HomeEconomyDigital nomads move to Portugal, Bangkok in remote work era

Digital nomads move to Portugal, Bangkok in remote work era

When you can work from anywhere, why stay home? 

Workers who aren’t tethered to an office, who have the ability to bring their jobs with them around the world, are doing just that. 

More Americans who aren’t keen on working from their kitchens or living rooms are securing temporary visas that give them the freedom to travel and explore, while remaining employed. 

Portugal is one popular destination for so-called digital nomads for a number of reasons. For one, it has reliable wi-fi access, a low cost of living, and close proximity to other European countries — making side trips easy.

After working from home in San Diego, Kendall Lobo, a remote employee for a California-based financial technology firm, quickly realized she had the ability to do her job from almost anywhere she wanted. 

“I can do the exact same job from a completely different country,” she said.

Surfboard in tow

Now, Lobo’s day-to-day routine includes spending most mornings at the beach, and surfing three to four times a week, before she boots up her laptop and reports for duty.

She keeps California hours, which means her workday begins at 3:30 p.m. Lisbon time, and ends at 11:00 p.m.

“I have the morning and the whole day to explore, do whatever. And if I’m traveling, then I’ll take like a morning flight so that by 3 p.m. I can be working,” Lobo said. 

She said there are a few reasons why she thought it made sense to keep working for an American firm, even while living in Europe. 

“The first one was a lot of people didn’t want to hire an American because of visa issues. The second was the Portuguese salaries are a lot lower than what I could make with the US job,” she said. 

In two months, Lobo was able to secure a visa that allows her to live and work in Portugal, where she currently resides in an Airbnb. 

Exception for her surfboard, she travels light. 

“The biggest thing that I own is that surfboard over there and I bought that blanket also,” she said. 

She spends a fraction of what she paid in rent in San Diego to live in a fully furnished Airbnb unit in Lisbon. That leaves room in her budget for travel, which she couldn’t afford while living stateside. 

Her other costs, like public transportation and food, are also lower. 

Having only recently moved to the area and being new to the community, Lobo says she feels isolated at times. But it’s nice making local and roving friends alike, she said. 

“The thing about being a digital nomad is people come and they go, you know, so it kind of depends what you’re looking for and like when you connect more in the community, then there’s more sense of stability,” she said. “Whereas if you’re looking for a friend for your next adventure, then maybe the nomad community is better.”

Remote work costing Manhattan more than $12 billion per year


Veteran nomad

Freelance software engineer David Tan, who currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand, has long enjoyed the perks of being able to work from anywhere on the globe for extended periods of time. 

“I think for a lot of nomads, the sweet spot is anywhere from 1 to 3 months,” Tan told CBS News. 

Since 2019, he’s been based out of fifteen different countries across five continents. His travels have allowed him to build a personal and professional network that spans the globe. 

“If you were to say to me any city, I could tell you someone that’s there right now,” he said. 

He’s noticed more people coming to appreciate the perks of lifestyles like his. 

“Before the pandemic, I think being a nomad was more of a fringe thing,” Tan said. “But I think with COVID, it accelerated everything. It’s never been easier to be a nomad just because there’s so many services catered to nomads.”

Tan also said he spends less in rent — not even $500 a month — than he did when he was living in San Francisco, where he estimates an equivalent unit could cost up to $4,000 per month. 

Salary inequality concerns

One concern is that people earning U.S. salaries while inhabiting cities with a low cost of living, like Lisbon or Bangkok, could drive up prices for locals, whose salaries are typically far smaller. 

Portuguese labor historian Raquel Varela is concerned about Americans with more buying power exacerbating issues such as housing affordability. She said it’s incumbent upon local governments to protect their own citizens while encouraging digital nomads to make temporary homes in their countries, which can benefit local economies. 

Overall, she sees the recent infusion of people from different cultures into her country and others as a good thing.

“You want to know other countries, you want to know other people,” Varela said. “This is incredibly positive.”

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