It is often said that remote workers can work from anywhere with an internet connection.
But tell this to someone who just wants to live and work in Bangkok or Bali.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed millions of workers from their offices to their homes – and many have decided to change countries, at least temporarily. To keep up with this trend, countries in Europe, the Caribbean and the Caucasus are trying to lure these workers with new visa programs for “digital nomads”.
To date, however, no Asian country has officially opened the door to this new remote workforce, leaving them wondering whether to consider themselves their preferred Asian destination or apply to live in another location that is now open to them .
Remote workers want to travel
According to a global Booking.com survey of 20,000 travelers working from home during the pandemic, more than a third have considered working from another destination, Nuno Guerreiro, the site’s regional director, told CNBC’s Global Traveler.
A woman works near the beach on Koh Phangan island, Thailand.
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“Research shows that there is an appetite to work from another destination. Respondents are in Asian countries such as Thailand (60%), Vietnam (52%), Singapore (50%) and China (45%) ). and Hong Kong (39%) outperformed the global average (37%) when it came to expressing interest in such agreements, “he wrote via email.
Respondents from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Russia and the USA were also very interested.
Wanted: free time and a lower cost of living
Asia featured four of the top ten travel destinations for expatriates to live and work in in 2019. This is the result of the “Expat Insider 2019 Survey” by the expat network website InterNations.
1. Taiwan – Best in the world for affordability of healthcare
2. Vietnam – the best in the world for personal finance
6th Singapore – The best in the world for personal safety
9. Malaysia – Well rated for affordable living and housing costs
10. Czech Republic
Adrien Pierson is co-founder and COO of MillionSpaces, a workspace booking website operating in Singapore and Sri Lanka. He believes other destinations in Asia will be attractive to remote workers for the following reasons:
Photo credit: CNBC.com Source: Adrien Pierson, MillionSpaces
The MillionSpaces service, launched in 2020, enables employees to book workspaces or hold meetings in hotels, bars, restaurants and traditional workspaces for a period of just one hour. Pierson said he believes remote working will stay here because it allows working people – not just retirees – to live at the destination of their choice.
“You are almost … retiring 20 years earlier,” he said.
Places like Phuket, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia are vacation destinations with enough infrastructure to get work done, Adrien Pierson said.
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American Marta Grutka said she was interested in moving to Bali or Bangkok.
“I’ve lived in Bali in the past and worked from my laptop,” she said. “If border restrictions weren’t an obstacle, I could imagine having Bali as my base from which to work.”
She said “the quality of life for the price” is her main motivation, although she warned that living and working in Bali on a budget is not the same experience as vacationing there.
“Prices are rising dramatically due to the rush of expats going there over the years,” she said. “Several business owners I know recently moved to Bangkok from Bali to pursue a cheaper and more cosmopolitan lifestyle.”
Living and working in Bali is not the same as going on vacation, warned longtime digital nomad Marta Grutka.
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Shuhui Fu from Singapore has been working from home since March 2020. She said if her company moves to permanent remote work that she is “pretty sure will,” she will investigate moving to Japan.
“I’m just fascinated by its culture and vibrancy, and yet there is a resemblance to it [Singapore] in terms of order and security, “she said.
In addition to travel opportunities, Fu is also motivated to exercise for the weather – but not for the warm beaches that draw many travelers to Asia. She would “go somewhere where I can experience the seasons that you cannot do in Singapore.”
A future for remote workers traveling in Asia?
So far, no country in Asia has announced a program specifically designed to attract the influx of remote workers caused by the pandemic.
And whether an Asian nation offers them a formal way to live and work within its borders is unclear. Asian governments have been very tense on the matter and the authorities in Singapore, Bali and Thailand did not respond to CNBC’s questions on the matter.
With the special tourist visa for Thailand, tourists can stay for up to nine months.
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There are still informal ways for remote workers to temporarily live in parts of Asia, although the pandemic has made them difficult to cope with.
“Digital nomads go from place to place and often conduct visa runs,” said Grutka, referring to the practice of crossing national borders to renew tourist visas. “With Covid it is now more expensive and it is more time consuming to take these steps.”
Bali is officially closed to international tourists, although some are finding ways to enter during the pandemic, Singapore digital newspaper Today reports.
The new Thailand tourist visa allows visitors to stay up to 90 days and can be extended twice, provided tourists are quarantined at approved facilities for at least 14 days upon arrival, long-term accommodation plans are proven, and health insurance is at least $ 100,000 Cover.
On the question of whether Asia will ever be officially open to remote workers, Booking.com’s Guerreiro said, “It’s only natural that supply should follow demand.”
The development of vaccines, improved contact tracing and the possibility of remote working becoming a reality in the long run led Guerreiro to predict that it “holds great promise for those who can travel and work virtually anywhere”.