The 4 places on our “Expat base” shortlist

the-4-places-on-our-expat-base-shortlist

I guess it’s a natural progression – working the 9-5 lifestyle, leaving it all to travel full-time, followed by the inevitable…finding a base somewhere.

We’re not quite there yet but, after 2 ½ years of full-time travel, 2017 might be the year we actually sign a lease somewhere. It is in no way a rejection of the full-time travel lifestyle – we love travelling and exploring different places as much as ever. But after a while you get sick of living out of a suitcase and having to lug your belongings with you around the world. You also want to have your own “stuff” again. Although living in other people’s apartments is a novelty at first, at a certain point you want some of your own furniture, you want a few of your personal items on the walls. I’d love to have my own bike again. Finally, taking a break from travelling means you can maybe take a class or make some friends. In short, there are many reasons why full-time travellers eventually get themselves a base somewhere.

More can be written about the above and I’ll probably do that sometime. But this post is about where we would get a base. That’s a dilemma every traveller goes through as well. The great thing is that travelling as we have the last few years has made us realize the criteria that makes us happy. If you had asked us about our ideas for a base before we started our life of travel it would have been very different than the list you’ll see below.

Top Photo – over the last 2 ½ years we’ve spent at least a month in the 12 places featured in the image at the top of this post:  Lisbon (Portugal) , Split (Croatia), Bangkok (Thailand), Brasov (Romania), Padova (Italy), Rovinj (Croatia), Prague (Czech Republic), Sevilla (Spain), Nong Khai (Thailand), Budapest (Hungary), Kyoto (Japan), and Hua Hin (Thailand). We also spent 3 months in Cape Town (South Africa).
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Here is our shortlist of places – our Top 4 places – that we have considered as bases, counting down to our favorite.

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budapest-hungary-in-photos

4. Budapest (Hungary)

We’ve been to Budapest twice now: for 2 months in the summer of 2015 and for 1 month in February of 2016. It actually took us a while to appreciate the city, we found it a bit gritty and dirty at first. But it has grown on us and it is one of those cities we always enjoy coming back to.

Pros

– Vibrant, international city with good food.
– We really like the Hungarians. Very Friendly and we’ve found the level of English good.
– Inexpensive compared to most of Western Europe, much cheaper than Canada
– great transport system
– a charming city with lots of culture
– easy access to both Western Europe and the Balkans. Ideally situated (for us). Cheap flights back to Canada
– Can find anything in Budapest (shopping, fitness centers, yoga).

 

Cons/doubts

– It might be too “young” for us. Lots of young tourists come here just to get drunk. We enjoy the ruin bars but I think that whole scene would get old really fast. Reminds me of Montreal where we lived for 25+ years: great city with vibrant nightlife. But we’ve outgrown that and we find Montreal “too young” as well.

Budapest is one of our favorite places and it certainly would be no sacrifice living here for a while. Could we love it long term? I don’t know. There are a few places however that rank ahead of it.

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sevilla-spain-in-photos

3. Sevilla (Spain)

We spent 2 months in Sevilla this summer and the time flew. We really loved it, we felt we really “lived” in Spain. In many ways Sevilla makes the most sense of any of the 4 places on this list because Lissette and I both speak Spanish. It would be ridiculously easy to make friends here – we found the Sevillanos outgoing and curious and made a few friends in our short time here. We also loved the lifestyle and could easily adjust to those late Spanish hours. It is the most “logical” place on our shortlist.

Pros

– The language factor. Speaking Spanish, we could easily live here. People are outgoing.
– One of the cheapest places in Western Europe, just a touch more expensive (maybe 10%) than Budapest (or Prague).
– We like the late lifestyle, Spaniards are always ready for a party.
– We found Sevilla a fantastic base and we were situated next to the best fitness center we’ve ever been to (Viding, in Macarena).
– Of the 4 places on our shortlist, Sevilla is the closest to Canada/Mexico should we ever need to get back for a family emergency.

 

Cons

– Local transport not great: Sevilla’s old town is a maze of small streets and getting around anywhere central takes time.
– One of the hottest places in Europe. We don’t like it too hot…and Sevilla is at times unbearable.

We both loved Sevilla but I might have loved it more than Lissette. She has a deep love for Central and Eastern Europe and doesn’t have the same room in her heart for Spain as I do. For now. But we’re not done visiting Sevilla or Spain. Unlike all the other places on this list, we’ve only been here once and it might take a few more visits to get deeper feelings for it.

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prague-czech-republic-in-photos

2. Prague (Czech Republic)

We always go back and forth about which is city we would live in given the choice: Budapest or Prague? Right now, after a 1 month stay in March (we had previously stayed in Prague 3 months back in 2014) our choice would be Prague by the slimmest of margins. It’s not that we love Prague more than Budapest, we just feel that it would fit us more.

Pros

– As inexpensive as Budapest.
– Great beer
– beautiful city, maybe the most beautiful city we’ve visited anywhere
– fantastic transport system
– A good-sized and well-organized Expat community.
– Next to Germany, one of our favorite countries.

Cons

– We don’t find the people that warm (not as warm as the Hungarians). We found them friendlier the last time we went in March – maybe they just get sick of foreigners in summer.
– English not widely spoken (less so than in Budapest)
– Tourists. Too many tourists.

Prague was the place where we started our full-time travels in 2014 and is a regular stopover for us. We come here once a year to get dental work done and get our yearly medical checkups. It would be very easy to spend more time here. Love Prague as a base.

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split-croatia-in-photos

1. Split (Croatia)

Until a few years ago I had never heard of Split. In many ways it is the least logical of the 4 places on this list…on the other hand, it is the place that we feel the most in our hearts.

We’ve been in Split twice now (2 months in the spring of 2015, 2 months in the summer of 2016). It is just the right size for us, a medium-sized city that feels much smaller. It has the coast on one side, mountains on the other. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that mountain range extending down the coast. For someone who enjoys hiking it is paradise. Split’s old center dates back to the Romans and is incredibly well preserved. Steps away, Marjan Hill is a large park with sweeping views of everything. The people are simple, hospitable and genuine. They haven’t lost their roots to the land and sea. We like them a lot.

Pros

– Incredible nature all around. Very few places beat Croatia in that respect. In Split you are surrounded by nature. It is what makes it unique among the cities on this shortlist.
– Beautiful historic center where locals still live and carry on their daily lives.
– Genuine people that we really like.
– Costs about at par with Sevilla (ie. about 10% more expensive than Prague/Budapest)
– We really love the Balkans. Having Split as a base would allow us to explore this region in more depth.

Cons

– The least developed of the 4 places in this list
– public transport is bad
– Non-existent expat community. Would we be able to integrate? We’re both 50, how well would either of us fit in over the long term not speaking Croatian?
– Very hot in mid-summer, also crowded with tourists.

Split is the place that calls to us the most and we’ve already started looking at all the details required to make this a base. Expect more on that sometime in 2017.

Update: We are now Temporary residents of Croatia and have an apartment in Split.

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views-of-split

 

This doesn’t mean the end of travelling for us. It just means that we would have a base – a temporary home – that we can come back whenever we want. We might even consider renting it out on Airbnb whenever we are travelling. We still want to travel at least 6 months of the year.

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Where would you live if it could be anywhere in the world?

 

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Comments

  1. I like your thinking. I will be interested to hear how you get visas and where you decide to go. I like all the places you list as well, and like you am not a huge fan of too much heat. Good luck
    Corinne recently posted…A Weekend Road Trip Through Astounding AlbaniaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Corinne,
      We looked into the legalities earlier this year in Split. IF someone buys property or opens a company in Croatia they can theoretically get permanent residency in Croatia after 5 years. If someone wants to only rent (as we do for now), you can only get temporary stays of up to 1 year (which can be renewed every year). So, in effect, if you sign a lease, which you have to get notarized, you can get extensions to the usual 90 day allowed stay…but it is only an extension of your stay (which is good) but with no possibility of building towards permanent residency (which is the downside).

  2. Personally, out of the four choices of your shortlist, I would opt for Sevilla :
    because :
    – I [kind of] speak Spanish
    – closer to my homebase when retired (South of France)
    – I’m more than fed up with the cold, in summer when Sevilla is too hot I could spend a few weeks in France where my wife has an apartment anyway
    – and of course all the other pros you mentioned. The only problem is that it’s not on the seaside (my wife and I love the sea and the beach scene)

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you Lionel. Yes, I think the biggest pro for us is the seaside and mountains in Split. We’re not really beach people but we do love nature and I love hiking.
      We’d have to explore more of Southern Spain, there are places that have all the attributes of Sevilla but that are also located along the coast. Andalusia is a beautiful region. And yes, if you have a homebase in the South of France then it’s really not so far away…but if I had a base in the south of France I don’t know if I would need another base at all! 😉

  3. I do think it’s a natural progression to want a base after traveling for so long. We basically moved countries l guess from the U.S to Spain. We always wanted a base to operate from and even though we rent, it’s still ours to dump in 🙂 and l think our dogs like having a base and seem to enjoy our various home dog sitters who spoil them more than we do. Good thing is for most of the E.U, a 6 month lease is considered long term so l guess you don’t have to be tied down for too long. Our lease is up in March, we are moving.. I have no idea where yet..but someplace closer to the sea is calling us :-). Good luck..it will be interesting to see where you end up. I’m too old to learn such a difficult language as Croatian..and l get what you mean about Budapest being a “young” place. That’s how l felt about Berlin even though we really liked it.
    Kemkem recently posted…Excellent Visit to Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok. Plan on itMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You’ve done it right Kemkem and that’s what we want to do – establish a base by renting and maintaining flexibility. It could be Split for a while and if things don’t work out, we could go somewhere else and rent there. The disadvantage we have though (which you don’t have to worry about) is that neither of us are EU citizens so we’re in the same boat as Anita and Richard as far as trying to get temporary residency.
      Look forward to hear where you’ll end up!

  4. So many great choices and, except for Seville which we’ve visited several times, all the cities you’ve discussed are new to me. When we traveled full time we also used the opportunity to get an idea of places that we could set up a base. Your point about the different perspectives and criteria gained from before you started your travels and after many experiences was especially true for us also. Before, we pictured year round tropical weather and beaches and we had every expectation of finding a place to call home in either Mexico or Central America. So what are we doing in Lagos, Portugal? We found that tropical weather all.the.time gets old, beaches get crowded and we simply fell in love with having all the culture of Europe at our fingertips. And, lucky you. The process of finding a base is just as much fun as setting up your new “home.” 🙂
    Anita recently posted…Part 1- Figuring It Out Along the way – Life in PortugalMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great comment Anita and we couldn’t agree more. Before our years of full-time travel, if you had asked us where we would like to live we would have probably said Thailand. We had previously really enjoyed it on vacation. But Europe, for us, offers much more. We also don’t mind European winters, very mild in comparison to what we had in Montreal.
      My mom is retired now in Central Mexico after many years in Thailand. That’s another place I could be – I love Mexico. But Spanky doesn’t feel the same way, her first option will always be Europe.

  5. What a terrific short list! I always thought somewhere in Spain would make a terrific home away from home…but then we were in Split this year and it seemed like such a livable place with easy transportation to other countries. You could always escape to another place in the hot and crowded summer. Certainly an exciting dilemma – I’ve enjoyed following your traveling lifestyle but can’t imagine not having my own home to come back to after one of our trips. Best of luck with the decision!
    Rebecca recently posted…Biking Your Own Street Art Tour in BerlinMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You nailed it Rebecca – that is exactly what we would do. We didn’t particularly like the crowds in August and we went to nearby Macedonia which was uncrowded, beautiful and inexpensive. We’d explore more of the area, it’s not all as popular as Croatia and we could actually make money renting out an apartment to tourists during that period.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. Of your 4 choices we’ve only been to Prague so I have no real comparison to the other cities, but we did fall in love with Prague. My biggest red flag for Prague is the smoking, it was really hard to get away from it. When we made a similar list I added Prague but hubby wasn’t as convinced, although, he does in fact love the city, but he put Leon, Spain above Prague. Our top 3 cities are #1 Aix en Provence in the south of France, #2 Porto in Portugal and #3 Leon in Spain. I’m not ready to say I could live full time in another country (although these days it’s very tempting) but I could easily say I’d like to spend 4 months in each of these cities. Each would make a terrific base from which to explore, or just hang out and take it all in.
    Patti recently posted…The Yellow Envelope Project ~My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Patti. Using these places as temporary bases is exactly what we’ve been doing the last few years. And each of these cities have been great in that respect. But I think the goal now is to go a step further and have a place of our own, now just a furnished Airbnb rental. So that’s why it takes a bit more thought and planning with this.
      But for 4 months as temporary bases? They’re all great cities.

  7. I am not surprised with your first option since I remember how much you have enjoyed it there. Croatia has a lot to offer with beautiful nature, beaches and a rich culture. For me Italy and Portugal would be the biggest contenders. Would you and Spanky be keen to learn to speak Croatian?
    Gilda Baxter recently posted…The Bride, The Groom, and The Chaperone Sisters – in ParisMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Gilda. If ever we were in Croatia we would take classes – but realistically I don’t think we’d ever be able to speak the language. But if we could at least learn some basics that would help. In actual fact Croatians speak English quite well, better than either the Spanish or Italians. It’s only the older Croatians that usually don’t speak a word.
      You’ve got Portuguese working for you so I guess that contributes to Portugal being on your list? We thought we’d love Lisbon but it just didn’t click for us and funny enough Spain, which we thought maybe we wouldn’t like, ended up being great. Italy? For us a place to visit and not stay…we have a love/hate relationship with Italy.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment Gilda, always nice to hear the preferences of others.

  8. This is such an interesting post as we just went through a very similar process. We took two years to travel Asia and find the places we would consider as a home base. In our case it also entailed finding a place where Ben could bring in income. We also considered Portugal and Spain but at the end of the day for both of us, Asia is just so much less expensive overall and also more interesting culturally for us of course.

    Having done our research we ended up with three favorites: Hoi An, Viet Nam, Ubud Bali and Southern Sri Lanka. Here we are, have selected the tropical island of Sri Lanka as our home base for further nomadic travels and sequential living.

    Good luck with your choice and move. Very exciting adventure ahead!

    Peta

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Peta, I enjoy reading your blog because you guys so fully committed in your choice of base. I don’t know if I would ever buy something, much less construct my own home!

      I mentioned that if you had asked us about a base before travelling we probably would have chosen a place in SE Asia. We’ve basically gone the other way, preferring Europe instead. But when we do have a base here, we intend to travel more extensively in Asia…so we get a bit of both worlds while keeping costs down. We haven’t yet visited any of the places that you’ve listed but intend on eventually get to each country.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The 4 places on our “Expat base” shortlistMy Profile

      • We have not bought…we are renting, with an option to buy. Ours is a renovation project, in lieu of rent.

        We took two years to select our home base,..doing a lot of research and traveling. Oh the hardship….:)

        Peta

  9. Budapest is nice, but cold in winter. Central for traveling. Seville – you don;t have to learn a new language and if you live on the outskirts, it’s cheaper with no tourists,

    For my pick to permanently move to – Beer Sheva, Israel. I like the desert and it’s not as expensive as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
    Ted recently posted…Rebagging a bagMy Profile

  10. #TeamSplit. I’m currently missing the hell out of Split in the two weeks since we left it for smoggy-and-much-more-chilly Sarajevo. I love Sarajevo, but my soul craves being near the sea, walks to Znjan Beach, or walks into the center for Luka’s Ice Cream. Or watching those brave/mad ones playing Picigin on Bacvice Beach on the first day of December. Or maybe it was our neighbors – the “Cro-nadian”/American couple were completely awesome or the German dude we met on the way to Solta became our pal and would eventually visit us in Sarajevo.

  11. This is exactly the question I wrestled with in coming back to the US. And now that I am settling into a new job and location, I am navigating how travel will still play a part in my life. I posted about it recently (One Year Stateside: Am I Still Deviating?).

    I think the nomadic/travel lifestyle is whatever you make it. Whether that means traveling a few times a year, 6 months out of the year, or for 2.5 years straight! Nobody else should get to define it – only you!
    Rikka recently posted…It’s Time To Deviate Off My Butt (And Blog Less)My Profile

  12. really? Split? there are foreigners living there but not a lot of them, I’d reckon. not to put you off but any kind of bureaucracy is just terrible in Croatia. but if you don’t have to find work and have some money it’s probably the most easy going place of all on your list! Though much quieter in the winter time than in summer when you have to put up with the tourists!:) I’d choose Prague from your list:)
    Tanja (the Red phone box travels) recently posted…Have some cake at Café Central, ViennaMy Profile

  13. I get used to going 3 of 4 mentioned places above. Glad to your sharing! I think that I will go to Split (Croatia). Looking at the above pictures, they are really attractive me. I like… 🙂
    Vicky recently posted…By: AnonymousMy Profile

  14. This is a really good list, how will you choose!! This new phase of life sounds exciting. I’ve been an expat in Melbourne and London but one of our goals is to spend some time living in a non-English-speaking country. I used to really want to live in France but now somewhere like Tokyo appeals more. How we change 🙂
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted…Top 10 New Year’s resolution travel ideasMy Profile

  15. I’ve been to Prague and Budapest and loved it. I haven’t been to Sevilla or Split yet but they are on my list.

    I think the question of where to live in the world is a really tough one. I have lived in Toronto, London and and Vienna so far which have all brought pro’s an cons. I do like being quite central Europe though as it’s easy to travel almost anywhere with the great connections. I have seen a lot of people moving to Bali recently which looks incredible. I guess I wouldn’t mind doing that for 6 months or longer to get a nice taste 🙂
    Mike recently posted…Favourite Pictures from my Travels in 2016My Profile

  16. No Hua Hin or Pattaya? Surprised

  17. Spain is the only place warm enough on your list to suit my tastes
    Alan recently posted…Benidorm has so much to offer visitorsMy Profile

  18. from everything ive read from your blogs i would favour Budapest, with Seville a close second. But that summer heat would be too much for me. still, you could airbnb over summer.
    Andrew Boland recently posted…Buildings of Buenos Aires – Palacio PazMy Profile

  19. did you both agree or was it a ‘Split’ decision???? see what I did there?
    Andrew Boland recently posted…Buildings of Buenos Aires – Palacio PazMy Profile

  20. Living as an expat in Prague for 2 years already and I confirm that this is probably one of the best cities to live in Europe and my #1. Budapest is a beautiful city but living anywhere in Hungary would not land on my top 10.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the feedback Ivan. What makes Prague so great for you? Don’t all the tourists get on your nerves after a while?
      You’ve been there for a few years so just curious.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Armenia Travel GuideMy Profile

  21. I was recently contemplating settling in Spain. Until I researched the tax system. There is not only a relatively high income tax, that varies from province to province, but also a wealth tax, also varying from province to province. I estimate that if I move to Spain my taxes could double. Also, all of the English-speaking tax professionals in Spain appear to be Brits specialziing in tax planning for Brits. As an American, this leaves me without good sources of counsel.
    Have you looked into the tax issues in your favorite places? The province of Andalusia, where Seville is located, has high tax rates. I believe the taxes in the Czech Republic (Prague) are quite reasonable. In fact, taxes in Eastern Europe generally are, I think, more reasonable than in Western Europe. Probably because the Eastern Europeans suffered decades of Communism and want to give free enterprise a chance.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi John,
      Great comment.
      The whole tax thing doesn’t apply to us because we are still officially fiscal residents of Canada and have a few different circumstances.
      But your issue is exactly what a good friend is facing. He has both good income and a lot of assets which, if he gives up his Canadian residency for French (in his case), he’ll have to 1) pay capital taxes on the deemed disposition of his Canadian assets and 2) face a wealth tax in France. On top of that, he says Health Care in France is taxed at 15% of income…which in his case is a lot of money (in Canada you pay up to a maximum).

      So it sounds very similar to what you are facing. He’s been facing the same situation for years now (he has homes in both countries) and has remained a tax resident of Canada just because of those reasons.

      Question is: do you have to be a fiscal resident of Spain? Where/How do you make your income? On what basis would you try to get temporary/permanent residency in Spain?
      The best thing to do is to see a tax specialist in the US (we just did the same in Canada a few weeks ago) and see how you can work around your plans.

      And you are very right about Central/Eastern Europe…plus cost of living much less.

      Thanks for the comment, I hope that helps a bit.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The 5 Best Hikes in South AfricaMy Profile

  22. Interesting post Frank. So far I have lived in three countries, London, Toronto and Vienna, which have all been very different and all have pros and cons. I guess it depends on someones lifestyle! For me the perfect place may be somewhere with excellent transport connections so as to get away, but also great things within the city or destination to make it worthwhile being there! Although I do love cities though I think I would prefer to live in a quieter area with local beaches and stunning scenery, maybe with the sea nearby! I would say your question “Where would you live if it could be anywhere in the world?” is definitely a tough one and I really don’t know!

    Also thanks for sharing your experiences on the places you’ve stayed so far! I’m a bit fan of Prague and Budapest, although have only been to them for short trips so it’s interesting to know what it’s like for longer periods there!

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

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