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Digital nomadism in Portugal, like elsewhere, is gaining momentum and facing local backlash.

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


Words from Medellín in Colombia:

"Costs are rising because these people are spending a lot of money here, since they think everything is cheap." This quote is highlighted in the article "When digital nomads come to town. Cities from Canggu to Medellín are welcoming tech workers, but locals complain they're being priced out" by Stephen Witt. [Source: https://restofworld.org/2023/digital-nomads-visa-pricing-out-locals/]

Sharing working space with laptops permitted at café / restaurant Mare Street Market London.

Stephen Witt reports on digital nomadism in Latin America.

As a matter of fact, digital nomadism is becoming a global conversation.

The definition and perception of digital nomadism are evolving, and while trending, the concept is now often accompanied by the stigma faced by other mobile populations.

It seems as if the group labeled 'digital nomads' was an homogeneous entity that moves from place to place carelessly –enjoying avocado on toasts, expensive ice latte with soy milk and equal access to fancy housing. In stereotyping a group so promptly, the nuances get quickly lost.


At the extremes, the concept of digital nomadism is either seen as a threat to local populations or as an overly aspirational idea with little connection to the realities of a transient lifestyle. Also it's important to remember that what is featured on people's Instagram may not necessarily reflect people's experiences and sentiments.


Fortunately, an increasing number of anthropologists, researchers, and individuals labeled as digital nomads are now examining the field more closely, providing valuable data and sharing more honest insights.


Zia from The Netherlands. Independent creative in Lisbon.

Work from a bedroom in Lisbon.


If we neglect to consider the motivations that drive people to move from one country to another, from cities to the countryside and reverse, or from capital cities to smaller and 'less desirable' towns (before, during, and after Covid), we fail to acknowledge the centrifugal mobility that defines this century. Several factors, such as technology and the widespread use of English as a lingua franca, have provided more tools and opportunities for borderless navigation and earning a living. Banking and accounting apps have eased the transactions abroad. Then the word escapism [a way of avoiding an unpleasant or boring life] has been tight up to the movement. For some, it may be more dramatically an escape from conflicts, for others it is poor national policies, or economic downturns, while for a greater number, it may involve seeking a change in climate, belief systems, and achieving a better work-life balance and quality of life. Also why blame a generation who has been given options to escape radically expensive cities?

Local products from a Saturday farmer market in Principe Real, Lisbon.


Portugal, particularly Lisbon, has become an observatory center for this phenomenon. Rarely has a capital city of such small dimensions experienced such extreme deceleration and acceleration. Let's flashback:


2010-2012 Portugal faced near bankruptcy but was partially saved by a great set of prompt reforms, and government reforms such as the Golden Visa program that launched in the fall of 2012. 2015-2019

The airbnb movement enters the mainstream with a growing wave of tourism that helped revive the city. At its peak in 2019, Portugal welcomed 27 million visitors. That was when Barcelona launched the "Tourists-go-home" movement, when feeling close to burnout.


2020–2021

Instead, Covid-19 struck, plunging the capitals into radical silence. Many local businesses that relied solely on tourism suffered significant losses. The Instagram page #lisbon__insiders was initially created by a duo to support the remaining businesses by giving them an online voice.

2021-2022

The influx of people to Lisbon became staggering in acceleration. According to a study published by the Portuguese Migration Observatory in December 2022, the foreign population in Portugal reached close to 700,000 residents in 2021, accounting for 6.8% of the total resident population.



Lisbon has become desirable for the wealthy, sun-seekers, individuals yearning for a more human-sized lifestyle, and those who can work remotely and with mobility. However, blaming digital nomads alone for rent increases in Lisbon may be a bitter pill to swallow.

Delighted duo visiting Lisbon a weekend in Spring.

People chilling in the sun at a terrace in São Bento, Lisbon.

Let's compare the 6.8% figure above to Luxembourg, which leads Europe with 47.2% of foreigners among its residents. Did Luxembourg descend into chaos? No. It eventually became an exclusive and, some might say, "boring" place as in Singapore or Monaco. Concentration of wealth has its price. There are undoubtedly advantages for those involved, but creative crowds often desert these places and take with them the beat and vibrancy.

Over the past seven years, immigration in Portugal has been incredibly diverse and enriching the diversity of offers. In just a tiny restaurant kitchen rua da Boavista, people from Nepal, Bangladesh, Argentina, Chile, Italy, France, coexist and share their cultures in a business that's Portuguese-owned and where skillsets are privileged over provenance.


Scene from the Carnation Revolution Anniversary. Collective joy and remembering... Mixed with protests for a better living by and for people of Portugal.


We must never stop praising the people of Portugal who have embraced this influx, facilitated the well-being of others, and built the necessary infrastructure despite facing their own obstacles. They have dealt with bureaucratic challenges, with ridiculously small wages and lately with increasingly high service prices for cleaning and house repairs. The anger felt by a part of the Portuguese people –excluded from their own capital city, is now on many lips.


Similar movements are playing out internally in the US changing the shapes of cities. An article titled "The Places Most Affected by Remote Workers' Moves Around the Country," published by The Times this month, shows that mobility data in the US reflects what is happening in Portugal.


"In the first two years of the pandemic, one in four workers who moved long-distance was working remotely in a new home — a previously unheard-of scale of remote migration. In the two years leading up to the pandemic, for example, about 20,000 remote workers moved away from the San Francisco metro area. Then, during 2020 and 2021, 110,000 did." A similar scenario unfolded in New York: "In the pre-pandemic years, about 40,000 remote workers moved away from the metro New York area. Then, 200,000 left in two years."


In the US, once-thriving bi-coastal cities like New York, San Francisco, Washington, and Los Angeles have seen more remote workers leave than arrive. In contrast, cities like Austin, Denver, Dallas, and Nashville have attracted a net influx of people working from home.

Observing population movements across Europe and the US alone, we can identify a shift in values and individual choices. It's important to remember that those who risk their lives to cross a sea are where our hearts should be.



People and dogs of New York in the subway. Squeezed, exhausted, meditating an escape?

Think of Lisbon as Austin, TX, for instance. Austin, once known as a bohemian college town, has increasingly become a new tech haven, leading to absurdly high prices in rent as well. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Austin, TX is currently $1509 [1385.77]. This is a 6% decrease compared to the previous year. In Lisbon, it got worst: "For long-term rentals, Lisbon is the 3rd most expensive European city after Amsterdam and Reykjavik", according to Idealista. "Rent for a 1-bedroom flat in Lisbon cost 2,005 euros in early 2023."


Another trend in the US is comparable to Portugal where Lisbon, Madeira Island, the Algarve and the Peniche Peninsula count the greater number of digital nomads. Holiday hubs win:


Lisbon's marina, Summer 2023.



Work and leisure, physical and mental health, and consumption habits are at the center of conversations, along with the higher prices of housing, energy, and essential goods.


If you are self-employed from abroad or an employed remote worker in Portugal, you may be among those who have already left Lisbon for the summer to escape high rents. You might be reading this blog in a hamlet on the Silver Coast, in a peaceful town as in Alcácer do Sal in Alentejo or might be watching Lisbon from the other side of the river, the South Bay, from Seixal, Barreiro to Almada or Costa da Caparica.


In all cases, you have chosen to be less than an hour and a half away from Lisbon, with an efficient network of buses by companies like Rodoviária do Oeste, Rede Expressos, or FlixBus; or if you can afford it, a car rental.




Will capital cities become temporary stages, marketplaces, and social hubs for creative entrepreneurs (the new farmers) to visit occasionally, to meet people, sell products, or attend events? To set the record straight, a similar situation occurred in New York City in the 2000s. Many independent storytellers, such as photographers, filmmakers, designers, writers, etc., couldn't afford the high rents during New York's housing occupation peak. They chose to live elsewhere and traveled in and out of the city for business. This article published in 2015 highlights this fact. Similarly, the recession of 2008 affected the scene, with a drop of 10% in NYC rents, but the city promptly recovered. Foreign money played a role there too.


What's next?

According to polls, 48 million Americans express their desire to try the digital nomad lifestyle. in 2023, close to 60 countries offer "digital nomad visas," and the industry and experts promising to assist people in adopting this lifestyle, is a growing field itself.


Who counts as a digital nomad, exactly?” asks Jessica Stillman in her article:

Can You Afford to Become a Digital Nomad? This New Online Calculator Will Tell You, which highlights the work of British anthropologist Dave Cook. Cook has focused his PhD research on digital nomadism quite early on, with published essays and conferences from 2017 onward. He recently published a paper in World Leisure Journal titled: 'What is a digital nomad? Definition and taxonomy in the era of mainstream remote work.' His abstract starts as follows:


'Digital nomadism gradually expanded during the 2010s. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work (a prerequisite to digital nomadism) suddenly became mainstream. In this new context, the term digital nomadism is increasingly used in ways that are broader or different from its original conception.'


Cook ponders how 'digital nomadism as a media or trending label can be either aspirational, pejorative, or loosely applied.' His taxonomy defining digital nomads into five distinct types might help build nuances:

  1. Freelance digital nomads

  2. Digital nomad business owners

  3. Salaried digital nomads

  4. Experimental digital nomads

  5. Armchair nomads

Up to 2020, freelance digital nomads were 'considered the traditional, stereotypical type of digital nomad and were the subject of the most pre-pandemic research,' notes Cook. 'These folks were most often vloggers/bloggers, digital marketers, photographers, designers, writers, virtual assistants, coaches, or programmers who could practice their crafts from anywhere.'


'Digital nomad business owners run registered businesses requiring more complexity than the skilled freelancer model. They may have contractors, employees, and product inventory, or require a wider array of business systems and infrastructures to operate.'


Salaried digital nomads are the full-time remote workers who lived in at least three different places in a given year, and were a niche group before the pandemic. They are now the fastest-growing category of digital nomads. 'There are 11.1 million salaried digital nomads in the USA alone,' according to Consultancy MBO Partners.


Experimental digital nomads are the people who started traveling and working but haven't yet earned enough to support their nomadic lifestyle. Most aspiring digital nomads will give up the lifestyle within a year, according to previous reviews.


In reverse, Armchair Nomads are earning money, dreaming of traveling, but haven't hit the road. 'This category hints at how the digital nomad concept continues to seep into mainstream consciousness,' writes Cook, but 'little is known about this group, and the estimates do not give firm guidance on how aspiration will convert into action.'


As of today, it is impossible to project the number of workers who will opt for the digital nomad lifestyle, nor to predict how many will renounce such a transient life. But the pattern of working from home and co-working from shared spaces is reshaping cities at the speed of light, and now increasingly the countryside. Alike the internet getting mainstream in the 90s, this movement will not fade away. To embrace it actively and ethically with in-depth research and testimonies will enhance its integration with more fairness and less stigma.

In sync, we let Dave Cook [on twitter] conclude: "If governments can agree on a definition of #digitalnomadism and its subdivisions, efforts to classify and quantify the phenomenon would enable collaboration and the sharing of comparable data that could estimate and predict numbers more accurately. A clear understanding of the #digitalnomad definition would facilitate better informed policy decisions in areas related to residency, visas, tax, and welfare state services such as healthcare. At the very least it might help governments, institutions, and individuals decide whether #digitalnomadism is an opportunity or a threat."

In our next blog, we will look at digital nomadism in the countryside. Please share your experience with us. Tell us about your dream lifestyle and housing project. Reach out Instagram page | whatsapp: +351.962.621259


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Photography courtesy of Dandy Vagabonds




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