Serbia is a Balkan country that attracts visitors from all around the world. The beauty of the country’s nature that arrests the eye, historic buildings in Belgrade, exciting hiking tours, and high-quality services are advantages that tourists can find in Serbia. The following fact, however, is probably the main attractive factor for those who visit Serbia: the lifestyle is comfortable enough in the country while the prices are considerably lower in Serbia in comparison to many other European countries.
While some people visit Serbia as tourists (most nationalities don’t need visas to enter the country), other people choose to relocate to Serbia. Legalizing your prolonged stay there is not a very difficult task, as Serbians are open to citizens of all foreign countries. There are several ways of obtaining a residence card in Serbia and most of them do not require any substantial investments.
On the other hand, if you are prepared to invest some money in Serbia, the required investment amount is not going to be large. One of the opportunities to acquire legal residence in Serbia is by purchasing some real property there. Now, the minimal cost of the house/ apartment is not specified in the legislation. Thus, you can buy something as tiny as a dollhouse on the condition that the place is livable.
This said, however, the Serbian authorities started to discuss some changes to the immigration-related legislation in 2022. Namely, the Foreigners Act and the Citizenship Act are likely to be amended in 2024. Below please find an incomplete list of changes to the legislation that are under consideration:
- Acquiring a work permit in Serbia is going to become simpler;
- Foreigners will be issued electronic ID cards (analogous to the ID cards that local residents hold);
- An application for residence permit extension can be filed on any day while the existing residence permit is still valid (more on it below);
- Residence permits issued to foreigners are going to be valid for three years instead of one;
- Permanent residence in Serbia will be granted after three years spent in the country instead of five;
- The procedures of obtaining legal residence in Serbia are going to be simplified for foreign investors and highly-qualified specialists;
- Fines for illegal stay in the country are going to increase;
- The visa run procedure (see below for more details) is going to become more burdensome.
As you can see, most of the changes are aimed at making Serbia easily accessible for foreigners. At the same time, the Serbian authorities are serious about enforcing the law. Let us consider some of the prospective changes to the Serbian immigration legislation in more detail.
Residence permit acquisition
Currently, applying for a residence permit, a work permit, and registering a company in Serbia takes two months or more. For example, the algorithm for the foreign entrepreneur looks as follows: open a company – acquire a residence permit – acquire a work permit.
According to the proposed changes, the new document is going to be called Uniform Work Permit and it will be issued within 15 days from the day of application. Besides, it is going to be available in the electronic form. The Uniform Work Permit will also serve as a legal residence permit.
ID cards for foreigners
Today, foreigners get stickers in their passports to certify their legal presence in Serbia. An electronic ID card is going to be much more convenient, of course.
Residence permit extension
At the moment, you have to file an application for residence permit extension at least 30 days prior to the expiration date on your current residence permit. If you are late with filing the application, a fine or some other sanctions will follow. The new residence rules in Serbia will allow applying for an extension as late as on the last day of the permit validity.
As far as student visas are concerned, nothing is going to change: a student visa holder is not eligible to apply for legal residence in Serbia after the classes are over. If a foreign student changes his/ her status, while attending college in Serbia (for example, if he/ she marries a Serbian citizen), the student can apply for legal residence. Please note, however, that only half of the study time is going to count towards the period required for obtaining citizenship of Serbia by naturalization.
Simplified requirements for qualified specialists and investors
In an attempt to attract a larger number of foreign investors and highly-qualified specialists, the Serbian authorities are planning to simplify the procedure of acquiring Serbian citizenship for these groups of people. If a foreigner works for a Serbian company or if he/ she is involved in active business operations in the country, he/ she can file an application for citizenship as early as one year after arriving to Serbia.
The fines are going to be increased not only for the foreigners but also for the rented property owners who fail to register the foreigners residing there.
Many nationalities can spend 30 or more days without visas in Serbia and the clock is set to zero every time the foreigner enters the country. Some foreigners do regular visa runs thus legalizing their stay in Serbia without filing any applications or doing any other paperwork. The visa-run opportunity is not exactly illegal but the Serbian authorities are getting no state duties and no other income from the foreigners legalizing their prolonged stay in the country in this way. So, they are not exactly happy about people doing visa runs.
For this reason, they are introducing a new requirement. In the near future, you will not be able to leave Serbia, walk around the checkpoint, and return after spending only a few minutes outside the country. Now you will have to spend at least 24 hours in another state to set the clock to zero again.
The amendments are planned to go into effect on February 1, 2024. There is still time and some additional proposals can be made. In any case, it is good news that the Serbian authorities are becoming even more open to foreigners. Serbia is a beautiful and tranquil country and it is certainly worth visiting if not relocating there.