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Working from Paradise: Crete Launches Campaign to Entice Digital Nomads

Digital nomads Crete
The Lion’s Fountain square in Crete. Credit: Phil Butler

Several weeks ago, the Region of Crete launched the first website in Greece to attract and help digital nomads to live and work from paradise. The site, www.workfromcrete.gr, is a digital guide to help assist those who can work remotely to take advantage of all Crete island offers.

By Phil Butler

By way of background, back in late 2020, Greece’s Parliament passed a new law (NO. 4758) to entice digital nomads worldwide to come to work and live in Greece. The law made provision for a dramatic 50 percent tax reduction for digital “settlers” for the first seven years of their relocation to the country.

The campaign will entice flexible remote workers as part of the country’s green and digital reforms that officials hope will help revive the economy and restore its international image.

Greek island of Crete ideal for digital nomads

Crete’s Governor Stavros Arnautakis has offered a welcome statement beckoning digital nomads to a “beautiful and authentic place” like no other. In his remarks, the native of the village of Archanes also highlighted the region’s high-profile educational and research institutions and modern digital infrastructure.

The governor also emphasized an open call to welcome, as he stressed, millions who might wish to work in paradise. Some of these nomads, Crete officials hope, will be young people who left Crete in the brain drain after the 2009 crisis.

Crete’s perfect weather, incomparable nature, and legendary friendliness toward strangers make the largest Greek island a dream of a place to work and live. If there is one downside to digitally connected workers moving to Crete for good, it’s a fact that some aspects of the so-called “Work from Paradise” scheme are the lagging “nomad visa” and the incomplete 5G network that should soon encompass the whole island.

To get an update on these issues, we contacted Nikos Alexakis, the Head of the Tourism Directorate for the Region of Crete. He offered the latest news on the status of the Work From Crete initiative:

“While we are not quite there with 5G, we are moving forward swiftly to bolster connectivity not only in major Crete cities and towns but all across the island. And though COVID-19 has caused a natural shift in priorities, we are working with Athens to get this new visa regime implemented.”

Alexakis also said the region is ready and willing to help interested digital nomads find current answers and alternatives for moving to the island to work. He said the Region of Crete would be continually adding new resources to help those interested in their quest to live and work from paradise.

The pandemic has put many initiatives on hold. However, Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Migration is in the final stage of drafting a legislative framework and launching the new visa category.

The new framework will also finalize many of the resources these digital nomads will need to make their transition to life in Greece easier. The new website from the creators of Incredible Crete provides a lot of helpful information and assistance. But we also researched a few other key value propositions the island offers.

Digital nomads Crete
Working from a beach. Credit: Phil Butler/Greek Reporter

Food and Housing on Crete

For many considering working remotely from Crete, the cost of housing may be one of the best motivators. Here in Heraklion, for instance, the average rent for a mid-size apartment is about the same as a studio in Athens or other areas. You can expect to get an excellent place for somewhere between 200 and 400 euros per month. For a little more, you can be either a few steps from the pedestrian zone of the city or one of the area’s Blue Flag beaches, depending on your wants/needs.

As for dining options, whether you’re inclined to dine in or eat out, Crete is on the cheaper side compared to what most people from outside are accustomed to. Naturally, this depends on your preferences. Still, in general, the cost of produce and other foodstuffs here is reflected directly in stores and the service industry.

Greece is affordable anyhow, but Crete can be even cheaper once you get to know the people and the places to shop and eat. The city markets are great, but it does not hurt to have friends who own farms either. Put it this way — I have not paid for olive oil in four years. One thing the newcomer will realize quickly is that islanders take care of one another. This is a kind of “secret bonus” most know nothing about.

The Minoans of Crete created an empire from olive oil and other fine products. But today, some of the best products to be found anywhere cost almost nothing. Consider that five kilos of the most succulent oranges costs a couple of euros, and potatoes are the price of a cappuccino. The same is true of many kinds of produce, the list of which is too extensive to publish here. Another helpful hint is to opt for wine or beer instead of soft drinks since the latter are quite expensive here.

The bottom line is, if you shop the markets and follow what the locals do, wherever you lived before, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Stay away from expensive beef cuts and ice cream, and you’ll have more money for entertainment. Oh, and the restaurants and tavernas can be as cheap as eating at home in Germany, let’s say. Two persons can also have a gourmet-level lunch at a perfect venue, for about 50 euros, including the wine.

Living, Learning, and Playing

Greece is an informal and kicked-back place to live and work, and this is doubly true on Crete. The Cretans work hard and play hard, and they have a “siga, siga” (slowly, slowly) philosophy about their pace of life and business. As an American, I can tell you this is something that is hard to get used to. That said, digital nomads considering Crete will need some good guidance about integrating into society here.

For students, singles, or couples without children, the transition will be a pleasant one if you are patient with the pace of life from the outset. Helpful information here can be found  on the Work from Crete website.

You will also find links to the various offices of Citizens and Residents Services (KEP), the Region of Crete, and more. You can even follow the links to see a health map of Crete which shows the type and location of almost every hospital, clinic, and doctor’s office on the island.

For parents and students interested in living on Crete, the island is blessed with several fine institutions of higher learning, including the University of Crete, the Technical University of Crete, and the MBS College of Crete.

Digital nomads with younger children will be pleased to find out about accredited, special schools Crete has to offer. There’s the free public School of European Education of Heraklion, the Theodoropoulos International School, and Mavromatiki-Mitera private schools in Chania, and progressive early childhood developmental nursery schools like the Play & Learn Preschool and Language School in Heraklion.

We caught up with the Director of Play & Learn, who offered this insight for nomads who are parents.

“Like other schools on Crete geared to international students, Play & Learn works to help children and parents merge with local culture while maintaining their individuality. We immerse children into an English-speaking environment and a play-based curriculum, which is inspired by Reggio Emilia. This self-directed, experiential learning in a relationship-driven environment is a reflection of the Cretan way of life well.”

I insert Liapaki’s school and methods here so that outsiders will see Crete in a true sense, not archaic in any sense, even if the island’s traditions are rooted in prehistory. Everywhere one looks here, there’s a fascinating union of ancient culture with refined modernity. Our son attends the Heraklion School of European Education, which offers as diverse a curriculum as you can imagine for children from a dozen countries.

And when it comes to entertainment, few places in the world offer such diversity. Even so, the island is still a provincial place, which is a good thing. The locals here can be found in the morning sunning on Crete’s flawless beaches, partaking of a gourmet lunch at a stunning venue, and later dancing until dawn to traditional Cretan music in a mountain village.

An excellent resource to learn more about the island is the award-winning Incredible Crete website, where you will find a bottomless treasure trove of media and info about hundreds of stunning beaches, gorges, villages, local traditions, and much more.

Movies, theater, concerts large and small, festivals and endless feasts, and some of Europe’s most awe-inspiring archaeological sites and museums can be enjoyed here. Any activity you can think of is here on Crete. Minoan wonders older than time, or a beach festival featuring world-famous DJs — the list is endless. Oh, and we cannot forget Crete’s coffee culture. Heraklion must have more coffee shops and cafes than Paris.

Work & Visas for digital nomads

Crete is completely conducive to the so-called “laptop lifestyle” embraced by nomads of the remote workforce. The cafe above culture, the unparalleled diversity of nature, and WiFi connectivity almost everywhere on the island create a unique opportunity and value. As journalists, writing a story from inside the place or at an event is something writers a generation ago could never have imagined.

The major towns of Crete have almost unlimited co-working spaces and remote places where broad connectivity makes for an idyllic digital workspace. Part of the report you are reading now was written from a table on a deserted beach overlooking the Gulf of Mesara in southern Crete.

The ending was drafted from a park bench near a famous Venetian fountain in Heraklion’s pedestrian zone. So, there is no horizon to the kind of work conditions anyone can create here.

EU citizens, their spouses, and dependents are allowed to live in Greece without restrictions. However, non-EU nationals may need to obtain a type D visa (or National Visa) for staying longer than 90 days in the country. A long-stay D visa allows people to stay in Greece for more than three months for work, study, academic research, cultural, scientific, and religious events, and work reasons. The island has the infrastructure and the potential to support any professional who works remotely now.

Phil Butler is the editor of Argophilia Travel News 

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