Digital Nomad vs Self-employed Visas: What’s the Difference?

Digital Nomad vs Self-employed Visas: What's the Difference?

There is a lot of talk in the digital nomad community and many posts about various European digital nomad visas. However, sometimes, the “digital nomad” visa is not a real digital one. 

As someone who researches digital nomad visas, I’ve encountered specific forums and articles about a digital nomad visa, only to find out it isn’t a real digital nomad visa. It is often a self-employed visa for freelancers instead.

While many of these self-employment visas can also be digital nomad visas, it is essential to know the difference. This will save a lot of confusion and crushed feelings.

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Quick Comparisons

Here are the main differences between digital nomad visas and self-employed visas in general. The requirements and eligibility of each country may differ:

ComparisonDigital Nomad VisaSelf-employed Visa
Ability to live in a country6 months to 1 year. Can’t be renewed1 year – 2 years. Renewable.
RequirementsMainly only financial proof and health insuranceYou may need to be a licensed worker of your own company in that country.
ClientsYou can’t have a client in the country you are living in.You MUST have a client from the country you are living in.
Access to social security and public insuranceNoYes
Where to pay taxYour home countryThe country you are living in
Path to permanent residency and citizenshipNoYes

Digital Nomad Visas

Usually, these visas can be obtained for a maximum of one year. 

In some cases, like Iceland, they are much shorter, like six months. They are usually meant for someone who does not want to settle in a country. They rarely lead to any type of path to permanent residence, and in some cases, you can’t extend them.

Although the tax system varies, digital nomads usually pay taxes in their country of origin. You usually don’t need as much proof compared to self-employed visas.

They are often referred to as “remote worker visas.” A lot of times, you can’t have clients or work in the country you are in. 

Some countries that have these are Estonia, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, and Iceland.

Self-employed Visa

Frequently, these are mislabeled as digital nomad visas, particularly for countries such as Norway, Germany, and the Czech Republic. 

Neither country has an official digital nomad visa, but the self-employed visa offer can be applied to remote workers. It usually requires becoming a licensed self-employed worker with your own company in that country. 

There are ways to do this if you are an employee of someone else, but often, you need to find some type of agreement with your employer to register yourself as self-employed. Sometimes, you might have to find another client or side job because you need more than one client.

The downside is that they require many more documents and proof of funds.

Some countries have quotas for the number of these types of visas. 

You must usually be registered for social security and as a tax resident in that country. In this case, you pay taxes to the local tax office like every other citizen and resident. 

The good news is these visas are usually given for up to 2 years at a time. Some countries that have these are Germany, the Czech Republic, and Norway. 

They can potentially lead to permanent residence if you are able to maintain the conditions of the visa when you renew them. Most of these countries allow permanent residency in about 5 years, although it can vary with each country.

How can I find out whether the country offers a digital nomad visa?

Always check with the country’s immigration page to know exactly what you are applying for. 

While there are many valuable articles about these, it is always advisable to do homework to supplement this.

If you go to the official website and don’t see a “remote worker visa,” they likely don’t have a visa precisely for digital nomads. It’s always a good idea to check these things as sometimes what you may read might change over time since it was published.

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Can I still be a digital nomad with a self-employed visa?

Often, yes! Make sure to check the conditions, but you can usually do so. However, each country sets specific standards. 

Germany usually wants to see more money when you apply. The Czech Republic allows you to register for a Czech business license. Norway will ask you to have at least one Norwegian client offering you a project at 40 euros an hour.

So which one is better?

This is entirely up to you! A digital nomad visa is usually for someone who doesn’t have a significant commitment to a country and wants to spend a year hanging out in Europe without worrying about the Schengen clock.

Suppose you want to stay longer in a country where you can eventually become a permanent resident or citizen. 

In that case, the self-employed visa might be a better choice. If you are still undecided, try the digital nomad visa and apply for a self-employed visa later.

Heidi originally from New Orleans, has lived in the European Union for nearly 13 years. She works as an analyst, and writer and also has a side business that relocates people to Slovenia and Croatia.

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