The collateral effects of a year of pandemic conditions have been absolutely fascinating and eye-opening. Once we got past baking sourdough bread and watching Tiger King in the early months, things really started to evolve. Just look at the explosion of Peleton (the stock price was $28 in January 2020 and $158 in December!), the creation of a new “athleisure” category of clothing, and the rise of social media platforms like TikTok and Clubhouse to feed our social needs. We have some interesting priorities!
But the biggest and possibly most enduring discovery from this weird year is that so many jobs that weren’t considered possible as a work-from-home arrangement suddenly had to be – and it worked out better for an awful lot of employees and employers. Companies are now recruiting talent from everywhere in the country instead of just locally, and less commuting has proven a great savings of money, time and environmental impact. All that goodness aside, I’m delving into the huge work from home shift and what that can mean as we emerge from our isolation and borders open up again.
Had my Boston-area brother been okay with either a 2000+ mile drive or a commercial flight, he and his ginger tabby would have spent a month or more in Colorado at my house, close to the rest of our family. Because when you’re working from home, it doesn’t really matter whose home. Take that a step further and you can be anywhere in the country, and then anywhere in the world…anywhere with reliable internet, of course. So between the growth of location independent work and a pent-up desire to travel our butts off as soon as we can (have you heard of “revenge travel”? It’s a thing!), quite a few countries have been ramping up their appeal to those of us who might want to take our show on the road —
In recent months, I’ve heard more and more about countries enticing freelancers and digital nomads to come spend months or even years living there, with special visas and tax incentives for doing so – Greece, Iceland, Costa Rica, Bali, Barbados, Estonia (homeland of the Skype inventors!), Mexico, Croatia to name a few. Some of the visa requirements are really cumbersome, like Iceland’s $7700 minimum monthly income (yikes!), but I expect that to change in the months and years to come as the number of remote workers and types of remote jobs grow. Countries will better grasp the benefits of appealing to gainfully employed short-term residents that are 100% net positive for the economy. Who wouldn’t want residents who don’t “take jobs away” from the citizens and spend locally, even a bit above market rate for some things because of their transient nature?
I’ve spent some time in a very popular destination for digital nomads – Chiang Mai, Thailand. I originally went for Thai massage training in 2007 and really like it there. So when I made the leap to fully location independent work, I headed there for a month in 2017. What, Gig Boss Katie, only a month?? Well at the time I was selling on Amazon and my mother was willing to label and pack for me, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Plus, southeast Asia in the dead heat of the rainy season is no joke. No wonder so many tourists pick up loose “fisherman pants” – even your legs sweat so profusely that you don’t want anything that might cling! …. Okay so I could – and will – write a whole blog post on working in Thailand at some point, because it was very eye-opening in terms of how NOT to be a digital nomad as well as being a fantastic time despite my tendency to hide in air-conditioned comfort way too much.
It’s been pretty trippy watching the life I dreamed of as a teenager in the 80s become a possibility for so many people. That dream? As I phrased it back then, it was to “work my way around the world”. That was quite some time before the internet was invented. This meant either flying by the seat of your pants and hustling for odd jobs, or going the official work permit route with a job arranged in advance, which again were pretty hard to even find in the pre-Google era. But I managed to do so in the UK through a student work exchange program, then Spain and Japan by teaching English live and in front of a chalkboard…y’know, ‘old school’ school. That way still exists and is something my Frugal Expat buddy Steve does in Taiwan with his wife.
These days, jobs abroad are less limited to language teaching – maybe they always were, but I didn’t get lucky with career guidance back when I needed it most. Seriously, I did not spend four years at a decent private university to be told I should look into becoming a flight attendant; I could have done that without the investment in a bachelor’s degree. I hope college career centers have improved tremendously since then, pffft. I’m guessing that was the case for Lionel over at Cent By Cent, who made the leap from Geneva to London with a job offer in hand. His decision to work abroad and all the quirks and hassles involved struck some very familiar chords for me…they’re really not that different than they were 30 years ago. Well, except for the cell phone plan dilemma, but I totally feel him on the expired driver’s license thing.