Why I dream of retiring to Estonia

1000_500_false_false_83b107718934b834a1c9edf3b09a4123It’s probably no secret that I am dreaming of an early retirement. For those in the FIRE community, you know that “retirement” just means not needing to be tied down to a full-time job. Some even argue that retirement is the wrong word; maybe financially independent is better.

But that’s semantics. What’s important to me are the goals. I have been dreaming of building up enough money that I can live off my interest and possibly rental/side income to survive without needing to work.

Needing is the operative word here. It doesn’t mean I won’t work. I enjoy writing novels, learning how to code (I still suck at this) and photography. And even if I retire from full-time journalism, that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to write freelance. My own paper pays pretty well for freelance articles.

Though it’s always somewhat been on my mind, since I started this FIRE journey, in the past couple of years I have been seriously minded toward the opportunity living in a foreign country with a much lower cost of living could bring me. Where I live in central Wisconsin is pretty inexpensive compared to a lot of the country, but there are still places in the world where living is far less expensive.

Medellin, Colombia quickly rose to the top of my list. The weather is a constant 70s-temp range, it’s largely undiscovered (unlike, say, Costa Rica) because of its notorious bad drug crime problem in the 90s (it’s crime rate is now lower than that of Milwaukee’s which I safely visit on a regular basis), and it has a kick ass train system. Everything is about as inexpensive as it was in Phuket, Thailand. (Check out Medellin Guru for more on Colombia. Medellin is on my list of places to visit!)

The realization that I could live here for about half of what my costs are here in the US, coupled with a retirement-friendly immigrant policy, made this my target for a while. And other possibilities, such as Mexico (Merida particularly stands out to me), intrigued me as well. And South America is full of countries where the dollar can go a long, long ways.

But, something nagged at me. I would miss snow.

Yes, this does not make me the typical Wisconsinsite. We like to brag about how weather tough we are, but honestly the vast majority of people here complain about the snow.

Not me. Sure, in my younger days, I was one of those people too. But here is the thing: I love cross country skiing. I even watch ski races and biathlon races on TV (downloaded of course — I would never have cable!). I like the changing seasons, I like the challenge winter presents and I love exploring the woods on snowshoes or skis. I even tried downhill skiing this year (traded my photography skills for a pass/lesson) and loved it. I won’t do it much here because it is expensive; but that brings me to where this is going.

I discovered a little place called Estonia. And it’s my new obsession.

Formerly under the control of Russia, Estonia has been an independent nation in the Baltic region of Europe since the 90s. It’s beautiful, forested, ancient, traditional. And yet, with its e-residency program and full digital emersion, it has become an extremely advanced society.

Did I mention that cross country skiing is the national pastime?

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Even in the biggest city, Tallinn, the cost of living is less than my hometown in Wisconsin. And other cities (such as the beach resort Parnu, which is roughly the size of my town) is far less. It’s a beach resort town in the summer, with sandy beaches filled with bikini clad people playing volleyball, and a snowy paradise in the winter. Combine that with excellent and affordable medical care (and an inclusive health care system), and a quiet but friendly populace that for the most part can speak English (I’ve already started learning Estonian because I think it’s important to make an effort), and one thing is for certain: this might just mark all the boxes of my ER destination. The country literally has a welcome program for new arrivals to the country, with classes on cultural differences and language courses.

Seeing is believing of course. My sister and I are planning a trip to Iceland and Estonia in early 2020 (so I will know what their winter is like!). Then, we will find out if I love it as much as I think I will.

I suspect that, even if I like it half as much as I think I will, I think I finally checked all my boxes. The grass is always greener, of course. I’ve read that the bureaucracy can be less efficient than promised. And the country, as some people have said in forums, has a ways to go toward inclusion and diversity. I would love to hear from folks who have been there, live there, or are Estonian on these issues!

In the meantime, check out this cool webpage on Estonia called Visit Estonia to learn why I am so interested in the place.


B.C. Kowalski is a journalist, photographer and fiction writer in Wisconsin. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Check out my books here.

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