According to the latest U.S. Time Use Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38% of employed people will complete some or all of their work from home in 2021, up from 24% in 2019 before the pandemic. The 2021 survey also revealed that 67% of people with advanced degrees do some work at home.
Meanwhile, countries whose economies have been hurt by a lack of tourism during the pandemic have turned their attention to this new group of tourists. Several travel blogs for remote workers list dozens of countries that have either implemented digital nomad-friendly visas or announced they are developing one.
I’m one of the millions of people who have been fortunate enough to fully embrace the work-anywhere lifestyle during the pandemic. After two years of working remotely in Rio de Janeiro, I’m sure I’ll never go back to the office again.
This lifestyle has helped me achieve a quality of life that I couldn’t find back home, but it didn’t come without a price. The influx of wealthy workers is putting pressure on the affordable housing market in remote work hotspots such as Mexico City, Lisbon and Bali. In Lisbon, some locals believe that the presence of digital nomads has led to an increase in the number of Airbnb apartments across the city. The platform promotes the city as one of the best places for remote workers, catering primarily to tourists and digital nomads. Its apartments are priced accordingly.
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I saw this happen in Rio de Janeiro, with Airbnb owners charging foreigners exorbitant fees in neighborhoods that are already unaffordable for the vast majority of Brazilians. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, Mexican fast-food joints and corner stores have given way to Pilates studios and co-working spaces, straining relations between locals and immigrants. Last summer, posters posted across the city called remote workers a “plague,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite housing issues, Mexico and many other countries continue to welcome remote workers with open arms.
Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard University who has studied the geographical mobility of workers, said these countries see digital nomads as talent that can stimulate economic development.
“The traditional concern people have with immigrants is that they are taking jobs from locals. Digital nomads are not doing that,” he said.
Choudhury believes that digital nomads have the financial resources and knowledge base to have a lasting impact on their communities: “My sense is that people really want to have a positive impact. They just need a little help.”
Here are some things we can do to leave our temporary housing better than when we found it.
Give back to your host community
Research paints digital nomads as tech-savvy, educated professionals who either work for themselves or hold white-collar office jobs. When we enter our community in a privileged capacity, we have a responsibility to find ways to give back.
This may help you understand your financial situation relative to other people. Before you brag about how “cheap” it is to live and work in another country, check the minimum wage. In Bali, one of the most popular hubs for digital nomads, it costs less than $200 a month. You may find that most locals cannot afford the luxuries that a remote work salary can provide.
We can use our privilege to give back to our host community in a number of ways:
- Joining a local language school is an important first step. Your professor can help you meet other locals and connect you with volunteer groups.
- Choose a local cause and invest time and money locally.
- Become a loyal customer of local businesses—not the ones that cater to nomads, but the ones that form the fabric of the community.
- When appropriate, tip your waiter, tour guide, or hairdresser generously.
- Share your talents with the community. Can you lead a workshop on a topic you are good at? Would you like to practice speaking English with local students?
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Get a Digital Nomad Visa to Extend Your Stay
Digital nomads are often breaking the law without knowing it. When you enter a country as a tourist, you are generally prohibited from working during your stay, even if you are self-employed or working for a company outside the country.
“Most governments are happy to look the other way,” said Megan Benton, director of international programs at the Migration Policy Institute, explaining that most countries view the presence of remote workers as a positive.
Since Estonia launched its first “digital nomad” visa in 2020, a growing number of countries have been clarifying rules around remote work, making it easier for travelers to connect with a place.
Most of these visas do not require nomads to pay taxes in the host country, which means you can give back to your community in other ways. However, when you start to put your roots down, the potential for positive impact increases. You can learn languages, form lasting relationships, and have more time to give back to the community.
“Some of the most complex visa programs are now considering the transition to more permanent residence,” Benton said. “They’re thinking, ‘How do we use this to experiment with future residents and long-term citizens?'”
Supporting businesses outside the ‘nomadic bubble’
Since many nomads live and work in one country without paying local taxes, the least we can do is support local businesses.
Many times, however, we tend to gravitate toward established expat communities where we can find similar faces, food, cafes, and collaboration centers. While this is great for socializing, it’s harder to connect with the locals when you’re staying in a nomadic bubble.
Gina Truman, who has been traveling full-time for more than three years, admits that assimilating into the culture takes some work. “I think it’s something we all want, but it’s easy to get attracted to convenience,” she said.
Yet she has seen the consequences first-hand: She visited Bali again in 2017 and 2019, during which time she felt certain parts of the island had been diluted to look like “any city in the world”. Many family-owned businesses have closed in exchange for very trendy Instagram-looking businesses catering to digital nomads.
“It’s really important to recognize the power of where we spend our money,” said Tarek Kholoussy, founder of Nomads Giving Back, an organization that organizes philanthropy through events and volunteering in Bali, Colombia, Buenos Aires, and Medellin. opportunity to connect nomads and locals.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to visit the city’s most Instagrammable cafes, says Kholoussy. However, if you increase the amount of time and money you spend at venues with fewer tourists, you can potentially have a greater impact.
“Travel is all about new experiences and getting out of your comfort zone,” Truman said. “If the other side of the world was like home, we wouldn’t be traveling.”
Pay attention to where you live (and what you pay)
One way to lessen your impact on housing costs is to rent directly from locals rather than through Airbnb. In places like Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Lisbon, the so-called Airbnb effect can reduce long-term housing supply while increasing the value of an area, often driving locals out.
“A big part of the rise in housing costs is people wanting to live in exactly where all the foreigners are,” Kholoussy said.
Before closing a long-term rental deal, make sure it meets the average for this neighborhood. A quick online search can give you an idea of rents in your area. Staying within that range can help curb rent increases in your neighbours.
For short-term stays, Airbnb is often the most convenient option. But you can try searching for alternatives on local real estate websites or Facebook groups dedicated to digital nomads. You might also want to see if the destination offers discounted rates for extended stays in hostels or hotels, as is the case in Rio de Janeiro.
Then there’s always the old-fashioned way of finding housing: asking around. Both locals and expats are great resources for finding housing not marketed to foreigners.
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Engage with the locals – and share your skills
Volunteering with a local organization is a noble way to give back to your community, but it’s not the only option.
Remote workers possess valuable digital skills. We are a mix of “Individual Entrepreneurs”, Writers, Web Developers, Online Marketers, and more.
Gonçalo Hall, CEO of NomadX, provides ways for nomads to share these skills with locals at his digital nomad village in Madeira, Portugal. One of the ways he bridges the gap between newly arrived nomads and the community is through skill-sharing workshops. During the pandemic, Hall brought in several cryptocurrency experts to hold a workshop on NFTs, with 80 percent of the class being local artists.
When you arrive in a new place, search for organizations like Hall’s or Nomads Giving Back to find ways you can use your skills to help the local community.
If the language barrier is an issue, taking a class is a great way to meet other tourists and better mingle with the locals. Prioritizing traditional restaurants, cafes and bars can go a long way. You can also join a local sports team. In Rio de Janeiro, many nomads meet locals through surf lessons or soccer lessons on the beach.
Help fight overtourism by traveling to destinations during the off-season, especially if you’re coming in on a tourist visa. This minimizes the stress on local resources and the environment during high season.
Off-season travel is also more affordable. You’ll find cheaper airfare and lower prices on accommodation and activities, making exploring your destination easier. The destination will also be less crowded, giving you room to mingle with the locals.
As digital nomads, our current homes can be temporary. But it’s important to remember that it is a permanent home for most of those around us. The more of us on the road, the more inevitable our influence becomes. The good news is that we have the ability to make it a positive.