In 2020, Mike Swigunski was one of millions of people in lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world. But instead of hanging out with roommates or family, Swigunski was 6,000 miles from home, alone in a foreign land.
Swigunski only planned to visit Georgia, a small country between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, for 30 days. But when Georgia closed its borders in early March to stem the spread of the virus, the Missouri resident was forced to extend his stay in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.
However, as Swigunski recalls, he quickly fell in love with Tbilisi’s old-world charm and relaxed culture of good food and warm hospitality. Now, Swigunski, 33, lives and works from Tbilisi as a nomadic entrepreneur, a decision that has helped him “live a higher quality of life at a fraction of the cost,” he tells CNBC Make It.
If he lived in the US, Swigunski adds, “I should be working a lot more… now I’m retired.”
Tragedy, then wanderlust
Swigunski had always dreamed of traveling the world, and before graduating from the University of Missouri in 2011, he found himself at a crossroads: pursuing a traditional corporate job, or traveling to Prague, where he was offered the opportunity to a group of students studying abroad.
Then, a month before graduation, Swigunski’s mother died of breast cancer. “I was absolutely devastated,” he says. “I was 22 years old and I didn’t know which path to follow…but I knew my mother would have wanted me to follow my dreams.” He decided to follow his passion and booked a one-way ticket to Europe.
Since then, Swigunski has visited more than 100 countries and lived and worked in various places for months or years at a time, including a travel writer in Korea, an advertising manager in Australia, and a marketing and sales manager in New Zealand. jobs.
Four years ago, Swigunski decided to capitalize on his expertise in remote working and travel. His company, Global Career, is an online resource of job boards, workshops, coaching and more where people can learn about entrepreneurship as a digital nomad.
“These services help other people by inspiring them to take a different journey or start their own global career,” he says. “I want to help other people become digital nomads on a faster path.”
Living in Georgia is ‘ten times’ cheaper than the US
Swigunski’s annual income fluctuates between $250,000 and $275,000 — and Georgia tax breaks allow him to keep much more of his income than he would otherwise.
Georgia has a 1% tax rate for individual small business owners like Swigunski, and the US has an expatriate tax benefit that excludes up to $112,000 in income from taxation.
“Running multiple businesses out of Georgia is definitely a lot easier than if I were based in the US and it mostly comes down to cost,” he explains. “If I tried to replicate the same infrastructure in the US, it would probably be about ten times more expensive.”
Under Georgian law, citizens from 98 countries, including the US, can stay there for a whole year without a visa, and apply for an extension once the year is over, which is how Swingunski still lives in Georgia.
His biggest expenses are his rent and utilities, which add up to about $696 a month. Swigunski lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a private Italian garden that he found through a local real estate agent. “As soon as I saw this place, I fell in love,” he says.
Here’s a monthly breakdown of Swigunski’s expenses (as of February 2022):
Rent and utilities: $696
Health insurance: $42
To travel: $338
One aspect of living alone that Swigunski learned he didn’t enjoy early on is cooking – so once he moved to Georgia, he hired a private chef to come to his home six days a week and prepare meals for him, which costs about $250 a year. month.
A private chef may sound like a luxury expense, but Swigunski says it saved him a lot of money. “Without a chef, I would eat out and order takeout a lot more,” he says. “But having a chef allows me to eat healthier and it saves me money and time that I can spend on my business instead.”
‘I am happier in Tbilisi than I would live anywhere else’
Swigunski’s favorite part of being a nomadic entrepreneur is that “every day looks different.”
Every morning, Swigunski likes to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book outside in his yard, then try to sneak in a quick meditation and workout before signing up for work.
He usually works from home because that’s where he’s ‘most productive’, but sometimes he goes to a coffee shop or co-working space with friends.
One of the biggest differences between life in Georgia and the US, Swigunski says, is that Georgians are “much more relaxed.” “Many places don’t open until 10am, and in general Georgians work to live, not work,” he adds.
There is a phrase that describes Georgian hospitality: “A guest is a gift from God.” So was Swigunski, who notes that people are “very welcoming to foreigners” and have been “absolutely wonderful” in his experience.
But living abroad isn’t as glamorous as it might seem at first glance. “It’s not for everyone,” Swigunski says. “There will be many different variables that you cannot replicate from your old life in the US”
Because Georgia is still a developing country, Swigunski explains, “your electricity or water gets cut off here a little more than in other locations — this doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen a few times a year.”
Although he sometimes feels homesick for his family and friends in the US, Swigunski says he is “happier in Tbilisi” than he would live “anywhere in the world”, and plans to stay in Tbilisi for the foreseeable future. .
“Would I ever live in the US again? I don’t want to speak in absolute terms, I love America,” he says. “But from now on I just enjoy my life abroad much more than if I were to live in the US”
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