Forget Remote-Worker Visas—Here’s a Better Way to Live and Work Overseas

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on October 20, 2020 in Live Better, Make Money

I’m betting you’ve seen a rash of recent mainstream media headlines touting all the destinations aiming to woo Americans with temporary, remote-worker visas. 

It started with Barbados and has expanded to include Aruba, Estonia, Georgia, Bermuda, and a few others. Antigua and Barbuda recently jumped onto the dog-pile and upped the ante by offering a two-year visa instead of a one-year visa like all the others. And all of that is fine and dandy…if you want to play at being a remote worker/digital nomad for a year or two before returning to your daily life in the U.S. 

But if you really want to build a life living and working abroad, there’s a savvier approach that can save you money and ultimately time.

Some of the mainstream media note that these temporary visa programs are a good way to test-drive a remote-worker lifestyle. I disagree. I think they’re a costly way to do it and are, at best, an extended vacation. Maybe “sabbatical” is the better term. 

Either way, if you want to test-drive the remote-worker lifestyle, then consider doing so in a country you think you might like to live and where you have a chance of obtaining a long-term residence visa (and maybe even a second passport) if you come to realize that you do, in fact, love this remote-worker life. That’s just as effective, and, frankly, it’s a cheaper and less time-consuming strategy. 

I’ll use Barbados to explain what I mean since it launched this visa trend. (By the way, this is not a knock against Barbados or any of the other countries. It’s just to show you there’s a better option.) To apply for the Barbados Welcome Visa, you have to pay $2,000 as a single person, or $3,000 for a couple. For that price, you can live and work in Barbados for one year—so long as you guarantee that your income will exceed $50,000. 

After one year: adios. You had your fun, now it’s time to go home, or so say the rules for obtaining this particular visa. 

In short: this is a one-and-done proposition—the visa version of a one-night stand. 

If you’re happy having spent a year abroad and you want to go back to your American life, all is copacetic. 

However, if you decide over the course of the year that you love this lifestyle and you don’t want to go home, then you’ll likely be frustrated and disappointed it has to end. Of course, you can always apply somewhere else for a new visa and move to another country to maintain this life you love. But that’s my point: 

Why put yourself in the position of having to start all over again? 

If you begin the journey with a country where residency visas are relatively easy to obtain, and which allow foreigners the right to work, you will save money and time. Let’s use Portugal as an example, since it’s a popular destination for remote-working Americans looking to gain easy entry into Europe. 

The application process for what’s known as a D7 visa is not challenging. Here’s everything you need: 

• Application form;

• Passport;

• Two identical, passport-sized photos;

• Travel insurance, with full emergency coverage and possible repatriation. Once approved for a visa, you’ll need local health insurance;

• Application for criminal-record consultation by Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF);

• Certificate of criminal records issued by your home country;

• Proof of local accommodation;

• Proof of income of at least €7,200 per year (about $700 a month) for you, and another €3,600 (about $330) for a spouse. You’ll need six months of bank statements as proof.

That’s it. Honestly, quite easy. And it’s not very expensive. Do it yourself, and the entire process will cost you less than €300 (about $350) in government application fees and whatnot. If you hire a firm in Lisbon to help you navigate the process, it will cost you well under $1,000. Then, after a couple months (typically no more than two) you’ll have a one-year, Portuguese residence visa. 

Better yet, at the end of that year, you can apply to renew your visa and you’re given a long-term residence card (looks like a driver’s license) good for two more years. At the end of those two years, you renew for another two-year term. And at the end of that—five years in total—you can apply for permanent residency and citizenship (along with a local passport), if that’s part of your plan. 

To me, this is a far savvier approach because it levels up the Barbados model by giving you greater flexibility and options. If after one year abroad you want to return home…well, you experienced your live-abroad moment and you go back to your previous life. 

If, however, you decide you want to continue living and working overseas, then all you need do is renew your visa, a very simple process without a ton of paperwork or cost. You don’t have to start from scratch. Basically, it puts you ahead of the game because you save money on the visa application process, you have an easy renewal path with no need to start over at ground zero in another country, and it puts you a year closer to obtaining permanent residency, if you want that. 

And Portugal is just one example. With certain timing, cost, and procedural tweaks, you can pretty much find a very similar process for obtaining a residence visa in places such as Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Colombia, Italy, Uruguay, Peru, and others. Here in the Czech Republic, where I live, the process is similar to Portugal’s. And the cost is minimal. I used a visa firm in Prague to help secure my residence permit and my work permit, and it cost me 13,500 crowns, or about $585. 

Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with Barbados…or Aruba and all the others. But why test-drive a car you ultimately can’t buy?

By Jeff D. Opdyke