The dream of an "internet country" that will allow you to work from anywhere

Liam Martin, from Ottawa, Canada, couldn’t have looked more suspicious as he approached the Australian border agent wearing an Armani suit and a crammed backpack. “So that bag and your suit don’t make sense to me,” Martin recalled the agent saying. “How much money do you make?”

After Martin, startup founder and author of a telecommuting book, said he was in Sydney to meet his business partner, the agent started asking questions. “Whoa, wait a minute,” Martin recalled the agent saying. “Your business partner? I thought you were coming here for hiking. Come with me.”

For more than a decade, Martin has been a digital nomad, working while traveling the world every year from January to April. According to MBO Partners A country of independence report, although digital nomads defy strict classification, “they combine remote work and travel for various reasons and lengths of time.” As the pandemic enables millions to try remote work, the report estimates that people self-identifying as digital nomads has nearly doubled in recent years, from 7.3 million in 2019 to 15.5 million in 2021.

Some stay close to home or travel only for short periods. But for those moving from country to country for longer stretches, working while on a tourist visa is a legal gray area at best. Often young entrepreneurs or freelancers in rich countries, digital nomads typically make “border runs” to leave and re-enter a country if they wish to stay longer than their visa allows. They could be subject to scrutiny by border agents — as Martin says he was — and if caught, could face foreign income taxes, fines or deportation.

As this lifestyle grows in popularity, writer and activist Lauren Razavi is working on a revolutionary alternative to cut through the red tape: a global passport for an Internet-based nation, that is. Plumia. “The goal is actually to feel secure if you give up your British, American or Canadian passport and get this one instead, and that it will function the same way,” says Razavi, who is Plumia’s sole executive.

If successful, Plumia will offer citizenship as a subscription service, as well as a passport, until 2032. You would choose social benefits such as health care, pensions and income protection and you would pay tax to the municipality where you are located.

As for the geographic territory, a requirement to belong to the province, Plumia hopes to one day own real estate in various cities around the world and be headquartered in a European castle. The management structures, i.e. voting and elections are still up in the air.

“A lot of people look at the nation state, the country of origin they come from, as this permanent, unquestionable thing that you can’t change,” Razavi said. “Nomads look at the world much more like, ‘Okay, countries are service providers, and which one is right for my needs?’

The Plumia opportunity

Plumia, which has so far received 5,000 applications to join, is not the first to offer an Internet country. Wirtland launched in 2008 with “witizens” and its own currency and Bitnation arrived in 2014 as a “volunteer crypto nation,” but Plumia is the first investor-backed health insurance provider SafetyWing has funded the project since its launch in December 2020. Adoption would be somewhat selective. Plumia citizens will have to pass background checks, a familiar requirement to those in the know Global loginbut they will also have to share their employment information and their annual income.

For Razavi, a British citizen whose father is an Iranian refugee, the most critical aspect of Plumia is that no matter where you were born or what citizenship you hold, it can offer the same mobility benefits as someone with a strong passport— i.e. someone from Japan, Singapore or Germany – currently owns.

She says: “How are people actually going to have access to globally paid telecommuting opportunities if we’re still stuck in a system where the statistical error of where you were born actually completely limits whether you can earn a global wage? “

However, Razavi acknowledges that changing entrenched nation-state, passport, visa and tax systems will not happen tomorrow. In the next few years, she plans to start educating countries about digital nomads and helping them develop better visas. She has already met with government representatives at the UN.

“Right now, with telecommuting becoming mainstream, it’s the right time for the nomadic community to mature and mature into something that’s meaningful to the world,” she says.

The deceivers and the believers

David Cook, an anthropologist at University College London who has been studying digital nomads since 2015, says he’s heard talk of digital nomad nations before, usually “on the beach when someone’s smoking too much.”

“The problem with a lot of these things is that they are private or corporate solutions to what are currently welfare state problems,” he says.

Cook sees many shared values ​​between cryptocurrency and digital nomads, many of whom use get-rich-quick schemes like dropshipping or expensive instructional courses to fund their lifestyles. “There’s a rogue side to both,” he said. “But there are also believers – and Lauren and Plumia, I see them as believers.”

Digital nomads from rich countries can also increase the cost of living and eviction rates in places where locals earn lower incomes, such as Mexico City, the fifth most popular destination for digital nomads according to List of nomadswhere the locals protested the rise of remote workers.

In her book, Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel, and InnovationRazavi acknowledges the damage some digital nomads can cause, including by accelerating gentrification.

But Razavi says this problem can be solved if someone can work remotely with a Plumia passport. “Until people everywhere have access to the same telecommuting opportunities and global mobility rights as those originating in the most powerful countries, urban development will continue to drive gentrification internationally,” she wrote.

Cook credits Plumia for leveling the playing field and bringing the dream of global mobility to the government level – even if recent isolationist campaigns like Brexit and America First have made convincing those governments unlikely.

A new type of visa

Plumia’s full vision for a passport is at least a decade away, according to the project’s websitebut in the meantime, digital nomads can look to other options.

Dozens of countries around the world are extending an olive branch to remote workers in hopes of attracting high-income visitors by introducing so-called digital nomad visas – permits to legally stay and work for a limited period of time. The first one was Barbados Welcome Stamplaunched in July 2020, which allows digital nomad households with over $50,000 in annual income to stay in the country for a year without having to pay local taxes (US citizens must always pay US taxes regardless of whether at home or abroad).

“These long-term visitors engage with Bajans much more authentically than our conventional tourists because they are not just here today and gone tomorrow,” writes Peter Thompson, founder of Remote work Barbados in Barbados Business Administration. In its first full calendar year, the welcome stamp received 3257 applications and 2163 approved—35% of which are families and the rest are individuals.

But Razavi believes most digital nomad visas miss the mark. Some force applicants to pay local taxes (foreigners working remotely in Spain, for example, must pay a 15 percent gross income tax for the first four years, although that’s a lower rate than the country’s overall 24 percent.) Many other countries have nomad visas that are too complicated or rigid, “Digital nomads tend to be more interested in mobility and flexibility,” says Razavi.

For saturation flexibility requirementsemployers such as Adobe, Dropbox and Elevator have also offered “work-from-anywhere” or hybrid staffing policies that allow employees to come into the office fewer days a week, if at all. In most cases, however, “work from anywhere” means only within the same country or where the employer has permanent legal entities.

Still, if the growing crop of digital nomad visas is any indication, change is afoot, and it could have a lasting impact. Not just for full-time digital nomads like Martin – who says he was detained for two days when he tried to enter Australia on a tourist visa – but for anyone who wants to work and travel.

“I don’t think we should criticize people for being optimistic,” says Cook.

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