In 2020, Mike Swigunski was among millions of people in lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world. But instead of squatting with roommates or family, Swigunski was 6,000 miles from home, alone in a foreign country.
Swigunski planned to visit Georgia, a small country that lies between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, for just 30 days. But when Georgia closed its borders in early March to help stem the spread of the virus, the Missouri native was forced to extend his stay in the nation’s capital, Tbilisi.
As Swigunski recalls, however, he quickly fell in love with Tbilisi’s old-world charm, as well as its laid-back 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 live “a higher quality of life at a fraction of the cost,” he told CNBC Make It.
If he were living in the United States, Swigunski adds, “I would have to work a lot harder… now, I’m semi-retired.”
Tragedy, so wanderlust
Swigunski has 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 had 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 years old and confused about which way to go…but I knew my mother wanted me to follow my dreams.” He decided to pursue his passion and booked a one-way ticket to Europe.
Since then, Swigunski has visited over 100 countries, living and working in different locations for months or years: he was 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 remote work and travel experience. Her business, Global Career, is an online resource of job boards, workshops, coaching and more where people can learn about entrepreneurship as digital nomads.
“These services are helping other people, inspiring them to create a different journey or start their own global careers,” he says. “I want to help other people become digital nomads in a faster way.”
Living in Georgia is ‘ten times cheaper’ than in the US
Swigunski’s annual income fluctuates between $250,000 and $275,000 — and thanks to tax breaks in Georgia, he is able 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 of income from being taxed.
“Running multiple businesses in Georgia is definitely a lot easier than if I were in the US, and mostly it comes down to cost,” he explains. “If I were trying to replicate my same infrastructure in the US, it would probably be about ten times more expensive.”
Under Georgian law, citizens of 98 countries, including the US, can reside there for a full year without a visa and apply for an extension once the year is up, which is how Swingunski still lives in Georgia.
His biggest expenses are rent and utilities, which together are about $696 a month. Swigunski lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a private Italian garden that he found through a local realtor. “As soon as I saw this place, I fell in love,” he says.
Here’s a monthly breakdown of Swigunski’s spending (as of February 2022):
Rent and utilities: $696
Health insurance: $42
Travel through: $338
One aspect of living alone that Swigunski learned he didn’t like at an early age is cooking — so when he moved to Georgia, he hired a private chef to come to his house six days a week and prepare meals for him, which cost around $100. 250 per month.
A private chef might sound like a lavish expense, but Swigunski says it saved him a lot of money. “Without a chef, I would be eating a lot more and ordering takeout,” he says. “But having a chef allows me to eat healthier and saves me money and time that I can invest in my business.”
‘I am happier living in Tbilisi than anywhere else’
Swigunski’s favorite part of being a nomadic entrepreneur is that “every day feels different.”
Every morning, Swigunski enjoys having a cup of coffee and reading a book in his garden, then he tries to do a quick meditation and work out before going to work.
He usually works from home because that’s where he’s “most productive,” but he sometimes goes to a coffee shop or coworking space with friends.
One of the biggest differences between living in Georgia and the United States, says Swigunski, is that Georgians are “much more relaxed.” “Many places don’t open until 10 am and, in general, Georgians are working to live, not living to work,” she adds.
There is a phrase that describes Georgian hospitality: “A guest is a gift from God.” That goes for Swigunski, who notes that people are “very welcoming to foreigners” and have been “absolutely wonderful” in their experience.
But living abroad is not as glamorous as it seems at first glance. “It’s not for everyone,” says Swigunski. “There will be a lot of different variables that you won’t be able to replicate from your old life of living in the US”
As Georgia is still a developing country, Swigunski explains, “your electricity or water goes off a little more here than elsewhere – it’s not happening every day, but it does happen a few times a year.”
Although he sometimes misses his family and friends in the US, Swigunski says he is “happier living in Tbilisi” than he would be living “anywhere else in the world” and plans to stay in Tbilisi for the foreseeable future.
“Would I go back to live in the US? I don’t want to talk at all, I love America,” he says. “But as of now, I enjoy my life abroad much more than if I were to live in the US”
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