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. 

 

Nomad budget

While I’m still in Dublin, and still have my apartment here, I’ve been thinking ahead to my plan after I give it up and become more fully nomadic. Being something of a personal finance geek, and given that my income is now highly variable, the topic of my monthly budget has been top of mind. I have no intention of blowing through too much of my savings on this experiment/adventure. So I’ve been considering how to plan and forecast to ensure my financial goals are being met, as well as lifestyle ones.

I believe the digital nomad lifestyle can be even more affordable than living full time in many expensive cities, even when some of our untraditional costs may be higher than is typical in many budgets. So I’ve been planning, running some numbers, and researching the options. I like to keep things simple, so I’ve minimised the categories to the extent possible. But I think it’s still realistic and includes room for both the things I value, and for emergencies.

 

Monthly budget for digital nomad in Europe

Budget for Europe nomad-ing:
Rent (including wifi/heat/electricity) 650
Food 200
Phone 50
Flights (yearly average) 250
Local transport 50
Entertainment (including Netflix & Spotify) 50
Insurance (World Nomads estimate for a year) 50
Yoga 100
Total 1400

Process:

  1. Determine the required line items
  2. Research
  3. Think both best case and worst case

Most of the line items on my budget are fairly obvious. I don’t have a lot of must-haves, and yet as I look at it, I see luxuries built in at every turn. The rent budget is sufficient to stay in Airbnb’s all to myself in many cities in Europe, when booked on a monthly basis. If I had to I could easily find cheaper accommodations. The food budget is has plenty of room in it even here in Dublin, and in many places in Europe food is much cheaper. Yoga is something I really love to do, and is important enough that I include it in the budget, even though it’s a total luxury. I could practice on my own, but I really love finding local studios to practice with a teacher and in a group setting. So that stays on the budget, knowing it could be cut if necessary.

My research has consisted primarily of checking Airbnb, sites like Expatistan, NomadList, Numbeo, and Teleport. I also monitor Google Flights and Skyscanner on a regular basis so I’m pretty comfortable with how much I’d spend on flights in a year.

However, the flight budget is a good example of what I mean by thinking both best-case and worst-case. If I go back to Vancouver twice a year, without any trips booked on points, and with trips at some of the more expensive times of year to fly, that could be €1,400 in flights on its own (worst case). That would leave €1,600 in the yearly budget for flights to and from everywhere else. With any flexibility and advance planning at all, I think that’s very doable, thanks to some of the low cost carriers operating in Europe. It’s important to me to be able to both go back to Vancouver regularly, as well as spend time in regularly Dublin, to be with my boyfriend. So in the best case, I might very well spend less than €200 in any given month. But if I spend €3,000 in a year, it won’t be a disaster.

Plan:

  1. There’s never a “normal” month, in any budget
  2. Lows will help offset highs

A universal truth in personal finance, regardless of whether we’re settled or nomadic, is that there’s no such thing as a normal month. The only true constants in my budget seem to be the cost of Netflix and Spotify. Everything else is in a constant state of flux, and it’s useful to be aware of that so the fluctuations aren’t perceived as stressful or unexpected. A good budget can and will flex and adapt to accommodate these perfectly normal, abnormal occurrences.

For example, I’m very much hoping that my housing costs may average out to be less than €650 per month. Some of the cities I’m eyeing up have really nice Airbnb offerings for closer to €500. But the trick then will be not to increase spending in other areas, because I see that extra “room” as being like built in insurance for unexpected increases in other areas, like if I’m somewhere that I need to take an expensive taxi, or if I need to replace any clothing.

Periodically assess:

    1. Revisit plan vs. Actual on a regular basis
    2. Adjust accordingly

Planning is nice (and I do mean that, although I do get that not everyone enjoys it as much as I do), but the reality can only be assessed in hindsight. That’s why I will go back and revisit the plan vs the actual spending on a regular basis. I think quarterly is the right frequency, as it’s not so granular that a single month could cause too much alarm, and yet it’s often enough to allow for course corrections throughout the year as needed. And, crucially, I’ll have to be open to adjusting based on those periodic assessments.

Starting out with a plan, as well as an expectation of variability and the need to be flexible and adaptable, seems like a balanced approach. If the plan is reasonable and within the boundaries we’re comfortable with, then we can move forward without fear or regret. And as always, rigidity is the enemy of frugality.

This budget accounts for yearly spending of €16,800. Depending on your perspective, that might be very lean indeed, or represent a princely sum. I think it’s enough to live well in many of the areas in Europe that I’m interested in right now. Stay tuned for my quarterly updates throughout 2018 to see how that looks in practice.

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.

Frugal expat tip #2: have a no-spend work week

When you’ve really settled into a place, you eventually find the rhythms and routines that work for you. It’s part of what makes a new location feel like home, instead of like an extended business trip (or, depending on your mindset, vacation).

One of the things that I’ve been doing lately is getting my weekly grocery shopping and most of my batch cooking done on the weekends, such that my meals are more or less ready for the entire week. It occurred to me that on workdays, where I walk to work, bring my own lunch, and go to yoga after work, I wouldn’t need to make any purchases at all.

Veggie-heavy meal prep

The Challenge

So I thought, why not make it into a challenge? I’m going to see how many weeks I can go without spending anything at all from Monday-Friday. It’s really not that different from usual, but it will cause me to be more mindful about just stopping in at the supermarket to pick up one or two things, and walking out having spent €15 on random items. Or getting coffee during my lunchtime walk, just because I feel like it.

My intention with this challenge is to be more mindful of my day to day spending, to plan my food shopping more carefully, and to practice being extra frugal in anticipation of some big changes I hope to implement soon. And I also just want to engender not spending money as the default modus operandi. Making a purchase should be a considered and mindful occasion.

It goes without saying, but of course anyone could avail of this frugal strategy. But I feel like especially expats and/or the globally mobile might not think to set up the same kinds of thoughtful, frugal routines as they would at “home,” and thereby mightn’t be as aware of their day to day spending habits. This will help push the reset button! Home is where you’re at right now, and being mindful with your money is one of the best things you can do to enhance your freedom and mobility even further.

I’ve now completed my 2nd week of this challenge and I plan on keeping it up for the rest of the summer! What ways are you saving money this summer?

 

Frugal Travel Tips

One of my primary intentions is to enjoy life to the fullest while still moving towards my financial goals. Location independence + financial independence is the ultimate dream, but until I get there I have no intention of cutting travel out of my life. I live simply in most ways so that I can experience the things that really matter to me, and travel is, and always has been, high on that list. And it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, if you’re thoughtful, creative, and adaptable.

Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your travel planning, to travel lighter, travel simpler, and travel more:

1. Pack light: This will save you in more ways than one. Firstly, don’t pay to check bags. Ever. (*Unless you are moving countries permanently, and even then, question each item ruthlessly.) This will save you up to €100/$100 per trip, since checked bags can range from €25 per bag, each way.

But the savings don’t stop there. When you travel carry-on only, you can easily avail of (fun, interesting, character-building!) public transport instead of needing to take boring, expensive taxis to fit your luggage. You can also happily stay in small Airbnb’s or hostels because you don’t have lots of stuff to store.

Are you travelling to admire your possessions, or to get out and experience something new?

2. Fly cheap(er): I avail of Ryanair whenever possible, but not everyone lives in an area that’s well served by low-cost carriers. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, basically all of the United States and Canada…) So here are a few ways to be sure you’re getting a good deal:

  • Google Flights: Are you using Google Flights yet? You should be. You can set up tracking for any flights you’re interested in, and it will let you know when it thinks the price is at its lowest. I really like the calendar feature as well, especially if you have flexible dates.

    Hopefully making a trip to gorgeous Cape Town later this year…

    I also like the Explore feature, where you can have a gander at where’s cheap to travel if you have specific dates in mind (like a long weekend, and you don’t mind where you go in a region with lots of great destinations, like Europe, or Southeast Asia, for example).

I wish they had a dedicated mobile app, but that’s my only quibble.

  • Hopper: I also like Hopper for helping me decide when to book or wait on a particular flight. It gives handy reminders from a mobile app telling you when it thinks you should book.

Savings: I’d say I average €100 savings on most round-trip flights I book, by following the sage advice of Google Flights and/or Hopper.

3. Airbnb: Airbnb is my first stop when booking accommodations. Rarely do I find a better/cheaper/overall more appealing option than on Airbnb. It’s great as a solo traveller, because you can book a room in a shared accommodation if you want the potential to interact with the host, or you can book the entire apartment if you rather have privacy. I’ve also had great experiences with Airbnb in groups, where we got lovely houses for a great price, and were able to cook/relax together either as a group of friends, or with family.

I was an early-ish adopter of Airbnb and have been using it since 2012, with almost entirely positive results.

If you still haven’t given it a try, here’s a code to get €20 off your first trip!

Get €20 off your first booking on Airbnb!

Savings: The places I stay tend to average €50 per night, and hotels can be up to €200 per night (!?! Or so I’m told! That sounds insane to me but okay…) So let’s say that’s an average savings of €450 per trip, since my weekend jaunts tend to be around 3 nights.

5. Ground transportation: Walk when you can, and public transport all other times, should be your default approach. Sometimes safety or practicality can make public transport untenable, but give it an honest consideration at least, and approach it from the perspective of being a bit adventurous and anti-fragile.

Savings: At my home airport, I save at least €50 per trip, just by taking the Dublin Bus Airlink, at €6 each way, or €10 round-trip, instead of taxis at ~€30 each way (or more in traffic). Then at my destination, I’d say it’s easily another €50 savings on average, as most European cities have even better airport-to-city-centre transit options than Dublin.

So, let’s estimate the total savings per short, weekend trip, of applying a few really basic principles:

TOTAL SAVINGS:

  • Pack light = €100

  • Fly cheap(er) = €100

  • Non-insane accommodations = €450

  • Ground transportation = €50-100 per trip

TOTAL= €700- €750 per trip!

Stick that chunk of change into your low cost index fund, or your fund for your next trip, and travel on, you frugal, personal finance whiz!

I’ve followed my own advice for my trip to Rome this past weekend. A roundup of the #pursepacking results and some pics to come!

Frugal expat tip #1: shop like an immigrant

 

I’ve written before about how the terms “expat” and “immigrant” are both somewhat unsatisfactory. I tend to use both with a bit of a winking eye alcohol suggestion:

But, gratuitous Arrested Development references aside, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and what’s good for the expat and the digital nomad is probably also good for the casual traveller as well as the locals. I definitely think that’s the case for this first Frugal Expat Tip.

Shop Like An Immigrant

Immigrants are smart, fam. They know where the good deals are, and they usually have some awesome ingredients. Perhaps best of all, if you’re doing your grocery shopping where the immigrants are, I can guarantee your food budget will stretch farther.

Food is the only thing I shop for on a regular basis, and my go-to supermarket here in Dublin is my friendly neighbourhood Aldi. They have both amazing prices and a reassuringly diverse clientele, so I knew I’d found a smart place to shop. My weekly food shop, including some luxuries like a bottle or two of wine and a bit of dark chocolate, comes to an average of €30 per week. That’s with loads of fresh veg, meat, eggs, cheese, coffee, and whatever household bits and bobs I may need, like bin liners or soap. With that, I make the vast majority of the food I eat in a week, with the exception of the odd restaurant meal (say once a week on average).

Just to math that shit up (to borrow a phrase from the always math-y Millennial Revolution) a quick sec, if I make 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and say 6 dinners a week, that’s 20 meals a week. If the average cost is €30 per week, that’s an average of €1.50 (or USD$1.64, or CAD$2.25) per meal. And that’s for stuff I enjoy and feel is healthy, like green smoothies with banana, spinach, and coconut oil in the morning, big salads with chicken & avocado for lunch, and things like Thai curries with loads of veggies for dinner. Plus good coffee every morning, and the odd glass of red wine with dinner.

When I lived in the US, I wasn’t lucky enough to live near an Aldi or a Lidl, but my solution worked just as well, if not better: Asian markets (the fewer white patrons, the better tbh). My favourite was the Vietnamese place near my old neighbourhood (what’s up, Hau-Hau). I would routinely get a week’s worth of healthy, fresh food here for $20 USD. You’d have to go elsewhere for little treats like chocolate or cheese (or anything not meat, fish, veg, or Asian-specific), but since they stocked the staple foods of my diet, at about half what I would have paid anywhere else, it was a big win. Plus it was just plain fun to shop there. This was one of my weekly hauls, and it came to less than $20 as I recall:

Here in Dublin, I’ve not found a full-service Asian market on par with the likes of Hau-Hau, but Aldi/Lidl do the trick, with some good Asian/African shops for sauces and spices and the like (shout out to Han Sung). And this is a trick I try to replicate when I travel on a more short-term basis, as well. I always love shopping in foreign supermarkets, and it’s the most fun when they’re not the overpriced, posh ones, which tend to be more generic. Go where the local immigrants, and the smartest of the local native-born population, go. Enjoy the slice of real life, enjoy not overpaying like a sucker, and enjoy the healthy, tasty results. Gawking at the weird stuff you’ve never heard of counts as bonus free entertainment. Extra bonus points if you walk there. 😉

Similar to my feelings on not owning a car, I see this as a triple win, at minimum: saving money, living healthier, and having way more fun. Plus the sense of satisfaction that you did the more badass thing. Start flexing those frugality muscles, and shop like an immigrant, whether you are one or not.