Digital Nomads, the self-employed and visas in Europe.

Digital Nomads, the self-employed and visas in Europe.

Digital nomads are a large and growing group of geographically flexible, self-employed or freelance workers.  If you are one of this fortunate group for whom fast internet (and, maybe cheap coffee) is the only requirement, you will know that navigating visas while working and travelling is not always simple.   Many governments have not kept up with this growing trend and current immigration systems are setup to cater mostly for people who are employed by a company and head into an office as their normal work day. For those who are not fortunate enough to own a passport from the 31 countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), how do you deal with current European immigration laws to allow you to live the digital nomad lifestyle in Europe?

Fly under the radar

While technically illegal, thousands of digital nomads use a Schengen tourist visa to enter their country of choice and then work while they travel. This visa allows you a maximum stay of 90 days in a six-month period. When this period expires you’ll need to leave, either to a new destination or re-enter on a new visa. While most European governments turn a blind eye to this at present (on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of arrangement) some governments are starting to ask tough questions, and this may well get harder in the future as the numbers and impacts of people taking advantage increases.

We spoke to Christy, an experienced digital nomad. “It's easy to bounce around the Schengen region as long as you don't mind moving month-to-month.  I've only experienced hard-core grilling from immigration in the United Kingdom so be prepared for that. To ensure you are get through make sure you have already booked a flight out to show if they ask and have proof of a decent amount of savings because they may ask for that too). I always say I'm just traveling around visiting friends. Never mention working or freelancing.”

Digital Nomads and Self-employed visas in Europe

Base yourself in one country, get a visa to live and work in that country and travel from there.

Sweating at every immigration queue and being forced to move is not everyone’s idea of fun. If you want a solution that is more permanent, then basing yourself in a country within the region and travelling from this base can be a great option. There are many options available and here we’ll look at 8 ways to live and work in Europe (and we’ll introduce you to an exciting opportunity that will be available from January 2019).

1.  German Freelancer Visa or “Freiberufler” visa

Germany has long been ahead of the curve in understanding the benefits of attracting excited, talented entrepreneurs into their country. To foster the community the German Freelancer Visa was created, and it is a brilliant offer (with some catches, restrictions and effort required.).

You need to be living in Germany at a registered local address when you apply for the visa, have health (not travel) insurance and may have to wait for up to 3 – 4 months for the application to be processed if there are queries about some of your information. You’ll also need to show that your work can generate an income and for this you’ll need a business plan showing projected revenue and the capital you have on hand to ensure the success of your company.  Although not set in stone, the estimated minimum earnings are €800 per month.  If you are over 45 you need to show a pension plan and a monthly pension of 1,188.92 euros after the age of 67 or guarantees an asset amount of 175,068 euros.  There is a full list of requirements here on the official website.

It is worth making sure you have filled everything in as required, and that you have all the required documentation and information as resubmitted applications are given an extra level of scrutiny, apart from the wasted time. Working with a trusted, local partner may make the process faster and smoother and may be a good investment. One additional thing to consider is that you will be required to pay tax in Germany and so you’ll need to make sure this fits into your wider planning.

Digital Nomads, self-employed visas in Europe Germany

2.  Spain Non-Lucrative Visa

If you’ve dreamed of Spain as a base, the great news is that they offer a non-lucrative visa which means that although you cannot get a job in Spain, you can earn an income from work outside of Spain – perfect for the digital nomad! The application is in Spanish and you’ll need to be able to show an annual income of more than €26,000. Health insurance is a requirement as are police and medical checks.  Unlike some other countries Spain doesn’t require a degree from the applicants for this type of visa.

With Spain’s low cost of living and fantastic culture, infrastructure and location there is much to recommend Spain to any digital nomad. Be aware that the application process can be complex and the Spanish bureaucracy, though unfailingly friendly and polite, can be tricky to navigate. This is doubly so if you don’t speak passable Spanish. We strongly recommend using an experienced local immigration company. If you would like to use the lawyers I used when I moved to Spain, then click here and leave your contact details and they will contact you straight back.  They are experienced, trustworthy, friendly and their rates are very fair.

Note that this visa class also allows a pathway to permanent residency after 5 years.

NOMAD TIP:  Do you want to learn a language when you get to Europe?  I learnt the quickest through ITALKI.  All I needed was my laptop, Skype and I caught up with Maria a couple of times a week.  She was excellent!  She had a lesson prepared for me each week, then we chatted so that I could practice my Spanish. She wrote notes for me while we spoke so that I could revise after our Skype chat.  It was cheaper than face to face lessons too but the best thing is that I can keep the same teacher as I move from country to country. Highly recommended!

3.  Portugal Passive Income Visa

Lisbon, and Portugal in general, are incredibly popular with the digital nomad community for excellent reasons. Take advantage of this, base yourself in Portugal for 8 months of the year (or six consecutive months), prove an income of  €20,000 per annum and you could be eligible for a Portugal Passive income visa. While there are no published guidelines, our local partner’s experience shows that this level of income can be sufficient.

The visa gives you free access and circulation in the Schengen area, and freedom to live and carry out work in Portugal.

You also have the option to become "non-habitual resident" of Portugal for tax purposes, which offers excellent taxation rates for 10 years. This visa offers other benefits of access to residential rights including health, education, social security and others.

You’ll need a Portuguese bank account, health insurance, long term accommodation in Portugal and police clearance. Again, we highly recommend working with an experienced local partner to ensure the best outcome.  Connect to our recommended partner here.

Digital Nomads Self-employed visas for Europe Portugal

4.  Ireland Person of Independent Means (Stamp 0 visa)

Ireland, one of Europe’s technology hubs, could be your new base if you can show that you earn an annual income of at least €50,000. Living on the Emerald Isle has many great advantages, not least a culture and government that is strongly supportive of innovation and a community of entrepreneurs. Coworking spaces and good Wi-Fi are readily available with the majority being in Dublin and Galway but there are wonderful options in smaller centres around the country for those prepared to go looking.

Ireland has a higher cost of living than some of the other European countries, and you’ll also need to be able to show savings to cover yourself in unforeseen circumstances. Your finances will need to be signed off by an Irish accounting firm to ensure that you do meet the requirements. The visa and its terms are issued on a case by case basis and so your circumstances will impact the conditions of the visa. The Irish Immigration department website has some great information on requirements and how to apply.

RELATED BLOG YOU MAY ENJOY:  Visa options in South East Asia for Digital Nomads and Freelancers

5.  Czech Republic – Self Employed Visa

The Czech Republic also offers a visa for self-employed people. It happens in 3 stages:

  1. Apply for a  long-stay visa for the purpose of business (i.e. self-employment). As you need to have a local address, you probably want to move to the CR on a tourist visa and then apply at a Czech embassy. This visa lasts 12 months.
  2. Long-term resident visa (renewable up to 2 years at a time, depending on your insurance)
  3. Permanent resident (after a minimum 5 cumulative years of being a long-term resident, you can apply.  There are of course other requirements).

This is a great advantage of the Czech scheme, not all the other visa classes offer a clear pathway to permanent residency.

For the Long Stay visa, you need to prove that you have available funds to cover you for the duration of your stay, although the rules do change this is currently around €4,300 (Kč110,000). You’ll need a medical, police clearance and proof of your professional skills as well as health insurance.   You will hear people talking about a Zivno – what is this?  It is the official registration of your trade on the Živnostenský list, such as “Software developer”, and is a requirement of the Long Stay Visa.

The process does change, and language can be a barrier so we advise finding good, local assistance.  Our partner Veronika has helped a huge number of people with their visas, her rates are very fair and she speaks perfect English.  Leave your contact details here and she will get straight back to you.

6.  Netherlands Independent Entrepreneur

This visa class has some hurdles to clear. You’ll need a comprehensive business plan that proves your business will add value to the Dutch economy or, if you are a freelancer, that you have Dutch clients.  You’ll also need to show a net profit of € 1,192.96 per month that needs to be independent and long-term.  You also need to score adequately on a points system. The points system is based on your experience, education, entrepreneurship, income amongst other things. 

US, Japanese and Turkish citizens can take advantage of treaties between their countries and the Netherlands and in some cases, do not need to meet the points threshold. You’ll still need to meet the general requirements.  Here is the official government website to help you take the next steps.

Digital Nomad Self-employed Visas for Europe Netherlands Independent Entrepreneur

7. Working Holiday Visa

If you are under the age of 35 (30 in some countries), the quickest visa to get may be a Working Holiday Visa. A Working Holiday Visa allows you to legally work (with some restrictions) in the country that granted the visa and then to travel as you want. The length of the visa differs depending on the country and there are different agreements between countries that impact your ability to access these visa schemes.  Generally, you’ll need to show you have a return ticket or sufficient funds for onward travel. You may need to pass health and police checks and you need to show you have some savings to get you settled and find work. An easy way to understand all your options for a working holiday visa is use the Where Can I Live smart wizard.

8.  Student Visa

The benefits of studying are often self-evident, but further education may also give you access to live and work in a host of countries. Many European countries have very attractive study visa programs, and this can be a great way to live a digital nomad life while picking up a new skill or qualification.  Head to – either explore the countries you are interested in for details of available visas or use our Smart Wizard to see what options are open to you. TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) is a very popular option which gives you the skills to earn an income while you travel the world.

Digital Nomad Self-employed visas in Europe TEFL Student visa

9.  Estonia Digital Nomad Visa – COMING IN JANUARY 2019!!

Estonia is leading the pack in much of its thinking about the new economy and ways of working to attracting great talent to their country.  They are in the process of developing a digital nomad visa. Early information is that the government is aiming for release in January 2019 and the visa will allow work and residence in Estonia and come with a Schengen visa allowing you to visit other member countries. Digital nomads accessing the scheme will not be eligible for Estonian tax but will have to prove their tax status in their country of origin.  We are very excited about this one!

Europe is an unmatched place for the digital nomad. Excellent infrastructure and internet capability, a huge range of living costs to meet your budget, historic cities, amazing beaches, snowy mountains and a range of cuisine unparallel anywhere. If you have the free spirit and drive to take on the digital nomad life, we hope this helps you to add Europe to your chosen destinations. While having a base and travelling from there may not meet the every digital nomads ideals, working outside the norm and pushing boundaries is what drove you to pack up your laptop and head out into the world in the first place. Good luck and happy travels!

 Are we missing any opportunities?  What experiences have you had with any of the above?  We would love to hear and share your story in our Expat Stories Blog.  

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Alastair Johnson

A digital nomad, born and raised in South Africa before heading off into the wider world. Developed a serious case of itchy feet and found some amazing places to live along the way including London, Sydney and now Spain. Happiest sipping a sundowner looking over the ocean talking about the day’s diving.…