Katherine Wang, who is originally from China, previously lived in Bali, Lisbon and Montenegro before settling in Dubai. She has been a Dubai digital nomad for three years, and is now calling the city her home.

Digital nomads are working professionals who usually travel to different locations. They often work in co-working spaces, coffee shops or public libraries. Being a digital nomad means you have the freedom to work from any location of your choosing.

Currently, there are more than 50 countries worldwide that offer digital nomad visas, and Dubai is one of the top destinations for its one-year virtual working programme that lets you live and work in the emirate.

“The unique thing about Dubai is that it’s full of life. Here, you get to meet people from literally everywhere from the world, and you experience different cultures,” Wang, who is in her 30s, told Khaleej Times, adding: “Everything is accessible – imagine you can even have fuel delivered to you so there is no need to go to the petrol station. Dubai keeps bringing surprises to its people and residents with new developments and projects.”

‘It’s a lifestyle’

Digital nomadism is a lifestyle attracting not only tech-savvy workers, but everyone and anyone.

David Hefron, originally from Seatle, USA, came to Dubai in 2022 to become a digital nomad and has stayed here since. As a travel and food blogger, he described the Dubai lifestyle as vibrant and inspiring.

“I really enjoy the great connectivity of Dubai – that about 80 per cent of world’s population live within 8 hours flight from here. The fact that it has the biggest and best airport in the world, just makes travelling less tedious. Even when I’m not travelling, Dubai has so many places to discover, and you will still be able to taste all different cuisines from the world,” added the 40-year old blogger.

Not actually new

The concept of digital nomad is actually not new. The term came from a book by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners, published in 1997, and gained popularity during the pandemic when people had no choice but to work remotely, thus benefiting from location independence and flexible working schedules.

During the pandemic, companies started to adopt the remote working or working from home (WFH) policies, allowing people to spend more time with their family and loved ones, eliminating the need to commute.

Post pandemic, the idea and possibility of working in various locations started to boom, so does people’s interest of pursuing this lifestyle.

Various nomads

Digital nomads come in different forms. Some are remote workers for companies that offer the liberty of working from locations of their choice or working from home. They have a fixed schedule to adhere to and steady income. Others are freelancers, business owners, or entrepreneurs who have the flexibility to set their own hours, and are paid based on their projects/contacts.

Among the 50 plus countries that offer virtual working visas, the most popular ones are Indonesia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Estonia, Georgia, and Spain. Dubai launched the virtual working programme in October 2020, and has quickly made its name to the top of the list, thanks to its favorable policy, infrastructures, and world-class connectivity.

How much does a visa cost?

According to visitdubai.com, the virtual working programme visa has a validity for 1 year, and grants the remote workers access to all standard services that Dubai residents benefit. The cost is $611 (Dh2,240) in total, including application fees, processing costs, pre-application medical exam and Emirates ID.

The qualified applicants can simply follow the requirements and documentations on the website to apply for the visa.

Benefits of being a digital nomad

With flexibility being the top advantage, work-life balance is another benefit most digital nomads talk about. The need to commute to work is reduced or completely eliminated, enabling workers to save time and effort for other things.

Having the freedom to work from your desired location, allows you to travel and explore other destinations worldwide, and immerse into the local cultures and experiences.

In Dubai, you have the possibility of waking up to a Bedouin desert view surrounded by Oryx, or soothing island breeze accompanied by sunrise yoga may not be too far to achieve.

Other benefits include encountering new people and ideas from inspiring places, developing new habits, learning a new language or experience personal growth.

But there are potential drawbacks

Before you make your decision of becoming a digital nomad, there are a few potential drawbacks you might want to consider. Unless you have a stable job that allows you to work remotely, most digital nomads work on freelance or projects basis, so you need to determine how you make a living.

It is advised that you have established something that brings income to sustain your lifestyle.

Wang, who is an online business consultant, said: “I have established extensive experiences and connections which allows me to secure income from a diverse client base. I do not recommend anyone to just quit their job if they are not fully ready to lead such a lifestyle, both financially and mentally.”

“Another important question to ask yourself is how to stay productive and focused. Without a proper office surrounding and interactions with colleagues, some may find themselves scrolling through social media for hours without accomplishing anything. Therefore, developing a work schedule and adhering to it is crucial,” she added.

Immerse in local culture

Another challenge that many digital nomads face is the limited social interaction, which can lead to feeling of loneliness. It is advised to immerse into the local cultural and overcome language barriers.

Having lived in different locations, Wang noted one of the most effective ways is to reach out to communities or engage with co-working spaces. “There are various cafes and communities in Dubai that host co-working days for remote workers. You should check out their updates and events on their social media pages,” she noted.

Wang affirmed: “Dubai is a good choice to start your digital nomad journey. It offers straightforward process, accessible policy for applicants, and there are great community for remote workers to connect with like-minded peers.”

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