Digital nomad incentives: Get paid $10K to move


The digital nomad lifestyle has been increasing in popularity for years. The year 2020 has clearly accelerated that popularity (by necessity in many cases). As someone who has worked remotely for over a decade, my eyebrow was raised the other day when Stephen reported a program offering free flights and potentially discounted accommodations to those looking to move and work remotely from paradise. That offering led me to discover a few other digital nomad incentives and I thought that some readers might be interested to learn about other programs that exist. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone move today given the current situation, but rather I think that these programs are worth a look down the road for those who have found the digital nomad lifestyle to be a good fit.

Me digital nomad-ing from a rental house in Aruba a decade ago.

When I forwarded the article about the Hawaii program to Stephen, Greg, and Carrie, I volunteered to open the Frequent Miler Honolulu office. Of course, everyone was tempted by the idea of working steps away from Waikiki Beach, but a second read of that news story led me to notice a caption below one of the pictures that mentioned getting paid $10,000 to move to Tulsa. I know about as much about Tulsa as you’d probably assume (which is to say that my limited knowledge includes the fact that Stephen Pepper ranked the Hyatt Regency Tulsa among the top 10 Category 1 & 2 hotels in the US), but as much about $10,000 as anyone else who read that sentence and thought, “Now what’s that about Tulsa?”.

That led me to check out the initiative called “Tulsa Remote” upon which similar efforts like the one in Hawaii appear to be modeled. The general idea is that some cities (and indeed now countries) see an opportunity in attracting new residents who come with their own well-paying jobs and money to inject in the local economy. Municipalities have long incentivized employers to relocate in order to bring good jobs to the area, but this ideas of incentivizing employees to choose one city or another seemed intriguing to me.

One thing led to another and I spent a little time looking at several of these programs designed to draw in digital nomads. Obviously mid-pandemic may not be an ideal time to pack up and move, but it may be a good time to consider future steps, particularly for those only recently location-independent. If that’s you, read on for my impressions on some of the places I found with incentive programs for digital nomads.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Tulsa Remote program has been around since 2018 and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. Selected participants in the program receive $10,000 (split over a few installments over the course of a year), membership at a co-working space, supporting in finding housing, and more. They even allow for couples to apply separately if they each qualify for the program — meaning that it might be possible for a couple to qualify for $20K in grant money if both partners are selected.

The FAQs page says that participants selected for the program need to move during the current program year, though I believe that during the application stages it indicated that you would need to commit to moving to Tulsa within 6 months of being accepted.

As noted above, I really knew almost nothing about Tulsa before stumbling on this and I suddenly find myself checking out real estate within the city limits. Southwest flies there, so I could still flex a Companion Pass… win, Tulsa. I’m intrigued!

Topeka, Kansas

Choose Topeka blends a program that incentivizes people to seek existing jobs in Topeka (which offers up to $15K in funds for a home purchase and is partly employer-subsidized) with a remote working program incentive that ranges from $5K for renting in Topeka to $10K for buying a home as a remote worker. I found the last bit in the screen shot above to be particularly brilliant marketing: Sandwich shop chain Jimmy John’s throws a bonus thousand bucks on top for those who relocate within one of their three Topeka sandwich delivery zones. I’ve never even eaten a Jimmy John’s sandwich and I’ll tell you that the next time I see one I’m getting lunch just as a tip of the hat to this.

Unlike Tulsa, Topeka limits things to one relocation incentive per household. From their FAQs, it looks like they only began accepting applications for remote worker slots a couple of months ago and the site does seem to still accept applications (though YMMV).

The Shoals Alabama advertises that you can get $10,000 to work from The Shoals in Alabama and that you can qualify if you earn $52K per year or more, though when you dig into the terms & conditions you will find that there is actually a sliding scale of payouts depending on your salary (ranging from $6K for those who earn between $52K-$62,399 up to $10K for those earning $124,800 or more).

This program explicitly requires that participants be physically present in The Shoals 75% of the program term. That certainly makes sense to me, though I hadn’t noticed a similar requirement in other programs (though it is certainly possible that they each have similar requirements that are only seen by those who advance in the selection process).

Savannah, Georgia

The Savannah Economic Development Authority’s Creative Technologies Incentives are modeled somewhat similarly to the programs above with two big differences: the incentive here is only $2K and applicants must have already relocated to Savannah to even be eligible to apply (you must have resided there for 30 days before applying). That is obviously a different approach that only rewards those who are enthusiastic enough to move without the incentive without the incentive. If you are a remote worker planning to move to Savannah anyway, it makes sense to apply for this and hope for the best once you’ve made the move, but I’m not sure it really works as an incentive to move there since you won’t know whether or not you’ve gotten it until you’re already committed.

Programs abroad

Several foreign countries are also offering programs for remote workers, though in this case they aren’t incentives necessarily but rather just the rare possibility (for a tourist) to spend a year abroad living as a local. Since these programs aren’t offering an incentive (and in some cases these countries aren’t even welcoming Americans yet), I didn’t spend much time digging into them. Still, I thought it was worth including the fact that there are foreign places getting in this game. As the pandemic (hopefully) subsides in the future, I expect we may see rapid expansion in this realm and perhaps competition that leads to incentive programs in some cases.

Here are some about the relevant digital nomad visas for those interested:

Bottom line

While I did not previously know that cities were offering incentives for remote workers, the concept makes so much sense to me. Many people have been freed from location dependence and so the competition to bring their salaries and the associated economic benefits seems like it is only likely to heat up. I find this really interesting in the sense that it brings new opportunities for people to discover areas they may have overlooked. Obviously as someone with the ability to be a digital nomad, that excites me for personal reasons as well. Over the past 10 or 11 years, I’ve often said that working online gives you the freedom to live anywhere, but that it is hard to pick a new place to live without a job tethering you there, especially when you don’t have an existing social network and familiarity with that place. These programs offer an incentive to get people over that hurdle which I could see being something that tilts the balance for those in a position to take advantage. At the very least, I certainly have some new places on my radar for domestic trips when I return to travel as these areas now have my interest. Surely I’m not the only one with that reaction — and that shows how this could be an economic win beyond just the new workers these programs draw.

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