A new digital nomad visa allows remote workers to move to Italy

At the beginning of April, Italy joined the list of European countries that allow remote workers from non-EU nations to move into its borders temporarily. The new law introduces a digital nomad visa “for highly skilled workers,” who require a permit to stay in the country for an extended period rather than just to vacation there.

By doing so, the Bel Paese hopes to attract talented professionals who are drawn by the growing trend of working remotely. And by the longstanding appeal of Southern Europe—from its warmer climate to the better, though sometimes idealized by foreign nationals, quality of life. But all that glitters is not gold.

In fact, the bill approved in 2023 is straightforward in offering a one-year, renewable-period permit. Yet, citizens with non-European passports can apply if they meet specific criteria and fulfil a somewhat less accessible series of requirements to obtain it.

Those who want to apply must be “highly skilled” professionals able to work remotely—either as freelancers, self-employed or for a company. They must earn around three times the lowest margin required for exemption from participation in healthcare costs in the country (roughly 28,000 €) And be covered by medical insurance for the duration of the stay. Moreover, they must provide proof of accommodation and show that they have been remote workers or a digital nomad for at least six months before moving.

According to the provision, a partner and/or children are also eligible to receive a family reason permit of equal duration. But to join the person (already) holding a Digital Nomad and Remote Worker immigration visa.

Skilled remote workers

If you were imagining a flow of non-European citizens with their laptops, working in flip flaps on the shores of the Amalfi coast or backpacking on the mountain tracks of the Alpes, think again. Even if this measure seems to fall under Italy’s years-long attempt to tackle the drain of professionals and young people, especially from the Southern regions, the requirements significantly restrict the range of possible applicants. Just consider how the potential candidates are defined: “digital nomads” not holding an EU passport, carrying out “a highly qualified work activity with the use of technological tools capable of allowing them to work remotely, both as a worker self-employed or as a collaborator or employee of a company even if not resident in Italy.”

In plain terms, typically, the worker holds a degree, has “advanced technological means” – i.e. can work remotely in Italy – and has a clear criminal record (for at least the five previous years). And if it will probably not activate the hoped-for circulation of expertise and the flocking of talents to Italy, who may start as temporary residents and then extend their stay much longer, if not permanently, yet the measure follows international trends.

The Italian example is indeed just the latest in the ever-growing number of programs spreading across Europe to attract digital nomads. A flourishing movement fueled by COVID-19-related lockdowns and restrictions.

Spain and Portugal

With the possibility of more varied working arrangements and the shift in priorities in one’s balance between personal and professional life, more European countries have been more or less recently introducing programs to allow longer stays within their borders to foreigners with specific characteristics. In all cases, an essential requirement is that workers exclusively use “computer telematics and telecommunication media and systems” in their occupation.

Frequently compared to Italy in terms of culture, social norms, and working habits, Spain and Portugal provide similar plans for remote non-EU workers. The Mediterranean countries share a high appeal as a holiday destination, with Portugal being in the spotlight for digital nomads for the last decade. The country’s attractiveness is undoubtedly due to its natural beauty, good food, and relaxed lifestyle. However, it also houses many business opportunities driven by the many expats attracted to its shores and cities by the Golden Visa program and accompanied by the government’s investment in tech infrastructures.

Like Italy, Portugal and Spain now offer a digital one-year-long remote workers visa under certain conditions, like a required minimum salary. In Portugal, it accounts for four times the country’s minimum wage, which translates into a threshold of 3,280 € per month in 2024. Here, moreover, a worker is required to have at least 9,840 € in a bank account. In Spain, the minimum salary needed to obtain the permit must be 200% of the Spanish national wages, at least 2,140 € per month. Unlike other similar European visas that call for workers to be employed or have clients mostly outside the specific country, 20% of the digital nomads’ work can come from Spanish clients.

Not all smooth sailing

As appealing as moving to warmer climates and enjoying better overall conditions may seem, obtaining a digital nomad visa can become a hassle, in light of the stringent preconditions.

Let’s consider, for example, the requisites to apply for this visa in Italy. Since bureaucracy is not the country’s strongest suit, it can be complex to efficiently and effectively follow all the steps in the application process. Because of the various elements involved and the often changing tax rules, with all the paperwork required (mainly written in Italian), consulting legal and tax experts beforehand is strongly advised. Those eligible may also need to plan well in advance since it can take quite a long time to sort things out before leaving. The whole process, in fact, may require 4 to 5 months – including the three months the Consulate have by law to get back to confirm or deny the request.

Given that the specifications to obtain a digital nomad visa are similar almost everywhere, some places still offer easier access. While others do not.

All things considered, Croatia, which introduced the measure in 2021, has the smoothest visa process for remote workers so far. Besides a stunning nature, the country offers a very good Wi-Fi connection and the possibility to register both via the Consulate or directly while there. Even with a more stringent policy, the Czech Republic has an easy-to-apply plan for digital nomad, obtainable through an embassy or Consulate. However, besides requiring health insurance coverage and a minimum salary, applicants must be working remotely or freelancing for STEM or IT industries. And must have a graduate degree or at least three years of job experience.

On the contrary, Iceland‘s plan for remote workers is less accessible, primarily due to the expensive entry requirements involved. The mandatory minimum salary here is 7,000 € per month.

Although for different reasons, obtaining a digital nomad visa for Cyprus is also complicated. Here, money plays somewhat a smaller role—a less prohibitive 3,500 € monthly salary. Yet, remote workers must be in the country to apply for this permit; thus, they may also need a tourist visa to enter the island beforehand. They also need to provide blood analysis and chest X-rays to show they do not have Hepatitis B, C, tuberculosis, or HIV.

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