Digital nomads living in Barbados share what it’s like to work remotely in paradise during the pandemic
- Earlier this year, Barbados launched a new visa for remote workers called the Welcome Stamp, which costs $2,000 and allows you to spend a year on the Caribbean island.
- About 2,800 people, mainly from the US, Canada, and the UK, have taken it up so far, but many more have arrived to do the same thing on tourist visas lasting up to six months.
- I went to Barbados to meet some of the people settling into Barbados' burgeoning community of digital nomads.
- They said Barbados appealed to them with its friendly atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and lower number of COVID-19 cases, though it's worth noting the coronavirus is still present in the country.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Like many other destinations hit hard by the pandemic, Barbados — which depended on tourism for an estimated 60-80% of its income — has found a way to entice tourists with a special visa for remote workers.
Launched on July 18, the Barbados Welcome Stamp Visa requires applicants to fill out an online form, upload their birth certificate, confirm their salary (which must be over $50,000), and pay a $2,000 fee.
The visa is popular so far. By the end of October, Barbados had received 1,693 applications for the Welcome Stamp (a mix of groups and individuals), accounting for 2,796 people in total, the Barbados Tourism and Marketing team told Insider. The top country for applications is the US (675), followed by Canada (283), and the UK (231), though they come from all over the world.
Meanwhile, others arrive in Barbados on tourist visas to work remotely there for up to six months at a time.
Last month, I traveled to Barbados (following the necessary safety protocol and quarantining on arrival) to meet some of the country's new digital nomads, from a Canadian schoolteacher to an attorney from New York City.
Most were lured by Barbados' beaches and low number of coronavirus cases — the country has had 250 coronavirus cases and seven related deaths to date, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine — while many Americans wanted to escape tensions at home. And more than a few plan to stay.
Editor's note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that "travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19."
Fridaouss Nabine and Kennedy Brown went to Barbados to escape the anxiety of the pandemic and racial tensions in the US. They're already planning on extending their Welcome Stamp when it expires.
Fridaouss Nabine, 23, and Kennedy Brown, 24, met in 2018 and had been living together in St. Louis, Missouri, for a year before they moved to Barbados on the Welcome Stamp.
Brown was a fellow at nonprofit organization Venture for America, for which she still does marketing remotely, and Nabine was working in marketing and sales for a tech company when the pandemic hit.
"We got to the crossroads of multiple pandemics — race in middle America also being the pandemic that it is — it was just a lot going on," Brown told Insider.
Despite neither having been to Barbados before, they applied for the Welcome Stamp, got the green light from their employers, and arrived on the island in August.
"Part of the case that I made with my employer is that this is a much healthier work environment in regards to COVID and racism flaring up in the States," Brown said. "Being able to wake up and not feel anxious is so much healthier."
The couple like living in Barbados so much that they're planning on renewing the visa for a second year.
"I'm always struck by how nice people are here," Nabine said. "Also, some of the beaches have Wi-Fi, and that is a real game-changer — I've been able to set up my hammock a few times, go for a dip, then carry on working from there."
Cris Torres has lived and worked all over the world, but she's planning on settling in Barbados for the time being.
Barcelona-born Cris Torres, 35, quit her full-time job in London in 2016 to travel around the world. Ever since, she has worked from places including Bali, New York, Colombia, Kenya, Canada, Japan, and Martinique.
Torres is thought to be the first Welcome Stamp holder to land in Barbados, arriving there on August 8.
"Just look at how well everything is run here — they've pioneered the visa and continued to manage the spread of coronavirus," Torres said, speaking of Barbados. "It's made me feel very safe. I watch the sunrise before work, walk on the beach, listen to the birds, and everyone is happy."
She currently works for US-based travel medical insurance company Safety Wing, does operations for a UK company, and is a researcher for Flatten the Curve, a resource that shares up-to-date travel regulations regarding the coronavirus around the world.
Working for companies in both the US and the UK means Torres has to be creative with her hours, but she generally splits her workday into two shifts, working from around 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., taking the afternoon off, and then working again from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"This is the first time I've said it in years, but right now this feels like home," she said.
Jamie and Jakki Prince, from Toronto, Canada, decided that if they were going to work from home, they might as well do it in Barbados.
Construction manager Jamie Prince, 40, has been working from home since March, while his wife Jakki, 35, who works in small business consulting, has been self-employed since she was 24.
Jamie and Jakki have been vacationing in Barbados for years as they have a timeshare there. And the couple's love of travel led them to start their own travel company, Prince Adventures, in 2019.
"We thought, if we're going to be working from home, we love Barbados, let's just go to Barbados," Jamie said.
The Princes were initially due to leave Canada on October 18, but as coronavirus cases continued to rise there, they brought their trip forward and landed in Barbados on October 4.
The couple is planning to stay in Barbados until early 2021, but doesn't have a set date of departure. They didn't apply for the Welcome Stamp, but Canadians can stay for up to six months in the country on a tourist visa.
"It's been a delight to be here," Jakki said. "Barbados is dealing with coronavirus in a way that's very appropriate. You see young people, old people, everybody is wearing their masks no matter what."
Jamie and Jakki have settled into remote-work life in Barbados as well.
"Some mornings we get up and do a nice beach walk before work and you just feel so good," Jamie said.
Mita Carriman has been self-employed and working remotely for 10 years, and says life in Barbados is "paradise."
Attorney Mita Carriman has been self-employed for 10 years and working remotely since 2017. And with stints in Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey, Los Angeles, Bali, Vietnam, Estonia, and Greece, she's no stranger to the digital-nomad life. She also runs her own company, Adventurely, to help solo travelers connect.
Carriman was in Mexico when the pandemic hit, prompting her to go back home to New York City in March.
"When I saw Barbados was like, 'Hey, we have health and safety protocols and we want you guys to come,' I just made a decision," Carriman said. "I thought, 'Alright, I'm going to try Barbados this time.'"
Carriman could come to Barbados for six months with a Grenadian passport — she's a dual citizen of the Caribbean country and her father is from Grenada — so she didn't need to apply for the Welcome Stamp.
"I've been to a few Caribbean islands and there's a lot they have in common, but I do think the beaches here are really spectacular," Carriman said of Barbados, where she has stayed since she arrived on August 15.
"It's not cheap by any means," she added. "But it's a trade-off. I feel safe with my health, I feel comfortable. A lot of people are in lockdowns and I'm not. I'm in paradise."
Matt Schwartz wanted to leave life in San Francisco behind and start afresh; Barbados is one of the few places in the world he can do that right now.
Software engineer Matt Schwartz, 27, left San Francisco to live with his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, in Las Vegas in the spring of 2020. While working remotely, Schwartz grew bored of never really leaving the house.
But when he heard about the Welcome Stamp, Schwartz was sold. He also felt Barbados was handling the coronavirus pandemic well.
"You could tell the government was responsible, and so I said goodbye to my family and arrived here on October 13," he said.
Schwartz said the Welcome Stamp application process required "around five minutes worth of effort."
"Now I have stable internet, I've got my own room for an office, and it's still cheaper than San Francisco," Schwartz said, adding that he's fortunate to be able to work flexible hours.
Schwartz's favorite thing about Barbados is the ability to socialize.
"I left San Francisco, I moved to a new place and I wanted to establish a life, but then I couldn't meet anyone new," Schwartz said, speaking of his move to Las Vegas.
"So here, it's nice being able to say I moved to a new place, I'm making friends, I can go to bars, and I'm doing things," he added. "It's nice to have a community here."
He often starts his days scuba diving or surfing, sits down at his computer late morning, works until the evening, then goes to meet a friend for a drink.
"I'll stay here until America cleans up house," he said, adding that the divisive presidential election and the country's handling of the pandemic played a part in his decision to stay in Barbados.
"I didn't want to be in America for the election and I don't want to be in America for winter, because of how coronavirus is being handled," he said.
Andrea Pfeiffer from Canada took her teaching job fully online so she could do it from Barbados.
Andrea Pfeiffer, 41, was one of few teachers at her school back in Kitchener, Canada, who volunteered to take her work fully online. She arrived in Barbados on a tourist visa on October 4, and hasn't applied for the Welcome Stamp but plans to do so in a few months so she can stay longer.
Pfeiffer said her 17-year-old daughter back in Canada plans to meet her in Barbados when her school semester wraps up in December.
"She has the same spirit as I do," Pfeiffer said. "When I brought up the idea of coming here, I asked her how she felt and she said, 'Oh, I'd miss you, but you have to do it.'"
While Pfeiffer said she can work from Barbados, she hasn't told her students or their parents.
"Before coming here, knowing that I would get darker, I put on self-tanner," Pfeiffer said. "I almost got caught the other day because the birds were chirping so loudly."
"I just don't want to shove it in people's faces," she added. "I am on an island having the time of my life. But I'm completely focused on my work. I absolutely adore my students and I'm completely committed to their success."
Although Pfeiffer didn't know anyone in Barbados before, she's quickly made friends.
"I was really lucky," she said. "I met some guy on the plane on the way over here from Toronto, and he's just taken me under his wing and introduced me to all his awesome friends. We had a Canadian Thanksgiving — a woman brought a frozen turkey in her suitcase from Canada."
Kylee McKay, Erik Eliason, Ian Brodie, Robbie Schab, and Drew Bateman came over from Seattle and have rented a beachfront villa together while working and studying.
When the pandemic hit, friends Ian Brodie, 24, and Robbie Schab, 24, quit their jobs to start their marketing agency, Grovia Partners.
"We realized, 'Hey, we run our own company. We can live wherever we want,'" Brodie told Insider. "So then we came here."
Schab's girlfriend Kylee McKay, 23, who works for a software company that had closed its offices, also decided to join. As did friends Erik Eliason, 24, an engineering consultant working from home, and Drew Bateman, 25, a student whose computer sciences classes had moved online.
The group initially decided to come for six weeks, and now they're trying to extend their stay.
"I think that a lot of people don't do it because they tell themselves it's not possible. But it's really not all that complicated if you just commit to it," Schab said of working remotely in another country. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Although Brodie and Schab have been working 11-hour days to be in sync with employees on Seattle time, they don't seem to mind.
"We're working on our porch and the beach," Brodie said. "Waking up and doing my morning snorkel, swimming with some turtles, that's so cool. I love it, and the people are great."
The group say they've been struck by how friendly people are in Barbados compared to back home.
"Everyone just wants to talk to you for the hell of it," Schab said. "We're kind of shook by it."
Tayler Ulmer, from Chicago, said she has always wanted to live on an island. She also wanted to go to a country where she'd feel safe as a Black woman.
Anthropologist and consultant Tayler Ulmer, 27, was based in China on the Schwarzman Scholars fellowship program when the pandemic hit, leading her to move back home to Chicago in February.
Ulmer decided to leave her home country again for Barbados a few months later, arriving in the Caribbean country with her best friend — both on a six-month tourist visa — in early September.
Ulmer and her friend had both wanted to live overseas, and drew up a list of five potential destinations; Barbados was the front-runner.
"My main reason for leaving the US was making the most of the opportunity to live wherever I want, and I've always wanted to live on an island," Ulmer told Insider.
But that wasn't the only reason she wanted to go to Barbados.
"I also wanted to get out of Trump country," she added. "Things have gotten so bad in the US with racial tensions, so for both me and my best friend, who's also a Black woman, we decided we would rather go to a country that is all Black."
Ulmer finished her fellowship remotely in June, and has since been working for a British consulting firm, Delivery Associates. Ulmer said she's been working long hours, but doesn't mind as she wakes up early with the sunrise.
"I'm a big outdoor person," she said. "I have a hike planned on Saturday and on Sunday we're going kayaking. It's expensive here, especially, food, but other than that I love it. There's a great sense of community and I feel completely safe because everyone wears their masks."
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