Everything you need to know about the digital nomad tax break, visas and the best islands for a working holiday.
Greece has welcomed ‘fantastic’ numbers of visitors from the UK in 2022, the country’s tourism minister has said.
British arrivals surpassed three million this year, which Minister Vassilis Kikilias described as “close to [the country’s] all-time record”.
“Taking into consideration all the uncertainties of inflation, the energy crisis, war, flight and airport disruption, and the continuing pandemic, we’ve had great success with the British market,” he said.
“Brits love Greece whether it’s for the loud, party destination; a family holiday with the kids; golf and sport; culture and food; or short breaks.”
But it’s not just tourists who love the sunny Southern European country.
With the flexibility in working location that the pandemic has brought, why stop at a holiday? Especially when the Greek government are incentivising digital nomads to work from the Hellenic country.
Greece is working to bring more digital nomads to its islands
Last year, Greece launched a scheme to allow non-EU citizens to live and work remotely in the country. To be approved, you’ll need to show you have sufficient resources of a monthly income of at least €3,500.
Digital nomads are not permitted to work or freelance for Greek companies under the scheme.
Thanks to legislation passed in the Greek Parliament in 2020, digital nomads who come to Greece can take advantage of a 50 per cent tax break for the first seven years. Ostensibly those are Greek taxes we're talking about, which is something to consider. You should of course check out tax laws in relation to your individual situation.
Why do countries want digital nomads?
Greece is not alone, of course, in the drive to draw digital nomads. Consider that Newton's third law of motion— for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction—also applies to people in motion. In other words, when the pandemic largely stopped tourism in its tracks entire governments will do cartwheels to recoup lost revenues.
Before the pandemic, low cost airfares and nifty marketing campaigns worked wonders to fill hotel rooms and keep beach bars hopping. But when lockdowns and pervasive apprehension pulverise package tourism, it's time for Plan B.
With digital nomads, the idea is to plug some of the revenue gap left by absentee tourists with a qualitatively more compelling brand of wanderer. Someone who spends more time in a given place tends to spend more money too. Making remote work a prerequisite for getting those tax breaks almost guarantees the nomad is going to spend more money over time than a typical tourist would.
Is Greece a good destination for digital nomads?
When countries around the world are dreaming up new ways to attract digital nomads, why choose Greece? Is a nice beach enough? Alex Patelis, the chief economic adviser to the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, says, "Greece is naturally blessed with a temperate climate, lots of sunshine, and a combination of beaches and mountains."
He adds that other advantages are, "a strong currency, the euro, and the safety of the EU institutional framework." On the technical side, Patelis notes that 5G networks are already operational in major Greek cities (and they're coming to some Greek islands too) and that "tax incentives are targeting those who relocate to Greece."
Some countries, such as Finland and Estonia, have floated digital nomad visas (or in the case of Barbados, a digital "welcome stamp") which, sometimes for a set fee, allows you to live and work tax-free in the given country for a specific period of time, usually for up to a year.
Greece's model is a little different. "Greece is a member of the European Union so any EU citizen is allowed to live and work freely out of Greece," Patelis says. "Other than that, there are traditional routes to obtain work permits and/or temporary stays."
Visas and bureaucracy in Greece
Extended stays in Greece, as in most European Union countries, can be tricky to arrange if you don't hold a European passport, due to Schengen regulations.
Like any country, Greece has its fair share of bureaucracy and navigating it can be daunting for the uninitiated—though the website of Enterprise Greece can be a helpful place to start.
But whether you crave a change of scenery after being stuck at home in lockdown or simply because you'd rather look before you leap—a perfectly valid choice—you may find that "just" two months of going digital in Greece is already a lot better than a mere two-week holiday. After all, who says you need a tax break to call yourself a nomad? Once you board that plane you're already in the realm of the new, different and maybe a little risky, but also the potentially wonderful and productive.
All of that underscores what travel is supposed to be—less about frequent flyer points, more about discovery. So in this sense, the administrative aspects are just one part of the picture.
Which Greek island is best for digital nomads?
Consider this, though: if you get yourself all the way to Mykonos, do you really want to spend your time working there? I once did (though a spell of bad weather helped, as the beach wasn't an option) and later regretted it.
Remember that Mykonos is just one of hundreds of Greek islands, and probably not one where you'd want to spend a winter unless you find poetry in shuttered up shops and beach clubs.
For year-round sun there are plenty of other places like Syros, with its cosmopolitan island capital of Ermoupoli, dreamy Corfu and the largest Greek island, Crete.
Some smaller Greek islands like Astypalea, which is shaped like a butterfly that landed in the middle of the Aegean Sea, have even before the pandemic been courting a savvier sort of traveller that stays longer. The island's mayor, Nikos Komineas, recently said in the Greek press that "incentives will be given, such as subsidies, in order to keep people permanently in Astypalea. And this can be done with the development of systems such as the 5G network that will make it easier for employees to work remotely."
What about Athens?
Of course if you're the type of nomad who needs a world-class city to inspire you, there's always the metropolis at the centre of it all, Athens. In fact, the City of Athens and the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency recently launched a #BetterInAthens campaign to showcase the Greek capital's digital nomad brigade (cue tales of sun-starved Brits who swapped Piccadilly Circus for the Parthenon).
As far as European cities go, Athens does have a relatively low cost of living, a scintillating array of cultural attractions both ancient and modern and enviable weather most of the year. And it's worth recalling that even though Thessaloniki is Greece's northern second city, it's still further south than Rome.
Bottom line? Just as you would do some basic research before venturing out on holiday, do your homework before embarking on any digital nomad odyssey.
The lifestyle switch from stuck-at-home (or stuck in traffic) five days a week to waking up with a shimmering Mediterranean horizon beyond your desk and demitasse of robust Greek coffee by your side—but not too close to the computer, if you please!—is definitely an appealing option. But ultimately the only person who can sort out the financial and bureaucratic tangle is you.
Once you've digested that, Greece's new digital nomad tax cut does emerge as a clear incentive for road warriors to pull up closer to the Parthenon—or maybe a nice ribbon of beach on an island shaped like a butterfly—power up the laptop and stay a while.