Several countries are offering rural relocation incentives as the Covid-19 pandemic has made remote working more possible, the World Economic Forum reports.
The most popular recent example is in Italy where a village of just 115 residents offered more than €44,000 (R7.3 million) in relocation funding in 2020.
However, other countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Australia are now offering similar incentives to get people to move out of the hustle and bustle of the city, and bring their business and money to the countryside.
In 2020, Portugal launched a rural grant scheme called Emprego Interior MAIS (Inland Employment PLUS).
Workers moving to rural areas can apply for up to €4,827 funding. In most Portuguese villages, this would be enough to cover the annual rent on a small house, says the Financial Times. Applicants need to stay for at least a year.
In Ireland, the government unveiled a plan last year to attract workers to rural towns and villages as part of its Rural Future policy. It includes relocation grants and tax incentives for workers moving to rural areas.
Through a €1 billion Rural Regeneration Fund, the Irish government is also funding the creation of 400 remote working hubs in rural areas with high-speed internet access. These will be created by converting buildings like town halls, theatres and cinemas.
In southern Italy, the municipality of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a mediaeval village with 115 residents, launched a relocation scheme in 2020, including grants of up to €8,000 a year for three years.
The offer included a house for a “symbolic rent” and a non-repayable grant of up to €20,000 for an entrepreneurial start-up.
The municipality wanted to fight the “depopulation and desertification” of rural areas, it said. Of Santo Stefano di Sessanio’s 115 residents, 41 were over 65 and only 13 were under the age of 20, the municipality added.
Australia, the US and others
Vermont, a state in the northeastern United States, offers up to $7,500 to cover relocation expenses for workers moving there. Its schemes include the New Remote Worker Grant, for workers working remotely for an employer from a home office or co-working space in Vermont.
Australia also offers relocation assistance, including up to AUS$6,000 if you relocate to a regional area. Other places that have offered cash incentives to relocate there include Spain, Greece, Switzerland and Croatia.
South Africa’s remote work visa
While South Africa does not currently have any formal paid incentive schemes to get people to move to the countryside, government is working on a new ‘remote working visa’ which will encourage more people to work remotely from the country.
Remote-working visa are travel permits that legalise the status of travelling professionals. Like tourist visas, they are easy to obtain and do not require long paperwork and a work contract. However, they allow for longer stays.
Announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa in his state of the nation address, the visa forms part of a push by government to attract more skilled workers, and their money, to the country.
The move has been welcomed by the City of Cape Town which stands to see significant benefits from the visa.
“Working tourists tend to spend up to R50,000 during their stay, which has the potential to add up to a significant boon for the economy,” said the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee member for economic growth, James Vos. “This revenue reaches multiple industries, including educational institutions, transport, accommodation, retail, and restaurants.”
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