Digital nomads: what to consider as a temporary Swiss Abroad

Shore thing: Marvin Meyer and Chantal Wyss are living the dream of digital nomadism, spending the Swiss winter in Bali. Marvin Meyer

Before the pandemic they were considered exotic; today digital nomads are in vogue. Numerous countries are courting them with special visas. But the dream lifestyle is not without pitfalls.

This content was published on March 1, 2023 - 09:00

It’s 8pm in Bali in January, and the mercury is still above 20°C. Chantal Wyss, 27, and Marvin Meyer, 30, are sitting in front of their laptops in a Zoom meeting – as they do for several hours every day. In Switzerland, seven hours behind, the working day is still in full swing.

The couple from Bern have spent the past six winters on the Indonesian island. For the past two years they have been renting a house in Canggu – the hotspot for digital nomadsExternal link – which they are remodelling. “We really wanted our own home in the country where we live half the time,” Wyss explains. This, she says, is why they signed a long-term rental contract for their villa.

Wyss is an entrepreneur and has her own fashion label: she manufactures in Bali and sells in Switzerland. As a trained layout designer, Meyer does network marketing and has his own film agency in Switzerland. Together they have 12,500 followers on Instagram and report regularly on their lives on YouTube. Meyer also runs a podcast with a friend.

In short, they fit the common cliché of digital nomads: young, good-looking, self-employed and based in a surfing mecca.

Marvin Meyer and Chantal Wyss. He loves golf, she creates fitness clothing. zVg


The pandemic has certainly boosted digital nomadism. Lorenz Ramseyer, president of Digital Nomads Switzerland, says there are no official figures for Switzerland. However, he cites a studyExternal link by the Wyse Travel Confederation which estimated a global growth from 7.5 million digital nomads in 2017 to 35 million in 2022.

Mobile-flexible working is becoming increasingly important for employed people in Switzerland, according to the FlexWork Study 2022External link, conducted on behalf of the Work Smart Initiative. For 15% of them it would even be a “must have” when looking for a job – three times more than in 2016.

“Our association is increasingly receiving enquiries from HR managers,” Ramseyer says. “In the past it tended to be freelancers who opted for this way of life.” Today, he explains, more and more employees also want to benefit from so-called workations, a mixture of work and holiday.

Sarah Althaus doesn’t fit the stereotype of a digital nomad. She is 38 and pursues the lifestyle with her partner and two small children. She also gives talks on the topic for Digital Nomads Switzerland, among others.

“Finances and compulsory schooling are the topics that most concern people who want to follow our example,” she says. She stresses that it is possible to travel with children – “it just takes the necessary organisation and patience”. In December her family returned from their year-long trip.

No matter how long the temporary Swiss Abroad are on the road, there are a few things to keep in mind when emigrating on a temporary basis.

Health insurance and visas

Health insurance in particular is a big issue for digital nomads – should they go for international insurance, or does it make more sense to try to keep their insurance in Switzerland?

“Basically, for digital nomads who start from Switzerland and are really always on the move, the health insurance obligation in Switzerland remains,” says Nicole Töpperwien, managing director of Soliswiss, a cooperative which offers support and advice to Swiss Abroad.

The residence permit in the country of stay can also become an issue. Wyss and Meyer entered Indonesia with a business visa because the production of their sports fashion is based in Bali. As a rule, however, digital nomads choose the tourist visa, but this often attracts criticism, be it in terms of labour or tax law.

After all, digital nomads are gainfully employed in the host country. And the residence permit as a tourist is not a work permit: depending on the country, there are often very high hurdles. “Many digital nomads move in a grey zone,” Ramseyer admits.

Soliswiss also says that it’s “far from easy to get everything right”. In its advisory work it repeatedly finds that what’s done in practice is often different from what the legislators would like.

However, many countries have reacted in recent years and issue visas specifically for digital nomadsExternal link. “Portugal is a pioneer in this respect – even before the pandemic it was playing the remote work card,” Ramseyer says.


Depending on the residence visa, no taxes have to be paid in the host country. Ramseyer takes a pragmatic view. “Switzerland doesn’t seem to have much of an objection, since the taxes are still paid here,” he says. At the same time, he adds, the host countries would hardly complain because the digital nomads stay longer and spend more money than “normal” tourists.

‘If you don’t pay taxes anywhere, you’ve usually done something wrong.’

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“In terms of tax law, each individual case and each host country must be looked at specifically,” Töpperwien says. If you are always on the road and don’t establish a new residence anywhere, you are always liable for tax in Switzerland.

If, on the other hand, you work for several months in one place, especially for a local employer, you may establish a residence and tax domicile and become subject to unlimited tax liability in that country, she says. But there are also exceptions, and this has to be clarified individually. “If you don’t pay taxes anywhere, you’ve usually done something wrong.”

Importance of preparation

Stumbling blocks abound in this lifestyle. But Wyss and Meyer in Bali always see their mistakes as opportunities to learn something new. They have been lucky: only once did they come across a local who didn’t mean them well.

“With research, you can avoid mistakes in advance,” Althaus says. “Good preparation becomes even more important when travelling with children.”

Ramseyer has noticed in recent years that digital nomads pay too little attention to the technical equipment. “In the longer term, cultural differences, homesickness and lack of a business network are underestimated,” he says.

Not to mention the bank account. “There’s almost nothing more unpleasant than having your bank account cancelled when you’re on the other side of the world,” Töpperwien says. Before leaving, one should always check with the bank under which conditions an account, credit card and e-banking can be kept.

Edited by Balz Rigendinger. Translated from German by Thomas Stephens

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