The government of a Caribbean island has a tantalizing suggestion for quarantine-weary Canadians: Working from home is a lot more palatable when you're doing it remotely from a tropical paradise.
The island nation of Barbados has launched something it's calling a Barbados Welcome Stamp, a one-year remote working visa that gives foreigners the right to live and work remotely in Barbados while they ride out the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting now, applicants can send in their personal information at a portal website. The application will be processed within 72 hours, at which point they may be approved to come live and work remotely in Barbados.
There are a few stipulations, namely that you have to make $50,000 US a year and there's a non-refundable fee of $2,000 US for an individual and $3,000 US for families, but once that's paid, a successful applicant is all set.
"You don't need to work in Europe, or the U.S or Latin America if you can come here and work for a couple months at a time, go back and come back," Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said when she first suggested the idea earlier this month.
The government of Bermuda has floated a similar idea for a six-month permit, but has yet to formally launch their program.
The appeal of living on a tropical island may be obvious under normal circumstances, but a spokesperson for the government running the initiative said it makes even more sense during the current unprecedented situation with COVID-19.
Barbados ahead of crisis so far
Barbados has recorded 106 official cases of COVID-19, and seven deaths at last count, said Peter Mayers, the Canadian director for Barbados's tourism and marketing organization.
The country's health-care system has been able to stay well ahead of the crisis so far, he said in an interview, as officials have set up two facilities dedicated solely to COVID-19 patients to keep them out of hospitals. The two isolation wards are capable of housing more than 200 people.
"When persons start to consider looking for travel options in jurisdictions that have managed the COVID crisis well, Barbados must be on the radar," he said.
There are ample schooling and daycare options, none of which are currently closed or limited in any capacity, he said, adding the island also boasts the fastest fibre internet and mobile services in the Caribbean.
Housing suitable for a family can be found for about $1,000 US a month, which is why the program is hoping to appeal to families and not necessarily just individuals.
"It's a unique opportunity to remedy cabin fever and at the same time help our tourism industry," Mayers said.
Canadians advised against 'non-essential' travel
While Barbados may be welcoming Canadians with open arms the Canadian government still advises against all "non-essential" travel to Barbados, just as it does with many other countries.
Strictly speaking, there's nothing stopping a Canadian from going to Barbados, but problems could arise while a Canadian is there, or possibly when they attempt to return.
"The governments of those destinations that have opened their borders to tourists could impose strict travel restrictions suddenly, should they experience an increase in cases of COVID-19," the Canadian government's travel advisory page for Barbados reads.
"International transportation options could be reduced significantly, making it difficult for you to return to Canada. There are no plans to offer additional repatriation flights."
Ottawa also warns about a number of local Barbadian laws that Canadians could run afoul of, including harsh penalties for drug possession, a ban on wearing camouflage clothing and some of the most regressive rules in the region for LGBTQ travellers, because sex acts between members of the same sex are illegal in the country.
Those laws are one obvious downside, as is the possibility of getting stuck there should there be an outbreak, but at least one prominent Canadian seems fine with taking that risk.
Drake surfaces in Barbados
Barbados officially reopened its borders on July 12. Within days, musician and entrepreneur Drake surfaced all over social media on what seems to be a Barbadian vacation.
The government of Barbados outlines the protocols that visitors must adhere to here. Currently, it deems Canada to be of "medium risk" for COVID-19, which means visitors must pass or show proof of having recently tested negative for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
But once on the island, there are relatively few restrictions on daily life, beyond the usual physical distancing, mask wearing and hand washing requirements that are in place just about everywhere.
The program has only been formally open for a few days, but Mayers said there have already been a significant number of applicants from Quebec and Alberta.
And strictly speaking, it's not limited to Canadians, although Mayers said he suspects the idea of being housebound in a place where the average winter temperature is 20 degrees Celsius above zero, not below, may have particular appeal for Canadians.
"In very much the same way that COVID-19 does not discriminate, neither do we," he quipped.