Cecilia Meis was working remotely in Dallas as a freelance editor when she decided to pick up and move to Thailand in 2017. Now, three years later, at age 30, she fully considers herself a "digital nomad" — a term 7.3 million Americans use to describe themselves, according to a 2019 report from MBO Partners. In addition to Thailand, Meis has lived in Hawaii and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she resides now, and plans to move to Tanzania in November.
"I've been nomadic for exactly three years," she says. "Since then, I've visited eight countries, with the longest stay of six months."
Meis moved well before Covid-19 forced millions of Americans to work from home. Now that many companies are allowing employees to operate remotely — almost a quarter of employed workers are working from home every day — it can feel more tempting to change the view from your desk, perhaps drastically.
Some countries are making it easier to move abroad by offering visas to remote workers as a way to offset tourism losses during the pandemic. Bermuda and Barbados, for example, are both offering 12-month visas for remote workers. So are various eastern European countries including Estonia (though Americans are currently banned from traveling to countries in the European Union) and Georgia.
If you're planning on moving abroad, there are some costs you will have to absorb. Here's what it would cost if you actually wanted to pick up and move to Barbados, or any other country currently offering remote worker visas.
Wherever you hope to move, expect that you might have to prove you have dependable sources of income and pay a visa application fee.
If you want to move to Barbados using the Welcome Stamp program, the fee is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families. You'll only incur that charge if your visa is approved. In Bermuda, the visa application fee is $263.
To obtain a visa, many countries also require you to show you are making a certain amount of money. For example, to move to Georgia there is no visa application fee, but you must "have the financial ability to pay taxes while staying in Georgia and should have a minimum monthly salary of $2,000," according to the "Remotely from Georgia" website page.
To move to Estonia, you must prove you make at least $4,150 per month, and to move to Barbados you have to prove you make at least $50,00 per year. Bermuda does not require monthly income from workers.
Moving to another country holds many of the same financial considerations as moving to another state, , says Mark La Spisa, a certified financial planner and president of Vermillion Financial Advisors in South Barrington, Illinois.
Health care is one of those financial concerns. "Every country will be different," he says. "You need to ask: 'Can you buy into the system? What policies do they have?'"
This is especially important if you are a senior or have preexisting conditions, he says.
Meis purchases "nomad" insurance from Safetywing, a company that sells medical insurance to travelers.
For preventative care or minor health issues, she says she researches and relies on local health-care systems. "In my experience, they are more comprehensive and far cheaper than U.S. health care or purchasing a preventative plan for abroad," she says. "Everything from prescription birth control refills to dental fillings, flu vaccines to roadside 'emergency' treatment after a minor motorbike spill was a simple and very affordable process."
So long as you're a U.S. citizen, you'll need to file a U.S. tax return and pay taxes.
If you are establishing residency abroad, even temporarily, you might be required to pay taxes there, too. Look up what the tax structure is of where you want to move and how much of your income will need to be allotted to paying taxes, La Spisa says.
"Look up what's the real estate taxes, what's the income taxes," he says. For example, Bermuda, has no income tax.
Meis also suggests watching out for value-added tax (VAT), which are similar to a sales tax and can "get costly," she says.
"If you're there for long periods, do your research and look into your visa options that aid with VAT tax," she says. Depending on the country and the terms of your visa, you may be able to claim a refund for VAT paid.
"Most people don't think about the cost to travel back to the U.S. to their hometown," La Spisa says. "They are going to do it. People are still going to get married in their old circle, and people are going to have kids. There's going to be all these events they are going to come back for."
Prior to the move, Meis says, she "didn't have a solid financial plan."
"I had a sort-of arbitrary amount of $5,000 minimum in my head for the emergency fund," she says. "That ensured I could fly home and have a cushion, should something happen. Beyond that, the plan was simply to continue earning while traveling."
Even with that $5,000 emergency fund, she said money sometimes was still tight, and she did have to dip into that pot. Over the last three years, though, she has become more thoughtful with how she spends.
"Now, I'm much more strategic and have accounts set up with various savings, spending, investment, and retirement goals for each," she says. "I also keep a strict daily budget to ensure I'm on track. A lot of this planning came from simply living that experience and tweaking the plan as I learned."
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