Thinking about nomading around Europe but wish you could stay longer than 90 days in one place? The answer is the new digital nomad visas popping up in a handful of countries. Here’s what you need to know:
What is a digital nomad visa?
There are a lot of shitty lists out there claiming there are 20 or 30 digital nomad visas. So let’s get clear: not every visa that supports remote workers is a DN visa. Digital nomads aren’t just people who can do their work from another location. They’re nomadic. They travel while working.
This means calling Portugal’s D7 visa or Spain’s non-lucrative visa a digital nomad visa isn’t quite right. They aren’t for nomads. There are a number of reasons for this, but here’s one big one: both of them require people to apply from their home country. If you aren’t in and don’t plan to be in your country of citizenship for months on end, that gets tricky. Similarly, the Norwegian visa on many of these lists requires you to have a Norwegian client to apply. Which isn’t really for all digital nomads – but for people who specifically need to be in Norway to complete their work.
Which is why in this piece, my list of digital nomad visas is much shorter than other lists you’ll see online. Because I’ll be talking about what I think of as true digital nomad visas. Visas that were built with actual nomads in mind. Some (as you’ll see) are imperfect for the nomadic life, but these visas are trying to cater to those of us working around the world.
My criteria for a nomad visa:
:: You must be able to apply for the visa without going back to your country of citizenship.
:: The visa does not have specific client geography requirements (e.g. you don’t need a client in Germany or Sweden to apply).
:: The visa was built with mid-term stays in mind (longer than a tourist stay but not permanent settlement).
Right now, Europe has three true digital nomad visas. Here they are…
True digital nomad visas
Estonia’s was the first digital nomad visa and seems to be built with actual nomadic lifestyles in mind. You can apply in country (or at the embassy nearest to you). It takes less than 30 days to be approved. And the visa gives you up to a year in Estonia, which is a beautiful country with an up-and-coming tech scene.
Visa speed: Some documentation says 30 days or less. Other articles state 15 days. Our D visa (not the digital nomad visa, but same category) took about two weeks.
Visa cost: 100 euros
Cost of living: My stay in Tallinn cost me about $1,500 for a month (and that’s splitting housing costs with another person). Southern Estonia is cheaper and my stay in Tartu came in just over $1,200 for a month (again, splitting housing costs with a partner). The most expensive thing you’ll run into is housing; food, supplies, transport, etc. tends to be more reasonably priced.
- If you stay more than 183 days in a year, you will be considered an Estonian tax resident.
- The current minimum income required is around 3,500 euros per month
Estonia travel highlights: Viru Bog, Tallinn, Parnu.
Croatia’s nomad visa is a bit more complicated than its Estonian counterpart. They require an apostilled background check (for US citizens, plan on this process taking multiple months with the US bureaucracy). Average processing time seems to be about 8 – 10 weeks (more than twice as long as Estonia’s) and then you’ll wait another 3 – 4 weeks for your ID card. And some strict temporary residency rules that limit your freedom of movement apply (see below for details).
This visa is perfect if you know you want to spend a year in Croatia (and not take trips outside Croatia) and if you plan to have only one or two home bases within Croatia during that period.
Visa speed: I got my approval in under 8 weeks, but the average seems to be more like 10. Keep in mind that once you are approved, you’ll also wait 3 – 4 weeks to get your ID card.
Visa cost: Costs seem to vary a bit, but mine came out to about $109, not including the translation I had done for my Estonian background check.
Cost of living: My budgets in Croatia have varied considerably depending on when I’m here (summer is expensive, y’all!), how I’m living (splurge vs. budget), and where I’m based (Dubrovnik is pricier than Split, for example). I recently spent $2300 splurging in Zagreb by myself. And past budgets have included $1300 solo in Zagreb on a budget, around $1300 in Split (solo and partnered), and over $1400 in Dubrovnik (sharing accommodation costs with a partner).
- The visa only allows you to leave Croatia for 30 days at once and 90 days total. For most nomads, since a huge part of our lifestyle is flexibility, this probably isn’t actually a great fit. If we want to go to Serbia for six weeks, we want to go to Serbia for six weeks. If we get an opportunity to join a creative retreat in Spain for a couple months, we want to have the flexibility to do that. It’s bizarre to me that any country would create a digital nomad visa that put such extreme restrictions on travel. (You can find the official language here, article 87, list item 5.)
- Every time you move apartments, you’ll have to re-register with the police in your new town (and likely wait weeks for an updated ID card). If you travel fast, this is an extra hassle you might not love.
- You’ll need an apostilled background check to apply (for US citizens, expect this to take at least a couple months).
- Digital nomad income (income you actively make as a freelancer or employee) is exempt from Croatian taxes on this visa. Passive income, on the other hand, may be taxed (so double check with an expert if your income is from investments, being a landlord, etc.).
- Current minimum income for this visa is about $2,600 per month.
Croatia travel highlights: Plitvice Lakes, Rovinj, Split, Omis, Brela, and the abandoned hotels of Kupari.
Malta is the only of these three countries that I haven’t lived in (though I have visited), so note that this info is not based on personal experience. That said, their nomad visa looks intriguing and Malta is gorgeous, especially if you head to the northern island of Gozo.
Like the Estonian and Croatian visas, this one is good for one year. Unlike those, it can also be renewed!
Here’s their official website.
Visa speed: According to the website, DN visas are processed within 30 days.
Visa cost: The application fee is 300 euros.
Cost of living: My own trip to Malta was a short one, but I remember food costs being moderate and transport costs being extremely low. A quick Airbnb search turns up about a dozen options under $1500 per month in Victoria (the capital of Gozo) and upwards of 300 places in that price range in the Valletta/Sliema area (capital area on the main island). Obviously, long-term non-Airbnb rentals will run substantially cheaper.
- Sadly, this visa also requires a background check (US citizens, plan accordingly and expect a long wait)
- This visa is renewable! If you want to stay longer than a year, make sure to apply for renewal at least 30 days before you need the new visa.
- You must prove at least 2,700 euros per month income to be eligible.
- Your personal income is not taxed in Malta on this visa (unless you are offering services to companies in Malta, in which case you are eligible for a different type of visa, not this one).
Malta highlights: Victoria (Gozo), Valletta, the coastal walk around Gozo.
Other ways to stay in Europe a little bit longer
Albania does not have a nomad visa, but US citizens can stay in the country visa-free as tourists for up to a year. This is a very easy place to hunker down for awhile if you are a nomad who needs a longer-term base.
Due to a special agreement, Denmark also allows US citizens to stay an additional 90 days after their 90-day schengen stay is up. Keep in mind that this only applies to Denmark. Once you are past 90 days in the schengen, you can’t pop over to Germany or Norway for the weekend. You’ll also need to depart directly from Denmark at the end of your stay.
There are rumors that Greece will be introducing a digital nomad visa soon. I’m skeptical at the moment because every article on the topic seems geared more toward people who want to move there long term (which is great, but not really a nomad visa, as I talked about above). We shall see what unfolds as 2021 continues.
Poland has a 90-day agreement with the US similar to that of Denmark, but to get those 90 days, you’ll need to exit the schengen and fly directly into and out of Poland from a non-schengen country (in order to get stamped in and out of Poland specifically).
Note that there may be other bilateral agreements that allow you to extend your stay in specific countries based on your citizenship. This appears to be a helpful resource on the topic.
Long-term residency options
If you want to live in Europe (as opposed to nomading around without a home base), there are a quite a few residency options for remote workers, retirees, and/or business owners/freelancers. Keep in mind that long-term residency options will generally:
- Require you to be in your the country for a certain amount of time each year (usually at least 6 months per year.)
- Make you a tax resident (so make sure you understand the tax requirements of your new country, your citizenship country, and any treaties the two have in place).
- Require that you apply for the long-term visa from your place of residence. (If you are a full-time nomad, this typically means you have to return to your country of citizenship in order to apply.)
They may also require that you invest in real estate/purchase a home, sign a long-term lease, get specific local health insurance, and/or fulfill other requirements that short-term visas typically don’t have.
TL;DR: Residency options are fabulous if you want to have a home base. They’re not made for fast-travel or fully flexible nomadic lifestyles.
Questions? Drop them in the comments.