Cris Torres has been a digital nomad since 2016, and is one of the first remote workers to get the Barbados Welcome Stamp. We asked her to share her experience with how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed her lifestyle and why she decided to apply for the Barbados Welcome Stamp, and most importantly — how can you get it too? Cris is also one of the researchers behind Flatten the Curve, a resource intended to keep the nomad community up to date with the travel regulations and the coronavirus status of every country in the world.
This year started in the most DN fashion possible for me. Eating soba at midnight with new and old friends in Tokyo, knowing that after two weeks I would be moving on to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Playa…I couldn’t have imagined that my 4th year as a digital nomad would test my lifestyle and choices in such a direct way. It is not easy to “chill and stay put at home” when you haven’t had one in years.
That said, I have never doubted the absolute need for border closures or strict border controls during a global pandemic. Covid-19 continues to be a health crisis of the likes we’ve never seen before. For me, 2020 became a quest to balance the seriousness of the situation while finding a way to not completely alienate who I was.
Barbados had always been on my mind during my “active” nomad life, but border closures and the short length of their tourist visa (3 months for a Spaniard) excluded the island from my long term options. Instead, I started researching about Martinique and Guadeloupe where my EU Passport could allow me to settle indefinitely. But just when I was starting to get really nervous about the lack of coworking infrastructure and the scarce nomad community in the French Caribbean, Barbados dropped a bomb:
THE BARBADOS WELCOME STAMP — a visa specifically designed to allow remote workers to live and work on the island for 12 months.
And the most surprising? This news that would usually only make the headlines on Digital Nomad websites or niche Facebook groups in the past, was now making the rounds in all the major media outlets, from BBC to CNN and Forbes! So, what has changed?
While I was at home thinking my nomad lifestyle had been canceled due to COVID, millions of people had been forced into the digital work side of it. Not only that, but companies all over the world also were finally seeing what our community had been screaming for years: remote work is the future.
THE WELCOME STAMP VISA PROCESS
On July 22, Barbados opened applications for its new 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp. I decided to apply on July 26 and found the application process to be very simple and straightforward. You will need to complete the application form, and provide some basic biodata, a passport photo, a copy of the biodata page of your passport, and your birth certificate. In my case, my birth certificate was in Spanish but I was not asked to provide a certified translation.
The Welcome Stamp Visa fee is US $2,000.00 (BDS$4,000) for the individual application and US $3,000.00 (BDS$6,000) for the Family Bundle. However, you are not asked to pay this fee when submitting the application.
Barbados also asks you to guarantee you will earn US$50,000.00 or more over the next 12 months and/or you will have the means to support yourself (and your family if applicable) during your stay in Barbados. Although the application does not require any proof of income, and you can probably live comfortably on the island for less, it is also worth mentioning that the cost of living is similar to cities in Europe or America, such as Barcelona or Montreal.
I received my approval within 10 days (response time might have improved since then). In my acceptance letter, it was specified that I had 28 days from the date of the letter to pay my visa fee. If I failed to pay, I would have to apply for the visa again.
I arrived on the island on the 8th of August from a medium risk country and as such, I had to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test performed within the last 72h. For more information on updated COVID regulations in Barbados, you can check Flatten the Curve (I personally curate the Barbados entry).
I did not activate the Welcome Stamp Visa immediately because, like many others, I wanted to check out the island before paying the fee. I entered Barbados on a tourist visa but after a week, I had fallen in love with its people, the culture, and the amazing nature and decided to pay the US $2,000.00 fee and make Barbados my home for the next 12 months.
To activate my visa I will now have to exit and re-enter the island. I intend to do this by traveling to Saint Lucia for a weekend, taking advantage of the Caribbean COVID bubble.
Finally, when entering Barbados with the Welcome Stamp Visa it is necessary to prove you have health care coverage for the year. Lucky for us nomads, SafetyWing insurance offers a yearly policy and covers COVID-19, just like any other illness. I’ve been happy to use their product for the last 3 years and glad they conveniently offer the coverage needed for the visa application!
CO-LIVING AND CO-WORKING SPACES
Although the infrastructure for remote working is limited on the island (no co-living spaces and only a couple of co-working spaces), the opportunity to convert spaces focused on traditional tourism is massive. I am currently working with Sun Group on a new co-living project — Nhome.
WHERE TO LIVE? South vs. West
While Barbados is a stunning island no matter what side you find yourself in, there are two areas that are generally more convenient for newcomers: South and West.
South has a more young and bohemian vibe. Housing is cheaper and access to surf beaches is easier. There’s plenty of spaces for shopping and eating, and The Gap (one of the main nightlife areas in Barbados) is located here.
The only downside is that it can feel “too touristy”, and it’s harder to move around if you don’t have a car.
West Barbados has some of the best beaches on the island and as such is considered a more exclusive area. Housing is more expensive here but a 1 bedroom apartment can be found for around $1,000. It is extremely easy to move around (even without a car) and there are nice cafes and places to co-work.
WHAT ABOUT TAXES?
Barbados would only tax you on the income you make working in Barbados, which under the Welcome Stamp Visa you are not allowed to. You won’t be taxed on the income you make working remotely for companies outside of Barbados.
Internet speed in Barbados is good. However, it is not uncommon to experience electricity cuts one a month on average. These only last a couple of hours or less.
Although the Barbados remote community was practically non existing before the Welcome Stamp Visa, the number of remote workers arriving on the island is increasing every week. There is already a Digital Nomad Group on Facebook, along with networking events being coordinated by the new co-working and co-living spaces.
After arriving in Barbados early this month, I was surprised by how many families were moving to the island to live and work remotely. While this was a scenario I had always dreamed of — a mainstream digital nomad community — I suddenly started to feel a bit uneasy. Most digital nomads that have made the nomad“circuit” ( i.e. Chiang Mai, Canggu, Playa, Medellin) can recognize the impact that a small community like ours can have on local communities, for the good and the bad.
In Barbados, many people are wary and cautious, and some feel that the new visa might have been rushed by the government. However, many are also eager to learn about this “new wave” of tourism that could substitute the severely damaged seasonal tourism. The question stands: is nomad oriented long-term tourism sustainable for the communities we decide to settle in?
We need to understand what we can bring to our host community, what intangible values make us different from traditional seasonal tourism.
It is not about tunning into a savior complex (we all know what happened with the crypto community in Puerto Rico) but about understanding how we can grow together with the local community. And singling out what makes the digital nomad community unique might be a great starting point.
For example, if it’s the way some of our members built remote businesses from scratch, local businesses can benefit from our practical experience and network, especially during COVID times. Organizing open seminars and networking events could be a great starting point. We can also take advantage of the high tech expertise among the members of our community. Volunteering in coding camps for the youth on the island or organizing hackathons where both tech and non-tech members and locals could participate is a great way to provide and receive value.
Barbados could become a promised land for veterans and new digital nomads. No more visa runs, no more working on a tourist visa, no more taxing silver linings…and all of that in one of the safest COVID destinations in the world (no community transmission). However, we need to make sure we contribute and work with the community to not gentrify the island but to grow and improve our lives together.
This article’s purpose is not to be a moral pamphlet, short of actual proposals but intends to be a conversation starter on how Digital Nomads can be a positive force for their host communities, especially during the times of COVID.
Written by Cris Torres.