“I think you’d be surprised if you knew how much time I spend thinking about Rome,” I said to my friend as I perched on a barstool in her kitchen, “I really do love it there. Italy is definitely my soul country and I think about it all the time”. So if I love Italy so much why have I just moved to Montenegro – a country I had never previously been to?
That, my friends, is a very good question!
Anais Nin that “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.”
A few people have said that I am ‘brave’ for moving abroad but to me, there is no other way to live other than with courage. To me, living it with anything less is to squander it.
We can’t let obstacles or fear (which is really just the unknown) stop us from making the most of our one wild and precious life. It’s over far too quickly not to do whatever the hell we want with it
And I want to have adventures.
Why I decided to leave the UK
I moved to Brighton when I was 23 and, although I adore the city, most of my friends have moved away and the few who remain are restricted by childcare – which means I rarely see them.
I actually have tons of friends and could talk to them all day long on the phone, but to meet them regularly for a film or coffee? Not so much.
So while I adored Brighton, after 27 years, I knew where every road went and the city no longer held any surprises for me.
I was ready for a new chapter.
I’m not going to go into politics here but I should be honest and say that a big reason for my decision to leave the UK was Brexit.
I voted to remain in the EU and after the 2016 vote, I remember saying to a friend “something has changed for me. I don’t know what this means yet but I feel differently about this country now.”
I knew I wanted to leave but I didn’t know where to go so I spent more and more time travelling until eventually, the longest I was in the UK between overseas trips was around two weeks.
Then one afternoon while having lunch under an ivy-covered pergola in a sun-drenched square in Rome, mourning my imminent return to Blighty I started writing some lists.
I wrote down what I liked about the UK and what I didn’t, the pros and cons of living there and the pros and cons of moving abroad, and what I was looking for in a home.
I’m not going to use this post to slag off the UK but, among other things, I felt it was too expensive, it was regressing rather than progressing, and the rhetoric was a bit too right-wing for my liking.
On my wish list was:
- Clean air
- Fresh, quality food
- Liberal community of like-minded people
- Seasonal weather
- A low cost of living
- My “tribe” which to me, means people who run businesses and who are familiar with the concept of remote working
- Good internet speed
Overall, I wanted somewhere with a lower cost of living and higher quality of life to travel from.
But, while I knew where I didn’t want to be and what I wanted from a home base, I still didn’t know where that was. So I continued to travel and look for it.
And then Covid happened.
Yeah, it turns out that there is nothing quite like a global pandemic and being forced to stay in a place you aren’t a huge fan of to crystallize your thoughts about what you want from your future!
I decided that as I was only using the UK as a (very expensive) base and I could work anywhere, I needed to seriously start looking for a new one. And, to be brutally honest, I’d reached the point where pretty much anywhere else would do.
Why did I choose Montenegro?
It may look as if my move to Montenegro (MNE) happened suddenly but my journey actually started in 2019.
During one of our calls, I mentioned to Janet Alexandersson (the international contract lawyer who wrote my VA legal contracts) that I wanted to leave the UK but didn’t know where to go.
She suggested I speak to a guy she knew whom she had met when they were both living in Gran Canaria. He had moved to MNE without ever visiting it before on the recommendation of an Australian friend of his and Janet felt his relocation criteria were very similar to mine.
Janet introduced me to this person online. We had a couple of chats and I made vague plans to visit him for a couple of weeks in the Spring of 2020 to do a recce.
We all know what happened next.
My plans to visit were shelved but the reasons why this guy moved to MNE closely matched my own, and I felt it was a possible option for a new base. After a few more conversations and a lot of research (I’m a VA – we LOVE research!), I decided that it was a strong contender.
Montenegro not only matched my criteria but, more importantly, there was also a low barrier to obtain residency so I could stay longer than three months – because the 27 visa-free countries I could have easily relocated to previously were now off the table.
My original plan was to come to MNE for around six weeks and then return permanently after the summer if I liked it. And, if I didn’t like it or decided it wasn’t for me then I would just go somewhere else instead.
Why did I choose Tivat?
As a coastal person, I wanted to be by the sea and I narrowed the region down to Boka Bay on the Adriatic. The three contenders were Tivat, Kotor, and Herceg Novi.
On paper, Tivat appeared to have everything I wanted but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a decision until I arrived.
I was right. Tivat was a perfect fit for me.
- It’s right by an airport and within a short drive of two others.
- It’s ideally situated to explore the rest of the country. While absolutely stunning and closer to Dubrovnik in Croatia, Herceg Novi is a little too isolated for my requirements – it also has lots of steps! Kotor is gorgeous but can be a little gloomy in the winter as the sun struggles to rise over the mountains.
- It has a coastal breeze while some inland cities such as Podgorica can reach over 50 degrees in the summer.
- The upmarket Porto Montenegro area provides many conveniences that I enjoy.
- It’s a comfortable size and mostly flat. I can get around easily and people are starting to recognise and know me.
Why not Italy?
While Italy is my favourite country there are a few reasons why I didn’t relocate there.
- I literally love every single Italian town I’ve ever been to and I don’t think I’d be able to pick just one place!
- Brexit has made it nearly impossible for me to get residency there. Even as a nomad, because the UK is now a ‘Third Country’ I can only stay in the entire Schengen Zone for 90 days out of every 180 then I have to leave for 90 days before I am allowed to return.
What I love about Montenegro so far
Under 14,000 square kilometres and with a population of around 623,000, MNE is small but packs a mighty punch. I’ve only been here five weeks but I absolutely love it.
The landscape is stunning
As you can see in this video, MNE is many countries rolled into one. You have mountains and skiing in the north, lakes in the middle and beautiful beaches to the south. It has the second largest canyon in the world and huge national parks.
It’s a country on the up
Montenegro has come a long way and is progressing quickly in multiple ways. Tivat is set to become the next French Riviera and the Boka Bay area, in particular, has a lot of potential.
Montenegro is an undiscovered gem that won’t stay hidden for long.
It uses the Euro
This is more of a perk really, but I like that Montenegro uses the Euro. I have a Wise debit card that allows me to hold multiple currencies so I just move money from my Barclays account then tap to pay!
(I also have a Starling debit card but Wise (formerly Transferwise) has more currencies and better fees. It’s also the way most VAs get paid by their international clients)
Crime is almost non-existent in Montenegro. Petty theft increases in the tourist season but assaults, rapes, robberies and burglaries are rare and women who have lived here for many years say they feel safe to walk alone at night.
The cost of living
While imported food is expensive, other things such as travel and accommodation are pretty cheap. Depending on the location and season, apartments range from €300 per month and my new friend from Liverpool who has a two y/o son said her monthly childcare is €40!
And what I am finding a bit of a challenge
No place is perfect and many of these challenges were anticipated. In fact, I wrote a kind of SWOT analysis outlining things I knew from years of travel that I may struggle with and what I could do to mitigate them before I arrived.
This is probably the biggest issue for me. I really dislike cooking and it turns out that most of the things I ate in the UK are either very expensive or not available here.
Aside from fresh fruits and vegetables which are only available seasonally, most of their other food is imported. I think that food is just incredibly cheap in the UK and so it looks as if it’s more expensive here. I remember being quite surprised by some of the prices in Italian supermarkets as well.
I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this but since I’ve been here, I have not cooked once.
There is plenty of cheap fresh produce, but it’s often far cheaper for me to eat out or to ask a restaurant to make a large salad for me to take home than it is to buy the ingredients needed to make it myself.
At first, I felt a little daunted because I had been learning Italian for some time and the language here is very different. It’s very consonant heavy and there appear to be subtle differences between Serbian Croatian and Montenegrin.
What actually helped was when a local told me it was a very hard language to learn and so because most people speak or understand English here, I decided to not put too much pressure on myself.
I made my own flashcards, I practice daily and I’m picking up new sentences all the time. My aim is to be able to navigate routine interactions with locals and then build on that.
Polako učim… I am learning slowly!
Along with the language and mosquitoes, this was another challenge I had anticipated so I was kinda prepared.
Well, you can never be 100% prepared for something, but I did my best!
As I know I overheat quite quickly, I’m very aware of my environment, what I wear and when I do things. Tivat can reach over 40 degrees in July and August which someone from the UK just isn’t used to
So I stay inside during the hottest part of the day, wear a hat, carry my UV umbrella and stay hydrated. I also have aircon in every room if I need it.
I’m allergic to mosquitoes so the area swells up and I have to take antihistamines. I do like to wear black (which mosquitoes love and it’s not the most practical thing in the heat) but I’m not sacrificing style for those little b*stards!
I brought a big mosquito net with me and put it up with a no-damage Command hook. I also have fitted nets on all of the windows and the balcony door.
There is hardly a single person in Montenegro that does not smoke. As a non-smoker, it’s pretty horrible to find yourself downwind of someone fagging away while you’re trying to eat, but I guess there is always a comfort tax to pay wherever you live.
So, will I stay here?
While I cannot say with 100% confidence that I will be staying here forever, I plan to stay for the foreseeable future, at least.
I may continue to use Montenegro as a base, I may stay here forever, or I may fall in love with another place entirely. You never know
But that’s the great thing about being completely virtual.
Your life is your own and you get to decide how – and where – you want to live it.
** I stayed in Montenegro for 4 months then started getting itchy feet. I left the country and went on a 3-month nomad adventure around Europe then decided to return to Montenegro to adopt a little dog
After adopting my little pup Monty, I stayed another 3 months in Tivat then decided to set off on my travels again. This time with @montyvonwunderpup by my side. **
If you’d like to take your VA business on the road then register your interest in my upcoming travel course.