26-year-old Martin Koudela works as a freelancer, doing marketing for luxury hotels and managing development projects, and is currently working remotely while travelling in South-east Asia. He told Czech Radio how he likes to arrange his day.
“I probably wouldn’t like to be in one place for half a year; I prefer travelling a little then working a little – that kind of combination of working for three or four hours in the morning, then going exploring, working again for a while in the evening, then moving somewhere else…”
The digital nomad lifestyle traditionally meant working remotely and country-hopping your way around the globe in much the way Martin describes. Tourist visas were usually sufficient for this purpose, because they would typically allow foreigners to work in one place for up to three months. However, it is technically illegal to work remotely on a tourist visa.
But, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is now a legal solution. The pandemic had a huge effect on digital nomadism – first of all, working from home became the new normal. Since the pandemic, this trend has continued, giving rise to a new class of potential digital nomads. Secondly, most countries suffered a severe drop in tourism revenue as a result of the pandemic, and in response, several states began trying to figure out how to attract tourists back – and to keep them in the country.
The pandemic gave countries a chance to re-think their tourism policies, and many decided they wanted to attract a different kind of tourist, who stays in the country for a longer period of time and spends more money on local goods and services. So many began actively targeting digital nomads by offering visas that give freelancers and remote workers the chance to live in their country for up to 12 months while working online for a foreign employer.
These “digital nomad visas” do not offer a pathway to citizenship and most come with a private health insurance and minimum income requirement attached. Others require opening an account in the given country and depositing a large amount of cash into it. The tax situation can also vary widely, with some assuming you will still pay tax in your home country and therefore offering a zero tax visa, some offering tax deductions or special rates, while others still expect you to pay full tax. On the other hand, these visas do not require you to pay social security benefits and provide foreigners with a legal base for working while traveling.
The reasoning behind offering this kind of visa from the perspective of the host country is that it is better to have one tourist who stays for 12 months than 26 tourists who stay for two weeks or 182 tourists staying for two days. This is both from a financial perspective and from a cultural one, in the sense that people who stay longer are likely to learn more about the country and be more invested in and respectful towards it. Tax revenues from high-spending “techpats” can help governments’ budgets, while costing the state very little.
Taxi driver Fred from Bali, told Czech Radio how digital nomads benefited his province during the pandemic.
“During the covid pandemic, over 5000 digital nomads were stranded here in Bali alone. Consider that they spent money here every day for two years, on accommodation, on food, on alcohol. Their money helped a lot of people and they themselves also benefited – they had living costs many times lower than back home in Europe or America.”
For Czechs, this lifestyle is a chance to escape the cold winters and rising cost of living at home, instead swapping it for sun and cheap food, accommodation and transport. However, it’s not all glamour and beaches – it can get lonely and you might start to get homesick, as Martin Koudela elaborates.
“Sooner or later you start to miss your friends, you start to miss Czech food. Even though the food here in Asia is delicious, I still think that sooner or later you start longing for home comforts and one day you will miss Schnitzel. And, of course, Czech beer and good coffee.”
If you Google “digital nomad visas”, a host of websites spring up offering lists of countries that offer this opportunity. By most reckonings, more than 40 countries around the world currently offer such visas. Funnily enough, many of these websites list the Czech Republic as a great destination for digital nomads, with the ‘živno’ freelancer visa offering them the opportunity to live and work for a year in the country.