Expat Options: Golden Visas Vs. Digital Nomad Visas

I’m usually skeptical of stories about “a friend of a friend.” But in this case, I know that it’s a true story.

A friend of a friend was staying in Bali, Indonesia’s paradise island that’s popular with partygoers and backpackers.

My “friend of a friend” bought a van to use for transportation. The Balinese authorities arrived at his home and accused him of operating a shuttle bus service without the proper authorization. He was permanently deported from Bali.

I won’t get into whether the guy in this story was on the right or the wrong side of the regulations… that isn’t really the point.

The point is that Bali is becoming stricter about who it wants within its borders and who it doesn’t.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who saw the stories earlier this year about travelers with tiny tears in their passports being denied entry to Bali.

You can’t really blame the Balinese. “Tourists behaving badly in Bali” is almost its own genre of travel story.

Earlier this year, the island announced a ban on foreign tourists driving motorcycles without a proper license, due to a rise in accidents, even though this is the most popular form of transport on the island. Tourists would be encouraged to use cars provided by travel agents, even though traffic congestion is also a big problem.

Balinese officials have created a task force to crack down on vacationers misbehaving. Locals are reportedly exasperated at tourists flashing their genitals on motorbikes and stripping naked at sacred religious sites.

Bali may want to keep out poor backpackers, reckless drivers, and drunk nudists… but it has become very interested in attracting wealthy investors, especially from the tech sector.

Where Golden Visas Are Going Strong

Indonesia recently announced the launch of its new “Golden Visa”—granting a five-year residence permit in exchange for a $350,000 individual investment in public shares or government bonds. For double the investment, you can get a 10-year permit.

Currently, you can also purchase a property for at least $220,000 if you also have at least $130,000 in the bank, and get a five-year residency.

The first person to receive the new Golden Visa (a week after it was launched) was OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, which should give you an idea of the kind of people Indonesia hopes to attract.

As always, it’s not just the numbers of people but the type of people a country can attract that matters to its government, when it comes to its visa system.

Some countries in Europe are canceling their Golden Visas (or considering doing so). Multiple European countries launched Golden Visas in the wake of the financial crisis, in order to attract foreign capital. But these days European governments express concern at the number of wealthy Chinese the visas have attracted. The European Commission has long been opposed to Golden Visas on the grounds that they’re open to corruption and that it’s wrong to “buy residency” in the EU.

A trend that is on the decline in Europe is going strong in Asia. In addition to Indonesia’s new program, both Thailand and Malaysia are launching retooled investor visa programs.

Europe Wants “Golden Nomads”

Europe, of course, still wants to attract startups and entrepreneurs.

European countries have turned toward so-called “digital nomad visas” as a way to attract tech talent.

Nomad visas have been around since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Estonia introduced the first official program more than three years ago.

But the number of programs has risen dramatically post-pandemic. More than 50 countries around the world now have digital nomad visa programs, with more on the way. It includes many countries that also have investor programs, like Malaysia.

The rise of nomad visas reflects the changing world of work since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the boom in remote work.

Countries are competing for mobile, relatively well-off workers.

Digital nomad visas offer opportunity… if you meet the criteria.

The income requirements, while not huge, can be relatively high—multiples of local wages.

For example, for Portugal’s digital nomad visa, you must show you have a monthly income of about four times the local minimum wage, or roughly €3,000 per month. In Greece the number is €3,500 per month after taxes.

The programs can be relatively restrictive, too. Unlike when you make a large Golden Visa investment, and typically get at least five years of residency… nomad visas are typically valid for one year initially, but renewable.

The Czech Republic’s new nomad program, launched just last month, is specifically for skilled IT professionals and available only to applicants from eight countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.K., and United States.

Unlike a Golden Visa that gives you a longer residency term and something tangible in-country like a property… nomad visas are shorter-term and more precarious.

On one hand, it might seem attractive that so many countries are competing for remote workers to spend time there.

But there’s another way to look at these programs… more like the Bali story I opened with…

The rise of digital nomad visas could be seen as a crackdown on unauthorized work—visitors coming and going from countries across the world and working on their laptops while just in possession of a tourist visa.

“Digital nomad visas” don’t honor the idea of being a digital nomad in the traditional sense—hopping from country to country every few months.

Countries instead want remote workers to register with the authorities, get official status, and stay longer in-country so they become eligible to pay taxes…

It’s not laptop-slinging backpacker artists or writers these visas are aimed to attract… but better-off tech workers. (Still, in most cases, if you can show the right levels of income, that’s what matters.)

Both European and Asian countries are clearly signaling who they want to attract in the years ahead: wealthier, internationally mobile information-technology entrepreneurs and workers.

You’ll see immigration service providers, for example, promoting Bali’s Golden Visa as the perfect opportunity for digital nomads to work from Bali… and if you have the money to invest, and you want to work in Indonesia, it can be.

They’re going about it in different ways… but these countries are all trying to attract the same class of people.

If you’ve got the right knowledge or the right income, you have your pick of countries competing for you right now.

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