Why I chose to Bootstrap my Business in Eastern Europe

From September to December 2013, I’ve been living in Brno, which is the second biggest city in Czech Republic. Usually, digital nomads focus on countries in South East Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines) to bootstrap their businesses. The main reason being the low cost of living in these countries and the amazing weather conditions. Indeed, most of the location independent entrepreneurs that inspired me to start my own business are living in these countries, for example Dan Andrews from Tropical MBA or Justin & Joe from EmpireFlippers.

But in this article I’ll list the advantages of Eastern Europe compared to the more popular digital nomads destination. My point is not to prove that Eastern Europe is better than other destinations, but just to show you that there are alternatives to Asia or South America for entrepreneurs, and tell you about what motivated me to spend a few month in Eastern Europe working on my business.

1. Cost of living

Of course, the most important point if you want to bootstrap your business is the cost of your lifestyle in a given country. After living there for 4 months, I can say that the expenses are quite low compared to Western Europe or the US. As I mentioned in the introduction, I was living the second biggest city of Czech Republic, so for Prague or other capitals in Eastern Europe it might be a bit more expensive. Here was my usual monthly budget when I stayed in Brno:

  • Rent + Water/Heating/Electricity: 430 euros ($580)
  • DSL 20 Mbps Internet access: 20 euros ($27)
  • Food: 140 euros ($190)
  • Credit on prepaid SIM card with 3G access: 10 euros ($14)
  • Going out three times per week: 80 euros ($109)
  • Gym: 20 euros ($30)
  • Travel (mainly cab rides and one trip to another European country): 80 euros ($108)
  • Total: 780 euros ($1055)

That’s something similar to what many people report spending in South East Asia, for example David Hehenberger in Saigon. Some precisions about my expenses: I was living in a 50 sqm flat in the center of the city (couldn’t be more central than where my flat was), and the flat was brand new and cozy. One advice about choosing a flat: choose one with Internet already included in the price, it will save you the trouble to make a new contract.

Food is also quite cheap, I am not going to the restaurant quite often but I am eating 100 % Paleo, so it includes a lot of expensive products like meat and vegetables. If you eat cheaper meals like pasta or rice, your food cost would be lower. Also, cut of the going out three times per week, and you can even get to lower prices.

2. Visa situation

That’s the best part from my point of view. I have to admit I was a bit scared about South East Asia because of the visa part, like having to make “visa runs” every 3 month to renew your visa. In Eastern Europe it was so much easier. Well, it actually depends on where you are coming from. If you are a citizen from the European Union, then it’s all good: you just have to care about … nothing. You can live there like you would live in your own country of citizenship. The law is actually a bite more complicated and depend on the country you choose, but in Czech Republic I just had to declare myself to the police because I was staying for more than 30 days (but nobody would have cared if I didn’t do that).

If you are from countries like Australia, New Zealand or Canada, it is quite easy as well as you can usually apply for a work holiday visa in the country of your choice in Eastern Europe, which will give you a one-year or two-years visa without questions asked. This visa is supposed to be for people for want to actually work in the country of destination, but you can perfectly use that time to work remotely on your own business.

If you are from the USA or from other countries where the two cases I described above don’t apply, it gets more complicated. You can find more information in that post from Nomadic Matt. France, Italy or Sweden are definitely not good destinations if you want to lower your costs of living, but for example Germany proposes a one to two years visa for freelancers, and some cities in East Germany can be as cheap as Eastern Europe (like Dresden where I also lived for a month and a half).

3. Fast Internet

When I first heard about the whole digital nomads & lifestyle entrepreneurs community, I heard a lot of people complaining about the speed of the Internet in South East Asia, even if I know that it is going much better now. My own experience is that it can be fast if you are in a capital city like Bangkok or Saigon (I had about 10 Mbps down in Bangkok), but if you live on an island things or a second-tier city things can get bad (I am writing this article from an island in Thailand with a 1 Mbps connection). In Eastern Europe, it is not unusual to find fiber optics connections even in second tier cities. For example in the city I lived in, you could have 40 Mbps down for about $30 a month. Not too bad I would say.

4. Great culture & history

Eastern Europe also has a great culture and history, and you will never run out of things to see and to visit. Prague, Warsaw or Budapest are just some examples of capital cities that are absolutely fantastic to visit and are always surprising me when I go back there.

5. People are young & dynamic, and active in the IT sector

In the city I was living in, there was about 100 thousands students, for 400 thousands inhabitants. The results was a very lively and dynamic feel in the city, and lots of these students were working in the IT sector, particularly in software development. These people are also interested in the whole entrepreneurship/startup culture, so if you are based there it should be not be hard to find some local talent. I visited many cities and saw many universities, and they all had state-of-the-art facilities when it comes to computer science faculties.

6. Only a little language barrier

Of course, as with South East Asia, there is always the language problem. But after living in Czech Republic for 4 months, it was never an issue. Some things were a little rough (like setting up the Internet connection at my place, but I mentioned before that it can be avoided by getting the connection with the flat), but overall I didn’t suffer at all for not speaking the language. Most of the people that are under 35  speak some decent English, and you will have no problems speaking with students, young professionals, waiters and waitresses in cafes, etc …

So what about you ? Have you lived either in South East Asia, Eastern Europe, or other countries to bootstrap your business ? Which country did you prefer ? Please share !

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  • Hi Marco,
    Thanks for mentioning my post.
    After almost 1.5 years in Vietnam I’m ready for something new and Eastern Europe is pretty high on my list, especially during the European summer.

    1. Do you feel like you were able to integrate well without learning Czech? A good Czech friend of mine told me it might be difficult to do so, even in Prague.
    2. Where do you work from? Are there any good coworking spaces or cafes in your city? One of the things I love about Saigon is that there are tons of great cafes to work from.

    One more thing about monthly budgets in Saigon: You can pretty much spend as little or as much as you want. Tons locals live on $200/mo or less while some of my friends are living it up on $4k/mo. I’m sure this could also apply to Brno.

    • Marco Schwartz

      Hello David, you’re welcome! For your questions:

      1. Definitely yes. The problem with Prague is that there are lots of tourists visiting the city all around the year, whereas foreign people are Brno are more expats. It was really easy for me to integrate with locals without speaking a word of Czech (except “hello”, “beer” and “thanks”), there are English speaking meetings that are regularly organised on Facebook (once or twice a week) where the crowd is about 50/50 locals/foreigners, so I met a lot of locals this way. The people attending these meetings are usually also quite interested in the entrepreneur/startup culture.

      2. I’m a hardware guy and I need a little bit more than just my computer to work, so I usually work from home. However I sometimes go out to work in cafes, and it’s easy to find decent cafes with WiFi connection in Eastern Europe cities. It’s not such a great cafe culture like in Vietnam, but you can definitely work from there. There was also a nice coworking space right in the center of Brno.

      For the budget, it’s definitely the same in Brno and other EE cities. If you live in the far suburb of the city in a shared flat, it’s definitely possible to go on a very low budget. However even by going to the fancier restaurants everyday it would be difficult to spend more than 2k/month in Brno and other cities of this size. But in Prague and other capital cities yes, it’s definitely possible to reach 4k/month 🙂

      • Hi Marco,

        Thanks for your reply. Brno sounds pretty good, I’ll make sure to check it out when I’m in Europe this summer. I’ll hit you up.


  • David

    nice article, Eastern europe is surely a good place for digital nomads!
    another good place in eastern europe to stay in is Bulgaria, blagoevgrad province.
    near the Greek border, Sandansky city 300 sun day’s a year, 1,5h drive from the most beautyful beaches in EU!
    a lot of history and old villages, best wine in the world (but unknown to most) 2 international airports near by!
    living costs around 5-600 euro all in! (food, rent, light etc..) 2h drive great skiing!
    the main city Sofia is also very nice to stay!

    • I heard a lot of good things indeed about Bulgaria! I don’t know the beaches in Bulgaria, but I was on the beaches in Romania two years ago and it was amazing.

      • David

        yes good beaches in Bulgaria & Romania! but the beaches in Greece are much better, 1,5h drive from Sandanski city you are in beach paradise!

  • Pauline Andrea

    Hi Marco,
    Nice post, I would like to ask about Brno.
    I was offered a job in IT company, they said salary could be 670 approximately. I am living in Italy currently and of course this amount is quite low for living here. Do you think this income could be fine living there and renting a room?
    thanks a lot!

    • Hi Pauline, thanks! I am not living in Brno anymore (but in a very similar city in Poland). However, I still remember some things 🙂 670 (Euros, I guess?) is gonna be very low to have a ‘good’ living in Brno. Even by cutting out on things like going out and travels, you will probably have to live in a shared apartment or far away from the city center. I had friends at IBM there and I think their salaries was at least a 100 more per month, so maybe there is some room for negotiation 🙂

      • Pauline Andrea

        Hi, thanks for answering my question. Yeah I meant in euros. Hope to live up with that amount of money 🙂

      • Pauline Andrea

        Thank you a lot for the tips.