At first glance, Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, seems like the ideal place for digital nomads, the serendipity of beautiful scenery, cheap housing, and lax laws. Restless techies have been further lured to the country by the global pandemic.
The so-called “golden visa,” which has been in place since 2012, allows foreigners to live in Portugal in exchange for making financial investments in the country, such as the purchase of outdated or dilapidated property worth at least €350,000. The program has recently attracted investment in the technology sector and its associated workforce.
Nomad List, a website for highly mobile employees, estimates that 15,800 digital nomads called Lisbon home as of December. In the website’s most recent “State of Digital Nomads” yearly report, the city is also included as one of the top locations for nomads, particularly women.
Although the majority of the policy’s initial recipients were from China and Latin America, Americans began to swarm in around 2020: The United States was on track to have the most people with golden visas by September 2022.
Thanks to the Web Summit, more Technology employees are now eligible for visas: It’s “one of the reasons why Lisbon got on the map of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs,” said Armand Arton, founder of the Global Citizen Forum, a members’ club for well-heeled cosmopolites.
Locals claim Portugal’s housing stock and infrastructure are struggling to cope with the flood of digital nomads. Some claim that short-term rental website Airbnb, popular with digital nomads, has displaced residents.
“We have neighborhoods now that are mainly Airbnb,” said Ana, the Portuguese teacher, at a protest on Web Summit’s opening night. “We don’t have our homes anymore.” Nearby, activists from housing advocacy group Habita held placards reading, “1 digital nomad = many forced nomads.”
Carlos Moedas, the social democratic mayor of Lisbon, felt the demonstration to be inconvenient because two days later, he and Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk spoke on stage at Web Summit about the “remote work revolution.”
The mayor of Lisbon defended his intention to make Lisbon “the capital of innovation in Europe” in an interview with POLITICO following his appearance. He also stated that Portuguese institutions must consider “both sides of the coin” when it comes to luring talent.
“I’m building 1,000 homes for people that don’t have homes or cannot pay rent. I put in a major plan to renew neighborhoods that were very old,” Moedas said. Critics “have to understand there is not a dichotomy” between attracting tourists and taking care of the local population.