The year is 2025. You zip through customs in a fast-track lane to enjoy the one-year residency permit that will allow you to come and go as you please. Hop in an Uber and you’re headed to your temporary home, a boutique coliving space. You check in with the swipe of an app and funds are drawn from your e-wallet –no need to mess with ATMs or currency exchanges.
Seamlessly connecting to superfast wifi, you check emails and Asana for urgent tasks. There’s a notification from the local tax authorities welcoming you to the country. Since you’ve been paying income tax to their partner nation, any work you do during your time here will be tax-free.
You log into your e-residency platform to let your nomad community know you’ve landed and get a message from a friend you last saw in Bali –or was it Barcelona?– who happens to be in the area. You make plans to catch up at a networking lunch hosted by the city’s free coworking space. With logistics and schedule sorted, the only really difficult part of your day lies ahead, deciding where to go for dinner.
Welcome to the future of remote work. It may sound too good to be true, but this reality is far closer than you might think, thanks to a growing community of digital nomad founders, advocates, and community builders.
A global wave
Between quarantines and closed borders, COVID-19 should have dealt a killer blow to these long-term travelers. But in the past two years, digital nomadism has taken off like never before.
As of 2021, there are over 35 million digital nomads roaming the globe, the population equivalent of Canada. And with an annual spending power of $787 billion, they’d also be considered one of the world’s 50 most prosperous nations after Portugal and Saudi Arabia.
When the pandemic required millions to work from home, the world scrambled to adopt remote work processes and policies. For the first time in history, jobseekers have had the option to rethink their careers and the location of their office. As international borders open up, many of the work-from-home crowd are now considering work-from-anywhere, swelling the ranks of digital nomads and perhaps unlocking the next great human migration.
Taking notice of nomads
With workers free to roam anywhere with open borders and a trusty WiFi connection, a different global war for talent has begun. Digital nomads’ growing numbers and financial clout have caused dozens of tourist-starved countries to update their travel policies for borderless workers.
In Summer 2020, a handful of nations launched visa programs to attract digital nomads, starting with Estonia in June, then Barbados, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Anguilla, Antigua, and later, most of Eastern Europe. Now, 30+ nations offer some form of incentive for traveling remote workers.
Sweetheart deals like income tax breaks, subsidized housing, and free multiple entry have become as popular as employee work benefits. The opportunities are so numerous, solutions exist just to help you “amenity shop” the perfect country Airbnb style. While not all the reviews of these new programs are glowing, the mere fact that countries are courting remote workers so intensely is worth watching.
Advocating for the future
Digital nomads’ arrival in new destinations may not be as easy as we imagined in our intro, but thanks to new technologies and favorable government interest, we’re well on our way to realizing that vision.
Some ambitious nomads, like activist and author Lauren Razavi, have also started to advocate for their rights as global citizens and the future of borderless work.
“Now people have experienced the benefits of remote work, it won’t be easy to get them back to the office – as we can already see with companies competing on work from anywhere policies and “The Great Resignation”. Rather than a trend that can rise and fall, remote work is a permanent shift in the global economy, so I don’t see it going anywhere,” says Razavi.
With trends and tides shifting in favor of this movement, she and others believe the time is ripe to lay the foundation for even greater global change. “The internet has globalized and digitized so many aspects of life, like banking, ride-sharing, and food delivery, but governments have yet to catch up,” Razavi says.
With declining trust in traditional institutions and the party politics of the past, it’s time for something new.
Welcome to your internet country
For hundreds of years, work was tied to a single location. Much like the future of work revolution we see playing out before our eyes now, the function and future of nation-states may also be due for a shakeup.
Remote workers like Lauren (and us) want to completely redefine the role governments play in digital nomads’ movement and regulation. How? By laying the foundation for the next generation of travel and work, an internet country called Plumia.
“Plumia is a collective of 1k+ remote workers and digital nomads who have come together to reimagine what global mobility and governance structures might look like in the 21st century,” says Razavi.
Plumia wants to build the alternative using decentralized technologies, while also working with countries and institutions on policies that achieve common goals.
Plumia aims to offer everyone the chance to become a global citizen. Begun in 2020 as an independent project by remote-first travel insurance company, SafetyWing, Plumia’s plan is to combine the infrastructure for living anywhere with the functions of a geographic country.
Experimenting with digital nations
What exactly does it mean to build a country on the internet? Plumia is not the only experiment being run. Countries like Estonia, where you can access 99% of government services online, like company registration, online banking, and tax declaration, have paved an innovative path with digital identities that many nations may follow.
At the other end of the spectrum, Blockchain enthusiasts are also testing an approach that begs the question: are traditional countries still necessary? Bitnation advocates for decentralizing authority by empowering voluntary participation and peer-to-peer agreements. They’ve hosted the world’s first blockchain marriage, birth certificate, refugee emergency ID, and more as proof of concept. Razavi explained:
At its core, Plumia is a community creating a shared vision of the future and exploring how emerging technologies can improve people’s lives. To me and others involved in the project, that’s a mission worth pursuing.
Taking a community-led approach, Plumia volunteers believe they can band together to launch initiatives that serve global citizens. Currently in development, Plumia is focusing on developing member-focused services and content, including a nomad index map and digital nomad visa whitepaper, which the two of us will be co-authoring. This resource will score and evaluate current visa and residency options for location-independent talent, also giving governments a useful benchmark for creating policy.
Verifying a digital identity, maintaining a ‘permanent address’ whilst on the move, switching service providers and jurisdictions on the fly, complying with complicated tax and labor laws – these are all thorny issues to solve.
Initiatives like Plumia are jumping into quite an active ring, however. In addition to countries competing to serve and attract digital nomads, a number of well-financed startups such as Jobbatical, Remote, and Oyster are creating private-sector solutions to issues posed by people and companies going remote.
No longer a fantasy
Digital nations may sound a bit futuristic, but our dream of borderless living is really just a blink away. In the past 18 months, remote work has evolved from a short-term solution-meets-work benefit to a global movement with its own voice and future. Razavi said:
I traveled around Europe this summer and everybody I spoke to was thinking differently about work and life. Friends who never would have considered living abroad before the pandemic are now considering a nomadic lifestyle. It feels like a new era of global mobility is beginning.
She’s been hosting Plumia meetups at her homebase of Amsterdam, but plans to escape the winter in Kuala Lumpur. Expat Lily Bruns helped write this article from her hometown of Chiang Mai, though you may now find her exploring the coast of Croatia. And writer and podcast host Leanna Lee will be “going nomad” with her husband in December, planning to bounce between the UK and Europe for the next few years.
The options have never been more plentiful or accessible. Given the level of competition ignited between countries, companies and new “digital nations,” it’s clear who the ultimate winners will be: remote workers and entrepreneurs. So where might your work take you now that the world’s been unlocked?
Story by Leanna Lee and Lily Bruns, originally published by The Next Web on October 21, 2021.
Leanna Lee is a content writer, solutions journalist, mental health advocate, and podcast host. Focused on the future of work and wellbeing, she explores digital nomadism and nations, disabled entrepreneurship, and mental health in office and remote workspaces for publications and companies worldwide.
Lily Bruns is a content strategist, startup storyteller, and community builder. Passionate about the intersection of innovation and immigration, her professional playground is the world of #remotework, #digitalnomads, and #startupecosystems.