Portugal and its Digital Nomad Tribe

With the end of a pandemic in sight and travel restrictions beginning to ease out, people across the world are increasingly flocking to remote-working destinations. Although having started some years earlier, the COVID-19 situation has greatly accelerated the culture of the ‘Digital Nomad’. In the US alone, the digital nomad population has seen an incredible 112% increase from 7.3 million to 15.5 million in the past two years. 

Leveraging technology to work remotely, the Digital Nomad is often self-employed (although the number of employed workers is steadily increasing), prefers to stay in one location for 3 to 6 months, and is often self-taught in the ways of the Digital Nomad life.

The shift towards a Digital Nomad culture, however, is not uniform across the labour market. Given that it is usually white-collared knowledge workers who have the privilege of working from remote locations; one finds a strong presence of marketers, developers, designers, and e-commerce executives within the community. A survey by McKinsey found that businesses were quick to adopt digitization and automation technologies with the start of the pandemic, with sectors like financial services and technology and countries such as the US and India leading from the front. 

As workplace technologies like videoconferencing and filesharing become the norm, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Hitachi are announcing plans for greater remote work opportunities for their employees. Meesho, an Indian e-commerce company, recently adopted a permanent boundary-less workplace model, allowing their employees to choose if they wish to work from home, office, or someplace else.

The latest destination on the digital nomad map

This has led to waves of digital nomads seeking out popular work-from-anywhere destinations, right from Mexico City to Rio, and LA to Lisbon. Interestingly, Portugal is turning out to be a favourite destination of the Digital Nomads. NomadsList.com, a portal developed by and for the Digital Nomad community, has two Portuguese cities (Lisbon and Porto) amongst their top five destinations, with Lisbon ranking right at the very top.

Portugal, especially Lisbon, has a thriving Digital Nomad community, and a number of networking groups such as Digital Nomads PT, and Lisbon Digital Nomads, amongst others. The public Facebook group of Lisbon Digital Nomads and Expats has as many as 29,000 members with weekly meet-ups for getting to know the members of the community, or just to relax and grab a bite together. 

Situated at the mouth of the Tagus River, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a global city serving as a tech and entrepreneurial hub, touted by many to be the next Silicon Valley. After companies like Uber and Huawei, Google was just another tech giant to set up a base in Lisbon in 2018. As for those belonging to the Digital Nomad tribe who prefer working from outside of corporate offices, Lisbon has a host of co-working spaces such as Avila Spaces (winner of the Best Co-working Space in Southern Europe award in 2019), Heden and Workhub Lisboa (located in an old wine factory that aesthetically combines old charm with the new). Coffee shops like the Copenhagen Coffee Lab, DeBru, and The Mill (has a long communal table usually reserved for digital nomads) not only serve a mean cup of coffee along with delicious bite-sized petiscos, but also have great Wi-Fi connectivity (averaging around 21 Mbps). The Digital Nomad community in the country organises a number of activities such as skill workshops, open mics and stand-ups, as well as social activities like plantation and blood-donation drives.

Not just a digital-friendly destination

Just because Lisbon is a hub of business activity, does not mean that the city is no fun. In fact, Lisbon is one of the most human-friendly capital cities, with much art and activity to indulge in, both for the family-oriented and those without [6]. Lisbon was also ranked amongst the top 15 most LGBT-friendly cities in the world, according to a survey done in 2017 by the housing website Nestpick [9]. A vibrant city with plenty of azulejo tilework in bold and vivid colours, Lisbon breathes art and culture. From rejuvenating Yoga classes in the morning to live music and street art at every other corner in the day, to the tranquil backstreets coming to life in the night (given the relaxed drinking laws), there is always something happening in Lisbon. 

Even if you eventually get tired of life in the city (we highly suspect that) or just need a break from all the activity, there are a number of peaceful and picturesque destinations such as the historic city of Sintra or the coastal retreat of Cascais that are only a hour’s drive away from Lisbon. Taking the train, however, is the most convenient and affordable mode of transport for out-of-city destinations, especially if you do not wish to go through the hassles of driving or finding a parking spot. Within the city itself, you could either take advantage of a huge fleet of about 600 buses or take a ride in the city’s iconic tram system that has been in operation since 1873 [6]. While taking a walk through the city’s colourful landscape with cobblestoned streets is highly recommended, the inclined terrain could get you tired after a while (there are apps like Cooltra that provide motosharing services and even allow you to rent electric scooters).

Work permits and residency by investment

Perhaps the only major downside to working from Portugal is the laborious process of getting a work visa. Apart from the European population, only those coming from a few countries such as the U.K., US or Canada are allowed visa-free travel (for not more than 90 days) to Portugal.

A lot of people have now started opting for visas such as D2, D7 or the Portugal Golden Visa (PGV) that allow one to work and reside in Portugal. The comparatively wealthier Digital Nomads have been found to gravitate more towards the PGV, especially since it gives them greater freedom to travel across the EU region, requiring them to stay in Portugal only for an average of 7 days in a year. Investors can include their children and parents as dependents on one single petition and the family can together enjoy world-class health and educational facilities, if they choose to. Perhaps the biggest draw is the ability to receive EU citizenship five years after holding the PGV, which in turn unlocks a lot more European opportunities for the entire family. There is hope that Portugal will come up with a Digital Nomad visa sometime in the foreseeable future, but till then, the PGV continues to be the preferred visa option, at least for affluent Digital Nomads.

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