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IS THIS NIRVANA FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?



by Andrew Chalk


One lasting result of the pandemic is an enduring increase in the number of people ‘working from home’ or, more accurately, working physically untethered from the office. To the worker, it offers something that most employees found themselves physically and mentally unprepared for -- the ability to work anywhere.


Assuming that ‘good Internet’ is table stakes, that makes the choice of location one of desirability. Here is the case for Madeira, an Atlantic island that is part of Portugal located under a two hour flight from Lisbon. Best known to wine lovers as the home of a distinctive style of fortified dessert wine, and to everyone else as the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s most famous footballers (indeed, they named the airport after him before he was even 33 years old).


The island is ready for it. In February 2021 the local government started the Digital Nomads Madeira Islands program to handle almost every conceivable need of the incoming itinerant brain worker. For example:

  • Room or apartment services with no rent deposits on leases under six months;

  • Online lease signing, in English;

  • All utilities inclusive;

  • Logistical help with twelve areas on the island;

  • A nomad village if you want to stay with the ‘like-minded’ with free working space, Internet, events, and access to the community;

  • A Slack channel available even before you leave for Madeira to talk to other people in the program and cooperating service providers;

  • Ubiquitous high-speed Internet;

  • A host of other services tailored to the digital nomad.


The program has been so successful that the island has committed to continue it at least until 2024. There have been 10,200 online registrations, leading to 4,500 people coming to Madeira from 110 countries. Significantly, it is being managed by Startup Madeira, the government’s entrepreneurship office. The rationale being that the government does not want Madeira to slip into being only a great place to retire. It wants to keep young people on the island by developing a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Was he the first digital nomad?
Was he the first digital nomad?

LEGAL AND LOGISTICAL STUFF ABOUT LIVING IN MADEIRA

Madeira is part of Portugal, and therefore the European Union. Passport requirements derive from that. COVID requirements may vary from the mainland, check here. The Euro is the currency. ATMs are easy to find, and credit cards are generally accepted. Rents are about €500/month for a one-bedroom but vary enormously by location.


Restaurant food is about 25% less than the USA and restaurant wine is one-third the price. Gas costs more than in the USA but the amount varies.


Madeirans drive on the right. Uber was on the island but withdrew when Big Taxi got whore-politicians to pass an anti-app law. So the digital transformation has its opponents who may still condemn the island to backwardness. The Uber signs you see are for Uber Eats.


The time zone tracks Lisbon and almost all flights are to/from Lisbon (LIS), with a few from London Heathrow (LHR). Azores Airlines flies seasonally from New York (JFK) via The Azores (also part of Portugal).


If you are a resident of the EU you don’t need a visa to live in Madeira, but should register with the immigration office after 90 days. If you are a resident of the UK, USA, or Canada you don’t need a visa to stay up to 90 days but you do need one for longer stays. Here we hit the one wrinkle in this story. The Portuguese government is still setting up its ‘Digital Nomad’ visa (it was supposed to be in place early in 2021, and may be in place by the time you read this). In the interim, the option of choice appears to be the D7 visa.


Should you feel in the middle of nowhere living in Madeira? No. Fly to Lisbon for it and connections to major cities in the EU. Fly to London for everything else. London Heathrow has more direct connection destinations than any other airport on earth.


I was given a guided tour of Madeira by the island’s authorities this fall. Here is a guide of what to expect -- albeit a personal one.


Looking down on the capital, Funchal, from the Monte Palace
Looking down on the capital, Funchal, from the Monte Palace

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