Greece has recently been taking the first steps to create a business environment that would attract so-called digital nomads and ease the founding of start-ups.
In March 2021, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis outlined a multi-billion-euro plan dubbed “Greece 2.0,” including investments in 5G networks, which Greece began rolling out in December to reinforce its attractiveness to those who can work remotely.
“You want to be able to look at the sea out of your window as you work, but you want to make sure the laptop is connected,” Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said at the time of the announcement.
Attracting digital nomads is a new global trend from which Greece can benefit, the Minister stated.
Digital nomads are people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and conduct their life remotely — as so many of us are doing right now. Such workers can just as easily work remotely from foreign countries as they do from coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces — or even their own recreational vehicles.
“According to a study by the MIT Enterprise Forum, if Greece attracted 100,000 digital nomads each year, with an average stay of six months, our country could benefit by more than 1.6 billion euros.
“This amount almost matches the weekly income brought in by 2.5 million tourists,” Theoharis noted.
Tax incentives for digital nomads, start-ups in Greece
Without a digital nomad registry, it is difficult to determine how many are in Greece. The Facebook group “Digital Nomads Athens” counts a few thousand members from countries including Ireland, France, the United States and Estonia.
Still, on NomadList, which ranks the best places for remote workers, Athens is only 79th on the list, topped by Lisbon, Portugal.
“Greece is in the very early stages of creating a digital nomad environment,” says Tina Miteko, founder of Marketing For Tech, an Athens-based firm which specializes in helping companies and startups with their marketing strategy and execution.
“Greece has announced incentives to attract digital nomads, but because of the travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, it is too early to see whether there is a real influx of digital nomads,” she tells Greek Reporter.
The incentives announced by the Greek government include tax reductions as well as plans for a special visa for digital nomads.
Investors who are tax residents in the country who make 1-3 investments per annum of up to €100k each, can now deduct 50% of the total investment from their taxable income.
Startups that are eligible for the tax incentive will have to be registered on “Elevate Greece” — the platform launched by the Greek government to support the local entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem.
Romantic idea of working from a Greek island
“Everyone may have this romantic idea of working from the beautiful islands of Greece, but if one looks at the map we created, there are clearly four clusters at the moment,” says Miteko.
“Athens which is the obvious one, having the largest concentration of start-ups at the moment, secondly Thessaloniki, then Patra and Heraklion in Crete.”
“Santorini, Mykonos and most of the Greek islands may be beautiful places to work from, but they lack infrastructure and in particular, housing and co-working spaces. Also because the islands are geared towards tourism, the cost of living is higher,” Miteko says.
“I think for lesser known Greek islands, there is an opportunity to attract digital nomads and start-ups if they invest in their infrastructure.”
Her company recently launched PALMOS, an interactive and dynamic map of the Greek technology start-up ecosystem. It captures the beat of Greece’s rising technology start-up
The map includes tech start-ups that are located in Greece and organizations from the broader tech start-up community such as accelerators and venture capital firms.
The potential influx of digital nomads will further assist the local start-up ecosystem by “importing” new ideas and new business models, says Miteko.
According to PALMOS’ data, the majority of tech start-ups are located in the Attica region (74%), followed by Central Macedonia (13%), Achaia (5%) and Crete (4%), while the remaining technology startups are located in other regions of Greece.
“If I was going to start a start-up or choose a location as a digital nomad I would start in these regions, where you have access to more resources and more skilled people, Miteko says.
“All these regions have universities, science parks and R&D centers, places where innovation happens. As a digital nomad you would like to start in places where you can access the talent pool, know-how and co-working spaces. Places where you can network with like-minded people,” she adds.
In the last few years, Greek cities like Trikala and Kalamata have started developing regional start-up eco-systems. The spread of 5G technology to other parts of Greece will help boost their attraction for digital nomads as well.
“Over the next few years, I guess we will be seeing the emergence of regional eco-systems in Greece,” Miteko says, who adds that the recent announcement by multinationals such as Pfizer and Amazon to base some of their operations in Greece will undoubtedly help innovation and make the country more attractive for digital nomads and strt-ups.
Cost of living for digital nomads
Apart from all the factors mentioned above, one of the key questions potential digital nomads must have an answer for is the cost of living.
Athens, which has an overall score of 3.62/5 on NomadList is relatively expensive for a digital nomad. The Greek capital has fast internet, a good quality of life score, and scores heavily on the fun scale, but is a bit pricey, with an average cost of living for a nomad of €2,530 per month ($3,043).
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, is way behind the capital on the Nomadlist, despite being more affordable than Athens at $2,200 per month.
Chania in Crete is the third best Greek city for digital nomads as assessed by the Nomadlist, with an overall score of 3.08/5.
It is followed by Patras in western Greece with 2.96/5. The cost of living for an expat in Patras is €1,383 per month, or $1,660.
Further back we find the island of Rhodes with an overall score of 2.9/5 and a pricey cost of living at $3,220 per month. The Greek island of the Dodecanese archipelago is marked down somewhat because of the poor availability of working space there.
And finally we come to Mykonos, the cosmopolitan gem of the Aegean one would assume everyone would prefer to use a base for work. It is ranked 1,011 in the list with an overall score of 2.81/5. Great internet speed, great nigh life, great setting.
The drawback? Cost. Mykonos is pricey. A digital nomad would need $3,700 per month just in order to live there, according to these calculations.