Serbia… Europe’s hottest new digital nomad scene?
Of all the curveballs 2020 has thrown, this is one I welcome.
Even The New York Post featured the country as an oasis for Americans who wanted to travel during the pandemic while working remotely.
I moved from the US to Serbia three years ago after falling in love with the capital city Belgrade, with it’s charming locals, storied past, a hearty Slavic-meets-Mediterrenean diet and a “city that never sleeps” vibe.
This country is a perfect fit for what excites my remote working travel needs, and it might be yours for these 5 reasons.
1 – Serbia is digital nomad ready with its long term visa options
Before I get into obvious things about lifestyle and affordability, let’s get down to the brass tax of why digital nomads in Serbia find it relatively easy to come here.
Serbia is not in the EU and it is not in the Schengen Zone, which is why you don’t have to jump through as many hoops to stay in the country long term.
You can acquire a temporary residence visa or a sole proprietorship visa (preduzetnik) if you are interested in remaining in the country past the 90 days on a tourist visa. The former is valid up to 3 months, while the latter is valid up to a year. Both can be renewed.
The two visas have overlap in terms of the requirements to obtain them, including the following:
- Insurance – Many remote workers like myself went with Dunav, which is 60 euros for a full year of coverage.
- Proof of residence – In Serbian language, this is called a dokaz boravišta, which you have to get from the police station within 48 hours of arriving. Some refer to it as the white card (beli karton).
- Serbian personal bank account with dinars deposited – I went with Raffeisen as it was the only bank I could find that accepts American account holders.
- **IMPORTANT** You must have the bank print out an official stamped letter verifying your bank account and the amount deposited.
- If you’re applying for the sole proprietor visa, you must ALSO open a business account and do the same for it.
- 2 Passport sized photos
- Landlord provided information including:
- Photo of the landlord’s ID.
- Signed letter or contract proving they rent to you.
- Proof they own the accommodation you are renting.
- Valid passport
- Application form filled out from Serbian Immigration Services at Savska 35 police station in Belgrade.
Now here are some overlapping requirements that slightly differ:
|Temporary Resident Visa||Sole Proprietorship (Preduzetnik) Visa|
|Personal bank account deposit of 3 months’ worth of income by Serbian standards. But many people, including myself, got away with depositing 50,000-60,000 dinars (about 430-500 euros) which is more like 2 months’ worth.||Business Bank account deposit of 1 month’s worth of income by Serbian standards–about 30,000 dinars (260 euros). Remember, you must open the personal as well as the business bank accounts for this visa.|
|—||Register the preduzetnik. You can use the Pausal service to help you register it online.|
|—||Register your preduzetnik with the tax authorities within 15 days of opening your preduzetnik (registration tax is 1550 RSD — about 15 euros).|
|Pay a tax of 12,690 dinars (110 euros) to submit your application with all the required documents.||Pay a tax of 18,575 dinars (160 euros) to submit your application with all the required documents.|
|—||Apply for a work permit at The Serbian National Employment Service, which costs 12,610 dinars (about 110 euros).|
An agency called Stranac (+381 11 3629896) can help you fill out all of the forms and guide you on how to pay taxes. You also must make copies of all these documents. I would make three copies of everything to be safe.
But truth be told, many digital nomads and remote workers in Serbia stay long term without one of these visas. They just do a border run and are accepted back into the country.
But to be on the safe side, definitely get one of these visas if you want to remote work in Serbia for a longer period.
2 – Digital nomads in Serbia love its Balkan spirit
This is the no. 1 reason I fell in love with the Balkans and decided to remote work from Serbia. There’s an exciting atmosphere in the region that everyone finds irresistible.
It has a certain je ne sais quois that I always find hard to put into words.
But I will try.
There seems to be a zest for enjoying everyday in these countries, even on a lower salary. For me, the Balkan spirit boils down to these experiences:
- It means drinking coffee outside a cafe while people-watching.
- It means enchanting walled medieval old towns, lovely Austro-Hungarian pedestrian streets, and rustic Ottoman-style cobblestone roads.
- It means always having plans after work and not letting the job get you down to the point where you have no social life. **Cough**USA**Cough**
- It means driving down to the Croatian or Montenegrin seaside now and then. Or maybe a road trip to Greece, Austria or Italy.
- It means being excited by the historic sites, ruins and towns all over the scattered all throughout the region.
- It means a hiking adventure in any of the many epic mountain ranges. Western Serbia is particularly amazing for this.
- It means always making time for your friends and yourself.
- It means drinks by the Danube river, or the Cetina river.
- It means fortresses!
The entire Balkans looks like a scene out of Game of Thrones. Which makes sense. Many scenes were filmed in various locations in Croatia. But the entire region, including Serbia, has many sites that resemble the set of an antiquity period action movie.
The Balkans is full of living history, which adds an intangible element of feeling like there’s magic in the air.
Doing something as mundane as meeting a friend for drinks is never boring. In the USA, doing this means meeting at a strip mall facing a large parking lot. Here, it means meeting at a cafe that sits beside a fortress.
You can truly enjoy the Balkan spirit in all of the countries in my opinion. But a deciding factor for why I moved to Belgrade, and not say, Dubrovnik or Sofia, is… return to reason number one. 🙂
3 – Belgrade is a budget friendly base for digital nomad newbies
A huge draw for me in moving to and working remotely from Belgrade, was the cost of living.
I needed to live somewhere exciting in South Eastern Europe, and still have enough money left over to travel around the continent. To do this, I wanted to cut costs in the following areas:
- Transportation – Belgrade is small enough where you can walk or take a bus anywhere. In the USA, you cannot survive without a car.
- Food – I like to eat out, but that was too expensive in the US.
- Rent – Saving thousands of dollars here easily allowed me to take budget flights and overnight busses to other parts of Europe.
Belgrade was the perfect fit for all of the above objectives. It was the only capital that felt like a proper big city without exorbitant big city prices.
Here is a general summary of what it costs for me to live alone in the capital Belgrade.
Cost of Living in Belgrade, Serbia as a Solo Digital Nomad
|Rent||I rent a modern, furnished, one-bedroom apartment in the dead center of the town for 300 euros, which was actually a steal. |
It’s hard to find a really nice one-bedroom flat in the city center for less than 350-400 euros these days.
If you live a 10-15 minute drive outside of the center, in New Belgrade for example, you can find one bedroom apartments for 200-250 euros.
|Groceries||Weekly grocery prices for basic things like eggs, juice, veggies, and dinner proteins can cost anywhere between 25-50 euros a week, depending on your needs. |
As a seafood lover, I buy salmon fillets, squid and sometimes prawns from the market at least once a week. This comes to about 20-35 euros a week depending on the weight of the salmon and the prawns.
|Dining Out||Whether you go out for pizza, burgers, meat dishes or even a whole river fish, it is hard to spend more than 10-15 euros on your meal.|
|Drinks||A pint of beer can be as low as 1.5 to 2 euros. I always drink gin and tonics, which usually cost 3-4 euros depending on the restaurant.|
|Transportation||A ticket for one bus ride is a little less than 100 dinars, as long as you buy a bus card from one of the outside kiosks known as a “traffika.” You will see them everywhere. |
With taxis, I take Serbia’s version of Uber, which is CarGo. My rides rarely cost more than 4 or 5 euros to go somewhere 10 minutes away. If it is 15-20 minutes away, it might cost 7-13 euros. Using a local taxi company like Pink Taxi will cost a little bit more.
|Gas||When I have rented a small sedan, like an Opel Corsa, it typically costs me about 15 euros to fill up half a tank of benzene gas.|
|Medical||Moving here has saved me over a thousand dollars on doctors visits and medicine! My prescription for a neurological disorder only costs 15 euros for a month’s supply. |
For a doctor visit to the walk-in clinic Euromedik, I have paid 15-30 euros depending on the service. They have everything from general practitioners and gynecologists to psychiatrists and neurologists. Hallelujah Serbia!
Belgrade offers such a big bang for the buck.
4 – Serbia accommodates the digital nomad lifestyle with remote work services
As a remote worker in Serbia, I have been very pleased with what the country has to offer for us nomads regarding:
- Internet friendly cafes and bars
- Coworking spaces
- Expat community and meet-ups
Belgrade Cafes and Bars
Here in Belgrade, there are many bars with great wifi where you can have a nice meal or coffee while working online. Many of them are located in the center of town on picturesque streets.
Some of my favorite restaurants for remote working are:
- Manufaktura (Mediterrenean and native cuisine)
- Ambar (native cuisine)
- Boutique 1 (all cuisines)
- Haris Creperie (brunch and pancakes)
- Mezestoran Dvoriste (Greek and Mediterrenean)
- Jedno Mesto (all cuisines and native cuisine)
Some of my favorite bars and cafes include:
- Mama Shelter (specifically the rooftop terrace)
- City Pub
- Three Carrots Irish Pub
- The Black Turtle
Belgrade Co-Work Spaces
There are two co-working spaces I enjoyed using:
- Regus Business Center in USCE Tower
- Smart Office
I love Regus because it is so modern and it is on the top floor of USCE tower overlooking the town.
Smart Office however is in the best location on Knez Mihailova street, the biggest and longest pedestrian zone of Belgrade.
If you are interested in obtaining the sole proprietor visa, Smart Office is a great option as you can register your business address there and receive mail.
Expat community and meet-ups
It is easy to meet expats here through Facebook groups like Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club or Novi Sad Visitors. These groups also organize meet-ups and events, such as language nights and pub quiz, which I love. You can also use the website Meetup.com to find more specific meet-ups in the remote work space, such as meetups for:
- WordPress site builders
- Self-employed workers and entrepreneurs
I attended one of these meet-ups with a friend and made a few new friends that night who really understood my lifestyle and my workday. It was so refreshing and made me feel more at home in my new city.
Everyone in Serbia and the Balkans speaks English
In Serbia, everyone speaks English. The same goes for other countries in the Balkans, like Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, etc. This makes it easy to travel around the region as a remote worker, especially as Croatia’s digital nomad visa is only a few steps away from being official.
Pretty much everybody you come across either learned English in school or learned it by watching American and British movies and TV shows growing. Many people also grew-up listening to musical acts and bands from the US and the UK.
You can truly get by speaking English and barely knowing the language. But if you do want to make that effort, which you totally should, I would start by watching introductory Youtube videos to understand basic everyday phrases.
If you want to achieve a more moderate level of speaking, you can take two or three month’s worth of classes through a website like Preply. That’s what I did when I moved here. If you just want to be able to communicate with taxi drivers, waiters, ask for directions and other essential things, you can simply get a phrasebook for Eastern European languages.
I know there is also a lot of confusion about the languages of the region. Basically, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina technically all speak the same language. The dialects however vary from region to region.
It’s kind of similar to how Americans all speak English, but the dialect of English that Americans speak in southern states is slightly different.
Someone in a southern state might ask ‘How ya doin,’ instead of ‘How are you doing?’
You can see that both sentences are in English, but the southern phrasing removed a letter in a couple of places, and the verb ‘are.’ The Balkan countries are similar.
If you speak Serbian in Croatia, people will understand you just fine. But you’re technically not speaking Croatian the way they speak it because it is a dialectical change. Croatia also has a number of different vocabulary words as well.
So just to be safe, take classes or buy a phrasebook for the country you will spend the most time in. If you’re heart is actually leaning towards spending more time in Croatia, get the Croatian phrasebook or take Croatian classes with a teacher on Preply.
If you will definitely spend more time in Serbia, take the Serbian language classes or buy the Serbian phrasebook.
But again, everyone speaks English. You really don’t have to worry about this too much.
Digital nomads, vidimo se uskoro (see you soon)!
I know you’re curious. I know you’ve heard great things about the country. So now, it’s time to come!
We look forward to seeing you here soon, and if you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.