Working from home? We’re WFA (working from abroad) instead

The rise of remote working has made the global office more appealing than ever
The rise of remote working has made the global office more appealing than ever

For the thousands left unexpectedly facing quarantine on return from their holiday in Spain after this weekend’s abrupt change to travel restrictions, there is, perhaps, an alternative: what if they just stayed there? Indeed the world has become the remote workforce’s new office, breeding a new tribe of WFA (work from anywhere) employees who, since Covid-19 hit, have swapped their homes for more distant climes. 

The Prime Minister has said that, from August 1, staff may begin returning to offices. But with up to 40 per cent of Britain’s workforce able to work remotely and as many as a third keen for things to stay that way – as well as major firms like Natwest last week telling its 50,000 employees they need not commute to the office again until 2021 – many are trading in their travelcards for a one-way plane ticket.

“Covid has made many people reflect on their life choices,” says Liam Witham, managing director of PSS International Removals, an overseas relocation firm. ”People have realised that life is short and with a gloomy economic outlook, many are looking to move abroad.”

Hoping to capitalise on this sudden abundance of itchy feet, Barbados this month began offering 12-month visas to frazzled workers looking to make a move; cheaper rent – both for those moving out of Britain, and the companies able to downsize in the absence of their staff – makes it a yet more compelling prospect. 

The spontaneity of upping and moving sticks is, of course, a luxury many with schooling requirements, mortgages or other commitments tying them to terra firma here cannot afford. But for others, the rise of remote working has made the global office more appealing than ever…

‘A new environment has given me an injection of life’

Hayley Irwin, 31, runs influencer marketing firm Under One Roof Consultancy. She has moved to Berlin with her boyfriend Matt Boyd, 30, who runs a social enterprise, Exceptional Individuals

Hayley Irwin and Matt Boyd moved to Berlin in late June
Hayley Irwin and Matt Boyd moved to Berlin in late June

Lockdown felt incredibly claustrophobic, and I just needed to get out of the UK. So when mine and my boyfriend’s tenancies came to an end on June 30, we decided to pack up our lives and move to Berlin.

Matt and I are both in the position where, as the heads of our respective working teams, we can be digital nomads: the added benefits of his always having wanted to travel, and that we could go to bars and restaurants here, which were still off-limits at home when we left, made the decision a no-brainer. All of my work is online and, while I do usually have a lot of face-to-face meetings, the switch to virtual ones during lockdown has shown me that I can still generate the same volume of business from behind my computer screen.

We’re not sure how long we will stay – we have a two-month lease on our flat, and are taking each week as it comes – but can see ourselves here until at least December. Finding somewhere to live with little notice here was easy; in the near future, if work remains remote for us both, I wouldn’t be concerned about looking for a short-term let in Amsterdam for two months if we fancied it, or in Spain. We now have the confidence to be a bit more free and flexible with our time.

Getting into a new environment, meeting different people and just having a sense of normality has given me an injection of life I never would have had if I’d stayed at home.

‘I felt relieved when I couldn’t fly back home’

Tamara Gillan, 45, runs PR firm Cherry London and is CEO of the WealthiHer network. She has moved to Marlborough, New Zealand

Tamara Gillan has made a temporary move to New Zealand, with her son.
Tamara Gillan has made a temporary move to New Zealand, with her son.

When my six-year-old son, Seth, and I came here at the start of lockdown, I only brought two small suitcases. We intended to stay four weeks or so, to look after my mum who had caught Covid, but at that point there were no flights home. There was no option for me to come back – and I felt relieved.

I wanted to be closer to my family in case something went wrong, but as a single mother, having childcare support here has been invaluable while running a global business from my bedroom. In the absence of school, he was looked after by my mum and a couple of students, who did virtual learning with him while I worked.

Six weeks later, I enrolled him in a tiny school of 200 kids, in the middle of nowhere, overlooking fields of sheep. Kiwi culture is very different from London and it’s been a wonderful adventure for Seth, who returns each day covered in mud, telling me he’s just been fossil hunting.

We intended to stay four weeks or so, to look after my mum who had caught Covid-19
We intended to stay four weeks or so, to look after my mum who had caught Covid-19

Before Covid, I never would have thought that I could run my business from another country, let alone another time zone. In the past, I had tried to work from Italy for a month but had to keep jumping on flights to be back, in person, for pitches; now everything is virtual, there has been no need.

We will return to the UK in mid-August. When I broke the news to Seth, he burst into tears and said “but I love it here”. I feel hugely privileged to have had this time, and I am certainly going to consider proper stints working from somewhere else in the future. The last few months have shown me this is possible.

‘It’s not about being on holiday, but a gear change’

Amy Thomson, 33, is founder of health app Moody. She has moved to Lisbon

Amy Thomson feels she has a better work-life balance, since she moved to Lisbon
Amy Thomson feels she has a better work-life balance, since she moved to Lisbon

My company introduced remote working from November last year, as all of our technical engineers and data analysts are working mums, and we wanted flexibility.

I don’t have a family, I don’t have kids, so I realised this was a really amazing opportunity for me to live in another place. I moved to Lisbon in February, just before the UK locked down, and I have found a big social network here. There’s a big tech scene in Lisbon, with a lot of like-minded people.

The plan was for me to travel back to the UK every few weeks; now I don’t need to do that, as the business is fully remote. The last few months have shown me that there’s no way I could go back to working in an office – there is such a good quality of life here, with the beach just 20 minutes away, full of incredible cafes with great Wi-Fi. It’s not about moving to a new place and then suddenly being on holiday, but a gear change. Being able to have proper work-life balance feels amazing.

Amy Thomson has taken to working at cafes overlooking the beach
Amy Thomson has taken to working at cafes overlooking the beach

My app is a startup, which requires networking to secure funding. But while historically you had to do this face-to-face – you could never close a million pounds in funding over the phone – now, that has become a possibility.

Will I go back to the UK? I wouldn’t say never. I just got my residency for Lisbon, so I can stay here for up to five years – I imagine over that time, many more people will begin to follow my lead. Anyone without dependents might soon realise it’s much easier than they anticipated.

What to consider before moving abroad

Tax: You may still need to pay UK tax if you move abroad, depending on your residency status, which could result in you being taxed twice. If this does happen, you can claim tax relief. See gov.uk/tax-foreign-income for more information.

Health insurance: Requirements differ, depending on the country. For the most part, though, you should be entitled to state-run healthcare on the same basis as a resident of that country if you are registered to work and paying tax.

Renting: It varies depending on country, though the likes of Airbnb and Booking.com operate in most. Wunderflats and Nestpick are good sites for a German move, for instance. But Facebook groups are a good place to start – and to make connections in the area.

For advice relating to specific countries, visit gov.uk/government/collections/overseas-living-in-guides

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