Dateline: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has to be one of the most charmingly beautiful places I’ve ever been.
As summer approaches, everyone here is gathering along the gorgeous promenades along the Ljublanijca River, where picturesque bridges meet gorgeous churches and waters with a slight green tint.
It feels like all of the charm of Bruges with a lower price tag.
On top of the country’s natural beauty, things here just seem to work. The supermarkets have sophisticated equipment that you’d be more likely to expect in Germany or the Netherlands. From restaurants to shops, things seem to be in order in a way you often don’t see in the former Yugoslav countries.
In short, living in Ljubljana doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
For all of its natural beauty, seeming efficiency, and pleasant people, the cost of living in Ljubljana is not dirt cheap compared to other countries in the Balkans.
For example, I looked at a one-bedroom apartment for 900 euros that was certainly livable, but not something you’d write home to mom about. Considering I pay less than $2,000 a month for a larger apartment in one of the top buildings in Malaysia – and considering this part of Europe is known for being even cheaper than Asia – it’s not the ultimate place to bootstrap your next business.
Because of its proximity next to Italy which put it on the front lines of the former Italy-Yugoslav rivalry, Slovenia is not the cheapest country to live in. Workers here earn salaries that are not half bad for the European Union on a whole.
Heck, the average worker here makes more than the average employee in Portugal.
Many of the average salaries in Europe won’t surprise you. It should come as no surprise, for instance, that my visit to Moldova last week confirmed that 200 euros might even be a bit generous for workers there, even as $1,000-a-month IT jobs are flooding into the tiny country.
I’m cautiously bullish on a number of European countries. Groups such as American right-wing politicians have given Europe such a black eye that many free marketeers like you and I have all but written it off.
It’s true the EU has it’s problems, but I’m convinced that many entrepreneurs could have great success running their business from Europe rather than from a beach in Thailand.
So much so that I am working on a book that will outline how to start a business, get residency, and get citizenship in a number of European countries much easier than you probably ever thought possible. Details to come on that later this summer.
For now, I wanted to share some interesting data on the average salary in European countries so you can get an idea of where you might want to go and live. If you have a business that requires hiring people, you can save a lot of money hiring in some of these countries.
The lowest salary countries in Europe
While membership in the European Union, or lack thereof, does not significantly impact salaries in the Balkans, the lowest cost places to hire workers in Europe are outside of the EU.
Ukraine: €120 per month. Ukraine is known for high-tech talent for development, coding, and server work. I recently shared how many of these better paid workers are moving to jobs in the western Ukraine town of Lviv, or are becoming digital nomads themselves and moving to places like Thailand. Workers staying in Ukraine are very affordable to hire.
Moldova: €218 per month. Similar to Ukraine and Romania next door, Moldova has a high concentration of tech talent. Some Romanian companies are outsourcing work to Moldova at half the cost. $1,000 a month is considered an excellent salary here considering most workers will never earn that much.
Macedonia: €354 per month. Macedonia is a small country to the south of Serbia, and while English is not spoken by all, the country is on the way up. A minimal investment in property can get you residency if you want to live in Skopje or the resort town of Ohrid in order to manage your staff.
Serbia: €363 per month. Belgrade is one of my favorite cities in the Balkans, and its status as the capital of the former Yugoslavia means young people have been migrating here from smaller towns for years. Serbia has decent talent for journalism, customer service, and even some tech work, and the country itself is perhaps the most livable on this list of cheap countries. A Serbian passport is a reasonably good travel document, as well.
Albania: €385 per month. I personally find Belgrade to be a more interesting city than Tirana, but Albania does have the advantage of plenty of coastline on the Adriatic Sea, including beach resorts like Durres. Albania has had a hard time gaining traction in a post-Yugoslavia environment, and entrepreneurs can expect the red carpet treatment as well as low taxes in the country.
Georgia: €428 per month. While not exactly part of Europe, Georgia is a country on the rise. I’m a big fan of the place as they have been transitioning into one of the most free market economies on the planet. Talent here is a little harder to find, but the government is among the easiest to deal with, taxes on small business can be as low as 5%, and the banks are excellent.
Russia: €496 per month. With the ruble having dropped like a stone lately, doing business in Russia could be attractive if you are looking for cheap tech talent or if you have plans to target a Russian-speaking audience. Russians are big fans of internationalization so there are bound to be opportunities. In addition, only three years of running a business in Russia can qualify you for Russian citizenship. Considering a shocking survey indicated that entirely 100% of Russian women applying for jobs experienced sexual harassment at some point, I imagine a more westernized, equality-based approach would make your prospects for finding employees good.
It should be noted that there is one EU country with salaries under €400 per month, and that’s Bulgaria. If you are looking for a residence permit with the prospect of future EU citizenship, it might be the right option for you.
Bulgaria: €346. With flat tax rates of only 10%, Bulgaria has the lowest headline tax rate in all of Europe: lower than Ireland and, if you run a cash-flow business, possibly cheaper than Estonia’s “0% tax rate”.
Romania: €423. Salaries in Romania and several other countries in the region are quoted as net, so you should be careful before offering an employee a certain amount before figuring out what both employer and employee social taxes will cost you. However, Romania is one of the most US-friendly countries for customer service workers as well as development. Almost every young person in Bucharest speaks excellent English and is used to dealing with US companies for a fraction of the price of hiring American workers.
Middle-lower salary countries in Europe
While I wouldn’t rule out setting up a customer service or blog writing operation in Romania, or outsourcing development to Moldova or Georgia, I do believe that you get what you pay for. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your business to the next level, paying a little more for work from an EU country might be the most hassle-free way to go.
Hungary: €514. Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and hiring as little as one employee can get you a residence permit here. Real estate is about as cheap as it gets and the city has a lot to offer. Not to mention that while Hungary’s government is run by a bunch of crazies, personal and corporate taxes there are rather low. English standards aren’t quite as good here, but Hungary is a great base to hire from as well as bring in workers from other eastern EU countries like Romania.
Lithuania: €554. While I find Vilnius a little drab and boring, Lithuania is doing quite well in getting European countries to move part of their operations within its borders. A recent study showed that Norwegian companies relocating to Vilnius were able to slash staffing costs by 80%; for every 1 worker they could hire in Norway, they could hire 5 in Lithuania. Taxes in Lithuania are moderately low, with small businesses paying as little as 5% and residence permits possible for those wishing to actually live there and run a business.
Latvia: €575. While Latvia’s entrepreneur and investor residence programs is harder to obtain and requires a substantial tax contribution to the country as you work towards Latvian citizenship, Riga is an excellent place to live and the country is heading in the right direction. From a strictly dollars and sense point of view, Lithuania is the better option, but Latvia is more livable and better connected to Europe.
Poland: €730. Poland is where Germany outsources much of its work to. In fact, Amazon’s main distribution centers for Germany are based in Polish cities such as Wroclaw. While the older generation in Poland seems to still harbor some attachment to the “good old days”, young Polish people are eager to look toward western Europe. Most of the youth I talked to while I was there complained they worked for little pay at multinational companies despite excellent English skills.
Czech Republic: €762. As part of central Europe, the Czech Republic is more expensive to hire in. However, the cost of living in Prague as well as Brno is surprisingly low considering how many tourists pass over the Charles Bridge every year. For me, Prague’s tourist status makes foreigners stick out in a bad way, but there is no denying the city is beautiful. If you need office staff and want to live in Prague, the residence permit process is harder than it used to be but still achievable.
Portugal: €985. Portugal is about as west as you can get in western Europe. While my parents and I recently reminisced about viewing Lisbon as almost third world in the 1990s, the place has improved as is quite livable these days. While Portugal has taken steps (and largely succeeded) to revive its broken real estate market with a Golden Visa program for investors, unemployment is still high and you can easily set up a company or merely hire Portuguese workers for your company based in a lower-tax EU jurisdiction.
Slovenia: €1,003. Everyone here in Ljubljana speaks English and the city is among the most green in Europe. The place oozes charm. I can’t say this would be my top choice to hire people or set up a company considering moderate tax rates and the higher cost of labor, but it’s an interesting conclusion to this list of many European countries with affordable labor.
Hopefully this list of the average salaries in Europe will inspire you to grow your business while planting new flags around the world. I have a number of friends who are moving from the Americas and Asia back to Europe to take advantage of a skilled workforce.
Add the fact that many lesser-known European countries are lowering taxes down to the EU minimum and you may want to consider planting a business flag in one of these countries.