Prosperity for the countryside: Promote the Philippines as a haven for “digital nomads”

Here’s an easy way for local governments in the Philippines to stimulate their local economies — become havens for “digital nomads”. Digital nomads are mobile workers who are engaged in work that only requires an Internet connection and does not require them to be physically present in any one location. This type of work usually lends itself well to online writers, designers and creators of all sorts of digital content, software developers, media practitioners, and online marketers.

Online workers don’t require much — just cheap accomodation, reliable Internet, and a safe and interesting enough environment to justify a six- to twelve-month stay. That would be a boon to tech- and Net-savvy Filipinos wanting to escape the skyrocketing cost of living in Metro Manila and other big cities and, more imporantly, are looking for a sea change free of awful crowds and traffic congestion.

Even if its residents struggle to make ends meet, Metro Manila still accounts for a disproportionate chunk of national income, wealth, and marketable skills. This means that it is a deep well of human resources that could be enticed to disperse across the relatively underdeveloped, underpopulated, and commerce-challenged parts of the Philippines. A thousand pesos will certainly go a lot further in, say, Laoag or Bukidnon than in Quezon City or Makati. Think too of the fresh food, clean air, and healthy lifestyle. Awesome promise lies out there if only we can find the political and commercial wherewithal to capitalise this great opportunity.

Even better, there is a huge international community of digital nomads out there shopping around for locations to travel to and, well, set up shop for online work. Their requirements are no different from the average Filipino big city slicker — except that many of them have already been around. Digital nomad havens already exist in exotic places across Europe and Asia from remote little frigid islands across Norway’s fjords to exotic tropical paradise cities like Chiang Mai in Thailand. They make their money online and, of course, spend it locally. They don’t take away jobs from locals. They actually add to the local economy. Happy nomads and happy locals. It’s a win-win arrangement!

Most small Philippine towns fit the lifestyle criteria of these digital nomads, perhaps except for the Internet part (and maybe better accomodation would help somewhat). This is where support from the national government will be required — better Internet and incentives to start up a decent enough accomodations industry in the hinterlands. For the international visitors, there’s the matter of a proper visa that will allow them a reasonable stay period that allows them to get settled in and contribute enough to the local community. While many countries already have visa classes that allow international travellers to stay over extended periods and engage in some local employment, Estonia has paved the way with a visa type specifically designed for digital nomads. It is actually called a Digital Nomad Visa — the world’s first, we are told — and it aims to support tourism campaigns in Estonia to attract these types of visitors and, of course, the economic activity they will be creating wherever they go.

I believe this is a worthwhile program to pursue. There are enough big-ticket and politically-charged infrastructure programs already going on, many of which are centered around Manila and other big cities. An initiative like this does not require big dollar investments (other than more Internet infrastructure) and is a lot more relevant to ordinary Filipinos ekeing out a living in small towns and seasonal tourist locations.

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17 Comments on “Prosperity for the countryside: Promote the Philippines as a haven for “digital nomads””

  1. That’s a good suggestion. I personally would love to be a digital nomad in places far from Manila. The basic problem, however, is not so much the accommodation but the internet connection. Outside of a 200-kilometer radius from Manila, the computer network is choppy, and well, expensive.

  2. Why not instead of building a big hotel, make the neighborhood residents a hotel themselves, a bit of improvements of the toilet and and bedroom to offer a weary traveler an accomodation, there maybe a bit of discomfort but I’m sure the visitor will be aware of it, that is, you get what you pay for. If the treatment is good, they will comeback with many will follow thus giving the owner more income and more opportunity to improve the place, and once there is improvement, the owner can charge a bit higher. This can be done with the help of the local government, as this gives opportunity for more employment.
    The government then must try to give seminars to the locals on how to treat their travelling visitors on how to be a good guide to the area, like, if they can’t eat in the house, they can be pointed out to another place/restaurant, a place to go shopping, etc.
    If we want to have industries, I think tourism industry in one way and easier to start.

  3. There is a Satellite Internet Connection available in our present technology. It can service Internet Connection, anywhere and anyplace in the world. You don’t need any line connections. The technology is already available in the U.S. and other industrialized countries.

    Internet works on HyperSpace ; so it can derive its power from outer space thru satellites circling the Planet Earth.

    “Work at Home” or “Digital Nomads” are possible because of the advances of Information Technology. Jobs that can be done on computers and the internet , are done easily at home. It is fitted for housewives, who are raising their children; computer geeks, who are available for service; computer programmers; and others.

    It is still a new field…we don’t know where this opportunity will lead to , in the coming years. Our technology is advancing , from day to day…Artificial Intelligence, by which human expertise is being replaced by “Thin king Machines” is a field, we have to watch !

  4. You are “off the schneid ” after a while not that you cared. Yes , let’s see if the infrastructure in the hinterland can develop/ support this or evolve to support this.

    1. Thanks for noticing my absence! 🙂

      I had to focus on work for a while but I think I’ve now found my advocacy!

  5. Does Laoag or Bukidnon have a port or airport? A foreign nomad needs transportation to get there. And even and although it may be for only 6 and/or 12 months, that/those foreigner(s) also want(s) some distraction(s) (read: what to do in spare/free time? Cinema, sports facilities/gym. I dont dare to mention it but a Starbucks might do too).

    Personally, I like the idea but it needs more than just fibre glass (5G) internet and accommodation.

    1. @Robert Haighton:

      Laoag has an International Airport. Bukidnon has none. Good to hear from you again. I thought you went back to Neatherland. I don’t know if you missed GRP Blogging /Bloggers…we appreciate you popped out in this Website.

  6. Thanks for your feed back everyone! 🙂

    It’s encouraging to see all the support for this. I do agree, Internet access and quality of service is the single biggest challenge we face seeing this thru.

    But I thhink the returns would be huge. I mean, compared to others, there is very little other investment involved and the benefits to local communities will be so many. Not counting the obvious business tourists from Manila, other cities and other countries will be bringing to small local communities, there will also be the cultural exchange involved!

    I’m sure the bravest will come first — those who don’t need those big-city amenities like Starbucks cafes and gyms. But as they come these amenities will follow. Chicken-and-egg for now…

  7. I wrote about the Philippines as a Digital Nomad destination and one of the issues I pointed out was the slow internet connection, just as many others have commented on.
    I don’t think rural Philippines is ready for it yet. Particularly, when digital nomads have so many other options. We’d all welcome the change though.

    1. Hi Keith, that was a really comprehensive piece you wrote! I do agree with all of what you said. That’s not to say something can’t be done about all the issues and challenges you cited. Therein lies the important question: Can Filipinos commit to improve??

      They can if they first recognize the TRUTH…

      Don’t expect to get a lot of work done out on the islands if you need fast internet. For some people, the slow internet is a good thing. It lets them focus. Fewer chances of you browsing Facebook and wasting time. But waiting a few minutes for a page to refresh gets painful after a while.

      Internet throughout the country is terrible. But it’s even worse on the islands. Blackouts on broadband connections to apartments and businesses, and on mobile phones are not uncommon.

      The problem is corruption. One company controls the internet pipe and doesn’t deliver a quality service. A good example of a corrupt monopoly.

      Manila appears to have the best internet. But even that does not compare to most countries in South East Asia. Cebu has a few international call centers and a central business hub where, they tell me, the internet pipe is fast and reliable. It would have to be.

      Can we handle it? 😮

  8. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve had similar thoughts myself, although as mentioned the main problem is lack of internet infrastructure. That could be fixed, of course, but as with most of the country’s problems, nobody is ALLOWED to fix it because there is always some incumbent government organisation with an unpronounceable acronym whose job is (supposedly) to make it happen. In reality, their undeclared mission is to keep everything as broken as possible.

  9. When you are able to shift your inner awareness to how you can serve others, and when you make this the central focus of your life, you will then be in a position to know true miracles in your progress toward prosperity.

  10. End users will complain about our Internet speed and reliability… because the priority goes to business, such as business process outsourcing and call centers. Their Internet service is surely fast.

  11. Aren’t the provinces noisy as hell? That was my issue when trying to live in villages on the outskirts of a big city – mobile internet was fine (I didn’t go full rural), but quality of life was lacking thanks to excessive noise, fumes from burning grass and maybe other things I’ve blocked from memory. I have to live in subdivisions in civilization now, where people are forced to behave more.

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