Could Indonesia be the next digital nomad hotspot to welcome back remote workers? Displaced digital nomads across the world will be holding out for this one to be true. One group of freelancers and entrepreneurs based in Bali are even trying to make it a reality, by advocating the government for a nomad-style visa in Indonesia, as other countries around the world have been introducing such programs in reaction to the pandemic.
"We created a petition for a digital nomad visa to be presented to Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president," explains Olúmidé Gbenro, the founder of a social media marketing agency run remotely from Bali. The petition has now been signed by 2000+ digital nomads and has had enough traction to be accepted for review by the Ministry of State Secretariat of Indonesia.
"We've been hard at work with a think tank that includes both public and private partners," Olúmidé Gbenro tells Lonely Planet. "The main focus is pushing the petition to reach 10k signatures. Social chatter tends to move the needle more than anything in Indonesia."
Olúmidé, alongside other digital nomads and local advocates that include lawyers and university lecturers, has been holding provisional meetings with government ministers to discuss the benefits and logistics of such a visa. It's being described in local news sources as a visa that would allow "foreigners to work while on holiday." Olumde explains that in reality, they are pushing for "long term visas, with at least 1 year of residence minimum." At the moment, the meetings are discussing the required incomes and quality controls that such a visa would need.
While Indonesia (or more specifically, Bali), has evolved into one of the world's most popular digital nomad hotspots in recent years, unwelcoming visa policies left many remote workers and freelancers living a semi-legal existence in the country.
With many long-term digital nomads existing on short-lived 30-day or 60-day tourist visas (and relying on visa runs out of the country to make extensions), Bali quickly found itself in the midst of a huge digital nomad and tourist exodus when the pandemic rapidly locked-down borders. With much of the island relying on both traditional tourism and the money brought in by digital nomad communities, local incomes fell as quickly as the borders were closed.
Janet Newenham, founder of the travel blog Journalist on the Run, had lived on and off in Bali for the last four years. Janet tells Lonely Planet what drew her to live in Bali as a digital nomad: "I find the quality of life in Bali is incomparable to anywhere else. You can get the most incredible pool villas, rent a motorbike and eat out every day for less than an apartment would cost me in Dublin. It's so nomad-friendly with cafes offering fast Wi-Fi and co-working spaces popping up all over the island, especially in Canggu and Ubud."
Janet says that Indonesia's current visa policies directly affected her decision to leave when the pandemic struck. "My visa was set to expire and at the time I did not think I would be able to renew it, so I had to fly home within 3 days,' explains Janet. "My flight was very expensive and it was a very stressful time not knowing when I would be able to go back."
Wahyu Taufiq is a local advocate working with Olúmidé on the project. Wahyu founded the non-profit DIYacademy.org to give Indonesian students the chance to learn digital skills such as graphic design or software development from digital nomads living in Bali.
Wahyu explains to Lonely Planet how a remote working visa can be beneficial for both foreigners and locals alike. He wants to see Bali realise its potential as a digital hub, a move which could help the island to diversify away from the tourism sector, which was all but shut down by COVID-19.
"There should be a middle ground where digital nomads can legally contribute to the local economy," Wahyu says. "We hope with this visa we will be able to bring more talents and skills from all over the world, to boost the creative and digital economy instead of relying too much on tourism." You can sign the petition for a digital nomad visa in Indonesia here.