application fees will vary by country and range anywhere from free (Mauritius) to $20 (Cape Verde) to $2,000 (Anguilla and Barbados).

How long does it take to get a digital nomad visa?

The length of time for digital nomad visa application approval will vary by country but you should expect a minimum of 1 week for even the fastest processing times.  Some countries report processing times as long as 3 months.

Digital nomad visas are advertised as being easy to obtain, although after studying each program in depth I would argue this is debatable and depends on the country.  Some countries have easy-to-use online portals while others require in-person interviews at the nearest embassy followed by appointments at local agencies once you arrive.

How long are digital nomad visas good for?

Each country sets the duration of its own digital nomad visa but most are good for 12 months with a few allowing 6 months and others allowing up to 2 years.  Many visas can be renewed at least once.  The recently announced Bali digital nomad visa is expected to allow stays of up to 5 years.

What are the application requirements for digital nomad visas?

It is important to read each visa’s requirements carefully since application requirements will vary by country. You can find links to the official government websites in Deskless Nomad’s digital nomad visa index.

Depending on the country, there may be a minimum income requirement.  Usually, the minimum earnings requirement is quite low, but some countries like the Cayman Islands require a minimum income of USD$100,000.  Minimum income requirements are one of the many cons of this type of visa program.

Some countries require your application documents to be translated into the local language and notarized.  

You can expect to need some combination of the following for your application:

  • Payment of application fee
  • A passport valid for at least the duration of your stay (and up to 6 months beyond the duration of stay)
  • Proof of medical insurance proving coverage in the country (with covid-19 coverage +/- evacuation coverage)
  • Proof of self-employment or a letter from your current employer stating your work can be done remotely
  • Proof of income or financial means to support yourself (and family members with you)
  • 3-6 months of bank statements
  • Notarized bank reference with a statement regarding your credit score/standing
  • A local bank account
  • Contract or lease for local accommodation
  • Clean criminal record check/police clearance certificate (FBI criminal record check)
  • Covid-19 vaccine certificate
  • Birth certificates and/or marriage certificates if you are bringing family members
Digital nomad woman working on laptop while sitting on the ground on coastal trail.

Do digital nomad visa holders pay taxes?

Each country has its own rules regarding if and how digital nomad visa holders pay local taxes.  Some countries consider the digital nomad visa holder a tax resident if they have stayed 183 days or longer.  The tax rate for digital nomads may be similar to what local residents pay or the digital nomad visa holder may benefit from special tax reductions.  

Some countries do not require any local tax payments for digital nomad visa holders.  In these countries, digital nomads may be expected to file taxes in their home country but it does not always mean they will owe taxes back home. Americans should read this tax guide to understand how your foreign earned income will be treated.

Not all digital nomad visas actually specify if you will need to pay local income tax.  If the program for which you are applying does not specify a tax requirement, it is best to ask a tax expert if you plan to stay longer than 183 days (the length of time required to establish tax residency).

Your home country may also have a double taxation agreement with the country of your digital nomad visa.  This may affect how you pay taxes.

US citizens must continue to submit tax returns and pay taxes no matter which country they are residing in.   However, if US citizens must pay tax in a country that has a double taxation treaty with the United States then a portion of their income may be excluded from US taxes.

For more information on planning for taxes as a digital nomad, read our tax guide for digital nomads and remote workers.

Also note, some countries impose an import tax on certain more expensive belongings you bring along like your laptop and sports equipment.

Which countries offer digital nomad visas or similar remote worker visas?

Many countries have introduced new digital nomad visas in the past two years.  Several programs have been announced but are still under development.  Check out Deskless Nomad’s Index of Digital Nomad Visas Around the World for the latest updates and details.

If you are planning to stay and work remotely in a digital nomad village, you’ll definitely want to check out the local rules for working remotely, whether or not you will need a digital nomad visa, and the tax consequences of working remotely abroad.

Which is the best digital nomad visa?

The best digital nomad visa programs have streamlined online applications, fast processing times, low fees, no local income tax, low cost of living, and fewer documentation requirements.  Many of the Caribbean countries fall within this category.  

But the “best” digital nomad visa will depend mostly on your priorities.  If you want to live and work remotely in Europe then the Caribbean visas will have little appeal.  If one of your primary goals is to reduce your taxes while traveling abroad, you will want to check out these countries offering tax breaks to digital nomads.

Digital nomad visas are an exciting opportunity to travel and work legally while often benefiting from significant tax advantages. I hope this discussion of digital nomad visas has helped you decide if a digital nomad visa is the right choice for you and your travel plans. You may be interested in reading more about the pros and cons of digital nomad visas.

Travelers who just want to extend their time in Europe beyond the 90-day tourist visa can use these other options for long-term travel in Europe. There are also several long tourist visas that allow you to visit certain countries for 6 months to a year.

If you are ready to start exploring the different digital nomad visa options, check out Deskless Nomad’s Index of Digital Nomad Visas Around the World

Jamie Dubois

I am a freelance writer, wanderer, kayaker, rock climber, and adventurer.

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