For many years, remote working has largely been the territory of digital nomads, technologically savvy entrepreneurs with a thirst for travel, but the arrival of Covid-19 has given birth to a new way of working and a new kind of worker – the techpat.
A mix of grounded nomads and workers no longer tied to an office, the techpats are moving in and setting up base in countries offering warmer weather, a relaxed lifestyle and, quite often, more attractive tax regimes.
Daniel Goebel, co-founder of the Malta Digital Nomad Association, said: “Until the end of 2019, the digital nomad trend was seen as some kind of hippie movement though we knew at one point it would become big, we were 100% sure about that, but then corona started and we made a leap 10 years into the future because everyone now has to work from home, but home can actually be anywhere.”
Although the numbers are vague, a 2018 survey by US-based business services company MBO Partners found that 4.8 million independent workers described themselves as digital nomads, with up to 17 million aspiring to become one. The Facebook group Digital Nomads Around the World has also grown in popularity over the past year, now boasting more than 141,000 followers.
Alistair Webster, founder of freelancesuccess.co.uk, said: “I am finding a lot of interest from all kinds of people these days who want to work for themselves abroad, but don’t know how to go about it.”
Webster is a prime example of the new techpat emerging from the pandemic. Originally from Preston, northern England, he and his wife Maja had initially embraced the digital nomad existence, traveling mainly throughout Europe until the pandemic made country-hopping problematic. So last summer, on realizing a second wave of Covid-19 was about to restrict travel once again, they flew to Cyprus, attained residency and set up base there.
“The island is well connected to the UK and it helps that everyone speaks English in terms of sorting out the admin needed to set up a base. Cyprus also offers a nice lifestyle and a very relaxed way of life,” said Webster, 30.
The most enduring image people have of digital nomads is of bright, young twentysomethings drinking from coconuts while closing deals via laptops from a beach in Bali, but today’s techpats appear to have a more pragmatic approach to working life.
Australian Tim Kremer, who owns a cloud-based software suite for client-focused businesses called Avaza, is one of a growing number of techpats leading a more settled existence in Cyprus. He said: “I’m a proponent of going where you’re treated best in terms of job opportunities or taxation or social infrastructure that makes your life a better experience.
“There are a few things about Cyprus that stand out and make it attractive to digital nomads, but one of the main draws is the island’s non-domicile tax regime that encourages talent to come from overseas and settle.
“It’s also unique in that they only require you to be physically present in Cyprus for 60 days of the calendar year, and it doesn’t have to be consecutive. For someone who’s a nomad, that gives a lot of freedom to travel the rest of the world and maintain a tax residence in Cyprus.”
With many economies now struggling because of the pandemic, some governments have started to tap into the potential of giving this growing tribe of techpats greater leeway when they come to visit, because working on a tourist visa is technically illegal in most places. Tourist visas also tend to expire after between 30 and 90 days.
In June last year, Estonia issued a one-year “digital nomad and freelancer visa” allowing foreigners to live in the country while working remotely. Georgia quickly followed suit, offering a visa called “Remotely from Georgia.”
And in January this year, Croatia also started issuing “digital nomad visas.” Somewhat further afield, Antigua and Barbuda announced a two-year Nomad Digital Residence (NDR) for remote workers with the means to support themselves, and Barbados offers a 12-month “Welcome Stamp” for remote workers.
Such moves have been welcomed by many in the digital nomad community, including Minou Schillings, 26, from Utrecht in the Netherlands, who is currently living and working in Lisbon, Portugal.
“A lot of people think this existence is purely about traveling,” she said, “but I did my master’s thesis on nomadic entrepreneurship, and I interviewed a lot of nomads, and the most important thing for them was not discovering new places or traveling to new countries, but having the complete power to design their own lives; it’s lifestyle design.”
This desire to chase the life you want is all too recognizable to Mike Weir, an architectural technology and engineering technician, who swapped Falkirk, Scotland, for Paphos in Cyprus. He and his wife Kerry headed to Cyprus three years ago, where Kerry’s sister has a place.
“We had every intention of becoming digital nomads, but we moved to Cyprus and didn’t really move again,” Mike Weir confessed. In the end, the couple applied for residency and found themselves part of a small but growing community of remote workers centered on a co-working facility in Paphos.
Former nomad Samantha Gargour also gravitated in that direction after her wings were clipped, not so much by Covid-19, but by concern for the planet. The 37-year-old woman from Bournemouth, southern England, said: “The pandemic has made me reassess my desire to travel based on the environment and whether or not I actually need to take that flight at the weekend or take seven or 10 flights a year.
“We have been forced to slow down, and as my original plan was simply to have an online business that I could run from anywhere, Cyprus is as good a place as any to stay.”
Like her fellow techpats on the island, the attraction of Cyprus for Gargour was partly the weather and partly financial.
“Cyprus in particular has a lot of lifestyle advantages, with the sun and the weather being a prime example, but it also has a lot of activities from diving to skiing to hiking, so if you are an adventurous outdoorsy type person it’s a great place to be.
“It’s also a very safe place to be and workwise, business taxes, [value-added] taxes and income taxes are all really low, so to start a business here is quite attractive.”
This is an edited version of an article originally published in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. It was provided to Asia Times by the writer.