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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

Digital nomad visas: How does Austria compare with other countries?

There is now a new type of professional: the digital nomad. But what are the rules for those who want to live this lifestyle in Austria, and how do they compare with other countries?

Digital nomad visas: How does Austria compare with other countries?
Working with this view of the Austrian alps might not be so easy for digital nomads (Photo by Samuel Schroth on Unsplash)

Although it’s a current buzzword, “digital nomadism” is not exactly a new phenomenon. Business owners who have in recent years been able to run their companies online have travelled and enjoyed the perks of the “work from anywhere” culture. However, as technology has become more accessible and more companies adopt work-from-home schemes (especially after the coronavirus pandemic forced people out of their offices), the lifestyle became more common. 

In theory, it may sound perfect to many people: living in different countries while doing your job completely online, going from working by a Spanish beach in summer to spending the winter in the Austrian mountains. But things can get pretty complicated regarding visas, taxes and health insurance.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about finding work in Austrian towns and villages

Austria still needs to catch up to other countries when it comes to this type of life. For example, in Austria, there is still no such thing as a digital visa nomad. This means that, legally, third-country nationals (non-EU citizens) are not allowed to simply work in Austria, even at a remote job, unless they have a proper visa to do so.

The rules in Austria

Citizens of EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries can stay in Austria for up to three months (90 days) without having to register as a resident.

For stays of more than three months, you have to be employed, self-employed, a student at a recognised educational institution or have enough money to support yourself financially. In Austria, you will be considered a tax resident if you spend more than 180 days per year in the country.

In theory, this means someone from France or Italy can relocate to Austria for several months (or years) to live and work – as long as they follow the rules related to proof of residence, health insurance and tax. You can read more about this HERE.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can foreign doctors practise medicine in Austria?

For third-country nationals, which include the US and the UK, there are limits to how long they can stay in Austria. However, as there is not a dedicated digital nomad visa in Austria (as already mentioned above), working in Austria remotely as a third-country national with a tourist visa or Visa D is not legal. 

Instead, a long-term visa option is to apply for a self-employed key worker visa, which can be financially (and bureaucratically) out of reach to most digital nomads.

READ ALSO: Digital nomads: Who can work remotely in Austria?

How does it work in other countries?

Among the countries covered by The Local, Spain is the one that most recently created an exclusive visa for digital nomads – it is officially known as the international remote worker visa (visado para teletrabajadores de carácter internacional). It is part of the new startup law, which is expected to come into force in early 2023. 

In a nutshell, it will grant non-EU freelancers and remote workers entry and residency rights in Spain, with fewer bureaucratic obstacles than there currently are, and enticing tax benefits.

The Spanish government wants to remove the existing bureaucratic hurdles these international workers face to make “Spain a paradise for talent”, The Local Spain reported.

READ ALSO: Spain’s new digital nomad visa: Everything we know so far

Germany, like Austria, does not have a dedicated digital nomad visa. Therefore, EU and EEA citizens can stay and work in Germany. However, for self-employed third nationals who want to spend a prolonged period in Germany, the most obvious choice is a freelance visa, according to The Local Germany.

This type of visa is aimed at people who work remotely for several clients but don’t necessarily own their own companies. The typical image is of freelance graphic designers, coders and writers sitting in slick cafes with glossy laptops, but you can freelance in almost any profession. 

Digital nomads enjoy the possibility of working from beautiful destinations such as a beach in Spain. (Photo by Samuel Schroth on Unsplash)

France is another country that does not have a specific digital nomad visa, and digital nomads can face several grey areas for living and working, Fiona Mougenot, a lawyer and partner in the immigration specialists Expat Partners, told The Local France.

Switzerland offers no incentives for digital nomads, and work visas or permits are notoriously difficult to obtain, as The Local Switzerland showed. Likewise, Denmark does not have a digital nomad visa, and digital nomads travelling to Italy will also have to comply with local rules without the benefit of a proper visa.

European countries with well-established visas

Other European countries have been quicker in implementing a visa to attract digital nomads. For example, the Croatian Digital Nomad Visa, which works as a temporary residency permit, allows you to work online while living in the beautiful coastal country for one year. 

Estonia has a famous “e-residency program”, and in 2020 created a one-year digital nomad and freelancer visa for those who can work remotely.  Iceland is another country with a specific permit that allows people to stay for up to six months working online for companies abroad.

READ ALSO: Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in Austria

Several other countries, including Portugal, Malta, Romania and Greece, also have specific visas for those in the digital nomad lifestyle. However, they are usually limited in time and people need to prove a steady income to obtain them.

Outside of Europe, several dream destinations, especially in the Caribbean, but also countries like Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, Namibia, and Cape Verde, have specific visas that would suit most digital nomads.

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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Working as a freelancer in Austria is an attractive prospect for international residents. But the process might not be as easy as back home. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Anyone that has set up a business as a freelancer in Austria will know how confusing it can be. Especially if they are from countries like the UK and US where starting a business as a sole trader is fairly easy.

In Austria though, there are several steps to registering as self-employed, with limited information in English on how to navigate the process. 

So to help foreigners in Austria get started, we spoke to Vienna-based business consultant Miglena Hofer to break down the steps when registering as self-employed.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Austria?

Obtain a business licence (or not)

The first step to becoming self-employed in Austria is finding out if you need a business licence.

Sounds simple enough, right? But for those without strong German language skills, it can quickly become tricky.

Miglena Hofer told The Local: “There is a lack of information about the process in English, especially explanatory information. 

“In Austria there are also different types of self-employed people. The two main types are business owner and operator, and the new self-employed [such as writers, photographers].” 

“Almost everything requires a business licence in Austria. Even if you only intend to cover costs with your work, it still counts as a business.”

READ NEXT: ‘Brutal’: What it’s really like to learn German in Austria

The Ministry of Labour and Economics has a list of regulated trades that need a business licence in Austria (only available in German). Professions include electrician, hairdresser, florist and masseuse. 

If you do need a business licence, an application has to be submitted by the first day you plan to start working in your business. 

To apply for a licence, visit the Gewerbe­informations­system Austria (Business Information System Austria). This website has the option to translate the information into English.

Any professions that don’t require a business licence, like journalists, artists and teachers, are classed as new self-employed (Neu Selbständige) and can move on to the next steps.

Notify the tax office 

This involves filling in the form Verf24 and sending it to the tax office (Finanzamt) to inform them that you are self-employed. There is a deadline of four weeks after you have started operating for this part of the process.

You also have to make an appointment at the WKÖ (Austrian Economic Chamber) and become a member. This involves paying an annual fee (which varies depending on the type of business) and in some places, like in the Alps, you might have to pay a tourist tax.

However, finding information or help in English at this stage can be difficult, and business consultant Miglena advises anyone struggling to reach out for help.

FOR MEMBERS: Digital nomad visas: How does Austria compare with other countries?

She said: “Many Austrians refuse to give advice in English, which is a curious thing. This applies to all kinds of professional services, but it’s important that we are understood.

“I don’t want people to be afraid. I want to make starting a business in Austria easy. Once you know how to do it, it’s fine. But it’s easy to feel lost and be overwhelmed by legal German words.”

Set up social insurance

The final stage in the process is to register with SVS – the social insurance fund for self-employed people in Austria.

It is mandatory for everyone living in Austria to have social insurance (or comprehensive private health insurance). It gives people access to public health care and includes pension contributions.

Registering with SVS has to take place within four weeks from the date of starting a business. You will then receive an e-card (if you don’t already have one) and start paying social insurance bills on a quarterly basis.

The good news about SVS payments though is that they are tax deductible, so don’t forget to include them in your bookkeeping.

Useful vocabulary

Business registration – Gewerbeanmeldung

Business licence – Gewerbeschein

New self-employed – Neu Selbständige

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Tax – Steuer

Tax office – Finanzamt

Useful links

Austrian tax office

Business Information System Austria (GISA)

Social insurance

Self-employed in Austria

Ministry of Labour and Economy

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