Moving to Dublin: An insider’s guide

 

Moving to Dublin to study or work?

You probably have a lot of questions. I certainly did. Read on for my insider’s tips on how to smooth your transition and find your feet in the bustling Irish capital.

Dublin is an exciting city. It’s a popular place to come to study or to work. There are many top notch post-secondary educational institutions, as well as high calibre language schools, and a growing tech sector. There’s a vibrant cultural and social scene, and generally a good quality of life. If you’ve decided to come be a part of the action, congratulations and céad míle fáilte!

 

Now there are a few things you’ll want to get sorted ASAP.

 

Practical Matters:

I wouldn’t be a tax nerd if I didn’t include these all-important practical concerns. You can’t apply for your PPS number until you arrive, but forewarned is forearmed. Put these essentials on your to-do list.

  • PPS number

This is an important identification number that you should apply for shortly after your arrival. You make your appointment online, then you go into the Intreo centre for a short appointment. I found the process simple and straightforward, and I was pleased with how smoothly it went!

A basic guide to the PPS number is available here. More information on booking your online appointment is available on Welfare.ie: How to Apply for A PPS Number.

 

  • Emergency Tax

If it’s your first time working in Ireland, you’ll be placed on what’s called “Emergency Tax” until you apply to Irish Revenue for your tax credits. Revenue have a helpful guide on what to do when you start your first job in Ireland. 

If you act quickly, you may be able to get off of Emergency Tax within your first few months in Ireland, and therefore get to keep more of your hard-earned paycheques!

 

Housing:

Housing is probably top of mind. Finding accommodations in Dublin can be a challenge. It helps to do your research, and to know the best tools to use.

  • Research neighbourhoods

Dublin is a city with a number of appealing neighbourhoods. Many people choose to live outside city centre to find more space, a more appealing price, or a slightly slower pace. Depending on where you work or study, there should be an area within reasonable commuting distance that appeals to you! Lists like this are one place to start.

It will help to familiarise yourself with the postcodes used in Dublin. The odd-numbered ones are north of the Liffey, and generally the smaller numbers are closer to city centre, increasing as you move further into the suburbs.

Map on DublinTourist.com

 

  • Find your flat!

Locals tend to use Daft.ie, which is fine for securing a long term lease. But what about for your first flat, for those first few weeks or months whilst you get your bearings? Or what if you’re only going to be in Dublin for a few months?

I’ve recently been introduced to a site that makes searching for a furnished flat, or a room in a shared accommodation, easy and intuitive.

Nestpick.com is a tool that searches across a number of resources, and allows you to refine your search based on price, type of accommodation, and numerous other factors.

Having played around with it a bit, I think it would be extremely useful for someone looking to find short term accommodation in Dublin. I really like the map feature, it’s very intuitive, and it will really work to your advantage if you’ve already done your research and have an idea what neighbourhoods you’d like to focus on.

If I’m honest, you’ll miss the user interface on Nestpick if/when you need to use Daft to find a longer term flat.

 

Transport:

  • Leap card

I’m shocked when I encounter someone in Dublin without a Leap card. They are the best way to use the public transport system in Dublin, and can be used across the DublinBus, Luas, and DART services. And you typically save 20% over cash fares!

I just load travel credit on mine and top up as needed. I wish they had an iPhone app, but it’s not too difficult to add credit online, and then load it at a designated location (such as any Luas stop).

 

Are you ready to make your move to Dublin?

With a little research, a bit of patience, and the right tools, your move to Dublin can be a smooth transition and you can get straight into what matters: focussing on your studies, excelling in your new job, and perhaps enjoying a pint* (pro tip: it’s never just one…) to celebrate! Sláinte!

This post was written in collaboration with Nestpick.com. 

 

6 months in: seeing the trees, not just the forest

Then:

  • Not creating
  • Feeling stuck
  • Stressed out
  • Unclear on future goals
  • Unable to find time for both family as well as personal travel

 

Now:

  • Actively learning and creating
  • Feeling inspired
  • Less stressed (but slightly more apprehensive!)
  • Developing future goals and plans that excite me
  • Prioritising what matters most to me: health, family & loved ones, travel

 

As of 8 October, I’ve been blogging for 6 months. In that time, I’ve quit my corporate job, given notice on my apartment, and had a few exciting adventures along the way. It’s amazing how much can happen in the span of 6 months.

 

I’m only just beginning, both in terms of my blogging journey, and in self-employment. I think it’s often easy to compare ourselves to those around us who are much further ahead on their journeys, and feel it’s too late, or that it will be too hard to catch up. Those thoughts do still surface, but ultimately I remind myself I’m grateful that I started when I did.

 

The old saying is true, whether we’re talking about investing, creating something, pursuing your dreams, or making a big change in your life:

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb

 

I could have spent the last 6 months still unhappy in my job, still feeling like I wasn’t progressing towards anything. Yes, still collecting a steady paycheque. But still no closer to the others out there, doing what I wished I could be doing.

 

And, much more importantly, still no closer to my dreams for the life I wanted to create for myself.

 

Because ultimately, my dreams and goals aren’t comprised of metrics like money, or pageviews, or anything that can be externally measured. But even if it’s not measured out in numbers that can be reassuringly analysed, making progress towards goals requires action. Taking a first step, and then taking another. And then another. 

 

It’s so often repeated as to become trite, but I find I need to remind myself of it on a regular basis, now that I’m working towards creating something for myself. Taking action is always, always, always, better than the alternative. Trying something, anything, is going to be better than staying stagnant. And it’s never possible to be fully optimised, so it’s best to just jump in.

 

Seeing the trees, not just the forest

It’s easy to get distracted by all the noise out there, by all the possibilities. We all want to succeed (whatever that means), to offer something of value, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, to not be left behind. The more time I spend in the entrepreneurial sphere, I notice a kind of business FOMO out there. If you’re not careful, it can make you feel like it’s a HUGE CRISIS that you’re not simultaneously building an FBA empire, and mastering Pinterest, and growing your email list, and dabbling in crypto currency, and, and, and…

All of those things are great, and have been paths to incredible success for many people. But we can’t properly focus on all of them, all at once. And for many people, that sense of overwhelm could stop them from even starting something new.

Whether it’s starting a business, or embarking on a creative endeavour, or travelling, or starting to invest and get your finances in order, I think all of these worthy pursuits can seem out of reach when we all we see is forest.

Just to continue on with tree-related cliches for a moment, the old admonishment that it’s a problem when you can’t see the forest for the trees certainly has its place. But how do you know where to start, when staring at the vastness of an impenetrable forest? What if instead you chose to focus on one perfectly manageable tree at a time?

This approach keeps me moving forward, which is the best cure for overwhelm. And each step taken, each action, each tree planted (or climbed, or hell, even hugged) builds on the last, until you may find yourself in the midst of a far more beautiful and interesting landscape than when you started.

I’d love it if you’d comment and share one step you’re taking, whether it’s in business, personal finance, travel, your personal life, or anything else!

Happy autumn, and here’s to your next 6 months. 

 

Staying and going

Change tend to provoke strong reactions in people. Those strong reactions can come not only from ourselves, but also from those around us who may experience some of the impact from a change we initiate. But when it comes to changes in our physical location, do we need to justify moving any more than we need to justify staying?

Recently, a few examples have come up that have got me thinking about the typical responses to moving. One of my favourite podcasts is The Minimalists, and on a recent episode they announced they’d be moving cities, from Missoula, Montana to Los Angeles, California. It’s a few states away, which is a fairly large physical distance (because America is so huge) and a significant cultural change from a smaller city to a large, sprawling coastal metropolis. They had sensibly predicted the questions that would arise from their listeners, and had a list of sensible reasons for the move. And of course, making a change involves some motivation to do so, and people will naturally be curious as to what prompted it. But one of the questions was simply: “why?” Which left me wondering, why don’t we tend to ask why people stay, but expect a carefully thought-out answer at the ready when asking why they’re going?

Another example was a friend who, like me, had also left her job recently. Because she’s amazing, she was offered a great job in another, very high profile city. What a rock star! And yet she said that instantly the well-meaning yet apprehensive comments and questions started flowing. If she’d stayed in her previous job, as unhappy and discontented as it was making her, no such flurry of questions would’ve been prompted. Of course, the people in our lives, or sometimes just interested observers, want to know our rationale behind a big change. They want to know that we’ll be ok, that we’ve thought it through. Even though rationally, there’s no inherent safety in staying the same, and both staying and going are choices we make, whether we actively acknowledge them as such or not.  

Loss aversion

Fear of change and loss aversion are powerful motivators. Loss aversion is the concept in behavioural economics that predicts that avoiding losses is a more powerful psychological motivator than pursuing gains. This isn’t entirely rational, especially if we risk too much in our attempt to avoid or recoup losses. I think this can go some way towards explaining why we might stay in a job, or a relationship, or a place, longer than we perhaps should. We’re hesitant to cut our losses, and afraid of losing what we already have. I’ve experienced this many times myself.

But what if we evaluated both staying and going as equally possible choices? And invited them to convince us of their merits a little more dispassionately? Well, for one thing, we might look at the cost/benefit analysis of each choice more honestly, rather than doing what I suspect comes more naturally: that is, to nitpick the perceived costs of change, and inflate the perceived benefits of inaction. In other words, maybe we should stop grasping to avoid losses when we may be missing out on potential gains slipping through our tightly closed fingers.

Opportunity costs exist either way

Another lens through which to examine the choice to stay or to go is to think in terms of opportunity cost. This is simply the concept that when one choice is made, the benefit of the choice not taken is the “cost” of that decision. But as we can never have both the choice we make and the forsaken alternative at once, opportunity cost is a fact of life, and we can’t let it paralyse us. And I think it’s helpful to remember that choosing to stay static carries its own opportunity cost. We don’t get to escape the unavoidable reality of opportunity cost by pretending we’re not actively making a choice.

Everything is a choice

I like to remind myself that everything is a choice. I chose to stay in Seattle perhaps longer than I really needed to be there, and it was in part because I’d convinced myself that change was too big, too difficult, too scary. But as individuals with agency, we are making choices every day. My goal is to be more intentional with my choices, and to fully own the risks and rewards of them. I chose to stay static when my heart was calling me to make a change. And now I’m choosing to work on creating a life that’s more in line with my values and how I want to spend my time.

 

I think being intentional about our choice of location is one of the most powerful tools available to us, but it comes with a lot of questioning and trepidation, both from within ourselves, and from those around us. One of the ways to soothe these fears is the stories we tell ourselves and each other; the ones that sound obvious when stated aloud, and yet are both necessary and true. We can always move back/go home/start over if we hate it/fall flat on our face/*insert other worst-case here. All of those things remain both necessary and true if we stay in one place as well, of course. We’ll face moving/changing/starting over in one guise or another, whether we embrace it or run from it. But it still feels good to say it before making a change, even one we sought and crafted intentionally.

 

So that’s what I’d say to The Minimalists in advance of their move, and what I remind myself before making big moves of my own. And yes, we’ll still need those carefully crafted answers to the inevitable questions that will arise. But perhaps we can comfort ourselves, at least, with the help of some behavioural economics.

Tiny apartment tour

I’ve been thinking about housing options lately. Becoming location independent can give us beleaguered millennials a much-needed leg up in a housing game that can feel rigged against us.

Refusing to play by rules that aren’t fair is a perfectly rational response. But what does that actually look like? In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d give a glimpse into my current housing solution. As I transition into alternatives, I’ll continue to share how those options look and evolve over time. It is and will continue to be an exercise in compromise and is but one possible path among many.

*Not my apartment building

Current location

I’m presently in my apartment in Dublin. I chose it for its proximity to my former office and it’s served its purpose well. It’s the smallest space I’ve lived in to date, and I have very few complaints in that regard. I wasn’t given the exact floor space when I moved in, but I’d say it has to be less than 300 square feet. It was mostly fully furnished, but I had to buy all the kitchen stuff myself.

I’ve had overnight guests stay on an air mattress twice now, for multiple nights each time. It worked fine, and that’s about as often as I hosted overnight guests in a year even when I had much more space.

Without further ado, here’s the grand tour:

Entrez-vous

The entry, as seen from the front door. To the left is the bathroom, to the right is the bedroom.

 

Living space

The living space, comprised of the kitchen to the left, and the seating area to the right. That vast expanse of floor space in the middle is exactly big enough for a queen size air mattress… if you move the storage ottoman/coffee table aside, that is.

 

Seating area

Desk and chair to the left. The set of drawers on the right contains the wifi modem, my yoga clothes, and a few extra pairs of shoes. A large canvas duffle bag is stored under the loveseat, containing some extra winter clothes.

Kitchen

This actually functions really well! I’ve been able to cook everything I’ve wanted to here. There’s enough counter space for chopping, and the dish drying rack doesn’t take up too much of the more useable space. Sometimes North Americans balk at the under-counter fridge. But I’d say for a household of 1 or 2, it’s perfectly sufficient.

 

Kitchen stuff

Here’s all my kitchen stuff. The more eagle-eyed may note there are no drawers in this kitchen. I just keep my cutlery in that orange rack, and other utensils in the bamboo holder to the right of the sink. No junk drawers here! The cabinets contain all crockery, glasses, pots & pans, and miscellany. There’s plenty of space.

 

Bathroom

This is really just to show the very limited footprint of the bathroom! It’s entirely possible to brush your teeth from the hallway. No space to keep many toiletries in here so it’s a good thing I have a pretty minimal routine.

 

Bedroom

Bed is tucked away in the corner, but it’s nice having it separate from the living area. That’s a luxury in the Dublin rental market!

 

Wardrobe/”vanity”

 

Tiny wardrobe

Inside the wardrobe, a minimalist amount of clothes. That black tote bag functions as the laundry bag. Yes, that’s Estonian on the canvas tote on the shelf. I’m delighted you noticed.

Because I enjoy being a voyeur on other people’s tiny wardrobes, I’ll do a tiny wardrobe post soon. It’s really more clothes than I need and I’ll probably pare it down before I move out of this flat.

Trade offs

It’s not fancy or terribly modern, but I pay €300-400 less per month than many people I know, even people who have flatmates. That’s €3,600-4,800 less per year. That’s a lot of travel and/or savings. For that, I don’t mind doing my laundry in a weird, dark, spider-webby shed. Yeah, that’s why you don’t see a washing machine anywhere.

I’m very glad I’ve had this experiment in small space living. I’ll definitely seek out a small, minimalist living space again in future. And I’m really exited to see what other, lower cost options await in the rest of Europe.

Would you give small space living a try?

Housing can make or break you

Housing is a hot topic for everyone, especially millennials. In many cities around the world, prices are rising faster than wages, home ownership feels out of reach for many, and even renting is becoming unsustainable. As though that weren’t stressful enough, it’s also the single biggest line item on most people’s budgets. That’s why it’s such a huge opportunity. Yeah, yeah, I know. But stick with me.

No matter your situation, I think that optimising your housing choices is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal to improve your finances and your life. There are a number of variables you can play with, depending on what matters most to you. More flexibility will result in more options, so I think with the right mindset, anyone can improve their situation by carefully examining this one, crucial choice. We tend to have a lot of emotions and preconceived notions wrapped up in our housing choices, but taking a step back and approaching it intentionally, as a deliberate choice, will dramatically impact your life and your goals.

Church ruins are an adventurous, if unconventional, choice

When you are location independent, a lot of the standard personal finance advice may not apply to you. I’m thinking of things like debates over whether to pay off your mortgage early, etc. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may not make sense for you to buy a property at all. And, don’t despair, because there are plenty of smart people with good reasons why that may not be a bad thing. However, when you don’t own your home, you constantly have to (aka: get to!) reconsider and reevaluate your housing situation.

Broadly, I think of housing consumers (that’s all of us, for the most part!) as fitting into three main categories, depending on how long we’re going to be staying in a given location. Most personal finance advice I’ve seen tends to be tailored to those who will be staying put for the long(ish) term. In my mind, that’s more than around 5 years, which might not seem very long to some! For the location independent or digital nomad communities, we may find ourselves looking at more the medium term (say, 1-5 years) or more often shorter term (1-12 months). Thusly, I’ll focus more on the latter two of the below categories:

  1. Long term: when you’re staying put for a long time (5+ years)

  1. Medium term: when you’re staying for the time being (1-5 years)

  1. Short term: when you’re testing the waters or just passing through (1-12 months)

In any of these situations, however, I think the main competing variables to consider are as follows:

Variables:
  • location

  • cost

  • size/privacy

  • fanciness/amenities

  • specifics (i.e. large kitchen, outdoor space)

  • commitment

Generally, the more flexible you can be with each of these variables, the more options you’ll have. One of the advantages of being location independent is the freedom to play with the first variable as much as you like. It’s the factor that I think is the single most powerful, and gives you the most choice within each of the others.

Beyond location dependence

A large part of why housing markets can suck so badly is that they traditionally have you as a fairly captive consumer. You have to live in a particular area because of where your job is, so you’re stuck with very little latitude on perhaps the most important variable. By becoming location independent, we remove that condition. Instead we can come to view it as a competition of where can offer us the best combination of variables based on our particular values and needs.

Looking at each of the above variables in turn, I think we can make some deliberate and intentional choices about what really matters to us, and what will ultimately make our lives better. Then, we can apply some creative thinking and find housing solutions that work for us rather than against us.

Location

This is a real estate cliche for a reason. But as digital nomads we can think about this beyond neighbourhood and commute time. Considering location, we can expand our search across cities and countries, and then narrow it down to our ideal neighbourhoods. Looking beyond the area you’re in can dramatically improve your options. You can choose less expensive cities and countries for part of the year. You can choose areas outside those adjacent to the CBD of a particular city, if you won’t need to be commuting into city centre every day. However, you may be more concerned with finding a walkable neighbourhood, or somewhere within easy reach of the nearest major airport.

Some of the high cost of living cities around the world don’t offer great value for money. Dublin, where I’m currently based, is in a full blown housing crisis. If I don’t need to compete with thousands of others for overpriced, substandard options, why would I? Then, when I am evaluating a location, I can narrow my search to locations that offer the lifestyle I’m looking for, and be a bit more stringent with the next, and next most important, variable.

Cost

As cost of housing rises, we have to either earn more to keep up, or accept that a higher percentage of our current income gets eaten up by this greedy line item. I prefer to set a maximum percentage of my take-home income that I’m willing to spend on housing. I think 30% of take home is a reasonable maximum. And yes, I’d want to be firm on making that 30% after taxes and retirement contributions, or in other words, 30% of spendable income. If that’s not possible in a given location, I’d have to concede that that location may be temporarily off the short-list. Or maybe it’s a location to work into your plans in shorter increments, or by utilising some unconventional options (some examples of which are briefly noted below).

Location and cost are of course very closely linked, and are the most important variables. If you’re going to be very picky on either of those, you’ll want to be quite flexible indeed on the below, secondary variables.

Size/privacy

In many desirable locations, having housemates is a very common solution to rising costs. If you’d rather more privacy, you’ll likely want to be very flexible on the size of your accommodations. I’m quite happy in small spaces, so that’s an easy one for me to concede. I’d happily accept less space for a location and cost I was happy with.

Fanciness/amenities

If you’re going to be a digital nomad, and sampling the housing offerings of many different locales around the world, being quite flexible on this will serve you well. I personally don’t derive much life satisfaction from expensive finishings or lots of fancy features. Sure, those things are nice to have, but if they become deal-breakers, you will find your options severely limited. Clean, safe, and functional are about as fancy as I personally need. Plus, if you’re looking for somewhere for a shorter term stay, it can be an interesting quirk to practice living without certain things you may have become accustomed to. You may find they’re less essential to your happiness than you thought!

Specifics

This is where you can tailor your search to the things that really do provide you with life satisfaction. I’d want a place I could cook in, in most places if I was staying for longer than about a month. Reliable wifi is probably another must-have. But what makes you happy? Do you crave outdoor space? A quiet street? Enough floor space to bust out a few yoga moves? Or space to host friends and family when they come through town? For me, once I’ve been sufficiently flexible with the categories that matter less, I find I can devote the appropriate level of attention to those few areas that matter most. And then keep experimenting, because they can and will fluctuate over time.

Commitment

As a shorter term housing consumer, you may wish to avoid signing year-long leases. This is easier to pull off if you don’t have a lot of stuff you need to move around with you. I think the default assumption is you’ll need to pay a lot more for the luxury of less commitment, and this is very likely true in many expensive cities in the West. A cursory search on Airbnb reveals at least a dozen attractive cities where a month-long rental is far less than I pay now on my year-long lease in Dublin. And that’s including wifi, heat, electricity, etc. If the conditions are right, I think this is another variable that can work in favour of the location independent.

Unconventional ideas

I’m going to be experimenting with a few untraditional options, such as month-long Airbnb rentals, coliving spaces, and some newer sites that appear intriguing, such as GoGo Places. I  think the options will only continue to increase as more and more people adopt a location independent lifestyle. I’m excited to see this space develop and what other creative solutions people come up with.

 

What does housing mean to you?

Ultimately we each need to decide what really matters to us. Is housing just a place to rest your head, or do you need your home to be your refuge, your nest, a reflection of your taste and personality? I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but examining our answers honestly can help hone our housing choices. And those choices will drastically impact our ability to progress towards our other goals, like financial independence, contribution, and travel.

What does it take to be happy? I believe that the fewer “must-haves” on our list, the greater our access to contentment. And the more flexibility we allow into the most expensive line items on our budget, the better. When approached as an opportunity to be flexible and creative, you can avoid being a victim of the housing market and instead continue to advance towards your goals.

Minimalism is freedom

 

There are a lot of advantages to taking a minimalist approach when making international moves. I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous post. But minimalism can have an impact that goes beyond the practical, and if fully embraced, can help us reach our goals of financial freedom and location freedom. In fact, I find that both goals become far more likely, and require far less effort and fewer resources, when a minimalist approach is taken.

 

Tailor your choices to your goals

Being location independent and financially independent both seem to be goals to which many people say they aspire. But when faced with making some unconventional choices in order to attain these unconventional goals, they may protest that they could never do X, Y, or Z. There’s nothing wrong with that. One choice is not a rebuke of all other possible choices. However, it’s only fair to take a clear-eyed view when examining the trade-offs. Whether a life of location independence, financial independence, or both, is something you’re interested in, you should consider what you’d be willing to do differently to get there. After all, doing things the way everyone else does will logically only lead to the results everyone else has. And again, that’s perfectly fine. No one should be made to feel badly for living life the way that suits them best. But if having more control over your time and physical location are important to you, some lifestyle tweaks will serve you better than others. Minimalism is one of the most useful.

 

Fewer burdens, more freedom

There are a few statements that are seemingly obvious in their simplicity, but nonetheless must be clearly stated and fully understood: Financial independence is easier the lower your expenses are. Location independence is easier the less stuff you have. Being flexible with both categories (expenses and stuff) makes both even easier. Easy is good.

 

The easy way or the hard way

The hard way to pursue location independence or financial independence would be to have lots and lots of rigid expenses that you’re not willing to adjust, and to have loads of physical possessions that you absolutely cannot live without, and then carry those expenses and possessions around the world with you. That doesn’t sound fun or productive to me, so I’ll stick with the easy way. It’s eminently possible to do things the harder way, of course, but to be perfectly honest, that’s never been my style. Maybe it’s a sign of a deep commitment to minimalism, this inclination to avoid wasted resources, including time and energy. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe they’re one and the same. I don’t really mind which. I’ll assume that most people are like me and, quite sensibly I must say, prefer to do things the easier way.

There is a lens through which even making an unconventional life choice like pursuing location independence or financial independence (or both) is actually easier than the more conventional alternative. Living in the same place for too long, or working a standard job for 40 years, sounds really hard to me. Accumulating lots of stuff and lots of debt sounds hard also.

 

The less you own, the freer you are

Here’s where minimalism shines. The less you own, the freer you are. The more basic your needs are, the lower your expenses. The process only refines and clarifies even further with repeated iterations. Over time, you realise you need less to be happy, and naturally, the right level of minimalism emerges. It will ultimately serve to advance your freedom in any areas that matter to you.

In yoga there is a concept of aparigraha, my favourite translation of which is non-grasping. This dovetails perfectly with minimalism, in that it reminds us to work on being less dependent on any particular thing, be it a material possession, a habit, or a particular outcome. Keeping this in mind as a virtue to strive for, we can move lightly through the world with fewer encumbrances.

Be minimalist with everything except pictures of succulents and cacti against white backgrounds

Don’t own stuff, own yourself

Don’t own stuff, own yourself. Self-ownership is the clearest definition of freedom I can come up with. It’s the simplest, most minimalist, yes, even the laziest way of explaining what it is I’m seeking. If you’re seeking that too, in whatever shape or form that looks like in your life, consider how minimalism can serve to further that goal.

 

Where would you go? Choosing a location as a digital nomad

Where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

It’s a delicious question, and perhaps a daunting one. For the longest time, my answer would have been a very thirsty “everywhere.” First I was lacking money, then time. When both barriers can be satisfactorily addressed, what next?

In many ways it’s the epitome of a first world problem. It’s certainly one that very few people in the history of the world have had the luxury of facing. Those of us who are privileged enough to live in the developed world, however, are probably familiar with the concept of too much choice being perceived as stressful or overwhelming. We are now also well acquainted with the concept of FOMO, as cringe-worthy an acronym as that may be. Choosing one thing means missing out on something else, right?

So what happens when you’ve conquered the barriers of both time and money, and can choose your own adventure? I’ve compiled lists upon lists of places I’d like to go, but when it comes to actually deciding where to go next, I find myself facing analysis paralysis. Maybe you do too. Here are some ideas on how to refine your thinking.

Identify (and conquer) the barriers:

What’s currently holding you back? If location independence is your dream, identify what’s currently standing in your way. For me, growing up I longingly pored over maps and memorised world capitals, to recite like mantras, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb. They all sounded like magic. But I had to sort the money barrier out first. Beyond simple survival, travel pretty much seemed like the main purpose of money to me. It still does.

Then, once I had an education, and a profession, and my finances more or less in order, I found my time wasn’t nearly as free as I needed it to be. So that became the next, much trickier challenge. I’m still working on the balance between cultivating an income stream, and being fully location independent. But for me, once I found satisfactory solutions to both the money and time barriers, I decided to just go for it.

For others, the barriers could be more specific, or more complex. You might have to get key loved ones on board, for example. Beyond that, most of it comes down to logistics, and a bit of boldness. I think both of those are within the grasp of most people who want it badly enough.

How to choose your next location when you’re newly location independent:

Perhaps a lot of time and planning went into getting you to the point of being able to choose your location at will. Or maybe you’re very brave, or very lucky. However you got here, the world is now essentially your oyster… or is it?

There are a few areas that I’ve identified as being key considerations when choosing my next location, even if it’s a temporary one. They seem to broadly fall into two categories, Practical Concerns, and Lifestyle Questions:

Practical Concerns:
  • Will you need a visa to go there? How long can you stay? This varies tremendously depending on how you fared in the lottery of where you happened to be born, and to whom. It’s a variable that’s totally out of your control, and it significantly impacts your choice of location, or at least the array of easy choices open to you. In Europe, for example, I’m including a combination of both Schengen and non-Schengen countries, because as a Canadian, counting my Schengen days is something I’ll need to keep on top of.

  • Amenities. For many of us, reliable wifi would be a must-have to maintain our income streams. Beyond that, my personal list of must-have amenities is pretty minimal. Consider what your list includes, but be honest and avoid being overly restrictive. Not having a Sephora should not be considered a deal-breaker, for example.

  • Cost of living. This is a key consideration especially if your income stream is variable and/or if your budget is tight. In building my list, I’m including a selection of places where cost of living is very low, in case I ever need to cut expenses to the bare minimum for a while.

  • Types of accommodation: In doing my initial research, my first port of call has been Airbnb but I know that in many locations, that’s not the best place to ultimately book. But I like that it allows you to get a quick overview of what’s on offer, and even if better prices are to be found elsewhere, it’s informative to know what the “worst case”* would look like. (*It’s hard to define choosing comfortable lodging to one’s taste and specifications, in any city, anywhere in the world, as the “worst” anything, but you know what I mean.)

  • Access to international airport: If you’ll be moving around a lot, even while you’re based in a particular place, then perhaps airport accessibility will be a concern. It’s a good idea to consider transport costs in general, as a low cost of living otherwise could easily be undone by excessively pricey flights or local transport costs.

Lifestyle Questions:
  • Nearness to family/loved ones: I now have two places that will perpetually call to me, Vancouver, which is where most of my family are, and will always be home, and Dublin, where someone very dear to me happens to be from. So I have been testing out sample flights for both locations, when I’m thinking about cities. Europe is especially appealing, with the many short, cheap flights back to Dublin. But it does make some locations more appealing than others. For example, Tbilisi sounds great, and appears to be super affordable, but there are no direct flights to Dublin, and they’re mostly fairly long and expensive. Not ideal.

  • Day to day lifestyle: This comes down to the type of day to day living that you want to achieve. I prefer cities that are walkable, or at least have good public transport. I’d also be thrilled if there were a yoga studio nearby. For now, I’ll safely rule out anywhere too rural, or too car-centric.

  • Language: I’ve heard people talk about this as a limiting factor, as though anywhere that doesn’t speak your native language is somehow off limits. To each their own, but I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to learn a new language and to have more than a few days to practice it. Is there a language you want to learn? Or have you some language skills you’d like to put to use? I personally plan to learn as much as I can of whatever the local language happens to be, and if it’s available on Duolingo or another similar app, all the better!

  • Experiences/food/culture: It’s hard to go too far wrong in this regard, as it seems like interesting experiences, food, and culture are to be found literally everywhere on this amazing planet of ours. It’s worth thinking about what it is you hope to experience in the location you choose.

My list:

With that being said, here’s my initial list of potential locations I’d like to try in the next few years.

Europe:

Prague

In Schengen zone (limited to combined 90 days in 180 day period)

  • Prague

  • Budapest

  • Tallinn

  • Barcelona

Non-Schengen

  • Bucharest

  • Sofia

  • Belgrade

  • Zadar

  • Sarajevo

Asia:

Bali

  • Chiang Mai
  • Bali
  • Hong Kong
  • Seoul
Central/South America:

Buenos Aires

  • Buenos Aires
  • Medellin
  • Oaxaca
  • Panama City
Africa:

Cape Town

  • Cape Town
  • Nairobi
  • Lagos
  • Kigali

It sounds like a lot, and it is! I’m going to start out in Europe, both to be close to Dublin, and also because I like it here a lot, and there’s so much I still haven’t seen.

What about you? Even if it’s just for fun:

where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

When you’re getting ready to make a big move, the to-do list can start to feel overwhelming.
You can get caught up in minutiae that isn’t worth your time, and that can distract you from
fully being in the moment and really living those last few weeks or months before you start
the next chapter.

In my most recent international move, from the US to Ireland, I had fortunately been in the
process of decluttering and moving towards minimalism for about a year prior, so it was
about as stress-free as an international move can be. I realise not everyone making an
international move will have such a spartan amount of personal possessions. But I think anyone can encourage a shift of focus off of the physical possessions that can loom so large, and
onto some of the less obvious things that future-you will really thank you for getting figured
out.

Plus it’s just fun being a minimalist and making lists.

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

General rule: Decide what you’re bringing, and then bring less. This is a good
time to get rid of old stuff: donate/give away most, sell some if you have time,
store an absolute minimum. I stored a box of sentimental stuff with my parents,
and got rid of the rest. Any clothes you have that you’re not bringing, you
probably don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. (Bonus tip for future-you: remember those trips to the charity shop before your re-accumulate more stuff.)

Kitchen stuff: I love to cook, and even as a minimalist, I briefly considered
whether I should try to bring some of my kitchen stuff with me to Ireland. NO! I
happened to mention this insane notion to my cousin who’s much smarter than
me, and her response was: “Um, no. Definitely don’t do that. I thought you’d done
this before?” Touche. Kitchen stuff was donated and zero fucks were given that
day.

Furniture: This is one of the worst categories of stuff. It’s big and heavy and hard
to get rid of. Get rid of as much as you can, ideally by selling it. I’ve had good luck
with Craigslist in Canada and the US, other countries have similar sites.

Clothing/personal effects: Keep these to one or two suitcases, max. Yes,
including shoes and accessories. You’ll replace a good bit of it once you settle
into your new location, anyways. I try to keep only what I’m currently using, plus
what I’ll definitely use in the next 3-6 months. Even doing this, and even with an already minimal wardrobe, I still got rid of yet more stuff within a few months of arriving in Ireland. Bring less than you think.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

Banking: This comes up surprisingly often on various expat subreddits etc., especially
given how simple the best approach is: Keep your bank account in your home
country, and open a new one in your new country. Done and done. There’s usually no downside to this and it will make your day to day life so much easier.

  • Americans will need to remember file an FBAR to report any non-US bank
    accounts, to the extent their total foreign accounts exceed $10,000 USD in a given
    year. Talk to an expat tax pro (such as yours truly!) about this if you don’t
    know how to file it!

Credit cards: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction
fees, and has a low (or no) annual fee, keep it. I’ve learned the hard way that
credit cards are expensive and sucky in some countries (hi, Ireland!), so I like having my
US credit card as a fallback for any time I’m in a country with a currency I don’t
normally deal with.

Retirement/savings: Consider what you’ll do with your retirement/long term
savings accounts in both your departure and destination locations. I rolled my old
401k into an IRA, and I’m planning on maintaining that for the time being. I have
some specific ideas on what to do with US retirement accounts when leaving the
US, both as a US citizen, and as someone who will become a US non-resident,
but that’s for a future tax-nerdy post.

Transferring money: I like Transferwise for quickly moving money between
currencies, for a good exchange rate and with low, easy to understand fees. Don’t do anything silly and complicated like old fashioned wire transfers, unless there’s really no way around it.

Taxes: Just adding this to the checklist, as you’ll want to consider your residency
status in both locations, as well as arrival and departure filing requirements.
These really vary a great deal depending on your personal circumstances, so,
again, find a friendly expat tax expert for all the countries you deal with!

Simplify: I got rid of any excess cards and accounts that I wasn’t using, and
continually re-examine this to see if there’s anything further I can minimise or
simplify. I like having as few accounts as possible to get the job done. Right now that tends to average two per country I deal in, one for everyday banking, and another for long term savings/investing.

 

Practical stuff:

Communication: Everywhere else in the world uses Whatsapp, but I had to get a
few of my American pals on board with it. Yes, you may be used to texting me.
Now you can text me on Whatsapp and then the evil empire (aka the cell phone
company) doesn’t triumph over the downtrodden.

Free your phone: I happened to own my phone outright, so I was able to ask my
previous phone company to unlock it before I left. This made getting a new SIM a
snap. I’d suggest this where possible. Using a foreign SIM sucks for a number of
reasons, not least being extortionate roaming charges, and not being able to easily give your number to cute people you meet. Trying to explain your weird foreign phone number with its country code and plus signs and leading zeroes will really kill your flirtation game. Kidding! Sort of! It’s good for giving your number to local services too. Just get on a local SIM as soon as you can, and start living your life.

Mailing address: This one doesn’t come with any easy, pithy answers. Physical,
paper mail is the sucks and there’s no really satisfactory way of transporting those
horrible bits of paper around the world. Minimise the amount of physical mail
you’ll need to the extent possible, and then ask a friend if they can forward you
the really essential stuff.

  • For me this basically amounted to my W-2, as my previous employer wouldn’t email
    it to an external email address. And even this managed to suck! They
    ended up sending it to my old apartment, despite my best attempts to update my forwarding address to my friend’s address before I left. Ugh, fine. Fortunately, I had set myself a reminder to follow up on the W-2 if it hadn’t arrived by a certain date, so they would have time to resend it to the correct forwarding address. Doing this one time was fine, but doing this monthly would be unpleasant. Avoid paper mail to the extent possible.

Passport: If it will be expiring anytime soon, you might want to renew before you
leave. I have a gorgeous 10 year passport and it’s my most prized physical
possession.

Driver’s licence: In my experience you really don’t need that “international driver’s
licence” thing people sometimes mention. But it will be handy if your current
driver’s licence has as much time left before it expires as possible. Fortunately, I had just renewed mine before I moved, so I’m using this
to buy time and decide if I want to get an Irish driver’s licence. They make you
take the test, so I’m leaning towards no. I haven’t had any difficulty renting a car here on my old licence.

Anything else?

I’ll be making another move soon, this time to become semi-nomadic and
location independent. I envision having a few mini-bases in a few important locations where
my most beloved people are. But I’ll still rely on the above concepts of minimising and
simplifying, as they have served me well. What would you add to this list?

The Secret Superpower of a (Relatively*) Low Salary

When I accepted the job that allowed me to move to Ireland, I was acutely aware I was taking a pay cut. Cue the shock and disbelief! How could someone who prides herself on being financially responsible, on the path to financial independence, voluntarily accept less money?

One of the common threads I note in the financial independence community is that, for basically all of us, money is far from the most important thing in our lives. Instead, we simply agree that mastery of money is one of the best ways to give those things that are the most important to us the time and attention they deserve.

Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to have another expat experience, which has always been one of my goals, I took it, and decided not to worry (at least not too much) about the lost savings potential. Life’s too short, #YOLO, and all that. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and here’s why:

The Secret Superpower of a Low Salary

  1. Keeping expenses low is a superpower

If you can live within your means on a low salary, it means you can budget, find the best deals, and eliminate the unnecessary. That makes you a badass who can demonstrate immigrant hustle when called upon. This is a good muscle to develop no matter your income, but it really shines in situations where income is limited, or taxes/cost of living is higher than what you might be used to. You’re proving to yourself that you can survive, thrive, and be happy, while spending very little. This is a necessary precondition for the next step.

  1. Determination to save, no mater what, is a superpower

I consider saving money a non-negotiable. When you are living far from home, it’s especially important to not be spending every cent you earn and thus have a cushion to fall back on. It’s just a good practice that will serve people at any income and with any lifestyle goals. But when you can take a relatively modest take-home salary and decide how much of it absolutely must be saved, no matter what, you’ve just levelled up your superpowers and are ready for the next, most crucial phase of this process.

  1. Low salaries aren’t that difficult to walk away from (or replace)

And here’s the kicker, the biggest secret superpower of a low salary: no golden handcuffs here! You’ve proven to yourself that you can be happy, and save, on a fairly modest amount. Now you can start doing the math, and figure out exactly how much you’d need to replicate that lifestyle. Playing around with the numbers in lower cost of living areas is particularly fun, for example. But the important thing is now you know the income amount on which you can continue your totally satisfactory and financially responsible lifestyle without changing a thing. And you may find that it’s not that daunting to try and replace it.

If you’ve mastered these superpowers, the real secret is you’re already free. You can take the leap into self employment, entrepreneurship, alternative income streams, or side hustle work. You can happily walk away from the salaried job, with its stress and demands on your time.

Being debt free is the foundation that makes it all possible

It’s really much easier than perhaps many people think to keep expenses low, but I feel the need to caveat that it’s made possible by having no monthly non-negotiable expenses. Yeah, none. Most notably, no debt payments. Everything else can be optimised and adjusted, everything else is just a fun variable to plug into our calculators (what does it look like if I spend €50 less on food? What about €100 less on housing?). Debt sucks, I’m extremely grateful I don’t have any, and I’m vigilant about guarding against acquiring any debt in future. Being debt free, combined with being even a little flexible or creative in your other must-haves opens up the entire world to you. Quite literally, as I’m about to find out.

*One important note. I’m being a bit flippant about the comparatively lower salaries on offer in Ireland vis-a-vis the US, combined with high cost of living and high taxes. I’m very, very aware that my salary here is above the local average and is certainly enough to live comfortably while making very few real sacrifices. I’m very grateful for that and am conscious that being in a position to walk away from any salary is a huge privilege. But, with that being said, it is a privilege I think more people could get closer to, if they wanted, with just a few changes in mindset and habits.

Five things I WILL miss about my 9-5, and why I gave my notice anyway

In the interest of being balanced, I’ve been thinking about what I will miss about my job when I switch over into the world of self-employment. Or will I say I’m a freelancer? Or an entrepreneur? Oh dear, let’s hope this isn’t another case of expat/immigrant/digital nomad. (Although, it appears it’s about to lean more towards the nomadic in the near future.) But, I digress. Onto a list, and then, an announcement.

Gratitude (or: an aversion to printers and printed things)

I’m incredibly grateful for the way my career has gone thus far. I’ve had a chance to work with amazing professionals and clients, and to develop a niche skill (namely, US expat tax) along the way. When I started out, I certainly didn’t have the foresight to plan how nicely that would dovetail with my eventual expat inclinations, so that’s down to luck. Or my subconscious directing me towards anything with the magical, life-giving word “international” in it. Anyways, it’s pretty neat that it’s brought me here.

While I’m 100% excited about my upcoming move into self-employment, there are certainly things I’ll miss after my last day in the office. Here they are, in very specific order:

  1. The people: Is it just so cliched to say this? None of my coworkers even know about this blog so I’m not even trying to flatter them, but real talk, I’ve worked with some terrific people over the years. I’ll miss having great people in an office next door to bounce ideas off of, or to commiserate with. I know I’ll encounter more great people as I move forward, but honestly? It’s been really nice having such easy access to a collection of them, all handily gathered in one place. Global mobility tax being a small, small, tiny world that it is, I hope and expect that many of our paths will cross again in future.
  2. The resources: Working for a big company has many perks, not the least of which includes access to high quality and expensive resources at your fingertips. I know I am facing a learning curve when it comes to finding the resources and tools that will work for me, everything from research tools, to software, to things I probably haven’t thought of yet. I think that now more than ever, there’s increasing ability for individuals or small companies to access world-class tools, but I admit it’s been nice having it all on a silver platter. But hopefully it will be even more rewarding to seek out and implement the right tools and resources that will work for me.
  3. The structure: This is probably a blessing and a curse. Having a rigid structure is one of the main things I’m looking to move away from, and yet there is something to be said for a bit of routine. Having a set schedule means I know exactly which yoga class I’ll be going to, for example. And forces me to plan my meals each week. Being aware of that will hopefully allow me to implement the elements of routine that work well and add value to my productivity, and jettison the pointless rituals.
  4. The free food (sometimes): Free food is great, and big companies are often very generous with it, which is lovely of them. There will be no more boxes of chocolate sitting out by the printers when I’m working for myself, for example. Although, time will tell if that actually turns out to be a good thing for my fitness goals…
  5. The ability to print things (sometimes): In my ideal future state, I’ll never need to print anything, ever again. Printers are hideous relics from a backwards, brutish time that can’t be too soon forgotten. I used to feel like quitting my job* every time I had printer drama, which was every time someone cruelly and sadistically compelled me to waste paper on what could so much more sensibly be conveyed on a screen. And yet. As long as Ryanair continue to add insult to injury, and taunt those of us who are EU-passport-deficient by forcing us to print our tickets and have them stamped, it’s been handy having a place to do that. I’ll have to print my Ryanair tickets elsewhere someday soon. (But seriously, Ryanair, do you think we sad, wretched non-Europeans haven’t suffered enough? Have you seen the non-EU passport queue? Take pity on us.)

*…So I quit my job

With all that in mind, I gave my 1 month notice this week anyways. I’m so excited for this next chapter to unfold. After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to try combining a lot more location independence into this experimental alchemy of lifestyle design. I’m still going to make financial independence a priority, but no longer at the expense of being free to roam, and to see all the amazing people and places I love around the world.

As I told different people the news this week, I got an interesting variety of responses. People are lovely and they want to know you’ll be alright, is my main takeaway point, I suppose. And making a slightly unconventional choice makes some people uncomfortable. But for the most part, there was a lot of support and excitement, even if I had to answer some version of “but what will you do???” at least 6 different ways.

I wonder if in the not-too-distant future, making this kind of choice will be so commonplace, that concern or outright skepticism will have gone the way of my nemesis, the printer. My hope is that my small example will add to the growing chorus of people living lives on their own terms, smashing printers and doubts (and the patriarchy, because obviously) wherever we go.

And yet I haven't aged a day

How is this movie 18 years old, and printers still suck?