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Passports & politics: Why I emigrated to Portugal

By Samantha North, Founder of Digital Émigré – a remote worker who has recently relocated from the UK to Madeira, via Lisbon. Here’s the story of how she ended up here and what she plans to do in the future.

In 2016, a political decision in my passport country changed the course of my life forever. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union came as a big shock. 

As the years passed, the situation in the UK became increasingly intolerable. Society was deeply split into pro and anti-Brexit camps. With the rise of a pro-Brexit government, it felt as if my country of origin had become hostile to my very identity.

The worst part about the whole thing is losing the rights to live, work, study and retire across 27 countries in Europe. What’s more, Brexit is deeply at odds with my view of myself as a lifelong European.

In late 2017, I gave up my job at a London tech company and set up an online business as a digital content writer. Now I had the freedom to take my income with me wherever I went. 

I decided to relocate to the EU while I could still do so easily under EU freedom of movement rights. My long-term plan was to regain my EU rights by getting citizenship of the country I moved to. I chose Portugal because of its relatively fast citizenship timeline (five years) and because it allows dual citizenship. 

Also, Portugal is very welcoming to remote workers. Lisbon in particular is well-known for its thriving tech community. Amid the pandemic, Madeira was quick to establish itself as the latest hot destination for remote workers

Because I moved mainly for political reasons, I see myself as different from typical digital nomads. Even though I work remotely, I’m not nomadic. I don’t move country every few months. 

Instead, I’m trying to integrate into Portuguese society to increase my chances of a successful citizenship application. I also need to pass a Portuguese language exam, so I’m taking classes and practising the language as much as I can.

That’s why, instead of a digital nomad, I call myself a digital émigré. During the time of the French Revolution, émigrés were those who moved to another country for political reasons. In 2021, emigrating has become a lot easier, all thanks to the trend for working remotely. 

People no longer have to stay put and tolerate political decisions, like Brexit, that don’t align with their values or that deny their freedoms. As well as British citizens fleeing Brexit, there’s been an uptick in US citizens emigrating. Hong Kongers too, worried about an authoritarian Chinese government tightening its grip on the territory. 

Many of these individuals are now choosing to move to EU countries. Portugal is especially popular, because it offers an excellent combination of factors, including tolerance, democratic governance, and a manageable pathway to getting citizenship of the world’s biggest trading bloc. What’s more, remote workers can benefit from 10 years of Portugal’s generous non-habitual residency tax scheme.

So what are digital émigrés looking for when they choose a country to move to? And how do their requirements differ from those of digital nomads?

For starters, émigrés usually want to establish official residency as soon as possible. This means having proof of a local address. NomadX offers a medium term solution with all the right paperwork to use for a residency application. 

Airbnbs and hotels, on the other hand, aren’t always accepted as proof of official local address. Being able to apply for residency with ease is a critical part of having a smooth landing in-country. 

For non-EU citizens, having a remote income is another key factor in getting residency. A number of EU countries offer residency with passive income, sometimes called residency for ‘persons of independent means’. In many cases, this also encompasses remote work with clients from outside the target country. 

Finally, if they plan to eventually apply for citizenship, émigrés normally prefer a country that allows dual citizenship. After all, two passports are usually better than one, especially in these uncertain times. 

ABOUT NOMADX

NomadX is a European accommodation marketplace for remote work travelers and digital nomads with over 11k listings across 18 countries with stays for 2 weeks to 12 months and average stays of 3 months. The business was started to meet the needs of the rapidly growing global community of location-independent remote workers, or “Digital Nomads”.
As Digital Nomads ourselves, we know what the market is looking for: trusted, affordable accommodations in highly-attractive locations worldwide at 50% less than AirBNB. We also run the popular NomadX Private Travel Community  where we share hacks, tips & special offers to our community members which can be found @ https://m.facebook.com/groups/nomadx/

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