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. 

 

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?

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?

 

…and taxes

Given that taxes are one half of the oft-cited only two certainties in life, you might expect my humble profession to have a more glamorous, or at least dramatic, reputation. And yet, despite having a profound influence on every aspect of our financial lives, some people (inexplicably!) find the topic less than scintillating. Shocking, I know.

I found myself in this field somewhat by accident, but after nearly a decade working with expats and taxes, I can tell you it’s far from dull. Especially working with individuals, and never more so than in the context of international moves. Helping people sort their taxes out can be incredibly gratifying at the best of times, when I ideally help set someone’s mind at ease, or provide insight into complex areas that can be rife with misinformation. Then there are the other times, when someone perhaps wishes they’d thought about taxes a bit sooner. Those conversations can be a tad more dramatic, albeit not the kind any of us hopes for.

But at the end of the day, dealing with tax means dealing with people and their lives, in all their beautiful, messy complexity. The intermingling of their pasts and their futures. 

International moves can be overwhelming. And for busy professionals, often their taxes could be one of the last things they want to devote their valuable time to thinking about. So I always count it a personal, as well as professional, win when someone tells me how glad they were they spoke with me, even at that most hectic time in their life. And even in those, shall we say, ‘dramatic’ times, it’s always better to get a plan in place sooner rather than later.

When I say I found myself here by accident, I will admit I didn’t set out to be a tax professional when I grew up. I sometimes joke that it doesn’t tend to be what little girls dream of. (For the record, I believe my top professional aspiration at age 8 would’ve been “princess.” Still waiting on that one…)

When I signed up for the on-campus interview through my university, I was drawn in by the “international” aspect of the job description. I later found out that the job entailed diving deep into this very specialised area of US tax that many people never think about. But it has expanded my own global mindset in every way possible, and now I count myself truly fortunate to be able to work in a profession that so closely aligns with my values.

I deeply believe that global mobility is an incredibly powerful tool for personal and professional growth and fulfilment. I also deeply believe that the freer people are to move around the planet, the better our world becomes. In that sense, I consider it an honour to play a part in facilitating that freedom, one person at a time.

The other side of the equation is helping people sort out a major area of their finances. To the extent that I can help people feel more empowered, and less in the dark, about the financial impact of their relocation, to me that’s absolutely worthwhile, values-driven work. To take something that can feel overwhelming and undecipherable, and make it relatable and actionable to individuals, given their own individual facts and circumstances, is really rewarding.

So, despite a somewhat mild-mannered reputation, I see my work as furthering two of the things I value the most: empowering individuals in both location freedom and financial freedom.

I try to keep that in mind even when I delve into the denser or nerdier aspects of expat tax, which I may even do on this blog. And if it inspires or reassures anyone to take the leap into the expat or globally mobile lifestyle, it will be well worth it!

Do you have any areas of confusion on expat tax issues?

Particularly from a US perspective, either people moving to the US, or US people moving abroad? I’d love to hear from you and plan some posts to help bring some clarity to any areas of confusion! There are absolutely no silly questions in this complex area, and remember, smart people ask.

The Perks of Being an Outlier

I’ve recently started using Twitter. Re-started, rather. I was an early adopter but eventually found it a strange combination of information overload and dull, and gave it up. What I’ve come to realise is I just hadn’t found my tribe. I’ve partially done that now, by following a bunch of really smart, inspiring people in the financial independence community, as well as the expat community. It’s become one of the top sources of new content for me. I love reading content by, and interacting with, people who are so immersed in the subjects I care about.

On the financial independence side, one of the things I value is the diversity of the stories there, how people are all taking their own unique paths in pursuit of their goals, and how many of us share a common goal of greater freedom over our lives and our time. One recent post that spoke to that was this guest post on Millennial Money Man’s excellent blog.

I was delighted to read it, as it echoes many of my own thoughts on the subject of financial independence. It was so gratifying. Here was someone else who valued freedom as highly as I do, and was taking steps to get there! I wasn’t the only one!

Before I started following blogs like that, I didn’t know there was this big, supportive community of weirdos like me. What I did know was that the unspoken rule in our culture is: you don’t talk about money.  And I picked up on the fact that, understandably, many people wouldn’t want to talk about early retirement when they could be uncertain whether they’ll ever be able to retire at all, full stop. And so I added financial independence to the list of things that I was interested in, that most people just wouldn’t relate to. I was used to having such a list, was used to being a bit of an outlier.

I suspect that most of us in the FIRE community learn to pick our audience carefully, around the sensitive topic of personal finance. Probably there are other aspects of our lives that we selectively share, not out of secrecy but more out of a desire not to bore (or worse, alienate) people with our sometimes nerdy pursuits. I suppose I’ve always been an outlier of sorts, even though I try to “pass” for normal in polite society… with varying degrees of success ;). But I think there are some perks to being an outlier, even if you sometimes feel as though you live a double life of sorts.

There are a few different, but overlapping and, I think, complementary, aspects to being an outlier that work in our favour.

Here are some things that make us weird, in a good way, and how I think that ultimately gets us closer to our goals, financial or otherwise.

 

Immigrant mindset – Put yourself in a place where you are the different one

One thing that will definitely make you aware of being different is being a foreigner. You’re weird by definition, and it’s so freeing. It’s a great, eye-opening experience that I have come to love. I recently watched a great TEDx talk by Tayo Rockson, who is a seriously inspiring thinker on the subject of global mindset (he also runs one of my favourite podcasts). His talk included the above line which really resonated with me. It’s what we as immigrants, expats, and digital nomads do regularly, and it’s so beneficial. We’re in places where we’re the different ones, in one way or another.

Having an immigrant mindset changes the way you look at the world and you ultimately become culturally bilingual, which is a huge asset. If you can understand not just the culture you grew up in, but another one as well, you’re at a massive advantage. That’s two (or more) sets of wisdom and “common sense” for you to draw from (and question, as we’ll see below). Part of what’s so powerful about this is you learn that conventional wisdom isn’t universal, and that there are diverse ways of knowing and being.

You also learn to code-switch, much in the same way those of us in the FIRE community learn how and when to talk about our goals for financial independence. There’s no better, faster, or harsher, lesson in the importance of picking your audience. Immigrants get this. Immigrants also hustle hard.

 

Self-experimentation – The Tim Ferriss Effect

It seems like there’s a significant overlap between the FIRE community and what I’ve come to think of as the “Tim Ferriss Effect.” I think Tim brought a lot of new ideas into the collective consciousness in a way that hadn’t been done before, or at least not as effectively. For those of us who had always been prone to being outliers, reading his work lit a spark and made us aware that self-experimentation, and thinking differently, wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but celebrated. And that it could be beneficial, even profitable. As I continue to learn from others in this space, I see his name pop up over and over as an early inspiration for a lot of people. I’d count myself in that group, in my own small way.

Looking back, it was kettlebells that proved to be my gateway drug. See, I’d believed the gospel of women’s magazines that long hours of steady-state cardio was the One True Path to the body I wanted, and yet strangely enough, all that time on the treadmill wasn’t getting me the results I sought. I genuinely hadn’t considered that there might be a better way, until I read Tim’s book, the 4 Hour Body.

Then, when I began to see results from trying something different, from doing a little independent research, from going against the conventional wisdom, it’s like it gave me permission to start questioning everything. I started reading up on lifestyle design, and while it took a few years for me to really action any of what I was reading so voraciously, that first step of shifting my mindset was crucial. The mindset shift that acknowledges it’s ok to do something different, even if it’s different from what the “experts” recommend.

If we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the literal treadmill, we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the figurative treadmill of high-spending/low-savings/40 year working life. We can challenge the idea that the place you were born is the place you should stay. We can demand something more, something better, something different.

 

Question everythingNot following the herd

Once you feel you have “permission” to question everything, and a good many badass people don’t require even that, you have the keys to the kingdom. From self-experimentation, the natural progression is self-education. We learn we don’t need to rely on authorities, we learn that conventional wisdom is often plain wrong. And we learn how to find the information we need. Or if it’s not out there, to create it ourselves.

The blogging community does this so incredibly well. There’s detailed information available now that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. One great example is the now-classic and oft-cited FIRE tax strategy known as the Roth Conversion Ladder. Thanks to outliers like the MadFIentist, it’s now out there for anyone to discover.

The way I see it, the future belongs to the outliers, to those who embrace being the different one, who get out in front of the herd. And I think we can all do this, not just in the realms of personal finance or global mobility, but in whatever areas we’re passionate about. And by doing so, we not only reach our goals faster, we bring others along on the journey.

Reflections on a year abroad

One year ago I was getting on a plane, with a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Dublin, and all of my physical possessions in a few bags. It wasn’t my first expat experience, although perhaps it should’ve felt like the most momentous. This was across an ocean! In a country I’d never been to before! For who-knows-how-long! And yet, I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive. What was the worst that could happen, I figured?

It’s an attitude that I try to remind myself of often. Expats, world travellers, immigrants, and all variety of hustlers, we’re all risk-takers, but we know a secret: most risks aren’t really that risky. Getting on a plane is easy, and you figure the rest out when you get there. Starting a business or a side hustle doesn’t have to be agonised over, it can be started with a simple, single step. In fact, that’s the only way. That’s how it works, and you don’t need to wait for permission, or for some pre-tested checklist. And if we can remember that, we can gather the nerve to do some pretty epic shit.

I’ve lived in Ireland for a year now. Dublin feels like home, or home-ish. I’ve mostly figured out what I needed to, gotten the lay of the land. I’ve had those perfect, expat-magic days when everything about this city seemed wonderful and significant. And I’ve had those rough days where I felt out of place and uncomfortable and sad.

Like the day I found out I wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage here because of the work visa I’m on, for example. In hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise, but at the time, facing what I thought would be endlessly rising rents, and viewing a flat that I could totally, really easily afford to buy, being told “no” felt like a devastating blow. Sometimes being a foreigner means having doors slammed in your face, decisively and for no good reason. The rules are sometimes just different for us, it’s not fair, and it sucks. But #immigranthustle means accepting that life isn’t fair, and developing resilience.

Because not being able to buy a house does suck, maybe, but when things don’t come easily is when we have the chance to be our most creative and tenacious and fearless. And when we’re a bit off-script is sometimes where we can find room to play in the margins, whether it’s carefully managing our tax residency, or maintaining funds in multiple currencies. Or simply not buying a property in the run-up to another housing boom. Just a few small things that spring to mind. 😉

And I think taking these risks, and weathering the setbacks, has a compounding effect. We just keep getting stronger and braver, ready to take on even bigger risks, unafraid. I need that reminder, as I’m currently preparing to take an even bigger risk, something potentially much further off-script than I’ve done thus far. And I’m surprisingly at peace about it. More than that, I’m excited. What’s the worst that could happen?

Minimalism for Expats

Minimalism has become a full-blown cultural movement. The Minimalists have a hugely popular podcast, and film that has recently come to Netflix. When I encountered the concept a few years ago, it was immediately a good fit for my personality and preferences. I’ve been naturally inclined in that direction for most of my life, and I loved reading about how others interpreted the idea of living with less and reducing excess. I eagerly delved into accounts of capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, and living with 100 things or less. It makes for compelling reading.

However, for many people, it’s understandable how minimalism could remain a casual Pinterest fascination. They might sense that applying some of the ideas could benefit their lives, but lack that motivating factor. One group of people I think can benefit from minimalism in very real, tangible ways is the globally mobile: the expats, the digital nomads, those of us who try out new countries as readily as some people try out new neighbourhoods. I believe our ranks will only continue to increase, and that one of the best ways to prepare for a successful move is to embrace minimalism.

Here are some ways embracing minimalism will make your life easier, freer, and better, whether you are making an international move or not:

1. Travel light: Whether you are travelling for a weekend, a few weeks, indefinitely, or picking up and transplanting your life to a new location, the concept of travelling lightly will serve you well. “Stuff” weighs you down, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually. You’ll find you can make your move(s) so much easier and simpler if you can cut down your physical possessions to only the essentials.

This is an iterative process and it helps if you minimise early, and minimise often. If you only have a few pairs of shoes, because you’ve been diligently minimising for months prior to your move, it’s not hard to decide which to bring with you. And better yet, if you’re not that attached to any of them, it’s not hard to leave some behind. There will be shoes in your new country, trust and believe this.

I thought I had made a fairly minimal move, and even still I found myself donating various items a few months after I’d arrived in Ireland. Bring less than you think, it’s almost never a mistake.

still too much

What I brought with me to Ireland (aka all my worldly possessions).

2. Simplify your finances: When you move to a new country, or hop around the globe, it’s really helpful if you can keep your financial life as streamlined as possible. The last thing you need is to have 20 different passwords for 20 different financial institutions, and then to have to remember which card charges you foreign transaction fees, and which accounts you have linked, etc.

I suggest keeping a bank account open in your home country, and best yet if you have a no- foreign transaction fee credit card that’s with the same provider. Extra bonus points if you don’t pay an annual fee for either the account or the card. Banking is annoyingly expensive in Ireland, but from what I can tell there’s not much that can be done about that. I kept my US bank account, and a Visa associated with that account. For investments, I’m all Vanguard. I have a Paypal linked to my US bank, and another linked to my Irish bank.

I haven’t found anything like Mint or Personal Capital that works with non-US accounts, but at least I can log into Mint and it only needs to check two financial institutions to give me a snapshot of everything on the US side. I’ve been keeping the Irish side low key for now, so there’s only a few places I need to look there, too.

3. Minimalist home: Let’s assume you adhered to Minimalist Expat Commandment #1 and didn’t lug a bunch of heavy home furnishings and decor half way around the globe with you. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Now that you’re in your new country, for however long that may be, see if you can keep your home-related acquisitions to a minimum.

My flat when I moved in. (I added the Bay blanket. And the wine.)

To dress up my furnished flat, I purchased a few things to hang on the walls, a few throw pillows, a charity shop chair, and a storage ottoman/coffee table. Plus the necessary kitchen stuff. All of this will probably stay in the flat when I leave, or get donated. And I’m none to precious about any of it, which helps when I’m letting the place on Airbnb when I travel. I don’t mind if they break a plate or two (although this hasn’t happened, but it seems to be a concern for some people, who ask me: “What about your STUFF?” in anxious tones when I tell them I host Airbnb guests when I’m out of town).

4. Daily routines: By this I mean your day to day cooking and grooming and whatnot. Have you encountered people who feel as though they require a lot of complicated accessories just to get ready for a normal day? Simplifying this, to the extent possible, makes travel and relocation a lot easier. I don’t feel I need 15 different hair products to be a valuable member of society or to enjoy my life. And I really enjoy the ease of packing, since all my normal personal care products easily fit into the 1L bag limit. Being flexible and adaptable is something to continually practice, and is a skill that would serve any expat well.

I’ve come across expats who complained that the posh nail salon in our exclusive, wealthy suburb of northern Johannesburg (Sandton, just to name-drop for those in the know), didn’t stock the right kind of gel nail polish. I don’t know, but it seemed like they might have been missing the point? Try to make peace with an alternate brand of gel nail polish, is all I’m saying.

5. Technology and digital life: This is one area I’m working on. I sometimes bring more devices than is strictly necessary, but the setup I currently have is:

      • laptop

      • iPad

      • iPhone

      • Kindle Paperwhite

      • associated chargers

      • external battery pack

I don’t bring all my devices on every trip, but if I were moving longer term again, or if I were transitioning to full digital nomad, I think I’d keep more or less this roster. The iPad is a few years old and probably the most redundant, but I like it for reading free magazines from the library (shoutout to the Zinio app! Don’t buy expensive magazines, fam). In reality, I probably won’t replace it when it dies, especially now that my laptop is a lovely, lovely Macbook.

Technology setup, on the multi-use ottoman.

I also have a portable bluetooth speaker that sorts out my music needs, usually via Spotify. With Spotify and Netflix, I’m well covered from an entertainment perspective, and the only thing I need in a new country is wifi. No TV or stereo required, either in a shipping container, or in a rented flat.

So there you have it. There are surely countless more benefits to minimalism when you are undertaking something as major as moving countries, but with simple, streamlined, and thoughtful possessions, finances, homes, habits, and technology, you’ll be well ahead of the curve. Go forth and become location independent with intention!

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.

Little expat wins: my €0.02 on car ownership

 

I recently listened to a great podcast by the amazingly informative and thorough lads over at www.ChooseFI.com. I’ve enjoyed all their podcasts so far, but the topic of their most recent episode was interesting to me mainly because it didn’t apply to me at all. Let me explain.

The True Cost of Car Ownership

Jonathan and Brad do a terrific job of breaking down the cost of car ownership, and their comprehensive and satisfyingly math-y approach will serve as a really useful resource for a lot of people. They come at the issue from the entirely reasonable assumption that most Americans can’t or won’t give up car ownership altogether. That cars are an expensive, necessary evil. And for the most part, they’re right. But it made me appreciate how my particular life journey has allowed me to bypass car ownership altogether. And it made me wonder how much that choice has saved me over the years.

I have lived without a car for most of my adult life. I couldn’t afford one in high school or university, and then didn’t want the hassle of paying for parking when I lived in a city. I grew up in a remote, rural area and spent many, many boring hours in cars as a child. I think that experience influenced my decision to live car-free once I had the choice to do so.

I haven’t always been naturally inclined towards what might be called Mustachian lifestyle choices, but one thing that’s always been a priority for me has been living close to where I work. That made me something of an outlier in the US (even in dense, walkable Seattle most people I knew had cars), but I was perfectly content with that. When I was ready to leave Seattle and pondering my next move, one of my top criteria was that my next city had to be walkable or otherwise conducive to a car-free lifestyle. I first cast a glance around the US and didn’t find many places that seemed to fit the bill.

Rather than take it as a given that owning a particular item, or even living in a particular country, was non-negotiable, I decided to think outside those perceived constraints:

 What would happen if I resolved to find a location that suited my preferred lifestyle, instead of adjusting my lifestyle to fit into a particular location?

Most cities in Europe are extremely supportive of a car-free lifestyle, and since moving to Dublin, I haven’t given any thought to getting a car here. I walk everywhere 95% of the time, and take public transit otherwise (and that’s mostly just to and from the airport!). It’s such a natural fit for me that, until I listened to the excellent podcast from the ChooseFI gents, I had genuinely forgotten that so many people consider a car an essential possession.

It occurred to me that it’s a good example of how thinking just a little differently can align with FI principles in so many ways. In my case, being willing to eschew car ownership supports not only a form of minimalism, but also health, geo-arbitrage, participating in the sharing economy, concern for the environment, and just generally living in a way that supports my values. The fact that it’s saved me many thousands of dollars(/euros) over the years is really just icing on the cake. I’d choose to live this way regardless of the cost.

But, just for fun, let’s break down the theoretical savings, using the ChooseFI guys’ methodology:

Based on their assumption that the true annual cost of owning a 10 year old fuel efficient vehicle was $2,605, and using their example of compounding annually (calculator is from MoneyChimp) at an average return of 8% over 20 years, my decision will have made me more than $140,000 richer than if I’d owned even the most efficient and least silly car possible.

And if I’d somehow undergone a personality transplant and bought a brand new SUV, I’d be $420,000 poorer than I’m going to be.

There aren’t always clear wins when it comes to expat life and finances, but this seems like one of them. When we are willing to look outside the bounds of both conventional wisdom and geography, we can find ways to live that align with our goals, values, and beliefs. For me personally, I don’t foresee a time when I will want to live in a place where I’d need a car. Fortunately, there are so many exciting places around the world that aren’t car-dependent that I’m confident I’ll be able to find locations and ways to live that work for me.

Ultimately, that’s the goal of becoming location independent with intention, no matter one’s personal transportation or other lifestyle preferences. As millennials in particular, we don’t want to be tied down by rules we didn’t choose, or values we don’t subscribe to. And I see the amazing and inspiring diversity of the FI community, the minimalism movement, and the location independent/expat community as being a sumptuous array of experiments in lifestyle design. The more that we all think critically about our choices, and think for ourselves, the richer (in every sense of the word) all of our lives will be.

freedom is a cheap ryanair flight

Location independent vs. financially independent

I have two internet obsessions. One is the roaming, globe-trotting nomads of Instagram (some of my favourites are Divergent Travelers,  How Far From Home, Goats on the Road). I love gawking at their adventures and planning more of my own. Being free to explore the world has always been one of my main goals and passions. And I’ve never been satisfied with the idea of doing so in traditional “vacations”, the frequency and length of which being limited by virtue of being an employee. This yearning for freedom by way of being location independent seems fairly common amongst my fellow millennials.

However, my second obsession is far nerdier and perhaps less glamorous, at least on its face. It’s the world not of the location independent, but of the financially independent. A small (but growing), weird and wonderful corner of the internet where acronyms like FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early, of course) need no explanation, and heated discussions about savings rates and the 4% rule and low cost index funds abound. These amazing and dedicated individuals save early and save often, so they can be free to leave full-time employment and live life on their own terms. The “retire early” part of FIRE is something of a misnomer, as most people I follow stay very active and in many cases even in income-generating activities. The key is they’re free to do so, or not, as and when they like. And perhaps most importantly of all, they’re free to spend their most valuable resource, namely their time, as they see fit.

I find inspiration from both camps, but not always as much overlap. It makes sense. The people that are dedicated to achieving financial independence aren’t spending all their money gallivanting around the world. They’re steady on the grind, paying off their mortgages and accumulating wealth in their various countries’ tax-deferred savings vehicles. And the people who are most mobile might struggle to find consistent ways to save. But it’s left me wondering if there isn’t a third way.

I got clued into the financial independence concept later than I might have liked. In 2015 I first got hooked on minimalism and downsizing my personal possessions. From there, one thing lead to another, I devoured Mr. Money Mustache’s entire oeuvre, and decided to see where I might land if I were just a little bit more badass.

I was a good few years into my career so it was long past time. I was also living in the US where a lot of the relevant literature is from and tailored to. So it was easy to follow the formula others had laid out. Max 401k, max IRA, throw the rest into Vanguard index funds, rinse, repeat. And I had that routine pretty well down. Salaries are decent in much of the US, including Seattle, and living even moderately sensibly (I could hardly call myself frugal!) allowed for all of this to happen pretty painlessly.

There was one problem. I wasn’t happy living in the US and I had known for a long time that I wanted out. But could I walk away from a path that seemed to be all but guaranteed to lead to financial independence in a reasonable time frame? Fear of the unknown could’ve kept me stagnant, but I chose something different. Ultimately, money wasn’t and isn’t the most important thing, and I chose a new adventure here in Ireland instead, accepting the pay cut and higher taxes that came along with it. I knew I was taking a fork in the road to FI, but I did so with eyes open.

But now I’m living in Europe, travelling as much as I can on the weekends, and finally taking stock of how my two duelling obsessions might intersect. I don’t want to give up the freedom of movement, but I do want to feel like I’m moving towards my financial goals as well. I think it’s possible, even if it’s not easy.

I’m still exploring how best to optimise this particular fork in the road, and I’m open to the possibility of taking a few more unconventional turns along the way. A few things are working in my favour, that many others could avail of, if they chose to. As I see it, here are the secret (totally not secret) tips to buoy your financial confidence and embolden you to take your own adventurous fork in the road:

  1. Be debt free. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But if you’re not currently debt-free, make every effort you can to move in that direction. It gives me a lot of confidence to take (calculated, considered) risks, knowing that I have no fixed monthly debt payments to factor in. Essentially, if I can cover my monthly living expenses, and sock a little extra away, I won’t feel like I’ve moved backwards, at least. I can move around the world without any debt following me around, and it’s incredibly freeing.
  2. Keep your monthly expenses low. Again, it’s not rocket science. But when you know you can live comfortably on a relatively modest sum, you keep your options far more open. And when you’re more location independent, you can make choices to live in lower cost locations when you need or want to. But the first step towards making this work for you is being flexible. If you aren’t too picky about having the shiniest, fanciest stuff, and if you’re willing to do the harder, better things like walking instead of taking taxis, and cooking for yourself, you free yourself doubly. Firstly, and immediately, you stop wasting so much money right now. Secondly, and forever, you stop being dependent on paying other people to meet your basic needs. I have a lot more to say about this, but as a basic principle, it’s essential. It underpins the concept of being independent in every sense of the word, and makes you a better, more useful, more interesting person.
  3. Pay attention to taxes. People don’t like doing this, but they should suck it up and learn. If your money can keep growing tax-deferred while you are off taking a few adventurous detours, or if you can maintain a few longer-term tax strategies, like the oft-cited Roth IRA ladder, or carefully managing your tax residency status (more on this to come), you can make strides towards financial goals even in times of potentially reduced income. I’m still exploring the tax efficient options available in Europe, but as a tax person, it’s something that is always factored into my analysis, and I’d like to help others do the same. 
  4. Remember that money isn’t the most important thing. I love personal finance and financial independence bloggers, but if you read enough of them you risk tunnel vision. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t got it all figured out by a particular age or life milestone. Don’t measure your worth by your net worth. But do get educated and empowered, because making your money work for you is a great way to get to focus on the really important things.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out yet, and that’s OK. The more of us that are out there, exploring unique and unconventional paths, the better.