Economics: Digital Nomads, Visas, Foreign Currency

This is a slighted edited version of my comment to someone asking about countries that have laws specifically detailing digital nomads are allowed to work on tourist visas. My background is in economics and investing based on economic understanding.

The question of digital nomads working encompasses legal questions (do I need a special visa etc.), regulatory realities (regardless of what the law says how is it enforced at the ground level?) and economics (I am talking here about the benefits to the country economically from having digital nomads).

I like the economic thinking that should drive what the government’s wish to accomplish. The prohibition against work on tourist visas makes sense when work is defined as it was historically (being hired by a company in the country that otherwise would have hired a citizen). So when I am thinking about it I find thinking about the macroeconomic level view and how that is manifest in laws and policy. From a practical standpoint of being a digital nomad what really matters is how that all gets filtered down to the government employees on the ground making decisions.

Few laws say what is legal, they normally say what is not. I would imagine few countries specifically say it is legal to do work from another country (as a digital nomad, as a employee answering an business email on their vacation, as a private investor reading the news and using the internet to buy or sell a stock, as a writer writing a book that will be published back home, an entrepreneur refining ideas to launch a new business back home or whatever).

The laws usually are pretty clear you can’t apply for jobs and get hired by a company inside that country to do work in that country on a tourist visa.

“Thailand” has said it is ok to work as a digital nomad (work for some company outside the country) while on a tourist visa. But these pronouncements by officials don’t carry much weight with other officials so they are not worth much.

What is helpful is knowing the prohibitions against working are primarily about not having foreigners take jobs of the citizens. Digital nomads don’t do that. So they are not meant to be prohibited anymore than the other examples (an executive participating in a conference call from work while on vacation etc.).

But since it isn’t clear cut it can be confused by officials as something not allowed. It is much easier not to have to get low level officials to comprehend the intent of the laws. They think of it as tourists can’t work in the country and that is essentially true. But how “work” is defined is the issue; and digital nomad work doesn’t fit the description of work in that context.

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Start-Up Chile – An Innovative Program for Global Entrepreneurs

I am very impressed with Start-Up Chile. It is a Chilean Government run program that attracts early stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups in Chile, using it as a platform to go global. The goal of the program is to position Chile as the leading innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America.

Silicon Valley provides huge benefits to the USA economy. Many countries are envious of this advantage and wish they could gain such economic benefits. But there is a big gulf between wishing and accomplishing. That path requires doing many things right.

Start-Up Chile alone is but a small step in the right direction. But it is a very interesting one. And they have kept it up for several years now. It is amazing how many efforts to create inviting climates for entrepreneurs start with a great flourish as diminish to nothing within 5 years.

Panoramic view of northeastern Santiago

Panoramic view of northeastern Santiago, as seen from the hills of Parque Metropolitano in Providencia. Visible in the background are Apoquindo and Sierra de Ramón. via wikimedia

For the current application (open during the month of September) Startup Chile is looking especially for startups in robotics; healthcare and biotech; clean energy; and education.

In my opinion the benefit for entrepreneurs is worthwhile (and especially strong for those in Latin America) but I am even more impressed with the sense the Chilean government is showing for talking concrete steps to boost the entrepreneurship climate in Chile. There are quite a few very good efforts to incubate startups. Few government though are doing much beyond talk. Singapore is another country that is taking fairly smart actions (which isn’t so surprising given Singapore’s long term evidence of smart government).

Many countries understand the benefits of creating a strong climate for entrepreneurs. And given the especially easy location independence of internet based businesses there is a public relations battle for attracting these entrepreneurs (even if most countries don’t seem to have caught onto this reality).

Chile has been getting great publicity from Startup Chile and if they can successfully build on that success they will gain a very nice advantage at very little cost. Like so many startups the Startup Chile program itself has to make sure it builds from the base it has built instead of just fading away.

Related: Finding an International Business Bank as a Digital NomadTransfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers, Not Banks, and SaveLeading Economic Freedom: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland (Chile was ranked 10th in the world)International Migrants: Economics and Banking