Working from an island sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Our generation has made some great advances with social media, technology, and especially the ability to work remotely almost anywhere in the world, islands included.
The era of the “digital nomad” has come into full force as millennials and our shoulder generations have started exploring the “dream come true” of looking up from our laptops to see pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and snowcapped mountains.
Working remotely on an island has long been the source of fantasy, only something that millionaire CEOs could afford from their million-dollar bungalows.
But now, with short term rental homes, networking, and a plane ticket, middle class residents have learned that they, too, can afford to somewhat escape the stress of everyday life. There’s something about shaving off the commute and being able to experience fresh air that makes work seem more tolerable.
While there are loads of benefits for the workers, one has to reflect on the benefits, or pitfalls, for the islands themselves. After all, this will not be sustainable long term if the islands become exploited and damaged from a model that doesn’t work.
There have indeed been observations made of the impacts, both positive and negative, regarding the islands. Let’s take a look at the changes that islands have implemented to allow remote work and the positives and negatives those changes can have on the islands.
Changes to Remote Work on Islands
Even though island nations and territories were beginning to explore remote work visas in 2019, there was a surge of visas advertised in mid-2020 that continue today. Islands began opening their doors to allow remote workers to stay anywhere from 6 to 24 months.
The point was made clear: you can come for work, but it needs to be for an extended period of time. And, most islands required proof of income with a minimum income at that. Incomes vary, with some as low as USD $50,000 per year, but others as high as $92,000 per year.
They wanted to set up something that would encourage workers to be productive and not have to lean on the financial resources of the island. However, that seems like a fair request, given that many island nations and territories are strapped for resources themselves.
The models will probably continue to be tweaked as the years progress, but for now, it seems like a great time to take advantage of the opportunity.
Still, remote workers should be good stewards of the islands and mindful of how to contribute to the positive impacts and limit the negative impacts for this to be a long-standing offer.
Benefits of Remote Workers on Islands
There are a host of positive impacts for islands that allow remote work visas, many of which can influence the island for generations to come.
Introduce More Diversity
There is something to be said for introducing diversity and the benefits it brings, no matter where you reside. The mixing of individuals from different backgrounds can halt prejudice and show, especially younger kids, thoughts and connections that exist in a world so much bigger than their own.
When diversity comes in the form of professional ventures, the cooperation of people working together can solve problems, generate new business ideas, and bring to the table skills that may not be present in the previous work environments.
A collective of workers from diverse backgrounds can have a positive influence on the surrounding location, especially when they’re willing to work together.
More Exposure for Tourism
In the boom of social media, people have been able to transform the written word into feelings, emotions and images that can leave a lasting impact. The day of carrying a place on the shoulders of adjectives in newspaper articles has been replaced with pictures worth a thousand words.
As remote workers share their excitement around the culture, picturesque locations, and even food, they’re promoting these islands for free, and in a positive way. Our generation has an itch to explore and wants to do so for authentic experiences.
This exposure can serve as a genuine advertisement of what the island can offer, and from the perspective of an individual as opposed to a marketing agency. That seems to carry a bit of weight, as people tend to trust those they’re connected to.
The longer they stay and continue to promote their visits, the more it stays “front and center” to those around them.
Money Outside of Tourism
When the pandemic hit, many of the island nations that heavily relied on tourism as their biggest industry really struggled financially. With restricted flights and new vaccination requirements, the ability to just “get there” was difficult for people looking for their holiday getaway.
One of the biggest benefits of the remote work visa was that those individuals had a steady source of income from elsewhere that could be channeled into the local economy via rent, dinners at restaurants, and small shops nearby.
With locals that heavily relied on tourism not getting paid as much, they couldn’t support the economy the way they could previously but having remote workers with outside income could help lessen the impact of the drop in weekend and holiday travelers.
Remote work travelers offer the benefit of bringing in money from an external resource, which has the potential to keep the local economy going in times of financial hardship.
Longer Term Rentals
Another benefit of the remote work visas stems from the long-term rental needs of the workers while they’re visiting. When staying long term, most individuals will forego hotel rooms and cramped conditions for those that allow the worker to “live there”.
Even if they move around the island, most remote workers are looking for spacious accommodations that allow them to feel like they’re at home. They often look to rent houses or parts of houses that allow them to have a private office space to concentrate on work.
This can even present the opportunity for locals to develop co-working spaces, where remote workers can live together or work together under a shared roof as a cheaper option.
Either way, they’re often looking to stay for months at a time, which can also be a huge help if they stay during the off season. Tenants can also pay in advance, benefitting the landlord, as well.
Long term rentals are great for the island nations that receive these visitors and can be beneficial for both parties involved.
Negative Effects of Remote Workers on Islands
While there are a great number of benefits to both the individuals and the islands when extended stay remote work visas are encouraged, there can be some downfalls to this arrangement.
As island nations learn from the current setup, there may be some changes that have to be made in the future to make it a more sustainable option for the island and its native inhabitants. After all, if the arrangements are hurting the country’s population, it will far outweigh the benefits.
Here are a few of the downsides to remote workers on islands:
Strain on Resources
If it’s one thing that is very obvious being on an island, there is only so much square mileage that can be used for the beings that live there. And there’s only so many hospitals, police stations, and waste management facilities that can function effectively.
The key to functioning on an island is to make everything as efficient as possible. But when you have remote workers (or tourists) who usually don’t inhabit an island pop up all of a sudden, it can produce a strain that may not have been planned for.
The most common complaint heard from islands is the lack of infrastructure to support internet bandwidth needed for remote workers. And, many employees with dreams of working abroad quickly find themselves struggling to connect in order to perform their jobs, scrambling to use other options.
The resources available should be first and foremost consumed by the locals who prop it up with taxes, time and energy, but when digital nomads swoop in with financial influence and can skew where those resources can be made available, sometimes the locals can get left out.
Lack of Taxes
Many remote workers on long term visas often do not pay income tax on the island they inhabit. This can be for a variety of reasons, one of which may be that their employers do not know they’re working remotely, or they’re not present on the island long enough to qualify for residency status.
This can be a major downfall for the islands that welcome these remote workers. The workers may drive, may need medical care, and may otherwise contribute to wear and tear of local resources, but there’s no taxes taken to support the overall infrastructure.
This can especially be hurtful if the worker is earning a large amount of money (per exchange rate), and that money could be used to boost the needs of remote workers, such as with improved internet.
This will probably change in the future, but not taxing remote workers can be a missed opportunity for islands to use that money for their advantage.
Insulting or Changing the Local Culture
Most of the people with wanderlust and who want to experience a different culture have the best of intentions when traveling. But, it seems like we frequently hear stories of incidents where a huge faux pas has been committed by the tourists and remote workers who seem none-the-wiser.
Whether it’s harassing endangered wildlife for a photo opportunity or wanting to hike a scenic mountain that also happens to be a sacred spiritual site, naivety for local culture is a risk when it comes to encouraging long term remote workers.
It doesn’t just have to be grandiose insults, as there are also complaints of the local food sources changing in order to accommodate “western” tastes, or prices of goods going sky high that seem to push past what locals can afford.
Many islands are known for their hospitality, but what happens when the local culture gets lost in the mix? Remote workers can, unfortunately, change the local environment until it gets to a point it’s no longer reflective of what the long-term residents know and love. This leads to my next point…
Friction Between Local Government and Residents
There is often a push to make the environment “more attractive” to tourists and remote workers. But, when the local town changes to be more accommodating to remote workers, this can cause friction between the residents and local government for what are essentially short-term visitors.
These changes can wreak havoc on the residents, especially if there is pressure from outside investors to capitalise on such opportunities. Governments often get caught in the middle between the flow of money and the push back from those that live there permanently.
This can cause local businesses to be replaced with large franchises or recognized brands, the destruction of natural resources for accommodations, or even purchases of local homes to be turned into short-term rentals. And the local population is often left wondering where to go.
While it’s generally agreed that the local population and culture is what makes that island so special and worth visiting, it can be easy to lose sight of the residents themselves.
The Delicate Balance Between Islands and Remote Workers
While there are benefits to both individuals working remotely on long-term visas and the islands, it’s important that the relationship remains mutually beneficial. Tilting the favour for remote workers can leave the residents feeling left out, but not striving to make remote work efficient can leave workers frustrated.
There is a balance to be found, and it’s up to each island to help set the standards and guidelines for remote workers. They may find that remote workers will still happily flock abroad with the stipulations in place to support the local economy as much as possible.
Decisions such as whether there should be a one-time fee to help offset the use of resources, or if international investors should be able to purchase homes for rentals is something the local government should be prepared to make in the future, even if it’s not on the table for now.
As with any situation, there are pros and cons that can be measured and leaned upon to say whether or not the arrangement should continue. Ultimately, this can become a mutualistic relationship in which both remote workers and islands can benefit.
Would you like to work from Jersey, Guernsey or Sark? Then don’t miss the following article: Working From The Channel Islands