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Working virtually? Swap skyrises for ocean views, says Bermuda

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - When the coronavirus pandemic hit and office workers were asked to work remotely, Abbie Shepherd saw it as an opportunity to swap London’s skyrises for something more exotic.

FILE PHOTO: Sailing - Youth America's Cup finals - Hamilton, Bermuda - June 21, 2017 - Teams speed to the finish line on the final leg of the sixth and final race in the Youth America's Cup. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Shepherd, who is chief of staff at Cameo, which sells personalized messages from celebrities, saw an advertisement on Facebook for Bermuda’s $263 one-year residency certificate for digital nomads and remote students.

She promptly booked a flight and flew out a week later to check out the North Atlantic archipelago, known for its coral reefs, pink-sand beaches and golf courses.

“I was always interested in moving to the Caribbean,” said Shepherd, 24, noting that the views of the ocean had soothed her during the pandemic. “It makes a difference to my mental state, especially while I’m working from home.”

Bermuda is one of a number of locations such as Barbados, Estonia and Georgia that have started offering visas for digital nomads to temporarily relocate in order to boost their own economies as traditional tourism slumps.

“We’re innovating to be responsive to the demands of people around the world who are looking for a safe and virtually COVID-free destination,” said Bermuda Premier David Burt.

After imposing a strict lockdown at the start of its outbreak, the self-governing British overseas territory of some 64,000 managed to contain infections. It registered just six cases in the last two weeks and ranks sixth in the world in testing per capita according to Worldometer.

As such, life has been able to return mostly to normal, with borders re-opening - subject to pre-arrival testing for coronavirus. But traditional tourism, which employs roughly 11% of Bermuda’s labor force, is expected to take months, if not years, to rebound.

So far, 317 people have applied for Bermuda’s one-year residency certificate, with 144 approved, according to a government spokesperson.

Lynesha Lightbourne, business development manager for the Bermuda Business Development Agency, told Reuters applicants were mostly from Britain, the United States and Canada, but some came from as far afield as Australia.

Many are bringing their families along, and early indicators suggest some of those applying are big spenders, which is good for the economy.

Penny MacIntyre, a partner at Rego Sotheby’s International Realty, said the price range for accommodations run the gamut, from $1,200 to $200,000 a month.

Typically, they are looking at places in the $4,000 to $12,000 a month price range, she said.

Shepherd, who had once tried to get a U.S. visa, an endeavor she described as “crazy,” said the application for the Bermuda visa and general process of getting health insurance and opening a bank account was “very seamless.”

“Getting the paddleboard down from a house to the water is my biggest challenge,” she said. “Plus, paddleboarding is hard. I fall off every time.”

Reporting by Don Burgess in Hamilton, Bermuda; Editing by Sarah Marsh and Dan Grebler

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