Oct 2nd 2021LISBONAFTER MONTHS in lockdown in grey Berlin, Chris Bloom, a personal coach and blogger, planned his escape. Risking the ire of jealous Instagram followers, he took a covid-19 test, flew to Lisbon and settled into the Outsite co-working and co-living space, a pleasant blue-and-white tiled property with the essentials—stable internet and a coffee shop.Listen to this storyYour browser does not support the element.Enjoy more audio and podcasts on iOS or Android.Mr Bloom is part of a growing brigade of digital nomads in Europe, who work remotely while satisfying their wanderlust. This kind of itinerant lifestyle is as old as laptops and free internet. But covid-19 has given it a boost. A game of lockdown arbitrage began earlier this year as border controls eased and people fled
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AFTER MONTHS in lockdown in grey Berlin, Chris Bloom, a personal coach and blogger, planned his escape. Risking the ire of jealous Instagram followers, he took a covid-19 test, flew to Lisbon and settled into the Outsite co-working and co-living space, a pleasant blue-and-white tiled property with the essentials—stable internet and a coffee shop.
Mr Bloom is part of a growing brigade of digital nomads in Europe, who work remotely while satisfying their wanderlust. This kind of itinerant lifestyle is as old as laptops and free internet. But covid-19 has given it a boost. A game of lockdown arbitrage began earlier this year as border controls eased and people fled congested cities like Berlin and London. Some headed for other cities, such as Lisbon and Madrid, which offered sunshine and looser lockdown rules. Others chose remote spots on the Mediterranean and in the Alps. Now covid-19 restrictions are easing but the trend continues as many Europeans reject a traditional office routine after a year and a half of remote work. As Yoon-Joo Jee, an entrepreneur who has spent the pandemic between Seoul, Geneva and Lisbon, puts it: “there's an addiction in moving and exploring new places.”
America has the best data on the rise of the new nomads. It had 10.9m digital wanderers last year, up from 7.3m in 2019. Academics say a similar jump is under way in Europe, which also offers continental scale and a lack of internal borders, at least within the Schengen area. Europeans itching for a change of scenery can roam freely from Helsinki to Seville. During the pandemic, Google searches for the term “digital nomad” reached all-time highs in France, and have been ticking up in Spain and Germany too. And there are plenty of destinations to explore. Eight of the top ten countries for nomads are in Europe, according to the Digital Nomad Index compiled by Circleloop, a telecoms firm, which ranks destinations on rental costs and internet connectivity, among other factors.
This wandering lifestyle is likely to outlast the pandemic. Covid-19 has prompted big changes in how people work, some of which could become permanent. Many employers are introducing flexible work policies, so it is no longer just freelancers and entrepreneurs doing business on the beach. A third of French and German workers will operate remotely in 2022, predicts Gartner, a research firm, up from 22% and 27% in 2019, respectively. In one recent survey, 80% of employees considering a new role said the ability to live somewhere else was important to them. “I don’t think being a digital nomad is just a fashion at this point,” says Mohammad Jarrahi, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There are some fundamental changes in the foundations of work.”
The biggest barrier to the nomadic lifestyle is red tape. Totting up one’s tax bill, for instance, is complex for anyone who hops between jurisdictions. But new businesses are trying to help. During the pandemic John Lee started Work From Anywhere Team, a marketplace for tax consultants around the world. He argues that nomads like him need an “Amazon for tax advice”. The pandemic has created an awareness, says Michael Huertas of PwC, an accountancy firm, that “tax being drawn along national lines is really archaic.”
Europe’s immigration rules are usually hostile to non-Europeans. But some governments, eager to draw visitors in economically challenging times, have been easing the rules for digital nomads. Croatia and Estonia have introduced long-term visas for people without EU passports who can prove that they are working online. In Portugal the regional government of Madeira has gone a step further, offering a free workspace, networking events, and an online portal replete with information about things like paperwork and places to stay. Since it was set up last November more than 9,000 people have registered on the Digital Nomads Madeira Islands website.
The economic benefits that can flow from attracting nomads are clear. It is generally well-off folk with significant work experience who can afford to work from anywhere. They are unlikely to poach local jobs, but do spend money. In Madeira government officials estimate the average digital nomad spends €1,800 ($2,100) a month. Hannah Brown, who works for Estonia’s e-Residency programme, says the new visa has the added advantage of putting the small, peripheral nation on the map.
Some locals, however, resent the nomads in their midst. As long-time nomad hotspots like Goa and Bali have found, well-paid outsiders can bid up the price of real estate. Some live in a bubble, having little to do with locals besides those who serve them iced lattes. The tensions can work both ways. Some wandering workers don’t like being called “nomads”, worrying that it makes them sound rootless. They may object even more to a new label that is gaining currency. Since so many nomads are male, single and fond of partying, cynics have started calling them “bro-mads” or even “digital gonads”. ■
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This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline "Roam work"