“If you can work from anywhere, why not work from Greece?” asks a promotional document seen by Greece’s parliament this week. Amid dreamy images of whitewashed farmhouses and deep-blue seascapes, it sets out a new law that allows newly settled foreigners to pay half their income tax over the next seven years.
From January 2021, the scheme will be open to both employed and self-employed workers as long as they have not previously been a tax resident of Greece, or replace an existing job in the country.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s government hopes the tax break will attract the newly empowered ‘work-from-anywhere’ digital nomad, which Alex Patelis, chief economic advisor to the prime minister, describes as “the person who’s three months in Thailand, two months in Jamaica, and so on. We want them to be two months in Greece, and why not?”
His sales pitch does not need to be driven home. The weather and sea in Crete, Greece’s southernmost island, is still warm. A party on the night before Greece went into a month-long lockdown on 7 November was abuzz with Covid expats escaping their own national lockdowns in gloomier climates.
“It’s way nicer here than London,” says Christoph over a glass of raki. Originally from Germany, he moved to London to work as a management consult but left for Greece when he was not required back in the office in September. The internet is good, he says, even in Tris Ekklises, a small fishing cove at the foot of a mountain.
A tender for rolling out 5G closes in Greece this month, and coverage is expected to be in major towns and cities in early 2021.
“This place is a paradise especially if you make good money,” says Taki Despo from his new home in Athens. He moved from New York after his firm, the design retailer Moro.com, allowed him to do his job as market relations director remotely.”Covid didn’t really do much it just gave me a little courage to make this move.”
Kate Silcox, originally from the U.K. but now working as a photo editor for GQ Dubai from Athens, has spent a decade working remotely from various countries but thinks she will now stay in Greece if she can save on taxes. “It would encourage me to be fully committed and settle down there for longer in Greece.”
Greece is hoping that tax perks will make more expats like Kate stay. It needs them to: Greece lost 800,000 people to richer nations during the worst years of its debt crises between 2009 and 2015. Now it is hoping to reverse that brain-drain with these and other tax breaks.
A non-domicile law introduced earlier this year, a tax amnesty in November and a family office-friendly tax structure planned for next year are aimed at the richer nomads. But Greece is already late to this party.
Italy’s own brain drain saw 800,000 people leave the country between 2009 and 2019 as its economy struggled to recover from the global financial crises. It too is hoping Covid-19 and tax breaks will help it replenish that talent.
In March, Italy’s ‘Lavoratori impatriati’ law was changed to allow new tax residents earn 70% of their salary tax free for their first five years in the country. A non-domicile scheme was introduced in 2017 and tax amnesties since then have encouraged some wealth to return to the country.
Croatia and Estonia have also rushed digital nomad visas through their parliaments this year and a host of other such schemes are already on offer in the Caribbean.
But northern European countries, which largely benefited from their southern neighbours’ brain drain, are now losing out. According to InterNations, an online community for expats, foreign workers now prefer warmer European cities such as Valencia and Alicante in Spain or Lisbon in Portugal, which were the top three cities in its recent study. London ranked 51 and Dublin 58.
Move Hub, a relocation platform, has helped more than 6,700 U.K. households move to other countries since lockdown in March. In Europe, Spain was the most popular destination, with Portugal seeing the largest increase compared with last year.
This migration from northern to southern Europe has been driven by two things: Technology and a pandemic, which has cast a professional workforce far from the office.
However, as Greece’s new laws take effect in 2021, those two things will change. A vaccine may force some workers back to the office, and better technology could allow workers to be literally anywhere, so why Greece?
It’ll come down to sun and technology, believes Patelis. “You can rent a very beautiful house in a very beautiful location for not a lot of money and you can have a very nice life for a third of the cost of London.
“Come for the sun, stay for the taxes and technology.”
Source: Ollie Wiiliams, Senior Correspondent, Forbes