Swigunski had only planned to visit Georgia, a small country between eastern Europe and western Asia, for 30 days. But when Georgia closed its borders in early March to help curb the spread of the virus, the Missouri national had to extend his stay in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.
As Swigunski recalls, he quickly fell in love with Tbilisi’s old-world charm as well as its relaxed culture of good food and hospitality. Now, Swigunski, 33, lives and works from Tbilisi as a Bedouin businessman, a decision that has helped him lead “a higher quality of life at a fraction of the cost,” he told CNBC Make It.
If he had lived in the United States, Suygunsky adds, “I would have worked a lot…now, I’m semi-retired.”
Tragedy, then wander
Swigonsky has always dreamed of traveling the world, and before graduating from the University of Missouri in 2011, he found himself at a crossroads: pursuing a traditional job at the company, or traveling to Prague, where he was offered the opportunity to lead a group of students studying abroad.
Then, a month before graduation, Swigonsky’s mother died of breast cancer. “I was completely devastated,” he says. “I was 22 years old, and I was at a loss which way to go…but I knew my mother wanted me to follow my dreams.” He decided to pursue his passion and booked a one-way ticket to Europe.
Since then, Swigunski has visited more than 100 countries, and lives and works in different regions for months or years at a time: he was a travel writer in Korea, an advertising director in Australia and a marketing and sales manager in New Zealand, among other jobs.
Four years ago, Swigunski decided to invest his experience in remote work and travel. His company, Global Career, is an online resource for jobs, workshops, training, and more where people can learn about entrepreneurship as a digital nomad.
“These services help other people by inspiring them to create a different journey or start their global career,” he says. “I want to help others become digital nomads on a faster path.”
Living in Georgia is “ten times cheaper” than in the United States
Swigunski’s annual income ranges from $250,000 to $275,000 — and thanks to Georgia tax benefits, he can keep much more of his income than he otherwise would.
Georgia has a 1% tax rate for individual small business owners like Swigunski, and the United States has a tax benefit for expats that excludes up to $112,000 in income from taxes.
“Many businesses from Georgia are definitely a lot easier to run than if you were based in the US mainly because of the cost,” he explains. “If I were to try to replicate the same infrastructure in the US, it would probably be about ten times more expensive.”
According to Georgian law, citizens of 98 countries, including the United States, can stay there for a full year without a visa, and apply for an extension once the year is over, which Swingunski still lives in Georgia.
His biggest expenses are rent and utilities, which together amount to about $696 per month. Swigunski lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a private Italian garden that he found through a local realtor. “As soon as I saw this place, I fell in love,” he says.
Here’s a monthly breakdown of Swigunski’s spending (as of February 2022):
Rent and utilities: $696
Telephone: 3 dollars
health insurance: $42
Total: 1,592 USD
One aspect of living alone that Swigunski learned he didn’t enjoy early on was cooking – so once he moved to Georgia, he hired a private chef to come to his house six days a week and prepare meals for him, which cost about $250 per person. Month.
A private chef may seem like a fancy account, but Swigunski says it saved him a lot of money. “Without a chef, I would often eat out and order fast food,” he says. “But having a chef allows me to eat healthy food and saves me money and time that I can dedicate to my work instead.”
“I am happier living in Tbilisi than I would have lived anywhere else.”
Swigunski’s favorite part about being a backpacker entrepreneur is that “every day feels different”.
Every morning, Swigunski loves to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book outside in his garden, then tries to sneak in a quick meditation and practice session before getting into work.
He usually works from home because it’s the “most productive” place, but sometimes heads out to a coffee shop or co-working space with friends.
One of the biggest differences between living in Georgia and the United States, says Soigonsky, is that Georgians are “more comfortable.” “A lot of places don’t open until 10 in the morning, and Georgians generally work to live and not live to work,” he adds.
There is a phrase describing Georgian hospitality: “The guest is a gift from God.” This was true of Swigunski, who noted that people are “very welcoming of foreigners” and have been “absolutely wonderful” to try it.
But living abroad is not as magical as it might seem on the surface. “It’s not for everyone,” says Swigonsky. “There will be a lot of different variables that you will not be able to replicate from your old life in the United States.”
Because Georgia is still a developing country, explains Soigonsky, “the electricity or water goes out a little bit more here than in other places—and it doesn’t happen every day, but it happens twice a year.”
Although he feels homesick for his family and friends in the US at times, Swigunski says he is “happier living in Tbilisi than anywhere else in the world,” and plans to stay in Tbilisi for the foreseeable future.
“Will I live in the United States again? I absolutely don’t want to talk, I love America,” he says. “But as of now, I am enjoying my life abroad more than if I were to live in the United States.”
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