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Italy approves ‘digital nomad’ visa for remote workers

For 'highly qualified' remote workers planning to base themselves in Italy, a new visa option is soon expected to offer an easier route.

Italy approves ‘digital nomad’ visa for remote workers
With remote working more common than ever due to the pandemic, Italy is making special visa provisions. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

After weeks of speculation and doubt, the Italian ‘digital nomad visa’ was approved and signed into law this week according to lawmakers.

Italy now looks set to join EU countries including Germany and Portugal in offering a special visa allowing remote workers to move to Italy from outside the European Union.

READ ALSO: What do we know so far about Italy’s digital nomad visa?

A provision for a new digital nomad visa was included in Italy’s ‘decreto sostegni ter‘, a government decree which was approved in January and converted into law on March 28th.

It’s hoped that the new digital nomad visa will mean a far easier route to a new life in Italy than the current visa options available, which immigration experts say are not always viable for freelancers and remote workers.

While it is possible for many non-EU nationals to spend up to 90 days in Italy without a visa, anyone wishing to work legally while here must apply for a visa and work permit

However, with the details of the new visa still to be confirmed, it’s not yet clear how much easier the new route will be.

“We are happy to have approved the proposal but we are also aware of the next steps. The government has to work on a new bill to implement the law, defining all the procedures and details,” Five Star Movement MP Luca Carabetta, who promoted the digital nomad visa, told The Local.

“We worked all along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this and we are sure they will lead this process,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to get an Italian work visa

This means it could still be some time until the Italian government publishes full details of the visa application process and requirements.

The text of the bill stated that the visa will be for those “who carry out highly qualified work activities through the use of technological tools that allow them to work remotely, autonomously or for a company that is not resident in the territory of the Italian state.

As for who counts as a “highly qualified” worker, financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore writes that this category includes everyone “from university professors to circus employees, seafarers and professional nurses”.

Il Sole said that these professionals will not be subject to the restrictions on the number of work permits issued annually under Italy’s decreto flussi (the foreign workers’ quota), but that “their entry is in any case subject to the issue of a work permit which must be requested by their employer”.

Carabetta said the approval provides for “the establishment of a dedicated visa and permit lasting one year, which can be extended for a further year and can be extended to the family unit of the remote worker”.

Application looks set to entail a minimum income requirement, though the amount is not yet known.

According to Carabetta, “Requirements for the remote worker are the availability of suitable accommodation, adequate income, health insurance, and a clean criminal record.”

Existing visa options available to non-EU remote workers moving to Italy include the self-employment visa, intra-company visa, and the EU Blue Card. Find out more about those here.

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WORKING IN ITALY

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

Italy offers favourable tax rates to those who decide to work for themselves - but is it ever that simple? We weigh up the pros and cons of the flat-rate tax for new freelancers.

EXPLAINED: The pros and cons of Italy's five percent flat tax for freelancers

It’s an aspiration for many – move to Italy and work remotely, generating an income from wherever you like with just a laptop and a phone.

Or perhaps you have an entrepreneurial flair and want to try out a small business idea that will enable you to realise your living-in-Italy dreams.

Whichever way you decide to go freelance in Italy, you’ll need to carefully consider your paperwork and the best tax strategy for your circumstances. (Find out more about going self-employed in Italy here.)

One increasingly popular route is to work under the ‘regime forfettario’: an attractive flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses, introduced in 2015.

The idea was to create a financially desirable and more straightforward way to work for yourself, cutting down on Italian red tape as well as your tax bill.

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

This flat-rate tax scheme simplifies accounting and so, theoretically, frees you up to do more of your job and less of balancing the books. That means no counting receipts for how many pens you bought or calculating how many miles you drove to meetings to off-set your taxes.

The scheme hasn’t changed much in 2022 following this year’s Legge di Bilancio’ (Budget Law), rolling on most its requirements from last year.

Whether it’s right for you, however, will depend on various factors.

Let’s start with its advantages:

You pay less in taxes

This is the main attraction in lights – you keep more of what you earn and the taxman gets a smaller slice of your hard-earned pie.

In broad terms and depending on your situation, you could pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on your earnings, regardless of what your working overheads are.

Tax rates are considerably lower under the regime forfettario. (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

Compared to the standard personal income rates as an employee, known as ‘IRPEF’ (Imposta sui Redditi delle Persone Fisiche), as detailed by the Agenzia delle Entrate (Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency), this is an alluring tax rate.

The range of taxes you’d pay if you worked for a company fall between 23 percent to 43 percent of your gross earnings.

READ ALSO: Remote workers: What are your visa options when moving to Italy?

That difference in tax percentages is exactly what the government intended with this regime; to attract more individuals and small businesses to start their own commercial activity.

The lowest five percent tax rate is for new business activity and lasts for five years.

That means if you’re starting up as a freelancer in Italy, you’re granted this temptingly low flat-rate tax on your turnover as long as your self-employment isn’t an extension of a business you carried out previously.

After that, it goes up to 15 percent, which is still comparatively low to the standard Irpef income brackets.

Your job may be eligible for further beneficial tax rates

The tax you pay isn’t a simple blanket sum of five percent (or fifteen percent) of what you earn. Rather, it depends on the work you do. Taxable income will change depending on whether you’re working as a self-employed teacher or if you’re working in hospitality, for instance.

You determine your taxable income by applying what accountants call a ‘profitability coefficient’. 

Different professions have different tax considerations under this regime. Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash.

In simple terms, each professional group has a different ‘ATECO’ code (income code) and a corresponding percentage of what they earn that can be taxed.

READ ALSO: Q&A: What do we know so far about Italy’s digital nomad visa?

The table below is an abbreviated version of the existing ATECO codes. A teacher must pay tax on 78 percent of their gross earnings, but computer engineers have it better at 67 percent.

For a teacher, therefore, that means you’d pay 5 percent on 78 percent of your earnings. In other words, if you earned €30,000 per year, 78 percent of that is taxable.

If you run an e-commerce business, for example, only 40 percent of your earnings are subject to tax.

For a full list of ATECO codes, see here.

Example of some ATECO codes for working as self-employed in Italy. Photo: Accounting Bolla

However, in reality you’d be paying even less tax than that as your ‘INPS’ (‘Istituto nazionale della previdenza sociale’) contributions are deducted first.

These are social welfare contributions to cover you for events such as sick leave, pensions and maternity benefits and this tax regime doesn’t reduce the amount of contributions you pay.

For 2022, the calculation of INPS contributions in the flat-rate scheme varies according to the type of work activity you do. To get a vague idea of how much this will come to, the usual rate is 25.72 percent – it’s advised you speak to an accountant (commercialista) to find out how much you’d need to pay.

Then, your tax is calculated on your earnings minus this amount, meaning you pay even less in taxation.

It’s flexible and light on paperwork

Anything that cuts down on Italian bureaucracy is an undisputed advantage and this freelance regime offers exactly that.

To access the scheme, you need to obtain a ‘partita IVA’ (VAT number) and select ‘Regime Forfettario’ as your method of paying tax.

As noted, the flat-rate tax scheme makes the accounting side simpler and setting up as a freelancer under this regime is much more straightforward than other routes.

READ ALSO: Doing business in Italy: The essential etiquette you need to know

You don’t need to keep purchase receipts or track what you’ve bought for the company to off-set your taxes. That’s the whole point of this scheme: it’s a flat-rate tax with less red tape.

Not having to add up your petrol expenses or inputting the cost of paper clips into a spreadsheet might be incentive enough to encourage you to start up your own business in Italy.

You also don’t need to charge VAT on invoices, so that means you don’t need to complete an annual VAT return. What’s more, you have a competitive edge in the market as you won’t need to add VAT for your clients.

But of course you’ll need to be aware that the VAT exemption goes both ways. So, just as you don’t charge VAT, you can’t claim back the VAT you spend on IT equipment, stationery or any other business-related costs.

This is just one flip-side that might make you consider whether, in the end, this regime is for you.

Let’s take a look at the disadvantages of the scheme.

You can’t off-set your taxes

VAT aside, if you have a lot of business overheads, this regime might not turn out to be as financially viable as you hoped.

home working

Consider how much your overheads come to in determining whether this tax scheme is right for you. Photo: Firmbee / Pixabay

Another tax scheme might be better suited to you if you have a lot of outgoings related to doing your job, which would allow you to deduct your expenses from the tax you pay.

However, if you work from home and only need a laptop and a phone, the regime forfettario is a good option.

Its bureaucracy is getting more complex

How freelancers need to invoice clients changes from July, as the authorities move more services online and slowly do away with physical paperwork.

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

The so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘ (e-invoice) should be an advantage of the tax regime in theory, making admin quicker and easier.

However, on closer inspection, the updated rules on digital invoicing seem to place a greater burden on freelancers who now need to understand a new online system.

Not only do those self-employed on this scheme need to migrate to digital accounting, they also need to navigate what appears to be a tricky process of attaching electronic tax stamps (‘marca da bollo’) to any invoice exceeding €77.47, up until now done by physically sticking a stamp on the document.

For full details on the new rules and who it applies to, see our guide here.

There’s a limit on how much you can earn

You don’t qualify for the regime forfettario if you make more than €65,000 from self-employment in any given year. This can be generated from one activity or different income sources.

Therefore, if your business plans and projections look to exceed this level of earnings, you may be better looking at a different incentive on offer for earners above this threshold.

However, there is a workaround depending on where you get your income from. You can actually have a position of employment alongside freelancing, meaning that you can still earn €65,000 annually at the same time as getting a wage from an employer.

READ ALSO: Freelance or employee: Which is the best way to work in Italy?

You can earn up to €30,000 per year as an employee, meaning you’re allowed to make €95,000 annually and still be on this regime – €65,000 of that would remain on the low flat-tax rate for your freelance work.

There’s a cap on previous earnings

You’re not eligible for this regime if you earned more than €30,000 in the previous year from employment. So, depending on your previous position and income, you may not be allowed to take advantage of the scheme.

There is an exception to this, though – if your employment ended in the previous year, you can still apply.

For more information on the criteria and exceptions, see Italy’s Inland Revenue (Agenzia delle Entrate) page in English.

You can’t freelance for your previous employer solely

You might feel it’s more financially advantageous to go freelance instead of being on the payroll of your employer.

However, this regime prohibits you from doing this if you have no other clients.

If you can drum up business from elsewhere though, you are allowed to work for your previous employer and charge them invoices instead of getting a paycheck.

Of course, they will no longer pay some of your INPS contributions if you choose this route and this will instead all fall to you.

It’s worth noting that you also can’t already have a business in the same professional field.

Whether this way of freelancing in Italy is right for you overall depends on your personal circumstances and speaking to a financial expert is advised.

Useful Italian vocabulary:

Agenzia delle Entrate – The Italian revenue agency/tax office.

Partita Iva – An Italian VAT number, required to set up as self-employed.

Codice ATECO – an income code, assigned to each type of professional with a Partita IVA, which determines how much of your income is taxable.

Marca da bollo – The Italian tax stamp you need to attach when submitting paperwork. These have varying prices depending on the type of document, and are available from tobacconists (tabacchi). 

IRPEF – ‘Imposta sui Redditi delle Persone Fisiche’, income tax paid by individuals.

INPS – ‘Istituto nazionale della previdenza sociale’, Italy’s social security and pensions agency.

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