19 Jan 2021

Time to pack up your laptop and leave the city?

Every day more and more of us gain the opportunity to work from home permanently.  Remote work helps us choose not just how we work but where and how we want to live.

Discovering that employees can work from home without a drop in productivity, more and more big companies such as Twitter, Unilever and Fujitsu are giving staff the option to make this permanent. In 2018 only 4.4% of the UK workforce worked remotely. Prompted by COVID, remote job opportunities are now widely available, particularly in the professional and creative fields.

The way we view city life is changing

Pre-COVID, (2018) the UN projected that 68% of the world’s population would live in urban areas by 2050. This trend of migration towards cities had been gathering momentum since the 1950’s. Local rural populations moved towards nearby cities for the same reason as immigrants headed for global cities, like London, to find work. In the UK, this resulted in 83% of the population living in urban areas by 2018. 

However, as 40% of jobs can now be done over the internet, many of us don’t need a city base to earn a living. 

How the pandemic has affected our perspectives

For many, the experience of life during the pandemic radically altered our perceptions of city living. 

According to research by the London Assembly, (August 2020) half of Londoners considering moving wanted to leave the city. A similar phenomenon is taking place across the globe. In October 2020, thousands of Parisians left for country homes to avoid spending another lockdown in the city. 

People have felt more vulnerable to COVID in cities as the high concentration of residents makes it easier for the virus to spread.

City populations are also likely to have felt a greater decline in their physical and mental health as most city homes lack gardens in which to spend time outdoors or exercise. Maintaining social distancing in city parks is also harder than for those who can escape into the open countryside.  

Stuck inside during lockdowns without the usual distractions of shops and entertainment forced many to question whether city life had more negatives than positives. 

City rents are disproportionately high in comparison to rural areas. London rents are the highest in Europe, with cities like Manchester and Bristol also ranking in this list. House prices in cities are also so expensive that, according to property buyer Goodmove, two in five British people can’t afford to buy a home in the city they grew up in. 

Some additional disadvantages of city living are the frustration caused by traffic congestion and the resulting effects on air quality; according to Centre for Cities research, UK urban air pollution causes 40,000 deaths a year. Also, the report suggests that 15 percent of COVID deaths could be attributed to air pollution due to the negative effects it has on those with existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Is it time to pack our laptops and leave? 

Country living certainly offers the space many of us crave, with only 28% of Europe’s population living in its rural areas. In some countries, like Spain, the majority of the territory, (88%) is lived in by just 10% of the population. This has made it a popular choice for those seeking a return to the simplicity of country life, as popularised in books such as Chris Stewart’s ‘Driving Over Lemons.’        

However, since the vast majority of migration has been in a rural to the urban direction for more than half a century, depopulation of the countryside is a major concern in Europe as some towns and villages have become deserted. Governments in some areas of rural Italy have tried to tempt new residents with the opportunity to buy a home for just 1 euro.    

Although it is rare to find bargains of such incredible proportions, the affordability of housing is one of the main incentives for moving from the city to the countryside.

J.S, who moved from a UK city to rural Spain, told us, ‘In the UK I had never been able to get on the property ladder, but here we have been able to purchase a house with ample space in a beautiful location. We spend so much more time outside here and my daughter is happy doing things that don’t cost money, like picnics, walks, and going to the beach.’

Country life goes hand in hand with activities that improve our overall health, such as keeping pets, gardening, and outdoor sports.

Consider this before you pack your bags!

Although finding employment is the most significant factor for migration, there are other reasons why people decide to leave their rural homes for the city. 

Governments all over Europe have been accused of neglecting rural areas when it comes to providing funds for maintaining local services. Public transport and local health centres are often the first things to suffer. In the UK, banks and post offices have also disappeared from many rural villages. As population decreases in the countryside so do local shops and services which can leave people feeling isolated and makes owning a car journey essential.  

Finding ways to socialize can also be harder in the country, where less organized activities and entertainment are available. 

Could ‘e-changers’ be part of the solution?

Moving from the city to a less populated area means adjusting to having fewer conveniences. However, ‘e-changers’ – people who move away from cities through having online work, could gradually reduce the consequences of dwindling populations in rural areas. As the population increases, so does the demand for goods and services, which in turn attracts new businesses. Over time, this could make rural areas more convenient places to live. 

Why countries are increasingly open to receiving remote workers

Whether labeled, ‘e-changers’, ‘digital nomads’ or ‘remote working tourists’ more and more countries want to attract this type of visitor for a prolonged stay. Remote workers can reinvigorate those rural economies which have recently suffered from the lack of tourism. Also, as these workers come with ready-made employment from outside the host country, they also bring the benefit of not competing against local people for jobs.  

Where could remote work take you?

Most people associate the term ‘digital nomad’ with young people working through freelancing sites to fund a tour of the world’s most exotic beaches. Income earned through this type of remote work is often unpredictable. Coupled with having to move on frequently to comply with tourist visas, this kind of remote working abroad could be difficult to sustain.  

However, the experience of remote working to fund a life abroad is changing.  It has never been easier to find a remote job where you can earn a good, reliable income. Also, it has never been simpler to find a dream location from which you can work remotely long-term.  

Warning: these examples may bring out your inner digital nomad!

Fancy swapping your native land for something decidedly more tropical? 

Mauritius, (off East Africa) recently launched a ‘Premium Travel Visa’ which allows visitors to stay and work remotely for one year. Antigua and Barbuda have introduced a Nomad Digital Residence program that allows remote workers to stay for up to two years. These idyllic islands hope that attracting remote workers will help revive their economies which have been hit by the absence of tourism.

In Europe, Estonia was one of the first countries to see the potential of attracting online workers. Its Digital Nomad Visa allows online workers the chance to work and live in the country for up to one year. According to the World Health Organisation, Estonia has the best air quality in the world. It is also said to be one of Europe’s most spacious countries.

‘If you can work from anywhere, why not Greece?” asks the country’s Digital Nomad Visa campaign. Offering a massive 50% reduction in tax for the first seven years and the chance to obtain permanent residency, the opportunity to live and work in this beautiful country could prove irresistible. 

Is ‘e-change’ just a passing trend?

The experience of life during the pandemic has certainly been a major factor in changing our perspectives on city life. 

While shopping, entertainment, and socializing venues are unavailable, it’s easy to forget what cities have to offer. Whilst the pandemic continues, we might feel life could be easier, calmer, or safer elsewhere.   

However, before considering a move to rural areas it’s worth considering what you enjoyed about city life pre-COVID. This will help you make a more long-lasting decision on where you really want to be.

For those who haven’t missed the city’s entertainment, this year could be the perfect time to take advantage of one of the remote work’s greatest perks – the opportunity to experience life in a different country or type of community.

About the Author:

Caroline James is a freelance writer and editor of Immigration News UK. She currently lives in southern Spain.

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