By Paul Scanlon

US Tech Cannot Comprehend the Digital Nomad Way of Life

  • Op-ed

Hello all, I’m Paul. I’m a British citizen and tech nerd. I’m currently visiting and working remotely in Medellin (Colombia). Before this, I worked remotely from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia and Canada. My work philosophy is, “Have laptop, will travel.” This makes me a digital nomad.

Digital nomads are people who travel freely while working remotely using technology and the internet — Wikipedia

I’m able to do this because Colombia, along with ~66 other countries from around the world, offers a digital nomad visa. This legally permits folks like me to “work remotely” from their countries. And generally speaking, as long as I’m not employed by a company or entity registered in the country I’m visiting, everything is A-OK.

Broadly speaking, as a digital nomad, most countries will consider you to be a tourist, albeit with a slightly longer period of stay. The key difference that allows Digital Nomads to “work remotely” from another country lies in the definition of the word “working.”

The Definition of Working

As mentioned, there are ~66 countries that have unanimously agreed that “working” and “remote working” are two very different things. The U.S. isn’t on this list, offering no such visa; and as such, some U.S. tech companies have their own understanding of “remote working.”


Working relates to someone living in a country who is employed by a company or entity registered in that country. If you’re “working” in a country, you will likely be impacting the Local Labor Market (LLM) by potentially doing a job that citizens from that country could be doing. In such cases, the government will assess your circumstances, and either issue or deny a work permit.

Working Remotely

Remote working relates to someone visiting a country while employed for a company or entity NOT registered in that country. If you’re “remote working” in a country, you are NOT considered to be impacting the LLM since the job you’re doing couldn’t be done by a citizen of the country you’re visiting. In a lot of cases, all that’s required is an application for a digital nomad visa, a small fee, and some evidence that your income meets a certain minimal threshold, and/or comes from a company outside of where you plan to do your “remote work.”

Working from Home

What “working remotely” means to some U.S. tech companies is actually “working from home — in your home country”. They may allow you to work in a country that isn’t the U.S. (providing they have an established legal presence there, or use a remote payment partner), but they will most likely require that you’re a citizen of said country, and that you remain there during the duration of your employment.

Can I Work Remotely?

If you’re planning on working remotely from another country, you first need to determine if that country offers a digital nomad visa (or similar) and that they allow a citizen from your home country to apply for that visa.

If the answer to both of those is yes, then yes, it’s legal, you can “work remotely”… but sadly, in a lot of cases, not for some U.S. tech companies.

Can I Work Remotely for a US Tech Company?

Legally, probably, but will U.S. HR teams understand this? In my experience, no.

In the past year, I’ve had a number of situations where I’ve tried, and failed, to explain to various HR teams the difference between “working” and “remote working.”

If you were to seek legal counsel and investigate the legalities of an employee, or potential candidate “working” in another country, they will give you the legal information related to “working” in another country.

But as mentioned, digital nomads are NOT “working” in another country, they’re “visiting” another country while “remote working”. Not using the words “visiting” or “remote” when conducting legal inquiries is often the difference between legal or illegal.

One possible caveat is potential tax implications. The requirements vary greatly from country to country, but typically you are not required to pay taxes in the country you’re “visiting” while “working remotely.” This is because you’ll likely continue to pay taxes in your home country, just as you would if you were simply a tourist.

So it is actually quite simple then… or is it?

Why Is There Confusion?

The confusion comes from the ~66 countries that have all agreed on what the term “remote working” means, while some U.S. tech companies have decided otherwise.

Moreover, in my experience, some U.S. tech companies don’t even think to investigate the differences. Instead, they will just assume that their definition is correct. In a number of instances, I’ve even provided them with this information, in an effort to work things out, by linking to official online government resources. Still no luck.

I don’t really understand the confusion. Surely, even if you only have a modicum of common sense, you’d realize that the sole reason a digital nomad visa exists is to allow folks to “work remotely,” otherwise there would only ever be tourist visas.

Further Complications

Time zones can be a little difficult to work around; and granted, if you’re working with a U.S. team it would be helpful to be working U.S. hours, but another gotcha for members of people teams is understanding how the sun moves.

As an example, these days I’m in Medellin (Colombia). Here, 9 a.m. is 10 a.m. in New York. but because the name of Colombia’s timezone is COT, I’ve been told I wouldn’t be a suitable candidate because I’m not working within a U.S. time zone — Wait, what!?!

Company Policy

In my experience, this is an inarguable case. If company policy determines that no employee can leave their home country for more than 30 days at a time, that’s final. Even though, in many cases, it would make no difference to the way you do your job. Company policy is company policy — “flexible working environment,” yeah right!

Time for a Change

And so it goes. “Working remotely” for some U.S. tech companies as a true Digital Nomad has been, in my experience, quite a complicated matter. And despite all of this information being publicly available online, and the growing number of countries all in agreement, some U.S. tech companies are standing their ground and saying no to “remote working.” Or rather, failing to have done the required research to understand the true meaning, but they continue to claim they are a remote-first company.

So to those U.S. tech companies who refuse to accept the common meaning, please update your job descriptions, remove the word “remote” and just put “work from home — in your home country.” It would save some of us an awful lot of bother.


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