My guest is Skirty Sino, a Brand Development Manager and Business Development Manager for Native Teams, which is an up-and-coming EOR platform that is the preferred partner of Citizen Remote. He’s a very outspoken advocate for Albania and the Balkan region in general, a huge remote work advocate as well, specifically how it can benefit underdeveloped countries and communities around the world.
What is Albania like?
We have been blessed with beautiful nature, so we have the sea, but we also have mountains. We have different cultures within the country because we have the Greek influence, we have the Italian influence, and we have also, in the north, another cultural inference. So you can see so much in Albania. What differs from our neighboring countries and when I say neighboring I mean the western Balkan countries is that we have a combined culture from the influence that we have from the countries we actually migrated to. So we have Italian food. Remember, when we had that dinner, the CEO of Native Teams told me that that was the best Italian dinner he had ever had, and actually he was in Tirana, at an Italian restaurant, of course. So for everyone that wants to visit a country where they need to find everything and anything that they need, Albania certainly might pop up first on the list as far as Europe goes.
How has Tirana (and Albania) changed over the years?
Most of the people who live nearby know that we were the longest-standing communist country left and we were the last ones to actually take out communism in the year 1990. I was born in 1996; the first years of our life were pretty difficult. We had a civil war in the year 1997 with gangs killing each other and basically everyone had a Kalashnikov in their homes. So growing up into the early 2000s wasn’t very easy. Things weren’t very established, there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure, safety and a lot of people actually migrated. So the young people went off to Italy, England, Switzerland, and Greece. Who remained here were the children and some of the old people, and just a low percentage of people who could take the country forwards. We had a very bad political situation but we’re continuing growing and with the help of people who actually were in the diaspora we started to slowly but surely grow in a nice way and came to this day.
I’ve visited a lot of capital cities in Europe, but Tirana has nothing to envy them. Of course, a lot of things could be better where we need to actually develop and that’s where remote work could give us everything that we need. The cities outside of Tirana are slowly dying. I’m talking about the cities that don’t have a coastline because Durres, Vlore, Saranda, Leja, and Shkodra have a coastline. So they have an economy because of tourism, but the other cities are slowly dying because of the people who are actually leaving. Albania unfortunately holds a negative record in Europe right now for the young generation migrating. Before it wasn’t a problem because we weren’t actually shipping the brain, but right now it’s a problem because we are shipping doctors, engineers – we are shipping the elite, the quality people.
How can you solve the brain drain and create opportunities for economic growth?
Two words: remote work. Remote work for us is a real fight for survival. The main reason Albanian youngsters are leaving the country is an economic one because we have one of the lowest minimal salaries in Europe. I need to double-check it because it just changed, but it’s about three hundred and eighty euros, so still very low. We have very skilled people and when they go out of the country, they move very fast along the steps of their careers. So they are good, hardworking and very skilled people. But on the Albanian market, the salaries are not competitive and, considering that we are a country that imports 99% of things, things here are not cheap. When we are talking about luxury like eating out in restaurants and drinking, we are on the cheaper side in Europe. However, when we are talking about the market prices or when you go and get pasta, rice, and things that the family needs to survive, we are not on the low end, I can assure you. We are maybe in the high end because we import everything we don’t actually produce here. So this has put us in a rough spot.
Young people in Albania do not see living here as the best option, but they see remote work as a way that they can get a European salary by working in Albania. And if you do that, you pay less taxes. You are very, very happy with what you get, especially for cities outside of Tirana, because they have the biggest drainage. They are only left with old people, who are kept by their children who are out of the country. They just send them money via Western Union. They have no vitality. The land is not producing anything because the land needs actually young people’s strength to work the fields.
But if we execute right what we should, which would be to give the young generations a blueprint to work remotely for international companies, we would have the advantage. A software engineer in the US will cost you 150k while a very good software engineer here would cost you 50k. So for the first time in the world with globalization, small countries like ours with a good tax system might have the upper hand if we all push in this direction. If it’s only me and a couple of other guys, probably nothing good is going to happen to everyone. We need to have a full-scale plan to tackle this, but I’m optimistic for the future.
How affordable is life in Albania? What is living in Albania like?
As far as digital nomads, remote workers, and foreigners who come to visit for tourism, the prices for them are actually perfect all the time. It is so cheap for them. It is also very safe. Actually, we have a bad rep all over Europe, but I can guarantee you it’s very safe. We haven’t had a case of tourists having a bad experience in years and years.
The people are friendly. Everyone speaks English, Italian and other languages, like Spanish. Maybe they will not reply to you in the right way, but they will understand almost everything you say. There’s Greek, Italian, and Balkan cuisine. You have rakia, which is booze, that you only can get in the Balkans. There are different kinds of rakia – from every fruit known to men. We can make that and we are very hospitable. And I’m not saying that because I’m Albanian because I have a lot of critiques for the country. But one of the good things that I’ve seen is that we go the extra mile to actually please foreigners. We go the extra mile. We love to escort them to some place they need, to show them the way, to actually provide them with something. You know, those things that a good host does.
Are people coming back to Albania?
We have two generations of people who actually migrated. The first one was from the period 1990-2000. They weren’t like skilled workers. They just left the country to actually find a better living because times were very grim here. And we have the new generation which migrated. They are skilled professionals. They have done very well in very big companies worldwide. They even work for Facebook, Google, Apple, and so on, and they are actually returning to open their businesses here. We have a very disciplined workforce in the Balkans. I also want to give a shoutout to the whole region because we as Native Teams, as a compan, have people from everywhere working with us. I have colleagues from Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Everyone is hardworking and we get along very well with each other although the Balkan countries have some problems with each other. This is not the case with us, which is the young generation. We love working with each other, exploring each other’s countries. We always get together, either in Serbia, either in Macedonia, hopefully in Albania next year, and we have the same problems actually. One time we were at the company retreat. We were chatting. It was our co-founder, Nikola, who is from Macedonia, our Chief of Revenue, Igor, and me, the Albanian. We were discussing the countries’ problems and we just discovered that they were the same. So we just kept laughing because the three of us were drinking rakia and we had the same problems.
And why all of this? Mostly it is politics that is causing tension between the people because the people themselves love each other. We love the countries, we want to explore, we are citizens of the world, we don’t care about anything and we just want to be chill with it.
What is the future like for Albania?
I do see a very, very good future for Albania in terms of what we can achieve, but you need to know that isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because, from what I’m seeing, we are projected to be some sort of Balkan Dubai. With what is being built in Durres, Vlore, the cities which have a coastline, with the type of investors, with people who are actually coming to do some money laundering here, a posh lifestyle is being built for some people, and then this very grim one for others. So if we, who are the young generation and have access and the information and the right friends, colleagues, or mentors, do not act very fast then probably we might lose our identity soonish.
What is an EOR and what do Native Teams do?
It’s an employer of record – the real definition of the word. I’m going to make it very simple for everyone to actually understand it. We help you hire worldwide. What does it mean to hire worldwide? You know, to hire in some countries, you would probably need to have a proper employment agreement. You will probably need to have an entity. To open an entity, you need to physically be there, open a bank account, have a residency, and all of the bureaucratic processes that are needed in this day and age. What we do provide you, so what native teams do to help companies grow at a faster pace and to help you really manage your budget by managing where are you hiring your employees, is that actually, we have the entities in all of the countries where you want to hire and you hire employees through us. We also have this fantastic platform where you can do everything in terms of payroll, HR management, and everything else, where you can see your employees and make sure that they are feeling all right. And this would enable you as a CEO, let’s say as a company, to have different strategies in mind when you are hiring. Let’s say that you are hunting for a business development manager, you have a budget of 65k and you are a US Silicon Valley-based company. You have like 65-100k – I don’t know what’s the salary range in Silicon Valley, but it’s pretty high. So what you can do is actually you can multiply what you are hiring by 10 or 12 and you can hire 12 people in the Balkans. And I’m talking about experienced people who have actually done sales and development for the last five to seven years and who have actually worked last in Fortune 500 companies. We have people here who have done that and at the same time, you can save on the salaries.
Let me be a little selfish here because I want every employer to take a look at the Balkans for employees because I truly believe that the work ethic, the skill set, and the hunger (because an employee needs to be a little hungry to get things done) is unmatched.
What does utilizing the services of a traditional EOR look like for a business owner or a freelancer?
The biggest step you have to take is always the first – to actually contact Native Teams. Contact me and I’m going to pave the way. But once you confirm a couple of data for the employee that you want to hire, things go pretty easy because we will manage everything for you. That’s why you pay the EOR fee because we are offering you the full service. We will draft your employee contracts, we will do the monthly payroll, and we will provide you with the salary breakdowns, so you will just see what’s happening. We will provide you with all the information. You don’t have to do anything, of course, besides paying the invoice when we send it, because that’s a very important part of the process. But everything is managed by Native Teams.
We offer one of the best customer success solutions because our employees are distributed in all of the countries and we speak a lot of languages. We know a lot of in-country problems, because, of course, I can speak English, but do I really know the problems in the US? I can do some research, but I’m not living there, so maybe you want to speak with a US citizen who knows what’s happening. So we do have this solution for everyone. If you are calling and you are a concerned Albanian citizen, I will reply to you right away. I’m going to tell you that I know that the legislation changed, but we can help you like this and this and that. So this is an extra mile that we have actually walked, and the process is not only easy to manage for the employers or for the companies who want to opt on this, but it is also less headache. Because if you are a software development company, why the hell would you worry about actual payroll placement, mobility, compliance, and so on? You want to do software development. You do what you’re good at, let us handle everything and you focus your 100% on actually developing and selling software, and I guarantee you that your results will be very high. And you will not have to do layoffs if you are hiring with a good strategy, because right now we are in a time of layoff and the CFOs should pay close attention to this. If you are having to, let’s say, save up 300k per year, but you need to save this by cutting people off, there might be a better solution. So you just don’t cut people off, but you replace them in another location where you can actually afford that. So this is a good time for CFOs to actually show how much they are worth their salt, because they can keep the numbers high by actually saving money at the same time.
What’s the difference between an EOR and a digital nomad visa?
Digital nomads, or slomads, are people who are not going to stay forever in one place, so they will actually move. So for them to establish a tax residency in one country and then establish that in another, might be a very difficult process. So some of them might see the possibility of keeping the tax residency in one country only and moving freely as European Union citizens do. They can move along the way. I’m pretty sure that for US citizens is not so difficult to travel and so on.
As far as the EOR service for freelancers if we’re speaking about freelancers, we need to tackle this as an opportunity. What Native Teams has done and this is one of the biggest things that surprised me about the company and why I was very excited to join in, was that Native Teams has provided all the freelancers with the possibility to actually get employed, to declare taxes, to do everything, and to get benefits that they might need. Because employees have a lot of benefits, whereas free professionals in a lot of countries do not have so many benefits. They cannot get a loan, they can barely get a credit card, mortgages are very difficult, and leasing is very difficult because you are not considered safe if you are not working within the system.
So what Native Teams has provided freelancers with is an opportunity to have employment status and, through this employment status, to gain all the benefits that you have that a normal employee would have. But at the same time, you are a freelancer, you are a nomad, so you can do whatever you like with your time. You just enter the system to actually have these facilities. So, in terms of digital nomads, I would opt for them to have a payment solution where they actually can send invoices, so they can gather their earnings, they can declare their earnings in the country that they have the tax residency in and they can choose the country, because there are a lot of countries, like, for example, Albania, which can provide you with a very good system. You pay less for taxes here and then you can travel the world freely without having any problems.
Can you find jobs via Native Teams?
One thing I wanted to clarify is that in the Native Teams platform, you cannot find any jobs, but we are partnered up with a lot of remote work, job hubs, and job sites. We want to be partners with them. We don’t want to get their work. We are not trying to go into that front. We want to develop a friendly remote work ecosystem in every country where we are present and that’s why we are actually hosting these The Future is Remote events, which will be our brand into the future. We just had the one in Serbia. It went very well. We had a great pitching event where people were coming and pitching business ideas and we had some investors there. CEOs and CFOs vote on the biggest idea and then we provide something to the winner. We are doing this in every country that we are in and this is our contribution. We are not obligated to do this, but our founders want to contribute to establishing a good remote working environment in every country. This will eventually turn us into a great company that is helping not only the clients and the partners but is also helping the whole ecosystem.
Does Albania have a digital nomad visa?
Yes. It allows you to stay in Albania for the first year. You can make another request to follow up with the second one. In terms of Albania, it’s not very difficult to stay in Albania. So once you are here, you can have a couple of conversations with Albanian natives. They will provide you with a solution for you to actually stay. I just had a lovely conversation, yesterday actually, with a Chinese woman. She was interested to see the EOR services because she wanted to eventually expand her visa here or actually get citizenship later on. And my friend told me that actually, he told her if anything goes bad, we can marry. You know, let’s marry each other and you can stay. So the people here will go the extra mile to help you but it’s not difficult to get a visa, to get a visa extension, to get a rent agreement, to get a bank account and so on. You always find help just by working on the street. If you are uncertain about anything, just ask and you will receive.
To clarify those major differences of EOR service as opposed to a digital nomad visa, digital nomad visas are going to be more geared towards somebody who already has their own income, who just wants to travel short term. There are a few countries that have a path to citizenship but it’s going to be more for those people wanting to move and test out a country or two in their travels and not move every three months whereas an EOR, on the other hand, is hey, I want to actually like relocate long term through an existing employer of record, so I want to use a pass-through entity to filter and avoid all of the regulatory hurdles that might otherwise bog you down in a relocation journey.
If you could give any piece of advice based on all of your life experiences, what would that piece of advice be?
What I would love to share with everyone is that there’s always something to learn, even when you are having the most difficult times of your life. Sometimes the most difficult time of your life can actually bring the most beautiful time of your life, which has happened to me personally. So I live by it. And even when times are looking very grim, of course, I suffer like everyone suffers when things are not going well, but at the same time, I know that maybe this suffering will bring so much joy into the future.
What is a good place outside of Tirana to invest in?
It has to be the coastline, of course. So we are talking about the cities like Durres and Vlore. In terms of investment, those will be the go-to cities, especially Vlore right now. But you need to hurry because probably in a couple of years, the prices will go up. So the investment will be good but it will not be a bargain. Korca is also a nice city where you can live, but it’s cold. So it’s for those who actually love the winter and the snow and if you want to enjoy the mountains, you can go to Tropoje. There’s a great river, the Valbona, and bio food. But the coastline will be the go-to and where actually people are going when they are coming to invest in Albania.
That’s why I said in the beginning, if you remember, we are blessed because we have the mountain, so we have winter tourism with snow and so on. We have the sea. We have the big city which is Tirana. Durres will be slowly transitioning into that city, with the big nightlife. Vlore will be spectacular. I have a strong hunch that Vlore will be spectacular as time goes on.
If people want to reach out to you, how do they do it?
Through LinkedIn. My name is Skerdi Sino. I’m available for everyone, from business inquiries to kind human interaction.
Thank you so much and we’ll chat soon.