The Peaks and Valleys of Life as a Nomadic Remote Worker
COVID-19 has changed the way people work – possibly forever. Those who could easily do so – office workers, financial staff, IT, and many others – have been working from home since early in the pandemic. Retail businesses were forced to make a quick acceleration in their online shopping experiences – meaning that at least some of their staff are now able to do their jobs from somewhere other than a store, warehouse, or delivery van. People are becoming accustomed to working from locations other than a desk in an office. LSPs tell us they expect to have a greater proportion of remote versus on-site workers even after the pandemic is over (“COVID-19 LSP 3 Survey Data”). Freelance linguists have long enjoyed the ability to continue their career from wherever they make their home. But why should your base be the kitchen table? Quarantine and travel restrictions aside – maybe the world really could be your oyster, post-COVID.
Recognizing the growth in remote and freelance work, several countries now offer special work visas. For some – EU and Schengen countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, and Portugal – it’s nothing new – while for places including Barbados and Bermuda it’s a recent addition to their immigration policy. Fancy spending time in Estonia? This country on the Baltic has a Digital Nomad visa put in place in a very short amount of time. Croatia has just announced they are working on one, too, while other countries such as Thailand are publishing detailed guidelines for foreigners who happen to work while in the country. Do an internet search for “digital nomad visa” and you’ll find more guidance and suggestions about exciting locations you might never have considered. These governments are seeing that remote workers can boost the local economy and benefit the community without displacing local workers.
However, there are some caveats to consider if you choose taking up residence in a new country as a digital nomad. For example, understand that your stay may be limited to a few months or a year. You may need to fund your own health insurance and retirement. You will have to prove that you already enjoy at least one source of income, so be prepared to show them your bank account.
Pitfalls of Global Remote Working
Armed with an anti-glare screen and a good data network, roaming the world and working from the beach sounds like a dream come true. It very well could be – but be sure to investigate how local authorities regulate their income tax, social security, and pension systems, along with any other financial implications – before seeking a visa and buying that ticket.
Tax residency: know your tax liability. Each country has unique rules about who is considered a resident for tax purposes – and when. If you are moving from country to country, find out about how residency applies in each. If you are a U.S. citizen, remember that you must file a tax return with the IRS regardless of where you are classed as a resident for tax purposes. Some countries have an agreement with Uncle Sam so that you only pay one location’s income tax and social security contributions, such as this one with the U.K. – but you may be liable in both. Be sure to find out – and don’t forget to file your U.S. taxes on time. If you work with a tax accountant, check that they are experts in international tax laws.
Health care: make sure you are covered. As with income tax, there are differences in how each location qualifies its inhabitants for health care. Your visa may require you to purchase healthcare insurance in advance. Or you may find yourself contributing to and benefiting from state health care once you are considered a resident for tax purposes. Conversely, the country may have no such system, or operate a private insurance model such as in the U.S. Paying very high premiums for medical insurance may diminish some of that beach glow.
Saving for retirement: keep track of your contributions. If you live and work in more than one country during your career, you must track your government pension and/or social security contributions in each location – and know how and when to claim. For example, while employment contributions across multiple countries may count towards the value of your state pension, retirement age varies per country in the EU.
Investments: If you have been saving carefully for a rainy day, make extra sure that your savings are secure. Laws such as the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, along with complex regulations and processes, are causing banks to be very reticent in managing investments for people not living in their home country. For example, at least one large U.S. investment bank has recently closed all accounts for non-residents, whether or not they are U.S. citizens and even if they still have an address of record in the U.S. Other banks, including those with a presence in multiple countries, will not open or manage your account unless you are physically present in the U.S. Different institutions have different rules. For example, one bank may accept retirement investments for people moving from the U.S. to Canada or to France, but not to any other country. It is wise to seek advice from an investment advisor prior to going nomad. Consider maintaining a local phone number and mailing address as you may find it impossible to associate foreign contact information with your investment account.
Don’t let these caveats put you off: traveling the world, living and working from different locations can be immensely rewarding. Unlike a few days tourism, you become immersed in a new culture and gain a new understanding of how communities, countries, and businesses work around the world – all valuable to anyone with a career in global business, localization, and customer experience. You might gain a language or three, make new friends, and discover new places to make home. It might be a temporary adventure or transform your way of life. Just make sure you prepare for the mundane aspects of finance, health, and retirement – before the trip begins, during your time roaming, and when you arrive at your final destination. Then you can enjoy being a nomad, for as long as you like.
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