After many years of experts and the private sector asking for reforms, a string of  government moves have made it immensely easier for expats to reside, work, invest, and innovate in Serbia.  

With a decree from early February 2020, the government has made it much easier for  expat entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals to gain temporary residence in Serbia.

The official statement of the Government of Serbia goes into the rationale of the  decision and provides guidelines on who can apply. 'This decree defines the criteria for granting residence in Serbia for foreign founders of innovative start-ups, job seekers with university degrees, and for private investors'

Foreign citizens can apply for temporary residence if they meet one of the following 3 key criteria: 

  1. Entrepreneurs – they have founded an innovation-based company in the Republic of Serbia, whereby the innovation must be recognized by one of the  government owned Science and Technology Parks,
  2. Investors – those who invest in an already existing company registered in Serbia, 
  3. Talent – those who possess a verification from a body of the Republic of Serbia's government that their university or college degree is valid in Serbia. 

Even though these moves might be considered too little, too late, since many countries have already made it possible for talent and investors to gain easy entry and residence, this is a big step with regards to decades of inaction by previous governments.

70% tax break for up to 5 years

In addition to this, foreign talent can be employed with a 70% reduction of taxable  income base for up to five years. This move is a very bold one, which has been  controversial with at least some parts of the local workforce, even though there seems to be a consensus that these measures are in the interest of the economy. The conditions for these incentives are as follows: 

  1. That the person is moving to Serbia and will become a taxpayer in the country, 
  2. That they haven't spent the previous 2 years mostly residing in Serbia,
  3. That the gross salary is not lower than around €1,850 (217,656 Serbian dinars).

In addition to these measures, work permits for foreign professionals will also be easier to obtain, and the process of verifying foreign university and college diplomas has been shortened to 60 to 90 days, and for the top 500 from: 

  • Shanghai Ranking
  • UN news and World Report
  • The Times Higher Education World University Rankings

the process will be as short as 8 days.

All in all, the measures undertaken by the Serbian government demonstrate a strong  leap in the mindset and action, which the Serbian expat community and private sector have been proposing for quite some time, and which the economy dearly needs.

However, it remains to be seen how effective they will be in the ever more competitive 'market' between countries to attract the best talent and capital, and especially in this new world engulfed in uncertainty due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

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