[00:00:00] Jackson Steger: Hey there, you're listening to Campfire, a podcast where we interview leaders that are building new cities and other new models of living for digital nomads, creators, and remote workers. My name is Jackson Steger, and I work with Cabin to develop new neighborhoods and grow a community of nature loving creators and builders.
[00:00:17] Today's episode is with Lauren Razavi, Executive Director at Plumia and author of the book Global Natives. Plumia is an umbrella project to increase the global mobility rights of people everywhere. Whether it's through the products they create, like a digital nomad visa, or co-designing policy with governments.
[00:00:33] Our conversation today attempts to answer the question, “what is a global native and how might we improve global mobility for digital nomads?” Campfire is produced by Cabin, which is building a new kind of city for creators called the Network City. Our community is developing a global coliving network of physical locations that we call neighborhoods.
[00:00:52] If you wanna live in those neighborhoods or create cool things near nature with other thoughtful people nearby, you can learn more about us by visiting cabin.city. Lauren Razavi, welcome to Campfire.
[00:01:04] Lauren Razavi: Hello. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:05] Jackson Steger: Really excited to talk to you for a number of reasons. The first and foremost of which just the title of your book, Global Natives, is a phrase that I've used my whole life, but until very recently, until Chance introduced us electronically, I never actually seen really others use at scale.
[00:01:26] So, love that that's a term that you've really embraced and would love to just get a sense of how you interpret it, how you define a global native, and how you would contextualize that within this growing digital nomad class that we're gonna talk about today.
[00:01:42] Lauren Razavi: Absolutely. So, Global Natives is the title of a book that I wrote coming out on Kindle in March, and essentially, I wanted to find a phrase that sort of didn’t just encapsulate the digital nomad movement that we have now: this first moment where people are kind of embracing the ability to move around the world and kind of work from anywhere, but actually looking a bit forward at the kind of cultural change that this represents. So, I think individuals these days have a very global identity, even if they're not nomadic. If they're a settler, they are still connecting globally through the internet.
[00:02:18] And I think a lot of people have heard this phrase, digital natives, which became quite popular in academia in the 2000s and the 2010s. And I wanted to move that along a little bit and think about how we can understand the differences in generations and people's relationship to globalization and to global living.
[00:02:37] Jackson Steger: Yeah. I really appreciate that. One of the questions that is asked almost anytime you meet someone new, especially when you're traveling a lot, is where are you from? And I'm curious how you answer that question and then we can maybe talk about the context of that question a little bit more.
[00:02:53] Lauren Razavi: Yeah, so I think I addressed that question quite confrontationally, so I get asked it a lot because I'm traveling around a lot, and I feel like it's quite a false question. Like people want to understand something of what your experience might be, which I think is where that question is really coming from.
[00:03:09] And it's almost never coming from like a negative place. But to be on the receiving end of it, when you live a very borderless life, when you have a very kind of global, international family, can feel a little bit like, ah, really? But I think a better question to ask comes from Taiye Selasi who has a fantastic Ted Talk, and she introduces this idea of stop asking people where they're from.
[00:03:32] Instead, ask them where they're local. And to be a local of a place is really to have rituals and relationships in a place. So, if you are a local of a few different cities, that you might have a sort of home where you are from, sort of connection with a few different places. And I think in today's world, that's probably a much better way of understanding people’s relationship with place.
[00:03:56] So for me personally, I would call myself a local of London, a place called Norwich in the UK, which is, um, a kind of a place of origin, a place where my family lives, a local of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which is my home base. I'm also a local of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It's another favorite place, and I'd probably say I'm a local in New York as well.
[00:04:18] So I have these like relationships with these different places and really strong social connections there. They're the kinds of places where I can walk around and I already know where I'm going to get my coffee or where I want to go for dinner or drinks with a friend, and I have memories there.
[00:04:36] I have people that I've met and experiences that I've had, and I think to think about where you are local is a much more meaningful kind of way to assess your relationship with places in the world than to, to sort of think about where you're from. I'm never quite sure how to answer the question, where are you from?
[00:04:52] I usually go back to people and say, what do you mean by that? Do you mean where did I grow up? Do you mean which passport do I hold? Do you mean what is my parents' heritage? And often people don't know what they mean. They just want that sense of who you are and what your experiences might have been, where your perspective might be coming from.
[00:05:10] Jackson Steger: Yeah, I'm gonna steal that. Where are you local? I agree. That's a much better question. For context, my dad's a foreign service officer, so I, I grew up traveling every three years and didn't even live in my passport country until I was in college. So, it's always been a tricky one. I would say I'm local to Venice Beach to Durham, North Carolina, a little bit to New York and DC and to Lima, Peru. But anything before my high school era, even though I might have spent a lot of time there as a kid, I'm not going back to the degree that I think I could currently consider myself local. So, I like that framing. Of course, if I'll also, my answer to this question will also vary based on the context of the conversation. If I'm in just like a brief elevator or Uber ride and don't necessarily want to get into the nuances of global nativity, I might just give a throwaway answer like DC.
[00:06:02] Lauren Razavi: You see, I try not to do that. I try and force myself in the moment to really have the conversation because I'm a great believer in the idea that any kind of one conversation you're having with an Uber driver or whatever, it has the potential to change their frame of reference, to make them think a bit more deeply, and maybe think differently about how to ask the question and what they really want to know in the future. But I also relate. We're all busy people and you don't always want to get into the sort of like social-cultural implications of a very innocent, friendly question.
[00:06:32] Jackson Steger: Sure. And, it's not say that I don't think I could have a meaningful conversation with anyone.
[00:06:36] It's just oftentimes if you share the complex story behind one's locality, or origin story, it just might become this like conversation I've had a lot before and sometimes I'd rather just flip it on them, right, and learn, you know, what, where they're local to and what, where they're from. At Cabin, a lot of the people that we cater to are to digital nomads and to creating neighborhoods for folks who increasingly are going to cross pollinate our network of neighborhoods with culture and their experiences and bring a new location and stuff like that.
[00:07:13] But in kind of thinking about that, the scale of that opportunity and catering to like models of living for a new digital nomad class, it's interesting to try and quantify how big that opportunity might be, and I know you have some thoughts on this. So, two part question here: first is just what is a digital nomad?
[00:07:34] In this post, I’m not gonna call it post pandemic, I'll call it a post lockdown era, what is a digital nomad now that remote work has risen the way it has, and how many nomads are there out there, and how many will there be? I've seen throw away articles saying a billion digital nomads by year 2035, and that seems a little high to me, but it depends in part, I guess, on the definition.
[00:07:58] Lauren Razavi: So, a digital nomad, and this is actually a topic that plagued me during the writing of my book, as in needing to define digital nomads in a way that was meaningful but also not too restrictive to really understand this as a cultural movement and not just as segmenting a really small part of the world to a sort of temporary trend.
[00:08:19] And so, my definition of a digital nomad is a person who travels and remote works at the same time. And so that may well be somebody who has owns a property or has a long-term rental contract in one place, but they're spending three months of the year traveling around or even one month of the year traveling around.
[00:08:37] I think it's a common misunderstanding that digital nomads are all traveling constantly. A different location every week or every month. And actually, there are many people who are remote working and traveling at the same time, sort of returning to different places. So perhaps even coming back to what we've already spoken about. If you have a sort of local relationship with a few different places, you are probably over the course of a year, going to travel back to the same places that you've been to before, to catch up with friends, to see that place again, to revisit your connection to it. And I think a nomadism right now really does take different formats, and I think in five to ten years we almost definitely won't be using the term digital nomad because it will just become a lot more normal.
[00:09:21] Like it won't need a label to describe people living more borderless and global lives, moving from place to place. And I'm really excited for that because I think, in some respects, I'm an early adopter, global native as a person who comes from a big international family, who lived in different countries growing up, and it's really exciting to think about how the world is changing so that more people are able to forge relationships and have experiences across borders.
[00:09:48] The second part of your question, how many nomads are there? The prediction of 1 billion digital nomads by 2035 comes from Pieter Levels, who is the creator behind nomadlist.com: a fantastic resource for digital nomads, and he actually said that back in 2015, which is really wild if you think about it now.
[00:10:09] Cause obviously post pandemic, remote work is on the up, has really come to the mainstream. But back in 2015, it was just a bunch of, as millennial kids, like going around the world and experimenting with this lifestyle. I don't think the 1 billion by 2035 figure is out of this world. Particularly, if you use my definition of people who travel in remote work at the same time, but not necessarily in like a constant format.
[00:10:35] But I also think it really depends on the kind of policy and government landscape that we encounter and how much sort of business incentive there is to push forward and keep encouraging this demographic and this understanding of identity as something that crosses borders. There's not a lot of reliable data and information out there about the nomad population at the moment, and that's primarily because we don't measure stuff across borders as a world as much as we should.
[00:11:05] The most reliable data that's available is from an annual study called the State of Independence in America, and it looks at freelancing and the state of work across the US and it's been going for a lot of years. Since 2018, it's by an organization called MBO Partners, and since 2018, it's had a section in its sort of big survey about digital nomads and remote work, and according to their data, there are about 16 million people in America who currently identify as digital nomads, and that is up from, you'll have to check the figures, but I believe it's up from 10 million the prior year and around 7 million the year before that.
[00:11:46] Now, obviously the United States is not the entire world, but that's some really reliable data to show us that people are beginning to identify with this label and really beginning to embrace this nomadic way of living and the internet era that we find ourselves in. At SafetyWing, we are beginning to do some work to really try and give some more concrete numbers to digital nomads. So, our approach is to collaborate with organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, countries, and their kind of data sets to try and see the landscape of information that's out there and give some definition to how we can better understand nomads. And that's, it's a very big challenge because as I said, like we're not really measuring stuff as a world as well as we might be across borders, but I think now is like the time for us to start doing that.
[00:12:33] And actually, nomads are a really useful lens to be able to understand like global changes that are happening in the world, particularly in terms of mobility, how people are moving around.
[00:12:44] Jackson Steger: Yes. So much in there that I want to unpack and including SafetyWing and Plumia, which we'll get to. I also wanna talk about the global mobility first, but before even the global mobility, I think this evolution of language around digital nomadism is really important.
[00:12:59] I imagine that as time proceeds, we’ll develop these micro classifications of digital nomads too. For example, I did like a sort of month to month digital nomadism for two years. And then have recently switched to what my roommates and I, who are also former nomads called digital slowmadism, where it's a series of four to 16 month stints where we have a home base, which for us is in Venice Beach, LA, but then still have the ability to go on three to eight week sends here and there.
[00:13:34] I'm curious: recognizing that there's a range from just finished college backpacker who is on a train every night, to the retiree going on a journey around the world, to the remote worker who's doing maybe a season at a time. What are the different models of living that you've seen as a nomad yourself that you feel bullish on in terms of something that will rise?
[00:14:02] An example might be a Selena of the world or Cabin, ourselves, that's how we increasingly try to position ourselves. But what works for different kinds of digital nomads within that broader umbrella?
[00:14:15] Lauren Razavi: I think it's a little bit tough to generalize for exactly this reason that nomadism is actually quite a diverse movement, and I think that it's really a case if you were talking about any kind of large group of people, I think there aren't like straightforward questions to how people live because everybody is different; everybody has different preferences. I've certainly encountered a lot of folks at the beginning of their nomadic journey, and I do think this kind of very fast paced travel tends to be where people start because once the Pandora's box of travel is open, you're a bit like, “oh my goodness: I can see the whole world. And actually, if I do it one week at a time, I could cover the whole world quite quickly.” But in reality, for most people, that becomes very tiring, very, very quickly.
[00:14:57] And actually, travel starts to become less rewarding because if you're completely switched on all the time, going from place to place, having to be alert, having to learn new, alongside working part-time or full-time, that becomes really intense and really draining. And I think that a lot of us need cave time is what I call it.
[00:15:17] So just to be like somewhere and actually not be switched on and going around and seeing stuff and meeting new people. But actually having time where you can be in your pajamas until midday and you can be cooking for yourself inside and not really thinking about where you are. So, I think it's different pace at different times.
[00:15:35] Long term, I do see a lot of people returning to the same destinations every year. So rather than it being a case of fast paced travel to lots of new places all the time, it's more, you look at your year and you go, “okay, between the months of April and September, the weather is good in Europe. Europe is a great place to be, so I'm gonna do all of my kind of European travel and enjoy the summer in that part of the world.
[00:16:00] Maybe go over to North America and visit some places there as well. And then for the other part of the year, I'm gonna go to my favorite places in Southeast Asia or Latin America.” And you see a lot of people really establishing that pattern. I think of it like birds migrating as the weather changes, you're moving around the world and yeah, going back to the same places that that you really like.
[00:16:22] I think to touch on, I guess the kind of living or housing component of this, which I'm really fascinated by. Back in, I think it was in 2020, I wrote a piece, which is still online somewhere, so maybe you can find it for the show notes, but about the concept of subscription living. And this is basically the idea that in future we will pay a subscription to a brand for access to space in many different locations around the world.
[00:16:49] And often, it's like consistent space as in the same kind of design of room or apartment around the world. That we will pay for that as a subscription and get flexibility and the ability to live in different places around the world, rather than paying a monthly or annual subscription, as it were to a landlord in a single location.
[00:17:09] And I really believe that this is gonna be a big part of the future, and that it's gonna be something that really takes a lot of the stress out of the digital nomad lifestyle and enables more people to do it. I think we're at a time right now where there is so much work to be done to create the infrastructure and create the systems and opportunities for people to really embrace remote work and be able to travel, but not travel in a way that is tiring and inconvenient but is instead a facilitated travel by ambitious brands that are trying to pave the way for people to live really quite differently.
[00:17:43] I mean, the, the whole term nomadism, obviously it has its roots in a history of nomads literally walking around the world, and I think it's bringing that into the 21st century. Like we might travel and move differently, but fundamentally it's about facilitating that movement.
[00:17:59] Jackson Steger: Yeah. And my next question will be about movement, but very briefly before that. What do you do in your personal life? You mentioned all these different places that you feel local to. How are you personally thinking about your home base as just maybe a nomad or in someone newer to the nomads space? Listening to this can hear how you approach it and in lieu of those subscription living options becoming fully mature and available, find something to hold them over.
[00:18:29] Lauren Razavi: Yeah. At the moment, post lockdown era, I am going through a phase of pretty much ongoing travel. So, I'm spending at about a month in a different location and just moving around. But I guess there's two parts to this question. One is, I suppose my sense of home base and what I've done and what I plan to do.
[00:18:48] So I'll dig into. So, during the lockdowns, during the height of the pandemic, I actually moved into a hotel full-time in Amsterdam. So, there's a fantastic apartment hotel called Zoku, and they have locations in a few different European cities. But I essentially moved in there full-time as a guinea pig for subscription living. So, this idea of paying for monthly fee for access to the accommodation, and actually Zoku is great in the sense it has a coworking space on site and it was very quiet during the pandemic. So, I've had a coworking space and a micro apartment to myself, and for me, Amsterdam is like the spiritual home.
[00:19:23] It's a really amazing place, a place where I feel very at peace and able to do my best work, a place that sort of has this really amazing mix of the things that I'm looking for in a place. It was a lot of fun to live and be a full-time hotel guest during the pandemic, but after essentially a couple of years spent mainly in Amsterdam with a few trips by train around the EU, I was really ready to get back out onto the road and make up for lost time. So yeah, you catch me in a period of kind of ongoing travel at the moment, but later this year I'm intending to properly home base in Amsterdam. So, I'm gonna buy a property there and make the commitment to always be returning there and spending probably about six months of my year in Amsterdam and, and I turned 30 last year. And I feel 30 is an age at which you'd go “Ok. I've done a decade of full adult living. What am I gonna do with the next decade of my life?” And I think for me, it's important to put down a root somewhere because it is tiring to only have a suitcase full of stuff.
[00:20:26] It is nice to be able to buy a couple of extra outfits or buy print books and not have to abandon them along the way. So, I'm quite looking forward to having this home base: this place for my books, my clothes to live while I'm traveling, and also to have that place to come back to what I was saying before, to just have cave time, as in to not be thinking about where I wanna go and what I wanna do, and having all this stimulation and new experiences, but instead just feeling extremely like relaxed and chilled out.
[00:20:54] I would definitely, if Zoku or another brand came out with a, a big kind of global annual subscription, I think that's something that I would try and stack on top of a home base. But I suppose I'm taking a little bit more of a traditional route and, and I’m going for it in terms of establishing a home base for myself now.
[00:21:12] Jackson Steger: For folks who are listening only, you should see how big Lauren smiles when she talks about getting to establish that Amsterdam home base. I'm excited for you, and I'm sure that would be great. I’ll also be in Amsterdam for six weeks later this year too.
[00:21:25] Lauren Razavi: Wow. I'll show you around. Awesome.
[00:21:27] Jackson Steger: Awesome. That’d be great. I've never been, but one of my best friends is Dutch, and this is gonna host me, so I'm excited for all the sort of walkable and bikeable aspects of the city that are key to, I think a lot of mod-, or new urbanism inspiration and initiatives. Migrating now to managing global mobility, and this will work us towards SafetyWing and Plumia as well.
[00:21:50] I wrote an article recently, it was called The Past, Present, and Future of Passports, and I know that you've also written about the history of passports. So I wanna start there. When I was pink, much, you wrote a whole book, I had this more shallow approach, but I had two sort of conclusions about the core function of passports.
[00:22:09] They are meant to grant permission to travel and to confer status. So, I'm curious, how would you add to that list, and then how would you further contextualize passports as it relates to one's ability to be globally mobile?
[00:22:26] Lauren Razavi: Yeah, so I think passports are a really interesting thing. I'll start with a personal story, which is that my father is a refugee from Iran to the UK.
[00:22:34] And so, from a very young age growing up, I remember him taking my British passport like this and going, “do you know how lucky you are to have this? Do you know how different your life would be if you had a Persian passport instead?” And I think that was like very influential to me in terms of realizing my own kind of, passport privilege, and how much of the world is really organized by the kind of coincidence of your birthplace.
[00:22:57] So from the second that you're born, your kind of opportunities are really restricted by the circumstances under which you've come into the world, and you can't do anything about that. It's a fundamental inequality in the world, and I think that it's a lag in the system that we find ourselves there, but in a world of remote work, it really becomes completely unacceptable as the status quo. Where you were born should not impact whether you can access global work opportunities, but that's the world we live in today.
[00:23:26] Even though somebody with an internet connection can do a job from wherever they are. I think passports are a really interesting symbol of the global system that we find ourselves in, of how borders work, of kind of fundamental inequalities from the past, just being brought along into the time that we live in now.
[00:23:45] It is an interesting distinction to maybe explore a little bit between passports and visas. And I think this is something that only geeks like me who've really dug into it understand. But a passport is fundamentally about identity verification, and when you're trying to cross a border, the border agent knowing where to send you back, if they don't like the look of you. That's like fundamentally the kind of passport part around identity verification.
[00:24:09] Whereas visas are the part that's a bit more. The permission to do things in a particular country, within particular borders. And so, uh, when I was digging into the history of passports and visas, it's all quite conflated so, back in the times of Genghis Khan, actually, the thing that in the world today we look at and say, oh, that was one of the world's first passports, from the kind of Genghis Khan era, was actually more like a visa because it wasn't about verifying your identity as such.
[00:24:39] It was more about granting you permission, and actually hospitality on top of permission. So as in you'd have people who would feed you and give you lodging as you traveled around the world if you had one of these kind of early visa iterations. So, I think that's quite interesting. These days, we still have both passports and visas.
[00:24:57] I think that there's a lot more flexibility, there's a lot more opportunity around visas right now, and that those are one of the most fundamental ways that we can start to unpick and sort of unravel this weird global system that we have that doesn't really represent what it is to live in the world today.
[00:25:14] And I think there's a really big opportunity there for innovation, which we can get into a little bit more with the work I'm doing at SafetyWing, but I think passports are, is something, there's a technical challenge there in terms of how do we verify people's identity, if not through this system. But there's also this kind of status thing of like passport privilege of like where you come from, which is not really something that I see as being super relevant in the future.
[00:25:41] But I can also see that we need these ways of managing people’s, movement around the world. So, there's still this sort of a validity there, but I think right now the challenge is to try to unpick the important points of things like passports and visas, and then begin to think about it a little bit more.
[00:25:58] If we were designing this stuff from the ground up, what would be the most important thing, and what do people actually want to be able to do? There's like this intersection that I think is quite interesting between travel and kind of diplomatic relations if you'd like. So, it's like you have borders organized primarily around countries and diplomatic relations, but then you have travelers these days bringing quite a consumer lens to things.
[00:26:22] So it's like they want to be able to move quickly through airports. They want to be able to not be encumbered by these diplomatic relations on the ground. This is an area I could talk about for hours. I'm gonna pause there, but I’m happy to dig more into anything that I've just said or anything more you wanna talk about.
[00:26:38] Jackson Steger: Yeah, let's do it in the context of SafetyWing and and Plumia. So, for the audience, I'll have recorded an intro prior to them hearing our full conversation, so they'll have context on your role. For them, could you please explain what is SafetyWing and what is Plumia, if I'm saying that right?
[00:26:55] Lauren Razavi: You are indeed.
[00:26:56] SafetyWing is a company on a mission to build a global social safety net. So, stuff that you would normally access through a country, through a nation state, such as health insurance, income protection, and pensions. We are building that at the global level as a subscription service. My part of the company is called Plumia, and Plumia is a kind of global mobility portion of that mission.
[00:27:21] So I'm working on visas and visa kind of products with the view of creating a next generation global passport within 10 years available to anybody in the world, regardless of birthplace. And really what we're trying to do is on the kind of 10-year horizon, we're trying to create citizenship as a service. So rather than being stuck with the citizenship that you were born with or having to be incredibly rich to buy a second passport to access more global mobility rights, we are trying to create a system by which people can opt in.
[00:27:57] And then be able to access the services of citizenship without being restricted by these arbitrary measures of where they were born, et cetera. And I'll go just a little bit into the kind of big project that we're working on at Plumia right now, which is a product called the Nomad Border Pass. Nomad Border Pass is due to launch in 2025, and it will essentially allow people to spend 90 days per visit in at least 10 countries when we launch, and they'll be able to remote work, it'll have legitimate status to do that, and then the permit itself will be renewed every five years.
[00:28:36] So you can understand it as like a multi-country visa. And our goal is really to move from 10 countries at launch to as many countries as possible, being part of our kind of system and program over the next 10 years. And essentially, all of this work that we're doing around global mobility, around global social safety net, comes together into our grander vision of essentially building a country on the internet for digital nomads.
[00:29:01] So, we are very much oriented and part of the network state movement, which I know your listeners are already gonna be a little bit familiar with.
[00:29:08] Jackson Steger: Absolutely. That's so exciting. I remember, I think it was in 2019, I was on a train from Philadelphia to DC, and I started journaling about this exact idea. Oh, what if there was a pass that like anyone could get to, to let them go anywhere.
[00:29:21] But where I faltered was, was on the execution of uncertainty about what the first step would be. So, I have a two-parter here, which is one, if you're able to share which countries those are, I would be curious to know. But even if you're not, like how are you going about choosing those countries and then how are you having conversations with them that help alleviate concerns they may have around this, given that there's new concepts historically for humanity? Yeah. How have those conversations gone? What are they concerned about and Yeah, that's the extent of the question.
[00:29:54] Lauren Razavi: Okay, fantastic. So, I'm not in a position where I can talk about the specific countries at the moment, but I can get, give context of our general approach for sure.
[00:30:04] As I said, in an ideal world, in 10 years time, almost every country on Earth would be part of the kind of program would be allowing digital nomads, remote workers to spend time within the criteria that we set up with them. But essentially, when I came on board at SafetyWing, the Plumia project, the Plumia mission was very embryonic.
[00:30:24] So there was a lot of enthusiasm around it. There'd been a public launch. We had a lot of people on an email list interested in being part of this movement towards an internet country for digital nomads, but we didn't really know what to do with all of that energy. So, it was my job to feel my way around in the dark and figure out what would be a useful thing to do.
[00:30:43] That's really where the Nomad Border Pass concept has come from. And actually, the concept comes from a lot of the conversations that I've had with policy makers and government officials from around the world. So, one of the things that I did when I came into my job is just start to have conversations with interesting people who could potentially be cheerleaders for digital nomads, for countries embracing the nomad opportunity around the world.
[00:31:08] And it was really from a series of conversations over three to six months that I realized this was the most useful thing that we could do: was to give shape to a product that really emphasizes flexibility and mobility, which is what digital nomads are really looking for. This was all happening, so I started my job with SafetyWing in December 2021.
[00:31:31] These conversations were happening in the context of the world's first digital nomad visas having launched in 2020 and 2021. I think we're at the point now where it's more than 60 countries in the world have a digital nomad visa program. One of the big issues with these policies though these programs, is that they were quite rushed in the context of the pandemic.
[00:31:52] It was a lot of, “okay, we've lost all of our tourists, so what do we do now? How can we attract people in? How can we save our ailing local economy?” That it was very tourism dependent when tourists are just not really a thing during these lockdowns. And yeah, that's the context of the policies that launched. I think for that reason, there has not been a lot of conversation, or at least in the initial stages, there's not a lot of conversations going on between governments and nomads.
[00:32:17] So, you had governments feeling their own way around in the dark to try and figure out how to attract these people. One of the primary issues with nomad visas is that they're quite long-term commitments. So, a nomad visa tends to be a minimum of six months, but more often 12 months, usually with an option to renew or extend for up to another year.
[00:32:38] So, you're looking to attract people for somewhere between six and 24 months. Now, most digital nomads, if they've never visited a location before, are not actually very interested in making that kind of long-term commitment upfront. They want to come for a few months, experience the place, see how they feel about it, and then maybe come back the next year.
[00:33:01] It's not so much about settling down, moving all of your stuff, being an expat in the sense of really committing for a long time, and so that's really where I saw the space for the Nomad Border Pass was to facilitate these sort of shorter term interactions with countries so that nomads can then, if they like a place, make that firmer commitment and then stay for longer, and governments have been very receptive to that.
[00:33:27] Say, pretty much every country that I've spoken to has been, how do we sign up for this? Which is why at the moment actually we're not so much in outreach mode as we are in building mode. So, the MVP of the Nomad Border Path, this is exclusive to this podcast, I'm revealing that, is actually gonna be complete by the end of this quarter.
[00:33:45] And then we're gonna be moving forward with some countries as beta testers to test the program and iron out any creases. But yeah, that's the context of what we're developing and why: really trying to focus on nomad end users and really design something that works for them, but also really helps countries benefit from nomads.
[00:34:06] Because nomads bring a lot of local spend to a place. They also bring connections to the global stage, to other countries, often to global remote work opportunities in tech and the knowledge economy that otherwise local people in different areas may not have access to. So, there's quite a lot for countries to benefit from, but that relationship really needs some design and some attention so that everybody can win: the governments, the nomads, and the host communities.
[00:34:32] Jackson Steger: I love that. You mentioned the global mobility, the passport piece for that, when I would say that for nomads and global natives, that mobility is a big friction point. I can think of from my own experience. Two other major friction points, and those are taxes and healthcare.
[00:34:48] How should nomads think about getting their health insurance? From my experience, I use this organization called Opolis. I'm paid right now almost exclusively on chain in USDC. I work with this organization called Opolis that negotiates on my behalf to get me insurance. I basically hire Opolis as my payroll company for while I'm in the US and then I have health insurance through that collective. But that doesn't apply for when I wanna leave the country.
[00:35:19] What options are there for digital nomads who maybe work out of one country, but travel everywhere?
[00:35:27] Lauren Razavi: Yeah. So maybe I'll just start by saying the kind of conventional way of thinking about healthcare, of trying to interact with the systems that exist today would be registering for a different healthcare program on the ground in every place that you visit.
[00:35:44] So say you're doing 12 places in 12 months, you would be going around and you have to interact with 12 different bureaucracies probably in a language that you don't understand. And it's a lot of paperwork. It's a headache. Actually, if people had to do that like you, I think most people would either go uninsured, or they actually might not travel at all in the first place.
[00:36:05] I personally have a long-term health condition. When I first started traveling, this was a huge concern and consideration because I need prescription medications. And so okay, do I have to return to like my home country for that or how am I gonna handle this? So, I think the landscape is quite messy.
[00:36:20] There are also a lot of global private health insurance programs which kind of work in the sense that you can get a global package at great expense, but often they have a lot of restrictions in terms of you having to be based in one country or return to your sort of home country or country of origin should something go wrong.
[00:36:40] And it's the same with travel insurance. So, travel insurance really requires you to have a connection to one place and to go back to that place and we will helicopter you back home if you break your leg or whatever, but actually you have to have a home to go back to. So that's how the healthcare system is working at the moment.
[00:36:56] But luckily, we at SafetyWing, have a product called Remote Health which essentially solves this problem. And so, nomads are our primary target audience. We also have expats and remote workers who perhaps have connections in different countries, and they are also our customers. But essentially, what our health insurance does is makes it so that you can, paying a global subscription on very easy to understand terms of what is and isn't covered, how things work, and then access local healthcare on the ground wherever you are. So, for me, with a long-term health condition, I'm able to pick up my prescription in whichever country I'm in. Sometimes there's a little bit of nuance in terms of accessing at that local point.
[00:37:38] Like on the ground, you might have to register in a particular way. You might have to pay an administration fee to get onto the books, but from there you're kind of free to collect what you need. And so yeah, the remote health insurance that we offer is available at the company level. So, a lot of our clients, a lot of our customers are actually technology companies or other forms of companies that get that insurance for their whole teams, uh, right throughout the world.
[00:38:06] And then we also have an individual option. So, an individual nomad planning a trip can take out that health insurance themselves and know that they are fully covered. And so, this is the first kind of truly global health insurance that is borderless and portable, and we're able to essentially solve that problem for nomads: just clear up the landscape a bit.
[00:38:26] I think it's interesting because this is what we're trying to do in global mobility and what we were trying to do in other areas as well is really just creating something new from what is there that is relevant in the context of what people need today rather than going “here's what exists. Let's try and make the square peg fit in a round hole, as it were.”
[00:38:44] Jackson Steger: That's so interesting and congrats on all of you for making that program exist. I wanna talk about taxes a little bit too, just cuz that's the other thing I've found tricky. I have a few thoughts. I think it's unrealistic for, let's just imagine American citizen for this example.
[00:39:01] I think it's unrealistic for both the citizen themselves who maybe work for a private company. Travels in a year to seven countries and 14 states, it's unrealistic to expect both them and the IRS to basically track all of the taxes that they should pay technically for like their two and a half weeks in Virginia versus their four weeks in Puerto Escondido versus their five weeks in Spain.
[00:39:30] I'm curious, what is a fair tax policy for nomads that makes sure that they're not coming into a space and just totally taking advantage of commonly funded resources without actually putting a penny in themselves. But at the same time, if that there's just some convenience to the model and they feel as though they aren't being like nickled and dimed.
[00:39:54] I could imagine, for example, if you kept it to the US only. You would, instead of paying federal and state income taxes, pay your federal taxes and then like a, a flat nomad tax that funds common infrastructure like airports or other things that maybe like a nomad class uses, but that still is only keeping one country in mind.
[00:40:16] How do you think about taxes at Plumia and at SafetyWing?
[00:40:20] Lauren Razavi: Okay. It's big, fantastic, meaty area for us to get into this one. I'll start by just talking about, I think it's important to make a distinction with taxes, right? You have national taxes, which is your income taxes and such. I'm calling them national taxes, but we're not necessarily gonna focus on the national bit in what I'm about to say.
[00:40:38] But you'd have this larger kind of tax, the main one being income tax, and then you have all this kind of tax infrastructure that's a lot more municipal taxes, so stuff on the ground that's happening. The way I like to think about this, and I like to take quite a future lens on it because the whole landscape is very messy today and is not really kept up with the state of the internet in general.
[00:40:58] But I like to think about it on two levels. So, global level, local level. I think at the global level we're gonna see taxation become more and more like a transaction fee. So, if you think about it, if you and I want to transact in some way right now, I need to send you some money, you're gonna provide me with some services.
[00:41:19] Essentially, it's a very competitive landscape out there in terms of which jurisdiction might be most beneficial for us to be used for that transaction. Some places are gonna make us charge VAT, sort of sales taxes on a transaction. Some are gonna make us register to a very complex system and then do filings for the next three years because we did a transaction and some of them are gonna ask us for just about nothing at all: maybe a tiny fraction, almost like a Stripe fee, 3% transaction fee sort of thing. And I think we're gonna see more and more people really embracing this competitive landscape and being like, which jurisdiction do I want to transact through? So where do I want to file my taxes? You see this a lot already.
[00:42:01] The ultra wealthy have been doing it for many years, as in like choosing a jurisdiction and benefiting from these sort of inequalities or across the global tax system. I think we'll see much, much more of that and we will see taxes come down more to a level of being like transaction fees than being huge portion of income and a huge kind of restriction and something that people don't change. And I think that's quite exciting because I think we should have nation states competing with one another to attract people. I think that it's very easy in the world today to forget that people have the ability to exit a country that is not serving them well.
[00:42:39] And I think that's gonna be a big part of the future. That's the kind of global aspect: the local aspect. The on the ground services is a very different portion, so at the moment, hospitals, schools, et cetera: these are not necessarily or funded by your kind of income taxes, your kind of national taxes. Often, there are taxes on a much more local level that go directly to those things, like trash collection and such as, like all of these kinds of packages of local services.
[00:43:07] And those kind of on the ground services, I think that's where there's the potential to really widen inequality gaps between host communities and digital nomads because as you say: people can come in and use a place and not really contribute to it. I think that's a really big problem at SafetyWing, and it's one that we want to solve and build into to everything that we're doing, a kind of awareness of that.
[00:43:29] And so the way that we see it is that we're the global layer on top of the local layer. So, we wanna make it very easy for you to, for example, have that health insurance product at the global level as a subscription, but we're not building hospitals and so we want to really support the kind of people that are building the hospitals and make sure that there's some equity in that system that people who are using stuff are essentially paying into it.
[00:43:54] And one of the ways that we see to do that is to introduce nomad taxes, and we want that to be part of the Nomad Border Pass. One of the kind of easiest ways to think about this is in many places around the world, including my home-based destination of Amsterdam, you as a visitor are charged a nightly tourist tax.
[00:44:13] So on top of your accommodation, you will also be paying a small percentage or a per night fee that goes to the municipality, that goes to the local area to help fund stuff that you are gonna be using while you're there. We propose that nomads should contribute in the same way that actually this is an area that is right for the taking: where Nomads do owe something to the communities where they're spending time.
[00:44:37] The communities need investment, and the governments need to be managing the relationship between nomads and host communities. And so yeah, we see that playing a role in the future. I think one of the surprising things from my perspective, and not necessarily surprising because I disagree, I certainly feel like I want to contribute something financially to the places that I go.
[00:44:59] But I've done a lot of user interviews with digital nomads, and this is a really widely held desire. Nomads wanna pay taxes. That it's like at the moment you are really stuck with these kind of like existing systems. Whereas if you actually want to do that, you need to register with the tax system. You need to do a registration.
[00:45:20] It's a lot of paperwork. It's a lot of headache. My kind of vision for the future of this is actually sort of subway transport card. You want to be able to arrive in a location, check in as it were, and then have everything tracked in terms of like how long you're spending there, the level of contribution that you're gonna make, and for it to be as easy as tap in, tap out.
[00:45:40] And so, yeah, I don't have the detail on how we'll make that a reality yet, but that's my take on the tax question. I think it's super, super important to basically design these new ways of doing things and to not assume that everything should work as governments currently work. Because I think if we look at technology and the technology industry, there are so many better systems going on that we can copy, paste and remix for this area.
[00:46:05] Jackson Steger: Well, I wish you all the luck in building that kind of infrastructure. I'm sure it would be extremely useful to so many people and sovereign nations and network states: all the tools you're building the full stack, health insurance, and mobility, and tax infrastructure, conferring permission to travel, and maybe even helping these global natives have local homes is really inspiring and important work and wish you all the best with it.
[00:46:40] If someone listens to this episode and they want to learn more about any of the things that you've talked about today, where should we direct them?
[00:46:47] Lauren Razavi: I have many links to share. I'm personally on Twitter, and I also have a newsletter which is covering the space of borderless living, global mobility, network states.
[00:46:57] You can find me, Lauren Razavi, @LaurenRazavi on Twitter, and you can find my newsletter at lraz.io/newsletter. And then on the Plumia front, we are at Plumia.org. You can sign up for our newsletter there. We also have cohorts running in 2023, so it's an opportunity to engage a bit more with some of the ideas that I've been talking about today and get involved in building out some projects to tribute to the development of this ecosystem and this space.
[00:47:27] So yeah, if you sign up for the email list there, you'll be able to get access and get up to speed on all of that. And of course, SafetyWing is safetywing.com, and you can find out more about our health insurance products, and later the Nomad Border Pass, via our website.
[00:47:42] Jackson Steger: Awesome. And I can personally vouch for the cohort that Lauren just mentioned: we’re a week and a half into this particular rendition and it's been great and very value add so far, and I've met a lot of really interesting folks. Thanks so much, Lauren. Really appreciate you coming on.
[00:47:55] Lauren Razavi: Thank you. Bye.
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