Global work visas changing thanks to digital nomads and expat tech talent

The digital nomad revolution is all around you and it’s probably affecting you far more than you may think. Here’s why…

Two digital nomads sitting back to back on huge beanbags

If you’re sitting in a coffee shop right now, have a look around. How many people can you see tapping away at keyboards? I don’t mean idly scrolling through their smartphones, I mean bashing out words on a keyboard, probably running hands through hair and fully focused. Perhaps you’ve spotted these nomads at airports, in parks, on beaches. Nothing to do with your life? Well they might be one day…

Most of these digital nomads are working as bloggers, content writers, marketing peeps and techies, all earning a living “on the hoof”, using their “lappies” and tablets to connect and work. I’ve been one and on occasion still am. Many of my fellow nomads move from country to country or settle in one place and then do border runs to renew their visas. Not what the local authorities want or, in some cases, allow, but they aren’t usually stopped from doing it because they bring cash into what are often developing countries or areas.

As soon as digital nomads stay longer than 183 days they become tax residents (in most places), which opens up a whole other world of complications that have to be addressed, sometimes with a tax specialist to avoid paying tax twice. But most don’t stay in one place that long…

Thailand is a very popular location for digital nomads to base themselves, temporarily. It has the infrastructure to work there easily, yet it has a very low cost of living but high quality of life – all factors that attract young mobile, entrepreneurial workers. Unfortunately, most digital nomads only manage to get a Thai tourist visa without a work permit, lasting 2- or 3-months. In order to stay longer they have to cross into a bordering Southeast Asia country, get their passports stamped and then head back to Thailand with a new Tourist Visa. It’s not hard but it’s disruptive and can make some people quite edgy.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thailand-based digital nomad community got very excited. It seemed that the border runs might have been coming to an end. It appeared, at first glance, that the Thai government was introducing a visa for the digital nomad community that would allow these working nomads to stay more than three months at a time. As it turns out, the new Smart Visa is, for now, aimed at people who are start-up business owners, investors and highly skilled professionals and will allow applicants to stay for four years. Sadly, it’s not for bloggers, photographers and other typical digital nomads, but it seems likely that the push for the development of the Smart Visa (due to launch in January 2018) is quite possibly due to pressure on the government to recognise the importance to the economy of this growing work culture. Perhaps soon they will extend the Smart Visa to all digital nomads, which will have a significant impact on the mobile expat community. Digital nomads might not think of themselves as “expats” but surely they are, they’re just moving more.

Three young tech workers looking at papers

Meanwhile in France, which is often viewed as being a bit slow to reform working practices, there is a very interesting new visa that is encouraging tech talent to move to France. The French Tech Visa has three options: either you are a founder of a start-up company based in one of the programme’s partner incubators; you are an employee at one of 70 eligible companies that have shown a hyper-growth status; or you invest in a French start-up.

Whichever route you take, your visa will be valid for four years, on a renewable basis, and your family members can join you and work too. Find out more about qualifying for La French Tech Visa here.

So, without new ideas, vision and new work practices, visas might sit in the doldrums. Though these changes might not affect you directly now, they could in the future help make it easier for you, or your children or grandchildren to work overseas with greater flexibility.

If you’re a digital nomad or perhaps in France on the Tech Visa, please add your thoughts about flexible working visas and if you think there should be more of them.