Non-U.S. Citizen Digital Nomads: What You Need to Know About Working in America

As you know, arguably the best thing about being a digital nomad is freedom of movement. Indeed, while many people are anchored to one place and one employer, digital nomads like you can grab your laptop and smartphone and earn a living — and a lucrative one at that — from pretty much anywhere. The sky’s the limit, right?

Well, not quite. Because as you also know, there are obstacles that limit digital nomad mobility. No, I’m not talking about ultra-slow wifi and lack of caffeine. I’m talking about visa requirements if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, and your goal is to live and work in the land of opportunity (less formally known as the land of an infinite number of Starbucks’). Essentially, here’s what you need to know:

  • You cannot under any circumstances work in the U.S. without a valid and appropriate visa. Anyone who tells you otherwise — including a prospective employer — is either utterly misinformed, or outright lying. Either way, you can be 100 percent certain that when you attempt to enter the U.S., the serious (and armed) U.S. Border Control officer who interviews you will ask about your employment intentions. If you don’t have the proper visa, you’ll be sent back home on the next available flight.
  • There are different visa categories available, depending on your education, skills, and the type of work that you do. For example, if you have specialized skills in high-demand areas like cyber security or healthcare, then you might qualify for an H1B visa. Or if you’re willing to invest between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in a U.S. business, then you might qualify for an EB5 visa (otherwise known as an Investment Green Card). If you’re considering this option, then ensure that you consult an experienced EB5 attorney, since the application process is extremely complex and there are numerous filing deadlines along the way.
  • A work visa will not allow you to leave and enter the U.S. whenever you wish. In fact, technically you aren’t supposed to leave for a single day or else your visa can be revoked. If you become a permanent resident or U.S. citizen — which is a separate application process — then you’ll be entitled to leave and enter the U.S. just like a native U.S. citizen.
  • Though it’s not directly related to obtaining a visa, keep in mind that you may be obligated to pay income tax to both the U.S. government, and to your native country’s government. This isn’t an issue if the two countries in question have a tax treaty. Make sure that you know what’s in store, so that you don’t risk breaking any tax filing rules.

The Bottom Line

Experiencing life as a digital nomad in the U.S. is glorious: the country is vast, and the employment possibilities are immense — especially if you’re digitally savvy and sophisticated.  However, ensure that you get all of the visa-related facts that you need before you buy your ticket and board your flight (or bus or train if you plan on entering the U.S. through Canada or Mexico), because the last thing you want is to be sent back home. That’s depressing, disheartening, and certainly not the way of the wise and happy digital nomad!

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