Digital nomadism provides mountains of freedom, but you cannot crisscross the world freely. You need the appropriate visas and paperwork first. Ahead of your first foray into the world, you decide to do some preliminary research, and you’re left scratching your head. What visas do your travels require?
As a digital nomad, you should have one (or more) types of visas:
• A working or business visa
• A naturalization or immigration visa
• A tourist visa
In this article, we will explain the three visa types in depth. Then, we’ll elaborate on how you can apply for these visas, including where, when, and how long it should take for you to get one. Finally, we’ll share a list of countries that provide digital nomad visas, often on a long-term basis. You might want to take advantage of these on your travels.
The Types of Visas a Digital Nomad May Need
As we talked about in the intro, sometimes digital nomads will require one or more types of visas to travel, work, and even live in another country. In addition to the three visas, we’re about to cover we want to mention there are also student visas. However, these won’t apply to digital nomads, so we’re excluding them from the list.
Without further ado, then, let’s get into that list now.
Working or Business Visa
A working or business visa is undoubtedly right up your alley as an entrepreneur and digital nomad. With one of these visas, it’s clear you’re visiting another part of the world for work purposes. However, from there it gets a little dicey, as you’re not allowed to do any work in which you’d earn money.
Wait, huh? That’s a little confusing, we know. Here’s some clarification. You’re free to go to business meetings, hold conference calls, or do such activities that pertain to your business. For instance, you could send emails delegating tasks to your employees or look over your own assignments. You cannot do anything that would bring in revenue for yourself, though.
According to Immihelp, an immigration resource, you can do the following if you have a valid working visa:
• Buy an office
• Create a bank account
• Look for or lease a business site
• Conduct market research
• Lead or attend an exhibition, including running booths
• Participate in seminars, expos, trade fairs, conferences, and conventions of business, professional, education, and scientific natures
• Watch someone else conduct business without doing it yourself
• Join meetings, including annual meetings and board meetings
• Scope out shops, laboratories, factories, and facilities for business reasons
• Place orders or do other business shopping
• Lecture or speak, often at one of the events above
• Buy or invest in something
• Do interviews for new employees and even make hiring decisions
• Train someone or attend training yourself
• Negotiate and finalize work contracts
Anything that’s not on that list, you should not do. Now, we know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? Maybe not, as you can throw in about everything but the kitchen sink with a working or business visa. Still, so as not to cause waves on your travels, you should stick very closely to the above list.
Okay, but what if you want to make money? You have bills to pay, after all, and a business to keep afloat. You can use what’s called a work permit.
Now, we do want to take a moment to differentiate between work visas from work permits, as they’re not the same (despite their very similar names). We already talked about business visas and how you can’t make any money with one.
That’s not true of work permits. With one of these permits, you can still bring in income for your business, even if you’re not in the country in which your business is located.
Naturalization or Immigration Visa
If you’re interested in a much longer-term stay with the country in which you’re visiting, then you’d apply for a naturalization or immigration visa. You’re declaring your intent to live in this country permanently with this visa. You’d eventually be naturalized, but before that, you’d need an immigration visa.
Now, you can immigrate for your job/career through your family. For example, if you married someone who lived in another country, then you’d possibly decide to make the permanent move to that country to be with the person.
To immigrate based on a job, you often must have a boss who’s willing to hire you to move to a different country permanently. Sometimes you have the freedom to do your own sponsorship, but it depends.
The third visa type you might consider is a tourist visa. Tourist visas give the least amount of time to spend in the country; however, it is often as much as six months at a time. With a tourist visa, you get the freedom to move from one part of the world to another. It will be valid for a six-month span in which the visa is valid.
Under a tourist visa, you can still do your digital work, at least in most instances. We recommend reading up on where you’re going before traveling and busting open your laptop to work. Doing such business activities in some countries, your travel to could get you in trouble unless you have a work visa or a work permit.
Also, be aware that tourist visa rules do differ from country to country. Sometimes you can only leave on specific days, such as the 30th day after you arrive, or the 90th. Once again, we caution you to do your homework ahead of planning your trip. Also, always ensure you have the proper documentation with you.
How Do You Get a Visa? Steps to Follow
After reading the above section, you’re sure you need at least one visa for your digital nomadism, maybe even two. How do you go about beginning the process? Well, that depends on which country you plan to visit. We’ll write about how to get a visa if you’re from another country but want to visit the US and vice-versa.
From Another Country, Traveling to the US
If you call another country home, but you want to come to the US, you’d need either a B-1 or a B-2 visa. B-1 visas are business or work visas, but they do not include a work permit. That means you would have to apply for a work permit or you cannot make any money while you travel to the US. All other acceptable activities, as covered above, are okay.
B-2 visas are tourist visas and can also include service nature, social, medical, familial, and recreational travel. The US can lump both purposes into one visa known as the B-1/B-2.
To get your B-1/B-2 visa, you must do the following.
Step #1: Show Qualifications
You will have to get in touch with your consular officer to prove you’re following the regulations of the US Immigration and Nationality Act or INA. Specifically, you should meet the qualifications of Section 214(b) per the INA. Under this section, you must:
• Prove you do not live in the US
• Show that you have “social or economic ties” so you don’t stay forever
• Display that you have the necessary money for your travel and expenses
• Determine the length of your stay
• Declare your traveling purpose
Step #2: Send Your Paperwork
Next, you need to gather a slew of documents to pass along to your consular officer. These include:
• A receipt for our non-immigration visa application processing fee, which should be around $160USD
• A recent photo no older than six months that’s five centimeters by five centimeters or two inches by two inches
• A valid passport; it must last six months past the date you plan to leave so you don’t get stuck in the US
• Your Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form, which you can find online
Step #3: Plan Your US Embassy Interview
As you apply for your visa, you must make an appointment to interview with the US Embassy before you’re granted the visa. If you have yet to have your interview, then plan it and do the above steps afterward.
Step #4: Send Your Embassy Appointment Letter
Make sure you pass along your interview appointment letter with the above documentation. You should receive this after meeting with the US Embassy.
Step #5: Receive Your Visa
If all goes well, you’ll be granted a visa to travel to the US from another country.
From the US, Traveling to Another Country
What if you already live in the US, but you want to visit another country for work or other purposes? When you have to put in for your visa will depend on where you’re traveling to and how long you’ll stay. In some cases, you might not even need a visa.
For example, let’s say you visit Canada. If you spend 180 days there or fewer, then you don’t have to hold a visa of any sort. The only instance in which you would need a Canadian travel visa is if you exceeded those 180 days.
If you want to go to Australia, then you most definitely need a visa if you come from almost any other country, including the US.
While the steps will vary, you want to start the visa process by reaching out to a country’s embassy, just like you would do if you’re coming from another country to the US. Most of the time, you can take care of your application on the embassy’s website. You will have to attach any necessary paperwork to your online application and then wait.
There’s no need to meet with any representative of the embassy in person, at least not in most cases. What happens is you get your visa mailed to you if the country in question approves your paperwork. You take the visa, keep it with your passport, and then use it for the intended purpose.
The process may be simple, but it’s not necessarily fast nor cheap. When you send in your application, you’ll have to pay a fee. On the lower end, you might shell out $50 for this. Some visa applications require you to pay $200 as part of the process.
As for how long you’ll have to wait for approval, if you’re lucky, it’ll be only two weeks. The process can go on for roughly two months though, so plan your trip accordingly! Don’t leave tomorrow if you don’t have a visa yet. You won’t get far.
Countries That Offer Visas for Digital Nomads
Depending on where your adventures take you, certain countries offer visas to nomads, freelancers, and travelers. Here’s an overview of those countries as well as their visa programs.
The country of Estonia gets some major props for doing what no other country has before it: offering a visa exclusively for digital nomads. Those who get the visa, which should be out in 2019, then have a year in which to spend in Estonia. Only 1,400 such visas will get issued a year, so if you want one, make sure you hop on the opportunity as soon as you can.
Not only could you meet other digital nomads and network, but you could partner up and create the next Playtech or Skype. Yes, both companies were born in Estonia.
Want to see Mexico? Make sure you’re privy to the Mexico Temporary Resident Visa. It lasts only one year, but you do have the capacity to stay for three extras years should you so choose. With a Mexico Temporary Resident Visa, you can skate past the usual rules that limit you to six-month stay max.
Make sure you have proof of income for your application. Also, don’t schedule your trip to Mexico before having a visa. Once you get to the country, you won’t have the option to update the status of your visa.
In Svalbard, Norway, you can get your hands on a visa that’s good for life. That’s right, we said for life.
Never heard of Svalbard before? It’s several islands. Before you begin envisioning a tropical vacay, do know it’s permanently dark there from November through February. Also, the warmest the temperatures get is 41 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s in the summer.
That said, for some uninterrupted work time, you might consider living in Norway. All you have to do is provide proof of income, so you don’t get in over your head. Svalbard is notoriously pricy, after all.
Get a taste of Thailand through their education visa. Did we mention it’s a Hand to Hand Combat Education Visa?
It’s valid for a year, letting you stay for longer than the standard 90 days. While you will have to part with about USD 1,000, you get some awesome combat training that could come in handy one day. This training is limited to the Chiang Mai area, which deserves more love than it gets. Give it a try over Bangkok, and you might like it better!
Kick back and relax a bit with the Costa Rica Rentista Visa. It’s for two years, and should you wish to stay longer, you can. Again, proof of income is needed for the application; you should be able to afford a monthly housing fee of at least $2,500.
Once you get here, you may never want to leave. Costa Rica has landed on several lists for having the happiest residents around. They’ve also taken the environment quite seriously. A few years ago, they strove to start using renewable sources for electricity. Now, more than 98 percent of their power comes from ecofriendly means. Sign us up!
If Australia has caught your eye, make sure you take advantage of the Australia Holiday Visa. It can go for up to a year, but you can live in this country for a second year if you want.
Under this visa, you get six months in which to work with other Australian businesses. To enjoy a second year, you’ll have had to work out in the rural part of the country for over three months. There are age requirements as well, between 18 and 30 years old.
You may also opt to take advantage of the Germany Freelancer Visa. It lasts a generous three years, letting you stay far longer than you usually would under the Schengen Visa. With that visa, for every 180 days, you can venture for only 90 days along the Schengen zone.
The life of a digital nomad might seem fancy-free, but there’s a lot of machinations that occur behind the scenes. For instance, each time you travel to a new country, you probably need either a tourist or a working visa. You may require a working permit as well to bring in some income during your travels.
If you’re new to the digital nomad lifestyle and soon plan to travel, it’s better to know the paperwork trail that will follow you as you do so now. Applying for a visa may be daunting the first time around, but once you get yours approved, you’ll soon find it’s no big deal. Good luck!
I’m the owner of Digital Nomad Explorer. I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and been an expat in Scotland, Finland, and China. I was a digital nomad while having my own robotics company and traveled throughout Europe and China working remotely. Currently, I’m location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.