Coworking space in Graça

Where Have All The Digital Nomads Gone?

In 2020, between various lockdowns, the number of digital nomads boomed as millions of newly office-liberated workers flocked to foreign countries to work remotely. But, as offices demand their workers back, will this be the end of the digital nomad?

A new survey of over 20,000 expats around the world found that 80% plan to stay in their host country for the next 12 months at least. Only 7% said they are planning to move.
Switzerland was the highest ranking country for expats, according to HSBC which releases its ‘Expat Explorer’ report tomorrow (Tuesday 19 October). The study scores countries according to lifestyle, economy and expats’ opinion about their future.

In second and third place were Australia and New Zealand respectively, followed by the UAE and Channel Islands, Guernsey and Jersey.

The annual study shows that, despite restrictions surrounding international travel, the expat is in good health and optimistic about the year ahead.

However, some things are different post-pandemic: The people who are going abroad, and the nature of their work, are rapidly changing.

Further down the ranking, there is a noticeable pivot towards the Mediterranean. More and more expats are digital nomads: Freelancers, entrepreneurs, or employees with flexible bosses who need only a laptop to work from wherever they want. And they want to work from somewhere with a good quality of life.

Spain, Cyprus and Portugal are the best countries to move to when it comes to quality of life, according to expats surveyed.

“Wellbeing was also a clear factor,” says Cameron Senior, interim head of HSBC Expat. “When we asked if they expected improvements to their physical health and mental wellbeing in the next 12 months, Mediterranean countries scored well.” Greece came out top for “wellbeing,” followed by Spain, Portugal and Turkey.

Life returns to the cafes of Chania on the island

Digital nomads, as opposed to the traditional expats, are more likely to be self-employed, and therefore able to work from any country of their choosing.

Just over half of those surveyed by HSBC said they were in full time employment, the rest were self-employed, entrepreneurs, business owners or retirees.

At Swiss Escape, which runs three co-working locations in Switzerland, the average ratio is 80% entrepreneurs to 20% employees, says its founder Hazique Memon.

Among those plugging away at laptops in properties’ co-working spaces are graphic designers, ad executives, nutritionists, engineers, data analysts and digital marketers “which seems to be one of the most common professions in the digital nomad tribe,” says Memon.

The properties have never been busier, he says. Demand for the co-working and co-living spaces is up 10-fold since this time last year, and things are picking up again as winter encroaches. Many digital nomads come during the skiing season to combine work with play.

It is a similar story at Memon’s other business, Greek Escape, which recently opened a co-working and c0-living property on the island of Crete. The climate is still warm at Europe’s most southerly point, and residents of the property spend their weekends getting to know the local area. It is this, says HSBC, which is one of the biggest draws for expats to a country.

Swiss Escape, a co-working space in Switzerland,
Image Credits: Swiss Escape

Data on the number of digital nomads is scant, as their wandering is often seasonal, but by most accounts, the number is increasing. In the U.S. the number of digital nomads last year was 10.9 million, up from 7.3 million in pre-pandemic 2019.

As travel restrictions ease between Europe and the U.S. and Europe and Asia, Mediterranean countries are expecting even more digital nomads to arrive on their shores. Rather than eyeing these laptop wielding foreigners suspiciously, however, governments are viewing digital nomads as potential cash cows.

The government of Greece, for example, estimates that if at least 100,000 digital nomads stay in the country for six months of the year, the economy would be €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) richer every year through taxes and local spending.

On the Portuguese island of Madeira, the local government reckons the average digital nomad spends €1,800 ($2,087) a month on local services. This is money injected directly into the local economy, often during out-of-season months.

Both governments have passed laws to make it easier for digital nomads to stay. Portugal and Greece each have digital nomad visas. Around 3,000 people have applied to Greece’s version, which allows a 50% cut on income tax for E.U. residents moving their tax residency to the country.

Last month, Greece introduced a ‘long term visa‘ that allows digital nomads from non-E.U. countries to stay for 12 months.

Other governments have made similar moves and Greece and Portugal now face serious competition with over 30 countries now offering digital nomad visas or similar schemes, including other Mediterranean nations Spain, Croatia and Malta.

But there is another reason that all these countries are rolling out digital nomad visas. The real reward comes not through short term stays, but by convincing these digital nomads to stay longer and bring their businesses with them.

It is a fast-track method to establish a tech economy and create local wealth. Mediterranean countries suffered an exodus of talented workers during the European debt crisis of the early 2010s.

Now, many hope to recoup their losses by attracting foreign entrepreneurs with high-tech businesses. Over time, it is hoped these will translate into tax-paying and local-employing corporate behemoths.

In short, governments of these, mainly Mediterranean countries, want to shed the ‘nomad’ from digital nomads.

Originally published – read original publication

Originally published by Ollie A Williams

Image Credits: AFP via Getty Images