Living in Estonia – Steve Tells Why ‘E’-Stonian Expat Life Was Right For Him

Welsh online marketeer Steven MacDonald followed an advert in a newspaper to take up a new life in Estonia and has never looked back since. Read all about his life in Tallinn right here.

1. Where are you from originally?

I’m orignally from Rhyl located on the north coast of Wales. I was born and raised in Wales and at the age of 18, I moved away to study in Manchester.

2. Where do you live now?

I’m now living in Tallinn, Estonia. I moved here on March 23rd 2004, 5 weeks before Estonia became a member of the EU and I still have the stamp in my passport for when I arrived (below) that I only get now when I fly out of Europe.

3. What first attracted you to your new home? Did you try anywhere else on the way?

While I was in Manchester, my parents moved to Berkhamsted, which is 30 minutes north of London, England. Once I had finished my studies, I moved down there rather than movng back to Wales. While job hunting I came across a very small advertisement in the job listings section of the newspaper that read „ESTONIA – £250 pw – Sales – Call XXXXXXX“. Oddily enough, the advertisement spoke to me more than the others and I told my mother „Mum, I’m going to apply for a job in Estonia!“. She said „Great! You’re young, single and have graduated, go for it!“. Briefly followed by „Where the hell is Estonia?“

Moving abroad to Estonia was not my first time leaving the UK as in 1998, I was fortunate enough to move to Melbourne, Australia with my family. We had planned to live there for at least 4 years so we packed up everything, I started schoool and was settling in nicely when we had to move back – After only 5 months. It was a great experience and I returned back to Wales to finish my schooling.

4. What kind of property do you live in now? Will you stay here? What’s your ideal place to live in within your new country?

I’m now renting an apartment in a newly built area near the harbour. It’s 52m sq. Is fully furnished and comes with a balcony. Rent is €400 per month plus utilities, which are approx €100 in summer and €180 in winter. During the 8 years I have been here, I’ve stayed at more than 5 different locations, from living 7km outside of Tallinn to right in the centre. I like my current apartment as it’s only 50 metres away from the nearest supermarket and only a 5 minute walk into the beautiful old town.

5. Are you speaking a new language? If so, how did you learn?

I am not fluent in Estonian but have picked up enough to get by. Fortunately, the younger generation speak English very well and are keen to try their English more than I my Estonian. I have tried to take language courses twice but the Estonian, is quite difficult. I’m more a numbers guy, rather than languages guy! Estonian’s are very proud of their country and language so I recommend learning a few of the basics if you are to visit to score top points wth the locals.

6. What do you do for a living? Where do you physically work from? Do you work with clients/customers back in your home country or your new one?

I’m currently working with myGengo, a translation start-up based in Tokyo, Japan. I have been working with myGengo since November 2011 and found the role through LinkedIn. There was 3 phone interviews and in December 2011 I spent a week at their Japanese office. I’m responsible for online marketing so I am able to work from home. Before myGengo, I worked with NordicBet and Hurtigruten, both having offices located in Tallinn.

7. Do you work online? If so, what is the internet connectivity like? What software do you commonly use on day to day basis? What would be your top tip for online working from your new country?

Being an online marketer, I solely rely on Internet access. Estonia is one of the top countries in the world for Internet and Estonians are very web savvy – In fact, Estonia is often referred to as E-stonia as you can access the web from pretty much anywhere, and it’s FREE! Airport’s, Cafe’s, Shopping malls and even in the castle of Saremaa, you can get online.

Estonia is very biased towards Skype as it was first developed here. If you come to Estonia and don’t have a Skype account, create one before you visit. It’s free, you will be able to connect with locals and also call home without those high international call charges.

8. Are you paid in your new home currency or in pounds/dollars/euros? Do you exchange money often? If so, what service do you use?

Estonia joined the EURO in 2011 and since then I have been paid in Euros. Before joining, Estonia has it’s own currency called the Estonian Kroon (EEK). The currency was only circulated in 1991 when Estonia became independent (for the second time) and many disagreed with the move to have a new currency but a year later, and the reception seems to have improved, dispite the fears in Western Europe.

I’m very much a card person and rarely take out cash so whether in UK, US or Estonia I just pay with card and avoid having to change currency. Except for Japan, where my card didn’t work, then I was forced to use a 7-11 and withdraw Yen.

9. Is your life better than it was before? If so, how?

I believe my life is much better living here than compared with the UK but it’s difficult to provide that answer as I was only 21 when I moved. Within two months of leaving university I was on a plane to Tallinn and have since gained experience in customer service, online marketing and E-Commerce and I have been fortunate to work with Scandinavian and Global brands. Had I stayed in the UK I might have had the same opportunities but I wouldn’t trade any of it to go back and try,.

10. What are the best things about living in your new country?

The best thing’s about living in Estonia is that it’s quiet (only 1.4 mllion people), energetic, youthful and within a stones throw you can be in the 12th century old town, the forests, a beach or in a brand new shopping mall – And the fact that the flat income tax rate is only 21% doesn’t hurt either.

In addition, it has a great network or airlines operating from Tallinn Airport with both Easyjet and Ryanair offering low cost flights to UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia. Estonian Air also partners with SAS, which means short connecting flights from Stockholm or Finland for international travel.

11. What are the most challenging things about living in your new country?

The most challenging aspect of Estonia are the winters with tempratures reaching as low as minus 35. The long winters begin in October with snow falling in December. The snow then stays until late March/ early April. The summers go by very quickly, sometimes only lasting two or three weeks. Although temperatures can reach plus 30, to spend 8-10 months a year in dull/ dark conditions is very tiresome and also leads in to another challenging factor in that families/ friends don’t visit too much. I’ve been here almost 8 years and my family has only visited once- It always seems to be me going to the UK (then again, maybe it’s just my parents are lazy).

12. Are you here for good? If so, why? If not, why not?

I’m not here for good, in fact I’m moving to Tokyo soon! I am flying to Tokyo in March and then again in April before setting a date for the move. Estonia has been great but the land of the rising sun is an opportunity that I will only get once in my lifetime and it’s very exciting. But Tokyo is a huge change; there is a new language to learn, a new culture to adjust to, which is vastly different from the post-soviet era of Eastern Europe, new weather conditions to adapt to (Tokyo is very humid in Spring and no more minus 30) and of course, moving from Tallinn, a population of 400,000 to a megatropolis of Tokyo, a population of 35 million. While in Japan last December, I joked that I had seen more people in 24 hours in Tokyo than I had seen in all 8 years of living in Estonia – It was probably true.

I have no doubt I will see Estonia again; maybe not to live but at least visit and say Tere („Hi“ in Estonian).

About Steven:
Steven Macdonald in an expert in online marketing living in Tallinn, Estonia and works for myGengo, a Tokyo based start up transforming the translation industry with affordable human translation.
You can connect with Steven on Linkedin here.

Enjoy this interview? More personal stories from Expats here >

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