In 2020, Mike Swigunski was among millions stranded as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world. But instead of hiding out with roommates or his family, Swigunski was 6,000 miles from home, alone in a foreign country.
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 help curb the spread of the virus, the Missouri native was forced to extend his stay in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.
As Swigunski recalls, however, he quickly fell in love with Tbilisi’s old-world charm as well as its relaxed culture of good food and warm hospitality. Now Swigunski, 33, lives and works in Tbilisi as a nomadic entrepreneur, a decision that has helped him experience “a better quality of life for a fraction of the cost,” he told CNBC Make. It.
If he lived in the United States, adds Swigunski, “I would have to work a lot more… now I’m semi-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 heading to Prague. , where he was offered the opportunity to lead 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 and didn’t know which way to go…but I knew my mom would have wanted me to follow my dreams.” He decides to follow his passion and books a one-way ticket to Europe.
Since then, Swigunski has visited more than 100 countries, living and working in different places for months or even years at a time: he has been a travel writer in Korea, an advertising manager in Australia, and a marketing and sales manager. in New Zealand, among other jobs.
Four years ago, Swigunski decided to monetize his expertise in remote work 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 create a different path or start their own global career,” he says. “I want to help other people become digital nomads faster.”
Living in Georgia is “ten times” cheaper than in the United States
Swigunski’s annual income hovers between $250,000 and $275,000 — and thanks to tax benefits in Georgia, he can keep a lot more of his income than he otherwise would.
Georgia has a 1% tax rate for small sole proprietorship owners like Swigunski, and the United States has an expat tax benefit that excludes up to $112,000 of income from tax.
“Running multiple businesses from Georgia is definitely a lot easier than if I was based in the US and that mostly comes down to cost,” he explains. “If I tried to replicate my same infrastructure in the United States, it would probably be about ten times more expensive.”
Under Georgian law, citizens of 98 countries, including the United States, can reside there for a year without a visa and apply for an extension once the year is up, which explains how Swingunski still lives in Georgia.
His biggest expenses are his rent and utilities, which together 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 charges: $696
Health insurance: $42
One aspect of living alone that Swigunski learned he didn’t like early on was cooking — so once he moved to Georgia, he hired a private chef to come to his house six days a week and cook him. prepare meals, which cost about $250 per person. month.
A private chef may seem like a luxurious expense, but Swigunski says it’s actually saved him a lot of money. “Without a chef, I would eat out a lot more and order takeout,” 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’m happier living in Tbilisi than living anywhere else”
Swigunski’s favorite part about being a nomadic entrepreneur is that “every day is different.”
Every morning, Swigunski likes to have a cup of coffee and read a book outside in his garden, then he tries to sneak in a quick meditation and workout before logging on to work.
He usually works from home because that’s where he’s “most productive”, but he sometimes goes to a coffee shop or a coworking space with friends.
One of the biggest differences between life in Georgia and the United States, Swigunski says, is that Georgians are “much more relaxed.” “A lot of places don’t even open until 10 a.m., and in general, Georgians work to live, not to work,” he adds.
There is a phrase that describes Georgian hospitality: “A guest is a gift from God”. That held true for Swigunski, who notes that the people are “very welcoming to strangers” and were “absolutely wonderful” in his experience.
But living abroad is not as glamorous as it might seem at first glance. “It’s not for everyone,” Swigunski says. “There will be a lot of different variables that you can’t replicate from your old life in the United States”
Because Georgia is still a developing country, says Swigunski, “your electricity or water cuts out a little more here than anywhere else – it 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 United States, Swigunski says he is “happier living in Tbilisi” than he would live “anywhere else in the world”. and plans to stay in Tbilisi for the foreseeable future.
“Would I ever live in the United States again? I don’t want to speak in absolute terms, I love America,” he said. “But from now on, I am enjoying my life abroad much more than if I were going to live in the United States”
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