Anna Ambroszkiewicz has a Polish passport, but says the whole world is her home. She has structured her life in a way that allows her to live in different places in the world for short periods of time — in short, she’s a “digital nomad.”
“I can go hiking in the daytime and go work in the afternoon or the evening,” said Ambroszkiewicz, a travel blogger currently based in a small town called Bansko in the mountains of Bulgaria.
When Ambroszkiewicz heard that the Canadian government was going to launch a visa specifically for digital nomads, it piqued her curiosity — she says she’s heard of Canada’s abundant natural beauty from other digital nomads.
“I would really like to visit Canada. I would love to go snowboarding in Canada.”
But a few things are holding her back from packing for the Great White North: “I guess you can’t do much about the prices in Canada.”
A digital nomad is a person who makes a living working largely online from a remote location of their choosing, without laying down roots in any fixed location. Digital nomads typically don’t stay in one location longer than a few months or a year.
Two weeks ago, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser introduced a buffet of measures to attract the best talent in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As part of the wider strategy, Fraser said the federal government would be rolling out a special visa for digital nomads.
“(The digital nomad strategy) is going to allow people who have a foreign employer to come and work in Canada for up to six months, live in communities in this country and spend money in communities in this country. And should they receive a job offer while they’re here, we’re going to allow them to continue to stay and work in Canada,” he said.
He did not, however, offer much in the way of details about how the specifics of the program would work — taxes, for example, or whether the nomads can purchase property.
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told Global News that officials are currently in the process of launching a policy to promote Canada as a “destination of choice for digital nomads.”
Global News has confirmed that IRCC is working with provincial and territorial governments, along with other stakeholders, to determine whether allowing digital nomads a stay of longer than six months would be beneficial.
They are also trying to determine what criteria one must meet to be considered for the digital nomad visa – like providing proof of private health insurance or meeting a minimum income level.
“In addition, we’re assessing whether other changes would be necessary to ensure that a digital nomad would have a clear process to apply for a work permit from within Canada if they later decided to seek a position with a Canadian employer,” a spokesperson said.
But Canada will have to overcome a few challenges if it aims to attract digital nomads to its shores.
For example, what tax scheme should apply to digital nomads?
Currently, if a visitor to Canada spends 183 days in the country, they are classified as sojourning into Canada and deemed a Canadian resident for tax reasons.
John Oakey, vice-president of the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Canada, said international tax treaties are intended to minimize or diminish double taxation between the country of residence and the country of source income.
So if someone is living in Canada for under 183 days, the Canadian government can only tax the income they earn from Canadian sources. But if a digital nomad lives here for over six months, they will owe the Canadian government for their entire worldwide income.
“If they extend that stay for the person beyond the 183 days, it could cause a taxation problem where now they are deemed to be a resident of Canada, which means you now have to go to the tax treaty and try to break the tie between their original place of residence in Canada,” Oakey said.
A self-employed digital nomad, such as Ambroszkiewicz, would have to be liable to pay taxes to the Canadian government if her income from her travel blog is considered earning money through a Canadian source.
Income from someone in that position cannot be deducted from source like what happens with a Canada-based employer, so they would have to file their taxes themselves or the Canada Revenue Agency would need to be prepared and equipped to pursue those undeclared taxes.
The government has also not yet clarified whether digital nomads will be allowed to own property in Canada.
Under the Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act, there are recent restrictions on foreign buyers looking to purchase residential properties in Canada.
Oakey said any potential digital nomads should seek professional help and check whether the government includes them in the list of those exempted from the law.
The question of real estate and where to live could prove to be a pressing one as more Canadian communities struggle to house their residents, and more people around the world look for more affordable housing options.
Digital nomads Dominik Kropacek and Josefine Kraemer are one example. The couple met while backpacking through Australia and now run a travel blog together called Red White Adventures – a nod to the flags of both their countries of Denmark and Canada.
The couple spend their time travelling through Europe and are currently also based in Bansko, Bulgaria. Their one-bedroom apartment costs around $425 in Canadian dollars, while the average rent in Kropacek’s hometown of Calgary was $2,008 this year, according to the July 2023 national rent rankings report on Rentals.ca.
While the pair were attracted by cheaper housing abroad, for some Canadian communities there is a fear that digital nomads might raise real estate and rental prices.
Tofino, B.C., is a popular tourist destination on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island.
But local residents are now worrying about rising rents — and say digital nomads are not the right fit for them.
“We actually have an acute housing shortage for workers, so it’s quite difficult to find places to live — especially in the summer. I’m guessing that would effectively remove Tofino as a prime destination for this type of immigrant,” Jen Dart, executive director of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, told Global News.
Can Canada attract digital nomads?
As Canada works to develop its plan for digital nomads, some may still be reluctant to come.
The car dependency of life in Canada is a factor, along with concerns over reliable public transportation options. Kropacek said it does not make sense for nomads to purchase a car if they’re going to live in a place for a short period of time.
“Here in Europe, we took a bus wherever we went. If we have to go somewhere, we take a bus from Bansko to Sofia and take the shuttle to the airport.”
What the program ultimately looks like will determine whether it will work — for both communities and digital nomads themselves.
Ambroszkiewicz said a longer-term visa would make it more appealing to “Slow-mads,” or nomads that spend a relatively longer time in each place.
Kraemer said, “I think this new visa is going to be interesting. I think it’s going to make Canada more appealing to people, knowing that nomads are welcome. That’s a big thing for a lot of people, figuring out which countries you can go to as a nomad.”
But Canada’s biggest advantage, she said, is its stunning natural beauty.
“Most people who come to Canada end up falling in love with it.”