In 2014, I had a life-changing awakening: I survived an opioid overdose that landed me in intensive care.
Hitting rock bottom made me realize how lucky I am to be alive. I spent time in my hometown of Memphis to focus on my recovery and staying sober. Once I felt stable, I needed to figure out my next move.
My friends knew that I had always wanted to live abroad and suggested that I look for teaching jobs abroad. So, in 2015, I enrolled in an online program for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, which is often required by schools that hire English teachers. I applied to 50 schools before finally getting an offer from a school in Barcelona, Spain.
I spent a year teaching there before moving on to my next post in Budapest, Hungary.
After two years in Budapest, I got tired of teaching and wanted to do something new. It was then that I decided to launch my career as a freelance writer.
I never got tired of living in Budapest, though. In fact, it’s been my home for almost six years now. Here’s how I started my expat journey, along with my days and how much I spend:
Obtain Hungarian residency as a US citizen
After my teaching contract in Budapest ended, I returned to Memphis to expand my writing business. As soon as I built a solid network of clients, I returned to Hungary on a temporary tourist visa.
To live and work in Hungary long-term, you need to apply for a Residence permit for the exercise of a gainful activity. The visa process can be tricky to navigate, so I worked with a small team of immigration consultants that I found through the Hungary Expats Facebook group. For $1,000, they helped me with translations, walked me through required documents, and represented me when submitting documents.
First, I had to register as an individual entrepreneur under KATA, a flat tax system where you pay a fixed monthly amount – I pay $139 – to cover all your Hungarian tax obligations as a self employed. I also had to provide documents like proof of accommodation, health insurance and a business plan.
In January 2018, after three months of waiting, I was approved.
I am grateful to live in such an affordable city
Currently, my average income in Hungary is $10,000 per month. Besides my writing business, I sell e-books and consult people on how to become a digital nomad abroad.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It also happens to be very cheap compared to the cost of living in the United States. For example, my sister lives in New York, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $4,265 per month, according to RentCafe.com.
In Budapest, however, it is easy to find a bargain. My apartment, which I found via a Facebook listing, has over 1,000 square feet of space, two floors, and a terrace. For just $800 a month, my girlfriend and I live within walking distance of cafes, restaurants, bars, and some of the city’s most famous attractions.
Here is the breakdown of my monthly expenses:
- Rent and charges: $800
- Traveler’s insurance (via SafetyWing): $42
- Health insurance (via Generali): $9.25
- Races: $173
- Restaurants and takeaways: $186
- Hobbies: $100
- Gym Membership: $53
- Entertainment Subscriptions: $57
- KATA fees: $139
total = $1,559.25
I cook most of my meals at home, but eat about two to three times a week. Since my monthly expenses are affordable, I have enough money to travel whenever I want an adventurous getaway. Over the past few months I have visited Portugal, Greece and even taken a trip home to see my family in Memphis.
I also save about 20% of my monthly budget for long-term goals, like retirement and buying a house. I use the Truebill app to track my expenses and automatically transfer money to my savings accounts.
Budapest: what a typical day looks like
I start my day at 5:30 a.m. The first thing I do is make coffee for me and my girlfriend.
Then I’ll go for a 30-minute stroll through the gardens of the Hungarian National Museum and the charming streets of Budapest’s 8th district. Sometimes I like to go a little further and pass Budapest’s bustling Central Market.
One good thing about Budapest is that there are a lot of English speakers, mostly young locals and expats, so getting around the city is easy and safe.
Once back at my apartment, I will work for an hour or two before taking a break to practice Muay Thai at the gym, which is a 10 minute walk from my house. After that, I could go home to do some more work.
For lunch, my girlfriend and I will cook at home or eat at a nearby restaurant. We like to go to Loyola Cafe, a popular place among locals for its authentic Hungarian food. The bill is usually around $2.97 per person.
My working day ends at 3 p.m. I spend three to five hours a day at work. Once my laptop is off, I’ll go for a walk in the 7th arrondissement to see the shops and the street art.
Dinner usually consists of home-cooked meals. I sometimes use the Wolt app if I want to have a slice of pizza or KFC delivered.
At 29, I don’t see myself returning to the United States anytime soon. I love that there are so many affordable cities in Europe. In addition, it is easy and inexpensive to travel to neighboring countries.
As international travel resumes, I plan to take more trips abroad. Budapest is known for its very cold winters, so I’d like to spend a few months somewhere else – somewhere tropical, maybe Bali or somewhere in Mexico – next year.
Living abroad has taught me to be more independent and open-minded about different cultures, religions and ways of life. I have learned several languages and am so grateful for the friends I have made from all over the world.
Francois Nayan is a writer, author and digital nomad consultant. Follow him on Twitter and instagramand subscribe to his newsletter.