In March 2018, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo proudly declared that the British territory was ‘open for business’ to the world of fintech. Picardo made the exultant remark at the Gibraltar International Fintech Conference 2017 which was attended by no less than 270 attendees from nations as far away as China, Costa Rica and Canada.
Gibraltar is often seen as synonymous with its famous Rock which towers majestically above the surrounding Mediterranean, not to mention the Barbary macaque monkeys that inhabit the limestone promontory. However, the territory garnered international attention for a very different reason when it introduced the world’s first Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) Regulatory Framework in January of this year.
The framework was implemented to manage the use of distributed ledgers – such as blockchain – to ensure that when data is stored or transmitted by a company on the Rock it is done transparently and in a way that does not mislead the target customer. “Gibraltar has positioned itself as an innovative and forward-looking jurisdiction,” Picardo commented, in reference to the regulation. “We continue to seek new areas of business to develop and excel in.”
Following the introduction of the DLT regulation, 38 companies alone have applied for a license to operate out of the territory. Reputable and blue-chip firms, including eToro and Xapo, now use Gibraltar as their base making Gibraltar a global superpower when it comes to fintech.
Obtaining permission to operate from Gibraltar is seen as a mark of excellence within the fintech world due to its stringent regulation, while firms can also enjoy no capital gains tax, wealth tax, sales tax or value-added tax while situated on the Rock.
A business trip to Gibraltar is therefore rapidly becoming a fixture for many fintech sector workers. In order to facilitate such a visit, the guide below provides many of the essential pieces of information you might require when planning to travel to the Rock for work.
How To Visit
Gibraltar possesses its own international airport, situated adjacent to its border with Spain – which can make for a dramatic entry into the territory. There are daily flights to Gibraltar from a variety of United Kingdom airports including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester and several weekly flights from Tangier and Casablanca in Morocco. Incidentally, the flight from Gibraltar to Tangier is the world’s shortest trans-continental flight – passengers are in the air for a mere 50 minutes.
Should you need to fly from outside of the United Kingdom or Morocco you may require a primary connecting flight. However, there are also other alternative ways to travel. The Costa del Sol Airport in Malaga is roughly an hour and a half drive away, while there are also nearby airports in Granada, Seville and Jerez. Even further afield, it is possible to get a train from Spain’s major transport hubs of Barcelona and Madrid to Malaga, taking between three to six hours. Flights into Malaga with a transfer to the Gibraltarian border are often cheaper than flying direct, although there is nothing quite like landing in Gibraltar International Airport with its runway stretching over both the Mediterranean and a four-lane highway.
Crossing the border between Gibraltar and Spain is relatively straight-forward and usually takes approximately five to ten minutes, whether by car or foot – just make sure you remember your passport. While there can be delays at the border of up to an hour, this is usually rare. Instead, visitors should factor in that having crossed into Gibraltar, you may have to wait for up to twenty minutes, if a plane is landing, as the only way to get into Gibraltar town itself is by walking across the aforementioned runway!
The Pound is the legal tender on the Rock with both Government of Gibraltar issued notes, known as the Gibraltar Pound, and Pound Sterling in circulation. It is also possible to pay in Euros at many of the restaurants and bars on the Rock although the conversion rate to Sterling is known to be poor. Word of warning – your Gibraltar Pound notes and coins are not considered legal tender in the United Kingdom, so make sure you spend them while on the Rock.
Where To Work
The epicenter of Gibraltar’s emergent fintech market can be found at its World Trade Centre, which opened in February 2017. Situated in the opulent Ocean Village area of the territory it acts as the Rock’s business hub, containing many of the world’s major e-commerce, e-gaming and fintech firms. Open 24 hours a day and with Wi-Fi so fast that trading with the London markets can occur in 1/35,000th of a second, it is an ideal place to hold meetings.
The World Trade Centre is also less than a ten-minute drive from Gibraltar’s border, which highlights another major advantage for visiting the Rock to do business. Given the proximity of industry experts thanks to Gibraltar’s small size, you are never more than a few minutes away from an industry leading computer programmer, asset manager or legal and insurance specialist. In fact, Gibraltarian law firms, such as Hassan’s and ISOLAS, specialize in assisting businesses in dealing with cases and legislation related to fintech firms. In addition, Gibraltarian politicians, like Minister of Finance Albert Isola, are based just minutes away should you wish to hold a meeting to discuss innovation.
The Rock itself has near 100% Wi-Fi coverage, which is a big bonus for visitors, with a whole host of libraries, cafes and bars welcoming you should you wish to work remotely. The Gibraltar Garrison Library is highly recommended due to its tranquil working environment, while its gardens are perfect for a stroll after a stressful meeting. If you are looking for somewhere a little livelier, you can try one of the many and varied eateries in Grand Casemates Square, such as Latino’s or Café Solo. The square is the fulcrum of life in Gibraltar, so there is always something going on and with the Rock towering directly over Casemates you cannot help but be inspired.
John Mackintosh Hall acts as Gibraltar’s main cultural center and includes another library, a theatre for lectures and a conference hall which can be rented out to visiting businesses. The University of Gibraltar can also be hired by visiting corporates and boasts state-of-the-art technology. It is also conveniently situated at Europa Point next to the Bistro Point restaurant which is tipped to become the Rock’s first Michelin Star eatery. Offering spectacular views of the Strait of Gibraltar and thus Morocco on a clear day, it is the perfect place to take a client out for dinner.
Where To Visit
Given Gibraltar’s compact size, accommodation availability can be limited. It is wise to book ahead to avoid the steep rates charged for last minute bookings. The Caleta Hotel, O’Callaghan Elliott Hotel and The Rock Hotel are all recommended and offer a commute of mere minutes to the World Trade Centre and Ocean Village. If you are traveling on a budget, there are many affordable 3 and even 4* star hotels in the Spanish border town of La Linea de la Concepcion and slightly further afield in Algeciras and Estepona.
There are plenty of fascinating things to see and do whilst you are in Gibraltar. At the top of the list of attractions is a trip up the Rock. This not only offers remarkable views of the Mediterranean and North Africa but also entry inside the Rock itself. A visit feels like stepping into a time machine as you can learn and experience what it was like for the British troops garrisoned here during World War Two. Gibraltar was an invaluable fortress for over two hundred years and by exploring its vast network of tunnels you can discover how they were used to house guns and ammunition and be deployed as a barracks and even a hospital. Make sure to visit St Michael’s Cave while at the Rock, a spectacular cavern full of stalagmites and stalactites or Gorham’s Cave Complex, a UNESCO heritage site.
For the more active of you, you can run up to the top of the Rock – the current record was set in 1986 by Sub Lieutenant, Chris Robison, who ran the 2.7 miles (and 1,300ft climb) in an eye-watering 17 minutes and 29 seconds. At the top of the Rock you can visit the families of Barbary macaque, incidentally Europe’s only wild monkey population – although be careful not to feed the animals as they are known to bite!
Other attractions in Gibraltar include the lush Upper Rock Nature Reserve which contains the Mediterranean Steps – a famous nature trail. If you are looking for a slightly slower pace activity you could walk around the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens as well as the beautiful Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay beaches.
Whilst Gibraltar is not historically known for its nightlife, the choice dramatically improved after the construction of its Ocean Village Marina in 2006. In more recent years the marina has become a reputable nightlife destination after a host of bars and restaurants opened beside the water. Bruno’s and The Ivy are extremely popular with locals, expats and tourists and the atmosphere on a Friday evening can be compared to that of Singapore or Hong Kong as an eclectic mix of international businessmen and women converge to blow off steam. For those looking a little more upmarket there is the Sunborn, the world’s first five-star super-yacht hotel. It offers dining and a gambling experience like no other in the territory. Nearby, Dusk is arguably the best club on the Rock and opens until 7am in the morning.
Gibraltar’s location makes it perfectly situated to explore the south coast of Spain and Morocco. For example, Jerez is known as the home of sherry for those of you who like a tipple. Marbella is less than an hour away if you are looking for some glitz and glamour and the Sierra Nevada mountains, near the home of the Alhambra in Malaga, offers picturesque walking routes.
The guide above illustrates how Gibraltar is truly ‘open for business’. More importantly, however, the government continues to seek ways in which to develop and enhance its fintech provision. For example, Gibraltar has since announced the world’s first Fintech Co-operation Agreement with Hong Kong – pledging to share information and develop innovation in the two territories – and has imminent plans to introduce Initial Coin Offering (ICO) regulation, another global exclusive. The Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange has since revealed that it has had at least 200 businesses registering an interest in launching their ICO through the territory.
“[It is an] extremely exciting time for Gibraltar and we are prepared to do it carefully, sensibly and under a regulated framework and give consumers the protection they deserve, and [the] transparency and disclosure that we expect from anyone that does business from our jurisdiction,” said Albert Isola, Gibraltar’s Minister for Finance. “We are proud to be working with the blockchain community because we believe it has a long-term sustainable business that we want to be a part of.”