Collaborative post | The COVID-19 pandemic has been widely recognised as ushering in a new era of flexible working. The fact that millions of people around the world were able to continue doing their jobs effectively from home at the height of lockdown measures was proof that working remotely really was viable for large numbers of people.
But at the same time, the pandemic also temporarily shut down another flexible working trend - working as you travel.
Prior to COVID-19 largely shutting down international travel, an impressive 7.3 million Americans identified as ‘digital nomads’ - people who lead a travel-oriented lifestyle, working on the move with little more than a laptop and an internet connection.
With ties to the traditional workplace loosened by the pandemic - not to mention mass redundancies as thousands of businesses failed to make it through the crisis - the number of people taking up the digital nomad lifestyle is expected to double.
To many, it is the ultimate expression of career and lifestyle flexibility afforded by digital technology. After all, in our modern connected world, we’ve just had overwhelming proof that you don’t need people tied to a shared physical location to work. So why not prioritise working from amazing places?
However, it’s not quite so easy as packing your laptop and waving goodbye to your colleagues (until your next Zoom meeting, anyway). For a start, it’s only the lucky few who find an employer that is happy to let them wander the world while still under contract.
Most digital nomads tend to be freelancers working in sectors like marketing, content creation, photography, web and software design.
Second, there are certain practicalities to consider. You can’t just waltz into most countries and start working legally, for example. There are considerations like being registered for tax. Most countries require foreign nationals to apply for a visa to give them permission to work. There are currently only 41 countries that offer visas specifically for itinerant digital workers.
And then there are things like insurance. Unless you are granted residency in a country, you are unlikely to be entitled to state-subsidised healthcare. That makes falling ill potentially very expensive. Medical cover is essential, along with things like personal liability insurance. Many countries make valid insurance a condition of granting a work visa to foreign nationals.
The question then is, what kind of insurance do you need? That ultimately comes down to how you want to approach mixing work with travel - whether you are happy to blend short trips away with a more conventional working life, or whether you want to go for the full digital nomad experience.
Workations and travel insurance
For some people, cutting all ties to travel the world long term is a step too far. Rather than go full digital nomad, they just want to break up their working life with a little more travel.
That can be difficult to do within the confines of the holiday allowances of most jobs (or, if you’re your own boss, losing income for regular holidays). The solution? Take a workation.
A workation is most simply described as a working holiday. If you feel the need for a change of scenery to recharge the batteries or give you renewed inspiration in your work, simply pack your laptop and go work from somewhere different for a change. People who take workations overwhelmingly report benefits to their mental health and productivity.
From a logistical point of view, the great thing about a workation is you don’t have to treat it any differently to an ordinary holiday. The idea is that it is a short break, two or three weeks. As such, you don’t have to worry about special visas to get into most countries. You are allowed in under ordinary tourism rules. The fact that you decide to carry on working during your visit is neither here nor there.
It also means that you can take out standard travel insurance. Travel insurance will provide you with cover for medical costs, personal accidents, personal liability, legal costs and more but for a limited period of time (usually between three and four months).
If you plan to take regular workations and opt for annual multi-trip insurance, the limit per trip is more likely to be between two and three months. And you should be aware that annual policies usually have a limit on the number of days you can be away for per 12 month period.
Insurance for digital nomads
If your ambition is to take up travel as a longer term lifestyle and work as you go, then standard travel insurance is not suitable for you. Some travel insurance providers offer long stay policies, typically between 18 and 24 months in duration. These may suit your purposes, but a lot depends on how much you intend to move around.
If you plan to live and work in a particular country, for example, then your access to free or subsidised healthcare services will depend on your residency status. For expats who have not yet been granted full time residency in a country where they are working, the only alternative to paying for healthcare privately is to take out health insurance (in many countries, like the US, health insurance is a full time requirement anyway).
Digital nomads are unlikely to gain residency in any country because they do not stay in one place for long enough. The attraction of the lifestyle is moving around at will, after all. But that also means they will struggle to find health insurance for a particular country. Or if they do, they will have to keep buying new policies when they move.
What digital nomads require is cross-border insurance for specifics like healthcare, personal liability, personal possessions etc. This is still a niche area. But as market demand grows, more and more insurers are sure to step forward to offer it.
Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post.