Why I moved to Paradise Island Village in Madeira for ‘digital nomads’
- Mairead Finlay moved to the Portuguese island of Madeira to be part of a “digital nomad” village.
- The project offers a free collaborative workspace for most independent creatives to attract talent to the island.
- After two months, Finlay and his partner start a business and search for a property there.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
I was a “digital nomad” who lived all over Europe for three years, but not once had I considered living on an island, let alone a small village.
Now I live in the first European village for digital nomads on the Portuguese island of Madeira, thanks to an initiative put in place by the regional government and Startup Madeira to attract technological and creative talents to the island. The experience has been so good that my partner and I take a step back from nomadic life to start a business here.
I became a nomad in 2018, fed up with the astronomically high cost of living in London and the predictable bad weather.
Nomads adopt a lifestyle independent of location and tend to work in industries that make their money online. I have been a freelance writer since 2017. This makes me quite typical: A recent study estimated that 83% of the 35 million digital nomads in the world are working for themselves and 51% are marketers, developers, designers, writers or e-commerce.
I spent between four and eight weeks in places like Brussels, Budapest and Porto on a trial basis for a longer stay, before moving to Lisbon in 2019 and obtaining Portuguese residency.
But COVID-19 made me realize that I no longer wanted to live in a city. I wanted more space and a smaller community. Lisbon closed again in January. The following month, the digital nomadic village on the Portuguese tropical island of Madeira opened its doors.
Inside, 22 seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, with free screens, computer racks and sockets. Disinfection stations and a temperature controller are also installed. WiFi offers download speeds of 500 Mbps and upload speeds of 300 Mbps.
Outside, you are surrounded by bulging banana trees and shy lizards, punctuated by the sound of flowing water and spiky palm trees.
The beach, a handful of cafes and restaurants are a two-minute walk away, where people gather for lunch or an after-work drink.
The organizers have promised a nomadic neighborhood with an enviable position by the sea in the village of Ponta do Sol, cradled by high cliffs speckled with bananas. It offered remote workers discounted rates on accommodation, tours, and car rentals, along with free office space, Wi-Fi, and events.
My partner, a Swedish marketing nomad, and I were convinced, so we came here at the end of February.
The only entry requirement is to commit to staying for a month. We registered via a Google form on the website. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from the team offering support, links to hosting partners, and access to a
Hosting organization was similar to using Airbnb, except the project offered discounts if you choose one of the local partners. I went with Flatio, which offered a 25% service discount to nomads with no deposit required.
A two-bed apartment, 20 minutes from the coworking space and with a huge balcony, costs 720 euros ($ 868) per month, including bills. Our little studio in central Lisbon cost 1,100 euros ($ 1,326) per month.
I arrived when the choice of accommodation was overwhelming. Today there are around 200 nomads in Ponta do Sol, which has only 8,000 people, so accommodation options are fewer.
More remote workers live in the two surrounding villages, which are only a 10-minute drive from the coworking space, or in Madeira’s capital, Funchal, a half-hour drive away.
Organizers continue to find ways to increase capacity at Ponta do Sol, which includes working with local hotels to offer discounted rates on longer stays.
There are around 1,000 remote workers in Madeira. We are mainly independent creatives from Europe.
To access the coworking space, I fill out a registration form in the Slack channel. The hub is managed by project organizers who work on site and are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but 40 outdoor spaces are available 24/7.
Before arriving, you must download the Madeira Safe app to complete a survey and upload your negative COVID-19 PCR results – a test must be performed 72 hours before boarding.
Alternatively, you can take the free PCR test at Madeira Airport. By choosing this option, I had to quarantine myself until I received my result five hours later. On the island, there is a 23 hour curfew.
Those in charge of the project have organized activities which greatly facilitate getting to know people. They include yoga with an Atlantic view, dance parties, dolphin watching, paragliding or hiking through waterfalls, and weekly discussions on topics such as creating NFT and avoiding burnout. .
Most of the nomads I have met here plan to stay longer than the two months planned. Some stay until the end of the summer. Some abandon the nomadic way of life and settle here.
Since everything is in English, it can be easy to get caught up in a nomadic bubble if you’re not careful.
Nomads can get involved in initiatives that give back to the island, such as regular ocean cleaning, organized by a non-governmental organization. I recently joined a group in the capital that are transforming the doors of abandoned or worn out shops and restaurants into colorful art – as part of a long-standing project to rejuvenate parts of the capital’s old town.
The digital-nomadic village fueled my ambitions. I networked with other writers and my partner got a job thanks to the contacts he made here.
We’ve also made a long-term commitment to the island, setting up a business here to take advantage of Madeira’s 5% corporate tax rate. And the falling cost of living means we’ve even started saving on property.
The plan is to have a base here, but still travel from time to time to visit new places and to meet up with others to see friends and family.
Our biggest concern was that we would end up spending a lot of time, energy, and money coming all the way to hate it. But it was what we hoped for: a return to nature with a nearby community.
The project is expected to expand to five villages elsewhere in the Madeira archipelago by October. I think more villages like this will appear elsewhere.