The Digital Nomad Life: Not So Niche Anymore
There was a time when the idea of being a digital nomad was a very outside-the-norm thing. I stumbled into it in 2005 after a car accident on my birthday left me unable to walk and move around for six months. I had to find a way to pay my bills, eat, and make rent, and that happened by finding a place to sell freelance writing online. That started my journey will what was possible.
Timothy Ferriss's The 4 Hour Work Week was one of the largest moments in the history of the digital nomad movement as it took interviews with people who had already figured out what the new online world offered and began to bring to the mainstream many concepts that at the time were fringe but have since become mainstream.
As remote work becomes more and more common, it's occurring to many people that it doesn't make sense to live in a place you don't like that is very expensive when you can do the work from someplace a lot cheaper where you can have a better quality of life and be happier.
With so many choices, it's not hard to find some of the most popular destinations, especially if you have a "highly in-demand everywhere in the world" skill or money is no object.
But for the rest of us, what are some of the hidden gems of digital nomad destinations that offer visas for your more average remote worker or digital freelancer? Read on for 12 great options that still, somehow, often fly under the radar.
The 4 Hour Work Week—A Huge Remote Work Influence
There are multiple things to look for when trying to find a digital nomad destination (or base of operations, if you will), and often times Mexico gets overlooked despite being so close to the United States. This is a bit understandable since so much of the media focuses on the small areas where there are issues of cartel violence, but like so many topics sensationalized in the media, this is in limited areas of Mexico.
Much of the country is very safe, full of friendly people, and localized areas have excellent internet and built-in infrastructure for tourists or remote workers. Food and living expenses in even most nice areas are very cheap compared to what many from the U.S. or more expensive areas would be used to, not to mention delicious food and wonderful culture.
On top of all that: Mexico gives multiple easy routes to staying for extended periods of time in the country. A tourist visa is good for a remarkable six months.
A temporary resident visa is fairly easy to acquire compared to other countries and is good for an outstanding three years.
Among other benefits:
- One of the lowest monthly income requirements
- One of the lowest savings amounts necessary
- While they don't offer a specific digital nomad visa (yet) the Temporary Resident Visa is good from 6 months to 4 years with renewal options
There aren't too many hidden gems for digital nomads in Europe, especially if you're on a budget, but Croatia is very much one of those gems, especially now that so many seem to be rushing to Portugal. Croatia started issuing digital nomad visas in January of 2021, making them one of the earlier adopters to create this new style of visa.
Croatia is a stunningly beautiful country full of forests, castles, and some of the best beaches in Europe. If you're asking, "Why haven't I heard about any of this?" Well, welcome to why Croatia is a hidden gem.
While Croatia was mired in the tragedy of the heavily bloody wars that happened in the Balkans in the early 1990s, that is many decades behind them. In the many years since Croatia has thrived in peace and prosperity while remaining a hidden gem among the general traveling population.
The country is part of the EU, has strong infrastructure, and the digital nomad visa is a reasonable amount (30,000 Euros in savings or 2,500 Euro/month average income) and a clean criminal background.
The country is extremely welcoming to digital nomads, having moved heavily towards increasing all these programs to help continue protecting, investing in, and growing the economy during the pandemic years.
Good summary of benefits:
- Country is extremely welcoming to digital nomads
- One year visa can easily be extended to two years
- Can begin getting a foot into the EU
Ecuador doesn't pop up on the digital nomad list very often, but maybe it should. Another of the recent nations to jump on the digital nomad visa wagon, Ecuador has a lot to offer. This diverse country has Pacific Beaches, the Andes Mountains, Amazon rainforest—it's an incredible place for traveling adventurers and digital nomads alike.
Digital nomads seeking a connection with welcoming locals and communities versus being in an insulated nomad community within a community will love the cities of Ecuador and what they have to offer digital nomads.
While Ecuador doesn't get the attention of other Latin American hotspots, it has good arguments for being one of the best destinations, making it a true diamond in the rough.
Good summary of the Ecuador digital nomad visa
- One of the lowest proofs of income needed to qualify for the visa
- Very inexpensive living
- Easy visa policy makes it easy to get your foot in the door
Great Expat Couple Amelia and JP Covering Everything About Expat Life in Ecuador
"Where?" is the general response I get when bringing up Mauritius as an intriguing destination for digital nomads, particularly for younger ones looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Known, among those few who know about it, this small African nation in the Indian Ocean is famous for its beaches, reefs, and lagoons. Mauritius offers the same stunning beauty of many world-famous beaches with a fraction of the tourist traffic or attention.
This island paradise has a ton of benefits and can be a great place for digital nomads. The needed income requirements are low. One setback: you are required to pay taxes to Mauritius on your earnings, but they have a flat tax rate of 15%, which is far kinder than what many from Europe, Canada, or the U.S. will be used to.
Good Summary for Mauritius digital nomad visa
- No fees to apply for a digital nomad visa
- Only $1,500 a month average income is required, making it one of the lowest of any digital nomad destinations
- Very isolated but incredibly beautiful island paradise, as well
Estonia was the very first nation to work on a full-time digital nomad visa, starting a trend that dozens of countries have since followed. Post-Soviet-Union, Estonia was on the cutting edge of investing in country-wide initiatives to push on technology, technical abilities, and technical education.
This has paid off big time as the world went digital; even in 2009, Estonia was renowned for the entire country being set up on a wireless network. Even in the middle of the National Forest, you can find a Wi-Fi signal on your laptop.
The capital city of Tallin is beautiful with a combination of Old European castles, stone roads, leftover Soviet mosaics, and modern structures built around and in line with previous history instead of erasing it.
On average, the cost of living in Estonia is around 28% cheaper than living in the United States, and all of Europe is a day's travel away by air or train.
Good summary for Estonia digital nomad visas
- Proudly embrace digital/technological side of business
- First nation to create a digital nomad visa
- Very modern nation where you can literally find a signal to work anywhere
Bali has long been a popular destination for tourists, but did you know that Bali has also developed their own digital nomad program to attract digital workers to the area? This is seen as a great way to continue to funnel outside money into the economy, even above and beyond tourism.
Bali is a famous tourist location in Indonesia, and while the details are still being hammered out, the work visa lasts for up to five years, and initial reports seem to suggest that money made for work sent outside of Bali would not be taxed in-country.
Considering the amazing deals that can be found in Bali that have long made it popular with backpackers and budget-conscious travelers alike, and a friendly local population and ability to get a luxury lifestyle and an inexpensive price makes Bali a great location for remote workers and digital nomads.
Good summary for Bali for digital nomads
- Friendly locals in an area that is very tourist/visitor friendly
- Already full infrastructure for remote workers and expat community
- Potentially tax-friendly work visa terms on the way
Wait a minute, isn't Thailand already one of the premiere spots for expats and digital nomads in the world already? So how can it be a hidden gem?
Thailand is still on the list for a few reasons:
- Thailand has been an expat destination for so long it sometimes gets overlooked by digital nomads because it's not "new" enough.
- Thailand has a long-standing built-in section of cities and economies for expats giving a great infrastructure for foreign workers to thrive.
- Thailand has multiple cities so different from one another that it's like going to four different countries - meaning a digital nomad who hates Bangkok may fall in love with Chang Mai or Pattaya, or vice-versa.
Because of these reasons, yes, despite being well known as a digital nomad destination, Thailand still belongs here because of how much there is to discover and how different the various areas can be in providing a different experience for digital nomads.
Want a party beach town that's very quiet during the day? Pattaya. Want a quieter beach town with only a small amount of nightlife you can avoid easily? Phuket. Want a true metropolis that is one of the largest cities in the world? Bangkok. Looking for a quiet backpacking/hipster/coffee shop city with relaxed vibes? Chang Mai.
In other words, when you get a digital nomad visa to work in Thailand, you have an incredible number of options available.
This keeps Thailand on the list because not only are they one of the best destinations period, but Chang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Bangkok (the "Big Four" among expat/digital nomad cities in Thailand) all offer very different experiences. Because of that diversity, it's hard not to have Thailand on every list.
Keep in mind that although it's one of the most popular destinations now for digital nomads, Chang Mai was basically unknown outside of extreme backpacking groups even a decade ago, and now some argue it's the second most popular spot in Thailand for remote work outside of Bangkok.
Explore the options available. They are many, especially for digital nomads actively earning, and you will be hard pressed to find a friendlier common culture anywhere in the world.
Good summary for Thailand digital nomad visas
- Multiple areas of the country very expat or digital nomad friendly, each with different "feels" to the area depending on your preferences for living area
- Very low cost of living for quality lifestyle
- Called "The Land of Smiles" for a reason—extremely friendly and welcoming people
Bermuda has a digital nomad visa, meaning that dream of tropical paradise could be a few good freelancing contracts away. Bermuda is a classic vacation destination renowned worldwide for being a tropical paradise, but they have also opened immigration to digital nomads.
If the idea of being invited to live in a world-famous island paradise while working remotely sounds like your thing, then why not give Bermuda a shot?
Good summary for Bermuda digital nomad visas
- Relatively inexpensive application fee ($263)
- Can't argue with the stunning location
- Health insurance and ability to support oneself are part of the proof needed for application
9. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has long been an example of a stable, safe country with a friendly population and a culture of caring. One of the few nations in the world with no military, they have also long been a popular tourist destination for a wide variety of reasons, including (but not limited to):
- Beautiful Pre-Colombian ruins
- Gorgeous nature (including wonderful parks)
- Incredible beaches & amazing surfing
- Waterfalls, jungles, caves, hot springs, and volcanoes, among many other incredible natural sights
- A legendarily friendly people
- Relaxed lifestyle embraced by the people and the culture
There's no doubt Costa Rica has plenty to offer visitors, but digital nomads will be delighted to know there is currently a digital nomad visa for one year that can be extended to two years, and the classic Rentista visa for freelancers is still an option, as well.
Costa Rica is inexpensive, offers an incredible number of things to see/do, and offers a very welcoming environment for digital nomads while all being a mere three-hour flight away from Miami.
Good summary for Costa Rica digital nomad visas
- Wonderful friendly people very open to expats
- Incredible area to explore
- Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from a flight back to the States
Spain is a hidden gem in part because of just how popular Portugal has become with expats and digital nomads. This is no shade to Spain's neighbor: there are many good reasons why Portugal has become so popular, but Spain offers many of the same benefits at an increasingly cheaper price.
Spain's dedicated digital nomad visa lasts from 6–12 months and should not be mistaken with the Non-Lucrative Visa, which is good for a year and easily renewable but does not allow for work.
With beaches, mountains, historic cities, and friendly people, Spain has a lot to offer digital nomads who can get an enormous amount of value from what this country's digital nomad program allows.
Good summary for Spain digital nomad visas
- Good for six months to one year, though likely to see an extended version in the future
- Many of the same benefits of Portugal at an even lower cost
- Inexpensive way to gain access to EU
As much as I'm a fan of peaches and pecan pie, we're not talking about the southern U.S. state but the nation that was formerly part of the Soviet Union and gained independence in the early 1990s.
Georgia has long been a favorite of some expats, and its friendly people, incredibly delicious food (all the fresh bread and cheese), lovely mountains, and great wine. The capital has a great mixture of architecture from multiple cultures and ages, making it a truly unique place to visit.
The requirements for income are $2,000 a month or $24,000 in savings, making it one of the more reasonable digital nomad visa income requirements out there.
Good summary for Georgia digital nomad visas
- Will likely need to be based out of the capital city of Tbilisi for reliable Internet infrastructure
- You must have visited Georgia at least once prior to the pandemic (this restriction may be changed as the pandemic becomes less front and center due to vaccines)
- Reasonable income and/or savings requirements compared to most digital nomad applications
Malta is a country of incredible history, and this small island European nation is often forgotten, but it has remarkable history and a solid digital nomad program encouraging remote workers to visit and work from there.
Malta offers incredible Internet infrastructure, including a nationwide 5G network, English is widely spoken and understood, and a strong local economy means plenty of small shops, bakeries, eateries, and services.
Malta also has a great central location for getting all around Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East, meaning if you love to travel, you are in the right place to do so!
The Digital Nomad Residence Permit is good for one year and renewable for up to three. This guaranteed number of extensions is far more than most programs currently offer.
On the downside, Malta is not cheap. So for many digital nomads who are looking for an area where they can stretch a modest budget further, Malta is not going to meet those goals.
Good summary for Malta digital nomad visas
- Higher monthly income than average required
- Outstanding infrastructure for digital workers to take advantage of
- Not inexpensive, but offers great central location for travel
The World Is Your Oyster!
In 2021, Estonia was the very first nation to create a digital nomad visa. There are now more than 40 options, with many more on the way.
If you make a living as a full-time remote worker, a freelancer, or a digital nomad, looking at a digital nomad visa is a great way to take advantage of what the many different locations of the world have to offer while getting the most out of every paycheck.
The world is your oyster, so why not take advantage and live life to your heart's desire?
Great Digital Nomad Book for Beginners
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Shane Dayton