Reports on the destruction of Mexico City, Lisbon and Bali
I am a digital nomad in Puerto Rico. I have heard some comments hurled in my direction about the "plague" of digital workers, etc. It is odd. Puerto Ricans ARE American. True, Puerto Rico still views itself as a Spanish Colony. But, it is not. Puerto Ricans have American passports. One can travel to and from the island to the United States as easily as one can fly from Portland, Oregon to Disneyland. Puerto Ricans receive Social Security Retirement Income, Medicare, and Medicaid, etc. When a hurricane hits, the Governor of Puerto Rico uses the English word "FEMA" perfectly.
To lure "Main Landers" here, PR has passed tax incentives. As a result, 15,000 have moved here from the States, generating 23,000 jobs for Puerto Ricans. That is one thing I say to lighten the mood when the origins of my birth come up. If that does not instill more respect into the conversation, I point out the obvious. Puerto Ricans are descended chiefly (about 80%) from horribly aggressive people who sailed here from Spain. These conquerors then began to kill, loot, and colonize their way across the world. So, really, complaining about digital workers and the way they impact rent prices is silly. No one belongs anywhere really. We are all here temporarily. Like fleas arguing over who owns the dog.
I have lived in and around Barcelona for nearly 30 years so I've seen it first-hand. The biggest problem for the local population is always going to be access to affordable housing as city residents are displaced by remote workers with higher incomes with the effect now radiating outwards to surrounding towns. The effect on local commerce is notable (if you've ever had a stroll through the Gothic Quarter there - not much that you'd actually want to or could afford to use if you lived there). But as you say, the problem is wider than the digital nomad, starting with mass tourism, AirBnB as an income, foreign real estate investment etc. It's going to come down to governments at different levels to regulate it if the pressure and desire is there.
This is an interesting look at the situation in Nosara, Costa Rica: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q56JeXUoL-w
I've witnessed Costa Rica become beyond unreasonable in terms of cost of living. We were there between 2019 and 2021. By the time we left, an average 2 bedroom on the Central Pacific Coast would go for around $2k/mo. Now, I'm seeing very similar listings around $3k/mo. There are many there who would be considered digital nomads, but I would say more are those looking to settle who were trying to escape the policies of the US and Canada that they did not agree with - many of who are willing to pay higher prices because maybe that's what they were already used to paying back home and/or made out financially by selling a home at the housing values of the past couple of years. I would say the gentrification and rising cost of living issues are a testament of the further disintegration of quality of life of one's home country, coupled with the ability to make a living while abroad.
I traveled around the world from 2007 until the pandemic started.
I never considered myself a "digital nomad" per se. I started traveling before the term was used, and I moved around too much ever get an apartment somewhere.
I long said that more countries would be welcoming of digital nomads because it is free money. They bring money into an economy and they don't take any jobs. It is a simple economic boost that requires no investment and little risk.
The places which are complaining are, for the most part, places which have never experienced immigration before. They are not used to foreigners in their midst. You won't see similar complaints in cities like London, New York, Bangkok, or Berlin.
Increasing real estate prices and rents are a global phenomenon right now. Quite frankly, the number of digital nomads in a city as large as Mexico City could barely budge the price of housing.
If there is a problem it is that a few places become popular and everyone gravitates to those few places. This is the problem with overtourism. The problem isn't too many tourists, it is too many tourists all visiting the same place at the same time.
I have worked in 6-7 different major cities (Paris, Taipei, etc) as a Digital Nomad and considered places like Lisbon and other Asian countries. Friends have considered or are living now and working abroad from South American or Mexican cities.
I have to say that there is a certain "be careful what you wish for" syndrome occuring with these localities that first invite workers in and then get pissed off when they come. Lisbon is going through this now, but due to Covid cannot or will not amend the lax taxes.
This is a fascinating piece. I’m glad you piped up to contribute having been a true pioneer in the digits nomad space. I think maybe Tim Ferris was your only contemporary digital nomad back in ‘09, and you both certainly hadn’t owned the title yet. “Snowbird” I think was still the phrase in vogue 🤣.
Anyhoo, having become a digital nomad myself around 2013 I can attest your pitfalls are astute. The first five years taught me personally that I would prefer to work from him and travel...for vacation. Novel concept, I know, but there is a special kind of hell one finds one self in when sitting on a fjord deck watching lobster fishermen chug by while your 4:00am deadline looms and your internet has thrust rusty rebar up yer rear...
Truly greener grass usually hides nuance or complication of some sort. Sometimes it’s worth wrestling the new system down and dialing it in, but sometimes it’s worth looking at the one the world uses and becoming curious once more as to why it seems to work so well for so many.
As someone who will be starting the digital nomad life next year, I've read so many of these articles as well. I'm glad that, in-person, you have had a different experience, but I can see the many concerns listed as valid. The nomad Visas are interesting as well, but given the restrictions that many of them have, I don't think they'll be as successful at luring people as they think. That being said, I may not be the "typical" nomad as I like to spend 2-3 months in one place while traveling locally to explore the area. Even at that, I wouldn't qualify for most Visas. Maybe my mindset and desires will change as I travel and the idea of being tied to one country for a year would excite me (as long as its not the US, haha).
You said so yourself if the median income is 32,000 how do you believe people won’t be completely outraged at the displacement caused by people with US mainland incomes living in PR rising prices in everything? Don’t you believe that causes displacement? Isn’t that gentrification? Do you understand how rent, home prices have skyrocketed since such a law came into effect? Do you believe its fair and that you deserve it? It’s like a bigger kid fighting for a chair, he will win, and no, there aren’t enough chairs for all of us. The island is very small.
I will take full credit for starting this trend of moving to CDMX when you cannot afford America anymore. When I lived down there on and off again from 2013-2017 I didn't have the money to eat at Lardo because I was living on $650 - $800 USD a month.
Now I am pioneering the trend of getting stuck in your hometown because you cannot save up enough for plane tickets to leave! Hopefully all those tech bros from San Francisco will follow my lead, and then I will rush back to San Francisco and scoop up a cheap apartment in a bad neighborhood.
CDMX is the biggest city in North America. I think if you brought the entire population of San Francisco down there no one would notice.
My advice is if you feel you are in an area that is too gentrified then walk four blocks in any direction and perhaps cross a major intersection. For example: the tortas on the other side of Reforma are much cheaper than the ones on the Jaurez/Centro side of the road.
Just do not go to Doctores! I can't explain why but everyone will tell you DO NOT GO to Doctores. Something is horribly wrong in that neighborhood. I'm a weird fan of Tepito though, just be careful if you go!