This post looks at alternative and less common residency visas on offer (up-to-date in 2023) that often go overlooked by those seeking residency abroad. Digital nomad visas are becoming more common and continue to grow, adding to the dozens and dozens that already exist. As such, they warrant their own post so I’ll cover the latest on digital nomad visas for this year in a future post.


We’ll be looking at some of the lesser known but no less valuable types of visas that many countries offer giving you an alternative route to living overseas. These are useful if you don’t want to go down the traditional paths of seeking sponsorship from an employer or studying somewhere on a student visa.

The other point to mention is if you’ve researched a specific country and don’t feel any of the visas are accessible for you, have an open mind and consider options such as the following. There are many success stories of individuals who moved to a country that wasn’t initially their first choice and fell in love with it.

Moving abroad can be life-changing and there are so many instances where it pays for the relocators to take such opportunities than give up after the first hurdle.

Working Holiday Visas

The term ‘working holiday’ may sound like an oxymoron but there’s nothing moronic about this visa. A working holiday visa allows travellers an extended period of stay in a country for leisure and recreation purposes but with the ability to be employed.

The idea is that foreigners can engage in long-term travel within a country but earn enough income to supplement their activities should they wish to.

Working holiday visas are almost exclusively aimed at young adults between the ages of 18-30 (although there are some exceptions that allow for people older than this to qualify). Many young people find this a more appealing way of living abroad than seeking sponsorship from a company or doing formal studies.

A working holiday isn’t a complete free for all, here are some pointers to be aware of:

-> Most countries will specify a maximum number of hours you can work on the visa. This means not everyone will be able to work in full-time employment (hence the ‘holiday’ part) which could impact financial subsistence for some.

-> Related to the above, most countries will need you to demonstrate sufficient financial resources before you arrive and find employment. The monetary amounts vary depending on the country you’re applying to.

-> During the application phase, you may need to show an itinerary of travel activities you will do during your time in the country. This can be a rough estimate of timelines but be careful not to indicate your employment plans too much otherwise you may be turned down lacking the balance between ‘work’ and ‘holiday’.

-> You’ll probably have to indicate health or travel insurance coverage during your stay unless the country’s public health care system will provide this as part of your residency rights.

Unfortunately, not all countries offer working holiday visas with the most famous example being the USA’s absence. However a significant number do with around 60 countries signing up to program agreements.

Understand that working holiday programs are usually based on reciprocity meaning if country A doesn’t offer the visa to people from country B, country B in turn won’t offer one to country A. This means in reality, only a good handful of countries are accessible via working holiday programs. Don’t expect your country to offer access to the 59 or so others.

Most of the countries in Europe have working holiday programs as well as a dozen countries in Asia. In North America, Canada and Mexico take part in the program as do Australia and New Zealand in Oceania. A handful of countries in South America, Africa and the Middle East also participate. Research your own country’s working holiday agreements to find out where you can apply to.

All in all the working holiday is a visa that allows a young adult to sample life abroad with significance. It combines the growth that comes from working in a new environment with the exploration of recreational time in a different culture—an amazing package.

Types Of Visas Working Holiday

Shelter Umbrella Partnership Program (Thailand)

If you’re a freelancer, independent contractor or remote business owner and like the idea of nomading in Southeast Asia, the Shelter Umbrella Partnership Program might be right up your alley.

The program offers digital remote workers a visa and work permit in Thailand for one year which can be renewed indefinitely.

To qualify you must:

-> Be at least 22 years old.

-> Have either: (a) an IT-related university degree, plus at least 2 years of relevant work experience, OR (b) any type of university/college/school diploma or certificate, plus at least 5 years of relevant work experience.

-> Have 2 or more years experience in software development, blockchain technology, design, marketing, business development or other activities in the tech/digital fields.

-> Have an existing client base or business.

-> Be able to invoice a minimum of $2,500 USD per month.

The visa is inclusive (no nationality is restricted). You also get a Thai Social Security Card which entitles you to free medical treatment at a local hospital (in the majority of cases).

After three years of renewals, you can apply for permanent residency in Thailand which allows you to stay there without needing a visa.

Be aware that you’ll need to invoice at least some of your income through Shelter and 30% of this will go towards expenses plus your taxes and social security payments. But the program offers a convenient way to long-term nomad in one country so consider it if you like the idea of living in Thailand.

Types Of Visas Thailand

Self-Employed Work Visa (Spain)

The Self-employed work visa is unique in that it allows not only freelancers and independent contractors to live and work in Spain but also permits holders to start a business in Spain with no minimum investment amount required.

Unlike other types of visas, the Self-employed work visa requires you to obtain an initial residence and self-employed work permit first before you can get the visa. All of which must be done at a Spanish embassy or consulate.

Visas are valid for one year. Within one month of arriving in Spain, you have to apply for a residence permit, foreign national identity card and register as self-employed in the Social Security System. Once you get a residence permit, it’s valid for two years and renewable as long as you live in Spain for at least 183 days a year.

The main requirements are:

-> Professional qualifications for the activity you’re carrying out or evidence of sufficient experience for conducting that professional activity.

-> Proof of adequate financial resources to implement the project.

-> A business plan for the establishment or the activity you’ll carry out which includes an estimation of the expected return and, if applicable, the number of jobs you estimate to create.

-> Activity permits and licenses required for installing, opening and operating the planned activity or professional practice.

-> Company incorporation documents (if applicable).

Be aware that if you work as a freelancer or contractor, you might be required to prove that a Spanish company uses your services.

This visa is an opportunistic portal into Europe for those outside of the EU. Spain is a highly-favoured destination for all types of people, nomads included. Remember even a temporary residence permit in Spain would give you visa-free access to all 27 countries in the Schengen area so this is worth looking into.

Types Of Visas Spain

Rentista Visas (Central and South America)

‘Rentista’ is the Spanish word for a person of independent means. A Rentista visa then is essentially a visa for those who have rental or passive income. 

You can live in a country on these types of visas provided your rentier income isn’t from local employment. This means you can still work self-employed or as a business owner.

Some of the countries offering their own version of rentista visas include:

-> Argentina
-> Chile
-> Costa Rica
-> Peru

The main strength of rentista visas is their lower financial means threshold compared to other work or digital nomad visas which often require higher monthly or annual amounts of income.

For instance, Argentina’s version only requires a monthly income of ARS 30,000 (around $135) to qualify. In practice however, successful applicants will need to demonstrate around $1000-2000 of monthly income when applying across rentista visa nations. This is still lower than most types of visas with financial means thresholds across the world.

Another benefit is the fast track for those seeking citizenship in Central and South America. Terms to permanent residency or citizenship are shorter than many other continents. Both Argentina and Peru allow individuals on rentista visas to apply for citizenship after only two years. Among other things, this grants you access to Mercosur, the South American equivalent of the EU meaning free movement, residency and employment throughout the bloc.

Research each country’s individual visa or contact its embassy or consulate to find out more.

Types Of Visas Rentista

Residence Permit For The Pursuit Of Gainful Activity (Hungary)

The Residence Permit for the Pursuit of Gainful Activity is Hungary’s answer to a self-employment visa. Hungary’s main appeal for relocators and nomads is Budapest, a city considered to be one of the most beautiful, hip and affordable in Europe. This makes Hungary’s capital one of the most desired places for movers of all kinds.

This visa lets foreigners live in Hungary in a self-employed capacity or as an owner/director of a business or cooperative.

If going the self-employment route, the purpose of the self-employed activity may be verified by any of the following:

-> A private entrepreneurial license
-> Business Plan for economic activities
-> Small-scale agricultural producer license
-> Professional service contract
-> Any other reliable means

If instead your gainful activity is as an executive of a business or cooperative, then you’ll need to prove:

-> Your company employs at least three Hungarian citizens or persons with the right of free movement and residence in full time employment for at least six consecutive months, OR
-> Your residence in Hungary is essential to the company, and the business plan contains enough information to confirm that the business will give you a means of subsistence

While there is no stated minimum threshold, you’ll need to provide proof of means of subsistence such as a bank statement or income certificate. You’ll also need to provide documents on your planned accommodation in Hungary plus proof of access to comprehensive health insurance.

The visa is valid for three years and can be renewed for another three. Holders can apply for permanent residency after five years.

Like the Spanish self-employed work visa, once you get a residence permit, you can apply for an EU Blue card which allows you free movement across the Schengen area. This makes this visa a valuable gateway to Europe.

Types Of Visas Hungary

Cultural Activities Visa (Japan)

Interested about Japanese culture and want to experience living in Japan without working or doing a degree? The Cultural Activities Visa could be perfect for you.

There’s a range of disciplines you can learn as part of the visa although you must focus on one. Disciplines include Sadō (tea ceremony), Ikebana (flower arrangement), Japanese martial arts (Karate, Judo, Aikido etc.), Shodō (calligraphy), Japanese cuisine, Japanese performing arts, Zen Buddhism and Shintoism, and more.

There are different capacities under which you can qualify for the visa. You can undertake studies at an institution (such as an unpaid internship), professionally research an aspect of Japanese culture or art, or learn the discipline from a professional sensei (teacher/instructor).

Length of stays vary as visas are issued for three months, six months, one year or three years depending on the nature of your participation with your chosen cultural discipline.

Note the key requirements for eligibility:

-> Visa sponsorship: Your application must be sponsored by someone in Japan. Part of the application process involves submitting a Certificate of Eligibility which is usually obtained from the sponsor you’ll learn from or their host organisation.

-> Financial ability: Under this visa you’re not allowed to receive income in any capacity. Therefore you have to prove that you have the means to support yourself financially without pay or that your sponsor will cover your stay in Japan for the entire duration of your visa.

-> Time period of activity: You have to engage in the activity for at least 12-18 hours per week. Some activities will require more depending on the training schedule of the professional you’re learning from.

The cultural activity visa involves more work up front before you apply since you’ll need to liaise with a school or professional in Japan who can sponsor you. Some people have found their sponsors through their local teachers in their disciplines contacting the main branch in Japan or even by going to Japan on a tourist visa first. 

Once you find a sponsor, it can take up to 1-2 months for them to receive a Certificate of Eligibility on your behalf so make sure you leave yourself ample time for all the procedures if planning to move to Japan this way.

Types Of Visas Japan


Visas can often feel restrictive. If you’re not working for an international company, studying at a local university or married to a native, you might think you have no chance of moving abroad to a country you desire.

Yet there’s a plethora of lesser known types of visas available that are often overlooked. These include visas that don’t want you to work too much (working holidays), flexible self-employment and business visas, and ones where you turn up to learn art and culture.

On the whole, it pays to do some digging on a target country’s visa pages. You never know what types of visas you might find beyond the standard routes to relocating.

Found this useful? In future content, I’ll cover the best digital nomad visas for the ultimate knowhow in location-free remote work and lifestyle design. Subscribe to Abroad Lifestyles for free so you don’t miss out.