How many worlds do you live in?
The answer, most probably, is two: the real one, and the virtual one. Chances are that you spend a lot of time working, learning, researching, and socialising on the alternative/complimentary world that you carry with you in a little bag: your laptop.
Now if you can carry this corporate ‘world’ around, then it follows that you can be anywhere on planet earth and still carry out your responsibilities related to your occupation, providing there’s strong internet connectivity.
That’s just what ‘nomads’ are doing, or rather people who live anywhere in the globe whilst working. Malta was wise enough to see a niche market in this concept, which is why the Nomad Residence Permit programme was created in 2021.
Two years have passed; therefore, we can start looking at trends in this regard. The Journal spoke to Daryl Grima, Professional Officer in the Marketing Department at Residency Malta, which is the national agency that is taking care of this initiative.
The majority of nomads are male
Since 2021, the interest in the Nomad Residence Permit program in Malta has been high. Since inception 685 main applicants were permit holders, with an average age of 37 years. Out of these, 22% are Chinese, 13% are British, 13% are American, and 52% come from elsewhere.
Interestingly, 69% are male and 31% female, with only one person identifying as Gender X.
The Nomad Residence Permit is initially valid for one year and can be renewed twice, allowing a total stay of up to three years in Malta.
Of course, the main applicants for the Nomad Residence Permit are employed in industries that allow remote work. Specifically, 35% of them work in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, 16% are in Business and Management, and 10% are engaged in Marketing.
The average wage among beneficiaries of the Nomad Residence Permit is €74,000. On average, digital nomads spend approximately €2,800 per month in Malta during their stay.
More than a quarter come with family members
Family members of the main permit holder can accompany them. At present, 28% of Nomad Residence Permit beneficiaries have chosen to temporarily reside in Malta with their families, which may include one or more dependants.
There are requirements for these family members, including a fee of €300 per dependant, a valid travel document, background verification checks, and the need for health insurance once they receive the Letter of Approval in Principle. Family members can live in Malta for up to one year and enjoy visa-free travel within the Schengen Zone for 90 out of 180 days.
What’s in it for Malta?
Nomad Residence permit holders, including their dependants, are not allowed to work or engage in any economic activity in Malta. They would need to apply for a different type of residence permit for employment or self-employment if they wish to work or conduct business in Malta.
This doesn’t mean that they’re not impacting the local economy. In fact, Daryl explains that permit holders contribute an estimated €16 million annually through direct expenditure.
Asked about whether their presence and their relatively high spending power increases factors such as the rental market, Daryl explains that “their influence on the housing market remains limited. The current number of permit holders, although growing, is not substantial enough to exert a significant influence on the housing or rental markets.”
Where are they living and working?
According to Daryl, digital nomads have different preferences when it comes to their choice of residence in Malta. Some favour cosmopolitan areas like Sliema and St Julians, while others opt for historically rich regions such as the Three Cities. Some also seek a quieter environment and opt for Gozo.
Daryl tells The Journal that, last year, the average monthly rent expenditure among Nomad Residence Permit holders was €1,126.
When it comes to their working environments, their laptop is their work world. However, there are several coworking spaces throughout Malta, particularly in the cities of Sliema, Valletta, Gzira, Mosta, and St Julian’s.
These coworking spaces are in fact an opportunity for Maltese investors, consisting of physical buildings that offer daily or monthly membership passes. These places grant access to hot desks and other amenities. There’s nothing warm with these desks in terms of temperature… hot desking refers to reserving flexible workspaces that aren’t assigned to a specific employee, in an office-like environment.
Malta’s top coworking spaces offer various perks and facilities, such as access to a gym and fitness classes, networking events, complimentary beverages, and well-organised social gatherings.
There’s no real need or requirement for nomad workers to get together and integrate. “However, we know from social listening that many join digital nomad groups and communities, to network and meet like-minded people, share experiences and ideas,” says Daryl.
There is no available data on the extent to which Nomad Residence Permit holders choose to work from co-working spaces.
Malta’s pluses and minuses
We ask Daryl who our greatest competitor is, as many countries try to attract these nomads.
“While various destinations offer digital nomad visas, any location providing such visas could be considered a competitor given that digital nomads love to travel far and wide,” he replies.
Realising we won’t be getting one specific country as an answer, we shift our focus to what it is about Malta that nomads feel the need to flock to. Here Daryl is more than willing to provide ample detail. Island life is a major attracting force, followed by our size, the fact that we speak English and that we have a strong telecommunications infrastructure. We’re a safe country, we have great sea and air links, and we have a good healthcare system. We’re also multicultural, rich in history, and have year-long warm weather.
That’s great, we think. What could potentially strike us out though, in the eyes of a nomad worker? Daryl lists the rising cost of living and the scarcity of green, open spaces as two real deterrents.
“However, most are well-equipped to handle price fluctuations. It’s important to recognise that inflation is not limited to Malta but has global implications,” he specifies.
The rise of digital nomadism represents a transformative shift in the way people work and live, but it might also change the way we look at foreigners in Malta.
They may not be only here for work, or only here for holiday, but they might be here for both work and pleasure together, living life the Maltese way whilst getting their corporate duties done. In the meantime, they’re spending money here and speaking about us with their friends and peers.
This symbiotic relationship is something that Malta wants to and should protect.
Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio