Those whirlwind tours of 14 cities in 14 days are verboten, but it’s easy to travel while following all restrictions and guidelines for staying safe from the coronavirus. As long as we’re dealing with COVID-19, we’re going to be in an era of slow travel.
The type of travel people typically do on vacation — jumping from one tourist trap to another, going out to eat for every meal, staying in a different hotel in a different city every night — is incredibly risky. Slow travel is simply living life in another city, so it’s no riskier than staying home.
While there’s a level of risk in getting on an airplane, train, bus, or even driving long distances, there are ways to mitigate these risks. When you’re changing locations every few months — or every year — the risk is further reduced.
Most countries with borders closed to tourism are still processing other types of visas: work permits, non-working visas, permanent resident applications, and new visas created specifically to attract digital nomads for long-term stays. And, of course, a growing number of countries are welcoming tourists from some or all nations.
While my plans for 2020 were disrupted by the pandemic, I’m still traveling full-time. Now that we’ve had time to adjust to the new (and continually updating) guidelines, it’s possible to get started on your next adventure.
Responsible travel during the age of COVID-19 means:
- building quarantines into your timeline,
- getting tested before getting on a plane, bus, or train,
- choosing destinations where you’ll be able to live the life you want while following guidelines, and
- reducing the number of people you’re coming into contact with to reduce the likelihood you’ll be part of the spread.
Things you need for long-term travel:
- A passport that won’t expire while you’re traveling
- A clean criminal record (If you don’t have this, you’ll want to consult a professional)
- Whatever documents are required for any visa you’re applying for
- Heath insurance that’s valid for the country you’ll be staying in
Digital nomad visas
Countries including Barbados have visa programs specifically for remote workers. Several countries, including Georgia and Croatia, have announced that they’ll be welcoming remote workers for long-term visas, but details haven’t been released yet.
You can apply for the Barbados Welcome Stamp online. There’s a US$2k processing fee (or US$3k for families). A week after you submit it, you’ll be approved to live in Barbados for a year and aren’t subject to income taxes in Barbados. You’re eligible to re-apply to extend your stay.
Bermuda now has a one year residency program for digital nomads. The application fee is $263.
Estonia’s digital nomad visa has a processing fee of only US$125. Applicants must be able to show a monthly income of US$4,150 or higher to qualify.
Other countries permit digital nomads to work remotely while on a tourist visa, including: Bermuda and Mexico. Some popular digital nomad destinations, like Thailand and the Schengen Zone, do not allow people to work remotely while on a tourist visa.
Freelance visas & self-employment visas
You don’t need to have a boss to get a work permit. If you’re self employed you can still qualify for a work visa.
If you own a business or have access to investment funds to start one, many countries have visa and permanent resident programs for investors and entrepreneurs.
If you can get your company to transfer you to another office you have access to an easy work visa. Your employer’s attorneys will take care of the details for you and hopefully provide a relocation consultant.
Nearly any country will give you a work permit if you have a job offer. Most countries require your potential employer to meet certain requirements, like demonstrating that they tried to hire a local, showing you have unique skills, and paying fees.
Working holiday visas
If you’re under 35, you may quality for a working holiday visa. The programs open to you depend on your citizenship. Different programs have different requirements: the age cut-off, what kinds of jobs you can take, how long you can work in one place, and if you can renew the visa.
Some of these programs are processing applications while others are on hold. See what countries your nationality has youth work exchange agreements with and verify that the programs are accepting and processing applications.
You don’t need a degree or training in order to get a job teaching English abroad. South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the UAE are known for providing lucrative teaching opportunities. Many include flights, health insurance, and housing.
Right now many schools have recruiting on hold, are only recruiting people already within the country, or are only accepting applications from certain countries. While options are limited, there are still schools recruiting on Dave’s ESL Cafe and TEFL.com. The COVID-19 TEFL Forum on Facebook is full of information on what countries are processing visa applications and what it’s like for English teachers in different locations.
Some countries require you have a passport from certain countries (typically the United States, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada) to get a visa. Countries that are open to fluent English speakers of any nationality include: Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Thailand, and Turkey.
Some countries require a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate. These courses vary wildly in price (from $20 to $1500), length of time (120 hours is considered the minimum for many schools), and quality. Some are done entirely online while others are entirely in-person and include experience teaching.
Some countries require you have a 4-year degree (like a BA or BS) in any topic. Countries that don’t require a degree include Cambodia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Italy, Laos, Myanmar, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Korea, and Spain. Some countries will accept a 2-year degree (or the first two years of a 4-year degree program) when paired with TEFL certification.
In each country there are four layers of requirements that are each slightly different: to get a visa, for government schools, for private schools, and for language centers. Generally language schools have the least stringent requirements for applicants, but you’ll still need to qualify for a visa.
The medical exam requirements may be different right now, so check that you’re getting current information.
English isn’t the only language people are looking to learn. If you’re fluent in another language, check out the foreign teaching opportunities open to you.
Working as an au pair is a great way to escape the tourist bubble and become part of the local community. Positions generally include room and board and a little bit of spending money. Au Pair World and Interexchange are keeping applicants up to date on what countries are placing nannies and what it’s like for people nannying during the pandemic.
Going back to school is an easy way to stay in another country legally for longer than a tourist visa will allow. Many countries allow students to work part-time and some allow you to bring your family. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a university degree program, as often language schools, trade schools, and certificate programs also qualify you for a student visa. It’s often possible to get a work permit after graduation and eventually obtain citizenship.
It’s still possible to get a student visa, even with many schools going partially or fully-remote. Check specific country and school requirements.
A number of countries welcome residents who don’t need a job because they have an income source from outside of the country. While these programs are most popular with retirees, not all countries require you be “retirement age.” The monthly income requirement can seem quite reasonable, depending on the cost of living in your country of origin. If you have disability income, Social Security payments, a pension, an Armed Forces pension, or annuities, you can qualify. Sometimes rental income, income from businesses you own, stock market returns, and other passive income can qualify.
These programs may or may not be open to people doing remote work in other countries (ie. earned income instead of passive income). Check carefully to make sure any work you’re doing will be legal.
Countries with non-work residency programs include:
- Belize – you or spouse must be 45+, can work remotely or be an entrepreneur
- Columbia – no age requirement, no criminal record check for 65+, may be difficult for non-government income sources
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- Panama: 18+, no dual citizenship
- Portugal: no age requirement. The Non-Habitual Resident visa allows you to live in Portugal without working. It allows you to stay in the country for up to 10 years and can be renewed. You get special tax status
- South Africa
- Spain: The non-lucrative visa prohibits you from undertaking any type of work or professional activity in Spain, but you are able to continue working remotely for an American employer and can perform freelance work for clients located outside of Spain. While each consulate might have slightly different requirements for the non-lucrative visa, there are numerous examples of Americans that have spoken to officials at their local Spanish consulate and were told that working remotely for their US employer is ok. Just be sure to be up front about your intention to work when applying for the visa to avoid any confusion.
- Switzerland: This is not listed as an option in official documents, but people have done it.
Long-term tourist stays
It might seem like your passport is useless, but there are countries with open borders. You can view the current map on World Nomads. Even if a country doesn’t require you to quarantine and get tested, it’s wise to do so. Before you go, make sure your travel insurance covers medical expenses related to COVID-19.
Albania welcomes tourists for up to a year, but you need a work permit for remote work. Bermuda has extended tourist visas from 90 to 180 days because of COVID-19. Mexico allows tourists to stay six months. You can also apply to have your tourist visa extended in some countries.
Bali’s tourist visa is only valid for 30 days, with the possibility of a 30 day extension. Jamaica also only gives tourists 30 days. The visa runs that used to be simple are no longer a safe option, so stick to countries where you can legally settle in for long stays.
Working remotely on a tourist visa is a gray area for many countries. It’s always wise to disclose to border control that your plan is to work remotely and ask if that’s permitted. The safest way to live abroad on a tourist visa is to rely on passive income (like rental income, business investments, book sales, stock dividends, etc).
If you’re living on a limited budget, you can keep expenses low by house sitting and WWOOFing. With house sitting you get free housing in exchange for keeping an eye on things, which often includes yard and pet care. WWOOFing provides room and board in exchange for around four hours a day of farm work. Because no money is exchanged this doesn’t count as work and doesn’t require a work permit. This means that you will not be able to enter countries for house sitting, WWOOFing, or other non-monetary trade programs if tourism is banned because of COVID-19.
There are fewer house sitting opportunities due to the pandemic, but the ones that are being listed tend to be long-term. Farms that are accepting WWOOFers typically have plans for having workers quarantine on arrival and following guidelines during their stay.
Permanent residency as a skilled worker
Some countries encourage people to build a life in their country, rather than simply spend a few years there working. Depending on the country you’re moving to and your country of origin, you might be able to obtain dual citizenship. Dual citizenship ensures you can return to that country at any point in the future (as well as other rights and responsibilities) while many countries will revoke your permanent resident status if you are out of the country for a certain amount of time.
The European Union
If you’ve worked temporarily within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may qualify for the Blue Card. This program allows temporary workers in any EEA country to work in any other EEA country, as well as eventually become permanent residents. There’s also the Czech Green Card.
You can apply for a Skilled Migration Visa and become a permanent resident using Skill Select. You can apply for a Skilled Independent Visa, Skilled Nominated Visa, or Skilled Regional Visa. If you meet the requirements for a Skilled Independent Visa, you can become a permanent resident without a job offer or family sponsorship. See if you qualify using their points system.
If you’re a young professional or work in a skilled trade, chances are you can move to Canada as a permanent resident through Express Entry. Your odds are even better if you’re currently living in Canada or if you’ve lived in Canada before, such as on an IEC visa or as a student. You’ll either need proof that you can support yourself while you look for a job or a valid job offer.
Traveling in your home country
Even if you decide to remain in your own country, it doesn’t mean you have to continue living where you’re living right now. There was a massive shuffling of the population when countries went under lockdown, leaving many furnished housing options in university towns and tourist hotspots. That’s how I ended up spending the summer outside of Banff National Park instead of trying to return to Toronto (where I also didn’t have a place to stay) or staying with my parents (which would have required finding travel insurance that covered covid-19).
Before the pandemic, I typically spent 1-3 months in each place, but I often stopped off in a few different cities between long-term stays. I also thought nothing of taking public transit between and within cities. Now my pace of travel has slowed dramatically. While I’ve been in three different cities since the pandemic started, they’ve all been in the same economic region. Normally it’s easy to meet people and get involved in the community. While it’s a lot more challenging now, I’ve been able to do a lot of hiking and even volunteering.
Farms that rely on WWOOFers are seeing very few applications in countries that aren’t open to tourists. If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to work on a farm, this is a great time to explore your own country (or countries you can legally enter).