This 33-year-old left the US for Georgia and lives on $1,592 a month

This 33-year-old left the US for Georgia and lives on ,592 a month

In 2020, Mike Swigunski was among millions of people in lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe. But instead of settling down with roommates or family, Swigunski was 6,000 miles from home, alone in a foreign country.

Swigunski had only planned to visit Georgia, a small country between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, for 30 days. When Georgia closed its borders in early March to curb the spread of the virus, the Missouri native was forced to extend his stay in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.

However, as Swigunski recalls, he quickly fell in love with Tbilisi’s old-world charm and laid-back culture of good food and warm hospitality. Now Swigunski, 33, lives and works as a nomadic entrepreneur from Tbilisi, a decision that has helped him live “a higher quality of life at a fraction of the cost,” he tells CNBC Make It.

If he lived in the US, Swigunski adds, “I’d have to work a lot more… I’m semi-retired now.”

Tragedy, then wanderlust

Swigunski had always dreamed of traveling the world, and before graduating from the University of Missouri in 2011, he found himself at a crossroads between pursuing a traditional corporate job or traveling to Prague, where he had the opportunity was offered to lead a group of students studying abroad.

Then, a month before graduation, Swigunski’s mother died of breast cancer. “I was absolutely devastated,” he says. “I was 22 years old and confused about which path to follow … but I knew my mother would have wanted me to follow my dreams.” Deciding to follow his passion, he booked a one-way ticket to Europe.

Since then, Swigunski has traveled to over 100 countries and lived and worked in different places for months or years: he has been a travel writer in Korea, advertising manager in Australia and marketing and sales manager in New Zealand, among other jobs.

Four years ago, Swigunski decided to monetize his expertise in remote work and travel. His company Global Career is an online resource with job boards, workshops, coaching and more where people can learn more about entrepreneurship as a digital nomad.

“These services help other people by inspiring them to take a different journey or start their own global career,” he says. “I want to help other people become digital nomads on a faster path.”

Living in Georgia is “ten times” cheaper than in the US

Swigunski’s annual income ranges from $250,000 to $275,000 — and thanks to Georgia tax breaks, he’s able to keep a lot more of his income than usual.

Georgia has a 1% tax rate for individual small business owners like Zwigunski, and the US has an expat tax break that exempts up to $112,000 in income from taxation.

“It’s definitely a lot easier to run multiple businesses from Georgia than if I were based in the US, and it’s mostly a matter of cost,” he explains. “If I tried to replicate my same infrastructure in the US, it would probably be about 10 times more expensive.”

According to Georgian law, citizens of 98 countries, including the United States, can stay there for a whole year without a visa and apply for an extension after the year, so Swingunski still lives in Georgia.

His biggest expenses are his rent and utilities, which together add up to about $696 a month. Swigunski lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a private Italian garden that he found through a local agent. “As soon as I saw this place, I fell in love,” he says.

Here is a monthly breakdown of Swigunski’s expenses (as of February 2022):

Mike Swigunski’s average monthly spend

Gene Woo Kim | CNBC does it

Rent and utilities: $696

Meal: $469

Transport: $28

Phone: $3

Subscriptions: $16

Health insurance: $42

Travel: $338

In total: $1,592

One aspect of living alone that Swigunski disliked early on was cooking. When he moved to Georgia, he hired a private chef to come to his house six days a week and prepare meals for him, at a cost of about $250 per month.

A private chef might sound like a luxurious expense, but Swigunski says it actually saved him a ton of money. “Without a chef, I would eat out a lot more and order takeout,” he says. “But having a chef allows me to eat healthier and it saves me money and time that I can devote to my business instead.”

“I live happier in Tbilisi than anywhere else”

Swigunski’s favorite part about being a nomadic entrepreneur is that “every day looks different.”

Every morning, Swigunski likes to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book outside in his garden, then tries to sneak into a quick meditation and workout before checking in for work.

He usually works from home because that’s where he’s “most productive”, but sometimes he goes to a coffee shop or coworking space with friends.

One of the biggest differences between life in Georgia and the US, Swigunski says, is that Georgians are “much more relaxed.” “A lot of places don’t open until 10 am, and in general Georgians work to live and don’t live to work,” he adds.

There is a phrase that describes Georgian hospitality: “A guest is a gift from God.” This is true of Swigunski, who notes that people are “very hospitable to strangers” and in his experience “absolutely wonderful”.

But living abroad isn’t as glamorous as it might seem on the surface. “It’s not for everyone,” says Swigunski. “There’s going to be a lot of different variables that you can’t replicate from your old life in the US.”

Because Georgia is still a developing country, Swigunski explains, “You get cut off electricity or water a little more here than in other places — it doesn’t happen every day, but it happens a couple of times a year.”

Although he sometimes feels homesick for his family and friends in the US, Swigunski says he is “happier living in Tbilisi” than “anywhere else in the world,” and plans to remain in Tbilisi for the foreseeable future.

“Would I ever live in the US again? I don’t want to speak in absolute numbers, I love America,” he says. “But now I enjoy my life abroad much more than if I lived in the US.”

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