The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to remote work. For knowledge workers, this lifestyle change placed the world in their hands. And among the many changes it brings, remote work is causing societal structure to undergo a significant evolution, creating a new class divide. Through this evolution, society is leaving the late industrial and early information age blue collar vs white collar class structures behind. Now, with the mass adoption of remote work, we are beginning to see class differentiation shift towards location dependent and location independent work. And the emergent location independent class is forming as a Sovereign Individual class.
Think of this fundamental class change as the adolescent years of the information age, ie: the digital age is the teenage lifecycle of the broader information age. Like a teenager, society is going through an awkward transition from purely physical reality, to a digitally enhanced existence. Work that has required traditionally present labor can now be done digitally. Remote work now enables this emergent social class to reprioritize their wants and needs.
And as remote workers realize they can reprioritize their personal needs, they will leverage this ability to conduct a tech-enabled exit. Through this “vote with your feet” practice of “tech enabled exit”, governments will begin to adapt their policy offerings to attract this class of people or be forced to adapt to their absence. In the end, the Sovereign Individual class will gain previously unavailable qualities of life.
This change will not be a smooth transition. It will be full of conflict, populism, and will change what people value. There will be bitterness, resentment, and attempts to publicly shame and extract value from this new group of people. Most importantly, in this transition, freedom of movement will become a luxury good.
Which ultimately raises the question:
If You Can Live And Work Anywhere, Where Would You Go? And Why?
I’ve thought about this question a lot. In a post pandemic world, without the need to go into the office, where would a person want to live and why? Preferences that come to mind include:
- cost of living arbitrage – taking a higher salary and moving to a lower cost of living location
- quality of location – is it a fun city, warm weather, or close proximity to a fun activity like skiing?
- proximity to family
- is the crime level high?
- are there good schools in the area? or are they suffering from the Red Queen Effect?
- are your religious and/or social communities present?
- what are the average costs of healthcare?
- what about tax and government policies?
- can you see yourself fitting into the local culture?
- what are the local political ideologies? are they hostile to you beliefs?
- is the country more nationalist or globalist?
The point is that there are many contributing factors that come into play when evaluating a location to move to.
To that end, recently I came across a Twitter post by Balaji Srinivasan about the growing number of tech enabled exits. Specifically, the post highlighted a few cities and included his network’s input on cities with unique programs designed to attract Sovereign Individuals. This is exactly the kind of data I’d want to analyze when considering my relocation preferences.
And while Twitter threads are great for leveraging networks for inbound ideas, they aren’t always the best way to digest lots of information in a concise way. Ie: Creating value from a network like Balaji did with his tweet also requires some curation, the second component to creating value for information capital assets.
So I consolidated the tweets in this post, incorporating most of the links provided by Baliji’s followers in a curated and more digestible style.
If I were a city, state, or national official looking to attract the emergent class of the digital age, I’d pay close attention to this list. It functions as an early prototype for the types of policies that will attract tomorrow’s elite.
Remote Work Changes Location Preferences – High Level Takeaways
Assuming your job is now permanently remote, the distance to your office and your commute time no longer matter.
When looking at relocation, you have several traditional options. The Golden Visa/Passport, the tax haven, traditional work visas for in demand jobs, and entrepreneurial visa programs. But because of the impact of COVID-19, governments are starting to alter their permitting processes in interesting ways. Primarily, tailoring visa policies to accommodate extended stays of remote workers. Locations with large scale tourism industries that have suffered significant economic hardships during the pandemic appear to be pioneering these changes.
Additionally, there is a variance in needs that are developing within this Sovereign Individual class. Families will make very different location decisions from single and younger remote workers. And entrepreneurs and business operators will have divergent needs and freedoms from individuals that are remote employees. The new styles of remote work visas don’t appear to have consistent policies in regards to family permitting. As we grow in comfort with permanent remote work, these differentiations will become more apparent and require policy alterations.
The Golden Passport/Visa
In general, most countries have a golden passport/visa system. With these systems, you “invest” what is usually a large sum of money in the location you want to move to and are granted a residency permit. This is an inaccessible option for most people based on the price tag.
You can find a list of examples here.
General Purpose Work Visas
Like the Golden Passport, most countries have work visa programs to attract specific types of labor to their countries. These visas typically offer a range of benefits, last varying durations, and have unique qualification parameters. Below are a few examples with a bit of variety so you can understand the variance between countries.
The Taiwan Employment Gold Card (Link) is a combined open work permit, residence permit and visa for skilled professionals.
“The Taiwan Employment Gold Card is a combined visa, work permit and residence permit launched in 2018 to attract professional talent in Taiwan. The card gives you the right to stay and work in Taiwan for 1 year to 3 years, and you can apply online without sponsorship. You can bring your family with you, and visitor rights for parents and grandparents are also included. There are tax incentives for cardholders with high salaries.
Qualification is based on an assessment of your professional skills, you don’t need to have already secured a job in Taiwan. The Gold Card costs between USD100 and USD310 depending on your nationality and the duration of your card.”
Estonia’s E-Visa (Link) as of August 1, 2020, eligible location-independent workers can apply for the chance to come to Estonia to live for up to a year with peace of mind that they can legally work.
Canadian Express Entry (Link): The application process for skilled immigrants who want to settle in Canada permanently and take part in our economy. A popular option for foreign nationals struggling with work visa permitting under the Trump administration.
Toronto (Link): A Canadian tech hub with an excess of available jobs. “It’s not like there’s a bunch of Canadians waiting to take these jobs,” Brotzky said. “The unemployment rate is really, really low. We can’t find the people.”
Portugal Long Term Work Visa (Link) – “Due to bilateral agreements, citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Israel can apply for this visa from within Portugal, within 90 days of arrival.”
French Tech Visa (Link): “The French Tech Visa is a simplified, fast-track scheme for non-EU startup employees, founders and investors to obtain a residence permit for France. It’s Family-friendly. Your visa automatically extends to your spouse and minor dependent children. Renewable, and valid for four years.” This visa is also applicable to startup founders.
Netherlands Tech Visa (Link): Basic requirements are that you have a localized employment contract that pays above minimum wage.
Finland’s 90 Day Trial (Link) “We will provide selected applicants with a free 90-day relocation package for the entire family. We’ll arrange your housing, daycare, schooling, everything you need – the real deal, just like a Finn. In contrast to ‘Golden Visa’ programs, no charges or investments are required. We’re not after your money but all about lasting relationships. The real question is: are you up to try a life that’s utopia to many, reality for Finns?”
Startup, Business and Entrepreneurship Visas
Most countries also have some form of startup, business, and entrepreneurial visa program. These are intended to attract investments that create meaningful employment opportunities down the road. There is significant variance in the programs and what they offer.
Estonia Startup Visa (Link) If you don’t yet have an Estonian company, you can apply for a long-term startup visa (up to 12 months) or a short-term visa (up to 3 months) If a startup is granted a visa, the same may be granted to their family – spouse, children and adult children who, due to their health status or disability, are not self-reliant. The same applies to the family when the Startup Visa is extended.
Dubai Business Visa (Link): The Business Visa is based on the idea of permanent residency, given that the applicant complies with the terms and conditions at each renewal cycle (every five years).
Japan Startup Visa (Link): “Prerequisites for the “Business Manager” visa, which is required for foreigners intending to start a business in Japan, will be eased for foreigners who found his/her business in Fukuoka (National Strategic Special Zone). Foreign entrepreneurs are required to open a business office and hire two or more permanent employees or have capital/investments exceeding five million yen upon submitting his/her application to the Immigration Bureau in order to receive approval for the “Business Manager” residential status.” A 6 month visa with options for renewal.
Singapore (Techpass) – “Tech.Pass is a visa that allows established tech entrepreneurs, leaders or technical experts from around the world to come to Singapore to perform frontier and disruptive innovations.” The 2 year renewable visa is available to applicants that satisfy 2 of the following 3:
“Have a last drawn fixed monthly salary (in the last 1 year) of at least S$20,000.Have at least five cumulative years of experience in a leading role in a tech company with a valuation/market cap of at least US$500mil or at least US$30mil funding raised.Have at least five cumulative years of experience in a leading role in the development of a tech product that has at least 100,000 monthly active users or at least US$100mil annual revenue.”
New Zealand (EHF) – “The Global Impact Visa (GIVs) is the world’s first immigration policy focused on creating positive global impact, and arguably the most entrepreneur-friendly visa in the world.”
Chile (Startup Chile) “Any foreign professional or technician in the areas of science and technology or with proven experience in innovation, whether located in Chile or overseas, can apply for this visa when hired by a technology services company that holds a letter of invitation and/or a certificate of sponsorship from InvestChile” The visa is granted within 15 days of application.
Below are examples of countries that provide unique tax havens. These countries allow offshore businesses to operate without paying income tax, corporate tax, and local tax. The rules and scope of the tax haven vary by country, but these policies incentivize foreign businesses to set up shop in the country and indirectly support local economies. This option works well for individuals that work for large companies or sole proprietorships.
The Bahamas “The Bahamas was the first Caribbean nation to adopt strict banking secrecy laws. Information on offshore bank account holders can only be disclosed by the specific order of the Bahamian Supreme Court.”
The Cayman Islands “Offshore companies are not taxed on income earned abroad, and there is no taxation of Cayman international business companies (IBCs). The Cayman Islands has no income tax, no corporate tax, no estate or inheritance tax, and no gift tax or capital gains tax, making it a pure tax haven.”
Panama “One noteworthy characteristic of Panama offshore jurisdiction law is that offshore companies are allowed to conduct business operations within and outside of the offshore jurisdiction. Offshore Panamanian companies and their owners are not subject to income taxes, corporate taxes, or local taxes, and people of any nationality may incorporate within Panama.”
Post Covid-19 Remote Work Policy Shifts
Many locations that traditionally relied on tourism revenue are now being forced to seek alternative forms of income. This means the creation of new policies intended to interest remote workers. In time, and as more governments begin to understand the shifting class structure, policies will be adapted to appeal to Sovereign Individuals. This means that in addition to the above examples of visa requirements, we can expect many places to reduce requirements and add incentives in the near future.
Examples of Post Covid Adaptation
Greece (Link) – Tax incentives for digital nomads: “A non-domicile law introduced earlier this year, a tax amnesty in November and a family office-friendly tax structure planned for next year are aimed at the richer nomads.”
Once the visa is issued, the applicant is allowed to enter the country for a period of six months, with a multiple-entry visa, to facilitate the procedures of establishing the business project. This visa can then be converted into a residency permit.
Dubai Remote Work Visa (Link): A 1 year work visa. “The program grants you access to all the standard services that residents benefit from, including telecoms, utilities, and schooling.”
Your virtual working programme is valid for 1 year. It costs US$287 plus medical insurance with valid UAE coverage and processing fee per person. The program grants you access to all the standard services that residents benefit from, including telecoms, utilities, and schooling.
Barbados (Link): Our new 12 month Barbados Welcome Stamp, is a visa that allows you to relocate and work from one of the world’s most beloved tourism destinations. Costs 2,000
Vermont (Link): “Vermont will pay some new residents $10,000 if they work remotely”
Iceland (Link): A policy shift now allows remote workers to stay for up to 6 months at a time.
Tulsa Remote Work Grant (Link): Tulsa is rolling out the red carpet with a heavy hitting landing page. Offering up to $10,000 and other perks for remote workers to come and stay. Of particular interest, they are playing up the reduced cost of living as an arbitrage play.
Georgia (Link): “Remotely from Georgia’ is designed for freelancers, full-time employees or business owners who are able to stay in Georgia for at least 360 days without a visa per their passport or other travel document. “
A final resource worth sharing is Expatica.com which has a great list of visa requirements for many different countries.
Some Final Thoughts
There are some lingering challenges for the development of remote work policies. Specifically, what will the post Covid-19 work policies actually look like once lockdowns end? Will the majority of workers need to visit the office once a week or will they be fully remote? And will their jobs allow work in a different time zone? My theory is that +/- 6 hour time difference will be become the generally accepted range in the short term transition to permanent remote work.
As companies adjust policies to normalize permanent remote work I expect to see a transition to fully asynchronous work which will not be restricted by time zones.
Additionally, I think many of the common narratives ignore the importance of Sovereign Individual Collectives. Ie: Who are the key people, what are the key places, and what are the key features that are ideal for fostering community among Sovereign Individuals? I believe this class of people will find and connect with each other digitally first, but then gravitate towards one another in the physical world. I suspect this is the appeal of the Austin and Miami migration. Despite the freedom the tech enabled exit provides, Sovereign Individuals will fundamentally want to be around like minded peers.
And a Sovereign Individual that is constantly on the move will struggle to maintain community connections.
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