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Greece is gold for digital nomads

Greece is the perfect spot for the post-pandemic digital nomad
Greece is the perfect spot for the post-pandemic digital nomad   -   Copyright  Kristin Wilson / Unsplash

You want a piece of Greece? If you're the emir type you might think about snapping up an off-radar Greek island, or if you got hitched during the pandemic and it's an unforgettable honeymoon you seek there's always Santorini. For the rest of you, who station between your first job and retirement, there's now another avenue toward a bona fide fix of all things Hellenic: the digital nomad route.

If working from your laptop with the Acropolis or Santorini's volcanic caldera for a backdrop sounds pretty good, how about adding a 50 percent break on your income tax to sweeten the deal—is that the sound of your suitcase zipping shut?

Greece is working to bring more digital nomads to its islands

Thanks to legislation passed in Greek Parliament last year, starting this one digital nomads (that's the trendy new label for remote workers) who come to Greece can take advantage of a 50 percent tax break for the first seven years. Ostensibly those are Greek taxes we're talking about, which is something to consider. While a tax break on that order is certainly an enticement, how the overall tax ecosystem stacks up against that of your own country could still be a factor from the prospective digital nomad's point of view. Still, the Greek mystique is pretty strong.

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 due to the pandemic people have largely been stopped in their tracks and the global tourism industry is teetering on collapse its majors—entire governments included—will do cartwheels to recoup lost revenues. A recent headline in Forbes evoking a "war" for digital nomads may have veered into hyperbole, but a shift is undeniably afoot.

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 pulverize 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, and making remote work a prerequisite for getting those tax breaks almost guarantees the nomad is going to spend more money over time than would a typical tourist.

Anthony Grant
Anthony Grant talks us through the advantages of working as a nomad abroadAnthony Grant

But why Greece?

But when countries around the world are dreaming up new ways to woo 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 that "Greece is naturally blessed with a temperate climate, lots of sunshine, and a combination of beaches and mountains," adding 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: read on) 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 specified 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."

Anthony Grant
A working lunchAnthony Grant

Extended stays in Greece as in most European Union countries can be tricky to arrange if you don't hold a European passport because of Schengen regulations. Remote workers with only British or American passports, for example, need to be mindful that without the proper permit or visa to stay in a Schengen area country such as Greece beyond the allotted 90 days in any 180-day period that are normally exempt from visa restrictions (for U.S. passport holders), giving your digital nomadism the imprimatur of officialdom may not be so cut and dry.

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 for so many months, 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. And 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 flier points, more about discovery. So in this sense, the administrative aspects are just one part of the picture.

Anthony Grant
Acropolis rainbowAnthony Grant

In the market for Mykonos?

Consider this one, 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 the whole concept of digital nomadism is predicated on balancing work with the presumed insouciance of living out of a suitcase for a while.

In that respect, you don't have to be Lindsay Lohan to see how Mykonos could be an ideal choice. But then it's just one of hundreds of Greek islands, and probably not one where you'd want to spend a winter unless you find poetry in shops and beach clubs shuttered for the off season.

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."

Anthony Grant
SyrosAnthony Grant

Of course if you're the type of nomad who needs a world-class city to inspire you to unleash that inner digital workhorse 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, doing your homework before embarking on any digital nomad odyssey is a good idea. 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.

Based in Athens, Anthony Grant also writes the Greek Column.