Albania Rising: Europe’s Emerging Expat and Tax Haven?

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by Phillip Townsend for The Q Wealth Report

Not that long ago, Albania—a Balkan nation in southeastern Europe wedged between majestic mountain ranges and the Adriatic Sea—conjured memories of Stalinist isolation, endemic corruption and widespread poverty, a place mostly avoided by tourists, expatriates and PTs. But thanks to the combined effects of positive change, ambitious goals and a recent influx of cosmopolitan Albanians who have returned from self-imposed exile in Italy, Greece and beyond, it’s slowly making a name for itself as an expat- and tax-friendly destination.

With a vibrant, chaotic and haphazardly-planned capital (Tirana) that is littered with architectural relics of an Ottoman, Italian and communist past, this hospitable but economically deprived country has had the misfortune of being precariously close to what was one of the world’s most volatile regions (war-torn Yugoslavia). Even so, this majority Muslim country is emerging as an affordable refuge of sorts near the southern edge of Europe.

While jet-setters frolic in now-gentrified coastal Croatia and Montenegro, forward-looking would-be expats from Western Europe are trickling in to scout for seaside real estate in what could be the next Riviera; others are considering a life of urban pleasures in a capital that swapped its drab Soviet-style gray facade for a bright palate of primary colors.

Tirana’s old-fashioned eateries, coffee houses and raki (fruit brandy)-soaked taverns now share the sidewalks with trendy bars, fancy restaurants and stylish boutiques. Here, an apartment in a newly-built residential complex will set you back as little as $40,000. Outside the city, affordable real estate is drawing newcomers to places like the charming town of Saranda on the pristine Ionian Coast, a largely unspoiled stretch fringed by white-sand beaches. Here, in this underdeveloped Mediterranean, condos start at only $50,000.

But Albania has more to offer than a new attitude and rock-bottom property. It could be an option for those seeking to reduce their tax burden. With high-tax OECD nations like the U.S., UK, Australia and Germany dead-set on putting tax havens out of business—claiming they deprive their government coffers of billions in revenue and encourage money laundering and other illegal activity—Albania is quietly playing up its tax stance (generally a flat 10% on personal, corporate and capital gains earned within its borders). And the government is actively seeking to attract foreign investment while becoming even more taxpayer-friendly.

Although it’s unlikely the country will morph into an honest-to-goodness tax haven, as Albania finds ways to provide more tax relief and becomes wired into global financial networks it could offer many of the benefits without the official label—something that could keep it from being an object of special scrutiny, prompting opponents of low-tax jurisdictions to target the country as a conduit for dirty dollars and a lock box for renegade fortunes.

Only time will tell whether Albania will emerge as a popular refuge for globetrotters and their assets. For now, it’s an under-the-radar retreat offering an intriguing mix of tantalizing contradictions and new promise.

Note: Unfortunately, security requires a mention. While Albania is troubled by petty street crime, primarily pickpockets in day and more daring types after dark, the country is usually quite safe. The exception is area near the Kosovo border, a wild, often dangerous frontier (think armed gangs and scattered land mines) that should be avoided at all cost.

Stay tuned for a detailed expose of Albania by Phillip Townsend in a forthcoming issue of The Q Wealth Report.

Phillip Townsend, an international consultant and writer with close to 25 years’ experience in offshore and global lifestyle planning, authors a new blog on freedom, privacy and prosperity. Visit http://offshorelifestyle.blogspot.com

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