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EMPLOYMENT

Remote workers wanted as investors target Italy’s ‘smart working’ villages

The Italian villages hoping to entice remote workers with financial incentives are set to receive a boost as international business has its sights set on Italy for startups and sustainable development. Will there soon be more opportunity to work in Italy with just a laptop and an internet connection?

The pandemic has seen Italy jumping on the remote working trend, known as lavoro agile or ‘smart working‘ in Italian.

Remote work was rare in Italy before lockdown restrictions forced many companies to change how they do business, with just a few thousand people working from home at the end of 2019.

Since this mode of working has “exploded”, according to a recent study, thousands of villages across Italy have taken it as an opportunity to attract remote workers and reverse the trend of declining populations.

READ ALSO: Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

This shift in Italian working culture hasn’t gone unnoticed.

A new initiative called Startup Villages has been launched to promote villages in Italy as an ideal destination for startups and encourage “reverse migration”.

Noting that the “pandemic has proved remote work is possible” and that “villages across the globe are struggling to retain residents”, some entrepreneurs have gathered to take advantage of the possibility to relocate to Italy’s depopulated villages.

The organisation’s founder, Dr. Tausuf Malik, noted that some of the financial incentives worked – but didn’t boost the towns’ economies as hoped.

Many people bought and refurbished the homes they purchased in these Italian villages, but guess what, the majority of them were holidays homes and this didn’t trigger economic activity,” he said.

Seeing an opportunity, Malik worked with business partners to pitch the idea to mayors of towns across Italy, focusing on startup development instead of attracting holidaymakers with the €1 house deals.

Malik’s Italian colleague Dr. Stefan Valente said, “Our villages are our heritage and pride, and through this programme, we would take our villages into the future with sustainable & holistic development.”

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One issue in these locations is often internet connection. Before the pandemic, Italy wasn’t well known for its digital agility, and many people who move to the country noted the widespread internet connectivity problems.

However, some Italian towns are seeking to improve that and are also offering financial help to those willing to move in and set up as remote workers.

This latest initiative plans to take it one step further by creating “a sustainable ecosystem and environment for the economic development of the villages in Italy”.

The aim is to “create unique startups and take Italy to the next level – and achieve what Silicon Valley did to the American Startup ecosystem,” the organisation stated.

For now, agreements are being reached with towns, with a summit scheduled next year.

Meanwhile, thousands of individual Italian villages are already making their own plans to increase wifi provision and enable people to move there for work.

Here are some of them.

Photo by Viviana Rishe on Unsplash

READ ALSO: Could Italy’s abandoned villages be revived after the coronavirus outbreak?

Calabria

The southern region of Calabria has an increasing amount of emptying villages that the authorities want to revitalise, offering up to a substantial €28,000 to those willing to move there.

There are nine villages on the list in total – four are located in the north of the province of Cosenza. They include Aieta, Albidona, Civita and San Donato di Ninea.

Three further villages are in the province of Reggio Calabria: Bova, Samo and Sant’Agata del Bianco, with the final two municipalities in the province of Crotone – Caccuri and Santa Severina.

Naturally, there are terms and conditions to the deal – which varies among the villages participating in these schemes across Italy.

READ ALSO: Community cooperatives: the small Italian towns taking charge of their own future

A village in Calabria. Photo: David Alfons on Unsplash

In the case of these nine villages in Calabria, the small print is that you must be under 40 years old and willing to start a small business there.

There’s also a timeline – if your application is approved, you must be willing to move there within 90 days.

Gianluca Gallo, Calabria’s councillor for agriculture, said in an interview that the funds could either be given in the form of a monthly salary or as a lump sum if the business required it.

“So far we’ve had great interest and hopefully, if this first plan works, more villages will follow in the next few years,” he stated.

Tuscany

Santa Fiora in the Maremma area, is often described as the first ‘smart working village’ by Italian media.

It currently has around 2,500 residents and is still offering up to €200 or 50% of the average monthly rent for long-term stays, in a bid to counter its declining population.

The town council has launched a website to help would-be residents find their ideal home and you’ll have to prove that you’re actually going to work there, not just use it as a holiday base.

The village says it’s ready to accept newcomers to carry out their jobs remotely, with newly installed high-speed fibre. Details on how to apply can be found here.

READ ALSO: Digital divide: The parts of Italy still waiting for fast wifi

Montepulciano, Tuscany. Not a bad view from the office. Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

And this entry is likely to raise a few eyebrows in interest – Montepulciano, in the province of Siena, known for its breathtaking views and superb wine, is also a smart working hub.

It was the founding location of a startup called Smartway, which was set up to help remote workers find an Italian town to base themselves and live out the ‘dolce vita‘ remote working dream.

Basilicata

Latronico in the province of Potenza is nicknamed ‘the city of well-being’ thanks to its clean air and many green areas.

Mayor Fausto De Maria’s offer to smart workers exploits exactly that advantage.

“Do you live in a city and will you be doing smart work? Then why don’t you come and live in our Latronico during these months!” he wrote on Facebook.

“Lots of greenery, clean air, and lots of good things. Houses for rent and/or sale can also be found on our municipality’s website,” he added.

READ ALSO: ‘This is where I want to be’: The growing number of young Italians choosing life on the farm

Molise

The town of Castropignano is one of thousands taking part in the €1 house scheme, on offer to smart workers and foreign tourists.

Abandoned houses in the historic centre are on sale for the symbolic price of €1, as long as you commit to renovate the property.

Although the municipality may be using the ‘smart working’ keyword to help sell these old properties, as no further details are given to help those who specifically move there to work remotely.

You can find out more about the scheme here.

READ ALSO:

A surrounding village of Rieti. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Lazio

Rieti near Rome offers a smart working village much less remote than thousands of other options.

It currently has around 50,000 inhabitants, but the population has stopped growing and the council wants to reinvigorate its prospects.

The municipality is offering people help with property rent and can be extended beyond the initial six months offer.

If you’re a freelancer, you simply need to describe your work. Or if you have an employer willing to let you relocate and move to Italy to do your work from there, you’ll need a letter to prove it.

You can find out more and how to apply here.

As more and more towns are offering schemes to attract remote workers – and with international investors now setting their sights on Italy for smart working development – will Italy be ready?

Although infrastructure still needs to be put in place, the government has made plans to increase the amount of high speed fibre throughout the country, in line with the European Union’s goal to rollout fast internet to some 202 million homes across the bloc.

Find out all the latest property news in our weekly property roundup.

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BUREAUCRACY

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy is bringing in new rules from July that mean changes for freelancers on the 'flat tax' rate. Here’s what you need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’, or digital invoicing system.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy has been slowly moving more of its bureaucratic systems online in recent years, and in many cases this has made it quicker and easier for residents to access services and get their considerable amounts of Italian life admin in order.

It was hoped that the new electronic invoicing rule would do the same for freelancers on Italy’s flat-tax regime, by doing away with the existing need to print out invoices and affix tax stamps by hand.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

But a close look at the details of the new rules shows that it probably won’t make life easier for those on the flat tax rate, who have so far been spared the bulk of that infamous Italian red tape – but now need to get to grips with a new online system.

Known as the ‘regime forfettario‘, Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses was introduced in 2015 to encourage more commercial activity by slashing tax rates and simplifying bureaucracy.

New freelancers who choose this tax system generally pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on earnings, regardless of overheads.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Italy’s five percent flat tax for freelancers

Little has changed since its inception seven years ago, but freelancers using the scheme now need to be aware of new rules coming into force from July 1st, 2022.

How you invoice – how you send, receive and store receipts, therefore – is due to move from analogue to digital, bringing new requirements and know-how on digital invoicing software.

Here’s what’s changing for freelancers with the so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘.

Who is required to send electronic invoices?

While this was already a requirement for the self-employed on other tax regimes, those on the flat tax rate will now be included from July 1st.

They were previously exempt, but that changed under the PNRR (National recovery and resilience plan or piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza) – the Italian government’s plan for using EU funding for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital invoicing is intended to fight Italy’s major problem with tax evasion, as well as to further automate accounting processes.

For now, not all freelancers under this tax scheme need to move to digital accounting – only those who received an income in excess of €25,000 in the previous year are required to comply with the new rule.

It will then extend to all freelancers using the flat-rate scheme from January 1st, 2024.

From that date, everyone subscribed to the ‘regime forfettario’ will have to switch to electronic invoicing and there are hefty penalties in place for those who don’t.

How will electronic invoices work?

Italy’s tax authority has defined a couple of notable differences between the digital or electronic invoice (fattura elettronica) and a paper invoice (fattura di carta) in its updated guidelines.

Firstly, the digital invoice has to be created using a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone), and secondly it has to be sent to the client via an ‘Interchange System’, the so-called Sistema di Interscambio (SdI).

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme is going digital. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This electronic postal system checks whether the invoice contains the required data for tax purposes, as well as checking the verified e-address (or the so-called PEC address) of the recipient.

In doing so, the electronic invoice automatically checks that the VAT number (partita IVA), or the tax code (codice fiscale) depending on who you send the invoice to, really exist.

Once the checks are completed, the system sends the invoice to the client, which will trigger an alert to the freelancer with a delivery receipt, showing the date and time the document was delivered.

How can you send an e-invoice?

There are a few accounting software options on the market if you’re now faced with having to send electronic invoices.

Some charge a fee of around €1-€4 per month or come at a cost per transaction.

Platforms such as ‘Aruba‘ or ‘Fatture in Cloud‘, are competitive and may offer you a free trial before you deciding to buy.

The Italian revenue agency (Agenzie delle Entrate) has also created free-of-charge services to help send and receive e-invoices. These include websites as well as apps for completing the required steps, which are detailed in their guide here.

You can access their Invoices and Receipts (‘Fatture e Corrispettivi‘) portal to benefit from these free services.

You’ll either need a Spid ID (‘Sistema Pubblico dell’Identità Digitale‘), a Carta Nazionale dei Servizi (CNS) or accounting credentials known as Fisconline/Entrate, which are issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate.

You can also delegate this task to an intermediary, such as an accountant (commercialista) who would do this on your behalf, the revenue agency stipulates 

What about the Italian tax stamp?

Until now, freelancers issuing invoices under the ‘regime forfettario‘ have had to attach a €2 stamp, called a ‘marca da bollo’, to every invoice over the value of €77,47.

So what happens when e-receipts go digital and you can’t physically stick a stamp on a document? Well, that goes digital too and the Inland Revenue has issued a 16-page guide on how you need to go about it.

It seems the previously attractive ‘light’ accounting of this regime is about to get bogged down by time-consuming bureaucracy too.

Authorities will systematically check that the fee has been paid each quarter for all the invoices that require it.

As a general rule, you can see if there are any discrepancies by the 15th day of the first month following each quarter on their Invoices and Receipts portal.

You or your intermediary have until the end of that month to fix any accounting errors, but make sure to check with an accountant if you have any difficulties or need specific advice for your personal circumstances.

Once you receive your final stamp duty bill for each quarter, you can pay either via IBAN, which you set up on the portal, or by filling out an electronic F24 form – details of how to do that are included in the guide.

For further information and FAQ’s, see Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency website on the electronic invoice here.

Please note The Local cannot advise on personal cases and seeking expert financial advice is recommended.

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