In 2014, I had a life-changing wake-up call: I survived an opioid overdose that put me in the intensive care unit.
Hitting rock bottom made me realize how lucky I am to be alive. I spent some time in my hometown, Memphis, to focus on my recovery and staying sober. Once I felt stable, I needed to figure out my next move.
My friends knew I always wanted to live abroad and suggested I look into teaching jobs overseas. 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 hiring 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 taking my next position in Budapest, Hungary.
Two years into Budapest, I grew tired of teaching and wanted to do something new. That’s when I decided to launch my career as a freelance copywriter.
I never got sick of living in Budapest, though. In fact, it has been my home for almost six years now. Here’s how I started my expat journey, as well as what my days look like and how much I spend:
Getting Hungarian residency as a U.S. citizen
After my teaching contract in Budapest ended, I returned to Memphis to grow my copywriting business. As soon as I built a solid network of clients, I moved back to Hungary under a temporary tourist visa.
To live and work in Hungary long-term, you must apply for a Residence Permit for the Pursuit of Gainful Activity. The visa process can be difficult 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 with translations, guided me through the required documents, and represented me when submitting paperwork.
First, I had to register as a sole 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 person. 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’m grateful to live in such an affordable city
Currently, my average income in Hungary is $10,000 per month. In addition to my copywriting business, I sell eBooks and consult people on how to become a digital nomad overseas.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It also happens to be very inexpensive compared to living costs in the U.S. For example, my sister lives in New York City, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $4,265 per month, according to RentCafe.com.
In Budapest, however, it’s easy to find a good deal. My apartment, which I found through a Facebook listing, has over 1,000 square feet of space, two floors, and a terrace. For just $800 per month, my girlfriend and I live within walking distance from cafes, restaurants, bars and some of the city’s most famous attractions.
Here’s a breakdown of my monthly expenses:
- Rent and utilities: $800
- Traveler’s insurance (via SafetyWing): $42
- Health insurance (via Generali): $9.25
- Groceries: $173
- Restaurants and takeout: $186
- Leisure activities: $100
- Gym membership: $53
- Entertainment subscriptions: $57
- KATA fees: $139
Total = $1,559.25
I cook most of my meals at home, but will eat out about two to three times a week. Since my monthly expenses are affordable, I have enough money to travel whenever I want an adventurous escape. In the past few months, I’ve visited Portugal, Greece, and even took a trip home to see my family in Memphis.
I also save about 20% of my monthly for long-term goals, like retirement and buying a house. I use the Truebill app to track my spending and automatically transfer money into 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 myself 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 bit further and walk past Budapest’s vibrant Central Market.
One nice thing about Budapest is that there are many English speakers, mainly young locals and expats, so getting around the city feels easy and safe.
Once I get back to my apartment, I’ll work for an hour or two before taking a break to do Muay Thai training at the gym, which is a 10-minute walk from my place. After that, I might head home to do some more work.
For lunch, my girlfriend and I will cook at home or eat at a nearby restaurant. We love going to Loyola Cafe, a popular spot among locals for its authentic Hungarian food. The bill usually comes out to around $2.97 per person.
My workday ends at 3:00 p.m. I spend anywhere from three to five hours per day on work. Once I shut my laptop, I’ll go for a walk around the 7th district neighborhood to look at the shops and street art.
Dinner usually consists of home-cooked meals. I’ll sometimes use the Wolt app if I feel like getting a slice of pizza or KFC delivered.
Moving abroad was the best decision of my life
At 29, I don’t see myself moving back to the U.S. anytime soon. I love that there are so many affordable cities in Europe. Plus, it’s easy and inexpensive to travel to nearby countries.
As international travel picks up, I plan to take more trips abroad. Budapest is known for its bitter cold winters, so I’d love to spend a few months elsewhere — in a tropical place, perhaps Bali or somewhere in Mexico — next year.
Living abroad has taught me to be more independent and open-minded about different cultures, religions and lifestyles. I’ve learned multiple languages and am so grateful for the friends I’ve made from all over the world.
Francis Nayan is a copywriter, author and digital nomad consultant. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to his newsletter.