Georgia emerges as unlikely hotspot for digital nomads

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Tbilisi (AFP)

American travel addict Candy Treft radiates enthusiasm while she extols the virtues of her new home country Georgia as one of the world's best locations for digital nomads.

The 51-year-old medical professional arrived in Georgia in 2019 and is now running a co-working and co-living space for foreign remote workers flocking to the tiny former Soviet republic nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, a growing number of people who could work fully remotely were striking out and adopting a digital nomad lifestyle -- answering emails from the beach or a picturesque town square.

Bali has long been a favourite of digital nomads, and for European destinations Lisbon and the Estonian capital Tallinn have been popular.

Besides distinctive cuisine, rich culture and nature, Georgia "ticks off all of a digital nomad's boxes", Treft told AFP in her three-storey house in Tbilisi's old town, where she provides lodging and workspaces to nomadic professionals.

"The cost of living is more than affordable here, Internet access is very good, and safety -- safety in Georgia is better than one can experience in most other places in the world."

Georgia emerged as a top tourist destination around 2004 after former president Mikheil Saakashvili launched major infrastructure projects, rebuilding entire cities such as Batumi on the Black Sea or the Mestia ski resort.

Some nine million tourists visited the country of 3.7 million 2019, but after the coronavirus pandemic struck, its economy shrank by six percent last year and lost more than 100,000 jobs.

In an effort to boost the devastated tourism industry, which accounts for nearly a fifth of the gross domestic product, the Georgian government launched a programme last summer to lure high-income foreign remote workers.

Dubbed Remotely from Georgia, the scheme allows nationals of 95 countries who can prove a monthly income of at least $2,000, have tested negative for coronavirus or have been vaccinated to live and work in Georgia for a year.

- A 'desire to explore' -

Thousands of people have applied and hundreds have already arrived under the programme, National Tourism Administration spokeswoman, Tea Chanchibadze, told AFP.

"The programme aims at attracting long-term high-income visitors in a situation when massive tourist inflow is impossible," she said.

Digital nomad Andrew Braun, a 28-year-old web developer from the US state of New Jersey who works for a financial management firm, said Georgia is a "great place to explore even in the time of Covid".

"There are growing numbers of digital nomads in Georgia," he said.

"What I like most in Georgia is friendliness and flexibility in the culture. I am a foreigner, but I never feel too out of place here."

Digital nomads "are different kinds of people, but united by their desire to explore things and experience new stuff -- curiosity is a big driving force," Braun said.

Treft described her fellow nomads as people who "get bored of the mundane, want to mix it up, to see things different."

Compared to being on vacation, "as a digital nomad, you are much more able to dig a little bit deeper into the countries and cultures and experience it on a deeper level."

But a nomad's remote work also comes with specific challenges.

A study carried out by Britain's Cranfield University showed that employers often "intensify remote workers' workload with requests that can't be accomplished within certain timeframes."

Nomads in Georgia agreed that living and working abroad was not a one-stop solution to drastically improving anyone's quality of life.

"'Leave, do my work online, live in a different country and my life will be better...' Sometimes it is, but sometimes... you bring all your problems with you too," said Braun.