Visa 101 for Digital Nomads
Though technology and modern travel may make the world feel borderless, digital nomads do need to follow the appropriate steps when spending extended periods of time living and working abroad. As you explore your options as a remote worker, the notion of acquiring a visa might feel like a daunting and complex process.
Indeed, it will be one of the more complicated — and more important — boxes you check before you proverbially set sail. Because travel and transport regulations vary from country to country, this article has been written from the perspective of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who aspires to live and work abroad. We’ll begin with some background information on visas, and then dive into the types of visas you’ll need to pursue should you continue on your path of becoming a digital nomad.
As a reminder, this article is designed as a 101 to the subject of visas. We strongly recommend diving into more specific research depending on the regions you plan to visit and, ultimately, call home.
What is a visa, anyway?
A visa is an endorsed document that allows people to enter into other countries for a specified period of time. Visas exist to provide countries with a traceable record of who is in their country at a given time, and this data is used for anything from tourism planning to national security. Unlike passports, visas share similar conventions so the local authorities in a given country can understand its contents no matter where the traveler has originated from.
The information within a visa tells the country you’re entering who you are, why you are there and for how long you plan to stay. Each country will have its own entry requirements for visitors, and they can vary based on an entrant’s nationality. For this reason, it’s important to thoroughly research the visa procedure for your unique circumstances prior to planning a move abroad.
What kind of visa do digital nomads typically use?
There are two overarching visas that apply to any country: immigrant (in which you become a citizen of that country) and nonimmigrant (whereby you do not become a citizen of that country, and are there for temporary travel).
Then, there are four types of travel visas.
- Type 1: Tourist Visa
- Type 2: Immigration and Naturalization Visas (including by marriage)
- Type 3: Student Visas (for studying abroad)
- Type 4: Business/ Working Visas
Most digital nomads visit and travel to other countries on a tourist visa. A tourist visa is a temporary stamp of approval that you are welcome in that country for the specified time period, for the specific intent of travel. Though you will be working while you are there, if your job is agnostic to the country, you’ll most likely be able to get away with a tourist visa.
By nature, tourist visas are temporary and expire within a set time frame. For tourist visa holders entering the U.S., for example, that duration is six months. Tourist visas are one of the underlying forces compelling nomads to be, well, nomadic. You can visit and live in several different countries on tourist visas so long as you’re packing up and moving along within the expiration deadline.
The specific terms of the visa are, of course, critical to fully understand before embarking on your journey. Some countries, like China, impose strict exit requirements, mandating that tourists exit the country (even with a long-term, multiple-entry visa) every 30, 60 or 90 days.
Most countries do not mind if you do business online while visiting their country. After all, this isn’t much different than a executive taking time out of her family vacation to take a call or catch up on emails. That said, if you are soliciting local business as a nomad, you might be required to apply for a work visa. Clearly, this is somewhat of a grey area. For example, if you are compensated to housesit while abroad, does that constitute soliciting business? How about if you take on a small client in the city you’re visiting?