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Sun, Great Food, Cheap Living: Greece Wants Digital Nomads to Come

Αssociated Press

The Parthenon temple is illuminated atop of the Acropolis hill as a ferry approaches the port of Piraeus as another one departs in Athens, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS -- If you've the skills to work remotely, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no reason why you shouldn't make Greece your home, the New Democracy government hopes, planning to lure them with incentives.

Some people can work from anywhere in the world, even if their companies are in far-distant countries, a technological advance that has created so-called “digital nomads,” that Greece wants, especially Greeks who had fled during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis.

As an incentive, Greece's Parliament passed a law giving those nomads-with-skills a 50 percent break on income taxes that can otherwise be prohibitive, as a race for them has begun across Europe.

Forbes magazine outlined the plan in a feature about how working remote has coincided with the pandemic that benefits people whose jobs are technological being able to even work from home, while those whose jobs don't allow that are being left out in the cold.

"If you can work from anywhere, why not work from Greece?" is the way a promotional Greek pitch put it, showing images of whitewashed farmhouses and deep-blue seascapes.

The income tax break that's not available to Greek citizens unless they return would be for seven years and as of January 2021 it's 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.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis's government hopes the tax break will attract the digital nomads, said his chief economic advisor Alex Patelis, describing them 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?"

On Crete, where COVID ex-patriates had gathered the night before Greece went into a second lockdown on Nov. 7, they talked about all the reasons why working in the country was good for them.

"It’s way nicer here than London," said one 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.

Greece's Internet system has been slow to keep up – and slow – but a tender for the new 5G technology is coming out this month and Elon Musk's SpaceX web link is due to be rolled out early in 2021, offering country-wide 100 percent coverage.

"This place is a paradise especially if you make good money," Taki Despo told the magazine 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,” he said.

Kate Silcox, originally from the United Kingdom but now working as a photo editor for GQ Dubai from Athens, spent a decade working remotely in a number of countries but said she'll likely settle in Greece because of the tax break.

NOT SO REMOTE

"It would encourage me to be fully committed and settle down there for longer in Greece,” just what the government wants as it hopes to speed a post-pandemic recovery with the economy expected to grow anemically in 2021.

The plan would also partially reverse a mass exodus of the young and best and brightest who were shut out of jobs in the country's notorious clientelist system that rewards political loyalists, not entrepreneurs or those with skills.

Greece lost 800,000 people to richer nations during the worst years of its debt crises between 2009-15, said the magazine, although the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA which was in power from 2015-19 was anti-business.

The Cube Athens co-founders and owners, Maria Calafatis and Stavros Messinis said that during a post-Athens lockdown earlier this year, they saw a rise in remote work travel both by Greeks and non-Greeks – what has been dubbed as “brain-gain,” or the reversing of the brain-drain effect.  

“Freelancers and digital nomads have always chosen Greece as a destination, and now with the effects of COVID-19 we have seen an increase in such workers,” Calafatis said, reported Anthe Mitrakos in Portes magazine.

“Offering employees the flexibility to work remotely brings about more creativity ... the Greek culture, philoxenia, weather, and the fact that people can move around more freely is an added bonus to working remotely from Greece,” she said.

According to Eurostat, in 2019, some 5.4 percent of employed individuals in EU countries ages 15-64 worked “usually from home,” a percentage of the population that has remained constant for the last decade. 

Among EU member states, the Netherlands and Finland topped the list for remote work with 14.1 percent of employed people usually working from home in 2019, while Greece ranked among the lowest in rates of such workers at 1.9 percent.

Since the pandemic broke out, working remotely became a norm for millions of people worldwide. An early 2020 Eurofound estimate suggested that as a result of the pandemic, nearly 40 percent of EU workers began to telework on a full time basis.

Digital designer Dimitra Papastathis had been studying and working outside Greece for over a decade before taking the opportunity to move back to Athens to work remotely. 

“I enjoy being able to order souvlaki any time of the day plus starting work one hour later due to time zone differences,” she told Portes. “I can also spend some more time with my baby in the morning hours.”

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, the story said, with Greece trying to catch up to other countries.

With a vaccine arriving, possibly by the end of the year, more Greek businesses that had allowed people to work remotely could reopen but Patelis said there's still plenty of room for others, especially those whose employers are outside Greece.

"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 or a third of the cost of London.” He added: "Come for the sun, stay for the taxes and technology."