Serbia attracts digital nomads with a Western lifestyle for little money

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In the global race to attract digital nomads, Serbia has also recognized the potential of this group of workers. According to the current regulations, they are allowed to extend their stay in the country and stay longer than the standard 90 days. And since nomads bring new knowledge and experience, but also spend significantly more than the average local citizen, their economic contribution is not insignificant.

Digital nomads are people who, thanks to the nature of their work and digital technologies, work abroad. They can stay for a few days, months or a whole year, and their fields of work are diverse – programming, digital marketing, writing… Apart from the usual needs of foreigners, what is particularly important to them is that, as expected, they stay in a place with good coverage by fast internet. This concept of work has become popular worldwide, so today there are travel agencies that specialize in organizing trips for digital nomads (albeit, mostly for those with deeper pockets). Dozens of countries have already introduced special visa systems for digital nomads, predicting that remote work will be dominant for a long time to come.

On the website Nomad List, where nomads rank visited places, the Serbian capital has an overall score of 3.58/5 and fourth place on the list of the best places to live in Europe. Belgrade achieves good results in areas such as quality of life, security, freedom of speech and others, while the areas where it squeaks are air quality, income, affection for LGBTQ+ people… Apart from this and other foreign websites, where interested parties can get information, a number of Serbian organizations launched the website Belgradegets.digital, where you can find a number of useful information on arrival procedures, accommodation, events in the city and the like.

However, it is very ungrateful to estimate how many such nomads visit Serbia per year, says Ivan Brkljač , director of the circular migration program at “Point of Return”, a program to support returnees to Serbia. The reason is simple – on paper, it is impossible to distinguish a regular tourist from a digital nomad, except for the average length of stay in the country and certain habits that are difficult to map.

“The average tourist stays in Serbia for five days, according to the data of the Republic Institute of Statistics, while a digital nomad stays for about 12 days, according to the data of the UNDP Digital Nomad Scanner”, he states.

The aforementioned Scanner, on which the “Digital Serbia” Initiative also worked, was published two years ago, and already then it was assessed that Belgrade had proven its potential in that segment, as well as that the number of nomads could be significantly higher. “We believe that Belgrade can become a central regional hub for digital workers, technological innovation and development”, the mentioned organizations state in the document.

The main conclusion is that Serbia is generally quite attractive to digital nomads because it offers a Western European lifestyle for an Eastern European income.

“Belgrade is particularly attractive because it has the atmosphere of a world-class metropolis, but it is still one of the cheapest capitals in Europe,” says Scaner. However, it is added that, compared to countries of a similar rank, Serbia lags behind in the fields of tolerance towards minorities, efficiency of air transport services and connectivity of airports. It is better, however, in terms of entrepreneurial risk.

The document also points out that it can be concluded that Belgrade’s greater potential lies in increasing the number of digital nomads who visit it (and the number of those who come again), rather than in extending their stay. And the stay of digital nomads can certainly be extended, with the submission of a higher education diploma.

“Most foreigners who come to Serbia can stay 90 days out of 180 days (there are countries whose citizens are allowed a shorter stay). If they apply for a temporary stay through the recognition of a higher education diploma and it is approved, the stay is valid for one year. This stay is defined by the decree on the criteria for determining the categories of foreigners and the categories of foreigners who can be granted temporary residence in the Republic of Serbia, regardless of the grounds for granting temporary residence”, explains Brkljač.

If they decide to stay in Serbia longer than the mentioned 90 days, nomads become taxpayers. According to our interlocutor, they are then obliged to find a modality by which they will solve their tax status, and this often depends on the activity they are engaged in.

“For example, they can open a legal entity such as an entrepreneurial shop, get a job or self-tax as a natural person. In this way, they will also acquire tax residency, and if they decide to stay in Serbia for more than one year, they can extend your temporary stay on the basis of employment or self-employment”, says Brkljač.

Since there is mostly a younger population among the nomads, it should be noted that starting this year in Serbia, a kind of tax discount for those under the age of 40 is valid. This, as Bloomberg Adria has already written , refers to the annual income tax of citizens, and in the explanation of the Ministry of Finance it is stated that this tax treatment applies to both residents (for income earned on the territory of Serbia and in other countries) and non-residents (for income realized on the territory of Serbia).

When talking about the economic contribution of digital nomads, it is certainly not small. “The average digital nomad spends between 1,300 and 1,500 dollars per month, which is significantly more than the average citizen of the Republic of Serbia”, notes Brkljač.

He emphasizes that, apart from the direct economic benefit, the exchange of knowledge that takes place at Digital Nomad Meetups and “coworking” spaces (where digital nomads often work from) is also significant. “That kind of connection and exchange of knowledge creates both direct and indirect opportunities for our people who, through meeting different digital professionals, can open new perspectives and enable themselves to further progress in business”, he concludes, Bloomberg Adria writes.

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