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‘In Crete I pay 70% less than I paid for a shoebox apartment in Dublin’s docklands’

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As the latest coronavirus restrictions see people back in their home offices (or laptop in the kitchen) preparing for what could be a long winter indoors, some have managed to jump ship and take themselves off to a remote location to see out the pandemic from there.

The ease for some of working from any location and the prospect of escaping the grey weather have encouraged people to head for sunnier climes where they can carry on with their jobs while enjoying a change of scenery.

“Almost everywhere looks like a postcard” Keanu Fischell, Crete

Keanu Fischell from Dublin is among those who have decided to head south in search of sunshine and a better standard of living.

Having spent the beginning of the initial lockdown back in his family home, sharing a bedroom with two of his younger brothers, he was eager to make some changes to his situation. And although he enjoyed the opportunity to bond with his siblings, when the chance to move to the sun arose, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was great to spend quality time with my family, and I feel we’re closer than ever as a result, but hurdling over Lego en route to bed every night couldn’t last forever,” he says. “So when the opportunity to work remotely came about, I decided to take it.

“Unable to travel earlier due to restrictions, in July I moved to the Algarve with a couple of close friends, who are also able to work remotely. And then when the summer was over, we headed to Crete, where we are living now. We wanted to live somewhere warm, which was by the sea and we hadn’t been before. And although it wasn’t the only factor, the fact that there were low cases [of the virus] in both Greece and Portugal definitely played a part in our decision.”

In Portugal, the Dubliner was living in a two-storey townhouse in the heart of Lagos. The property was within walking distance of the beach, with a variety of cafes and restaurants on the doorstep. It also had terraces on both levels, where he and his friends would eat al fresco.

Since travelling to Crete, he has moved into a modern villa in the hills overlooking the seaside centre of Chania. The villa boasts both a games room and a swimming pool.

The master bedroom at Keanu Fischell’s new home in Crete
The master bedroom at Keanu Fischell’s new home in Crete

“The weather is an obvious perk and we make the most of every day: waking up early to work out in the local park, going to the beach in the evenings and always planning excursions [such as for surfing, wakeboarding or kayaking] on the weekends,” he says. “The scenery and food have been exceptional; almost everywhere looks like a postcard and we’ve fully adopted the Mediterranean diet, eating as much fresh fish and seafood as possible.

“But working from home can be quite isolating, especially coming from an office environment, and it was only when we moved here that I realised how much I missed physically working around other people. In terms of rent, I’m paying roughly 70 per cent less than I paid in Dublin and the place here, and [the one] in Portugal, is incomparable to the shoebox apartment I called home in the docklands.

The outdoor terrace at Keanu Fischell’s home in Crete
The outdoor terrace at Keanu Fischell’s home in Crete

Ireland will always be home and I look forward to seeing friends and family when I move back, but I’m delighted I took the opportunity to go abroad and consider myself very lucky to have had the experience.”

“I absolutely adore living here” – Kathy Irwin, Corfu

Kathy Irwin doesn’t intend to return to Ireland from Corfu when the current crisis is over
Kathy Irwin doesn’t intend to return to Ireland from Corfu when the current crisis is over

Kathy Irwin has also left for foreign shores, heading off to Corfu earlier this year, and has no intention of returning even when the current crisis is over.

“I decided to take a new path from my profession as a solicitor a couple of years ago, and did some travelling around Europe, ” she says. “I went back to Ireland in September 2019, and survived by doing Airbnb, but when that stopped in March 2020 it felt very strange indeed, as I had no desire to go back to being a solicitor. I write a blog about my travels and do some research for legal colleagues, which is very doable online, so in July, I decided to make the big move and go abroad.

“I put my house in Dún Laoghaire on the market and came out to stay with friends in Corfu. I have a house-sitting arrangement until next June, so am not paying rent, but accommodation in general is way cheaper and it is possible to rent for around € 300 per month. Or you could buy an old house for about €50,000 – of course, it might cost the same to do it up and break your heart in the process.

The outdoor terrace of Kathy Irwin’s current home in Corfu
The outdoor terrace of Kathy Irwin’s current home in Corfu

“But I’m learning Greek, swimming, walking the incredible mountains and am a volunteer for the 50808 crisis textline run by the HSE in Ireland, and since we are in the EU, I can do it from here which is wonderful – I absolutely adore living here.”

“Covid doesn’t impact life as much” – John Brett, Malta

John Brett says Covid hasn’t impacted life in Malta as much.
John Brett says Covid hasn’t impacted life in Malta as much.

Working remotely has proved very beneficial for John Brett too. He has been able to further his career, while also now embracing a sun-filled lifestyle.

Having spent many years travelling between different countries while still continuing to work, he is currently director of engineering for a US-based fintech company and decided to see out the pandemic in Malta as he had had enough of the high cost of living in Dublin.

“In 2018 I moved back home after I was ‘renovicted’ from my flat in Dublin – a term where landlords ask you to move out so they can make some minimal changes [to the property] and then double the rent in the meantime,” he says. “After this and other previous experiences, I was no longer willing to rent again in Dublin and was still living back at home a year after I moved in ‘for a few months’.

“I had been working remotely for a few years at this stage and knew I’d no plans to ever go back to working in an office, so it was making less sense to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I was also not a fan of the weather, so after some discussions, in late 2019, my girlfriend and I decided that I would move abroad while she stayed . . . [until she could join him].”

Having researched his options, he eventually chose Malta, and after taking out a year-long lease on an apartment, he waved goodbye to Ireland.

John Brett’s apartment is located within walking distance of local shops, bars and restaurants
John Brett’s apartment is located within walking distance of local shops, bars and restaurants

“I now have a modern, spacious two-bed apartment to myself, with a partial bay view, about 50m from the sea,” he says. “It’s within walking distance of bars, shops and restaurants and has a large outdoor terrace, where I could probably host about 10 people. I couldn’t even dream of a place like this in Ireland.

“Rental agreements are managed really well here, so we don’t have the ‘renoviction’ culture of Dublin. And as Covid has caused a decent drop in rental prices since the start of the year, I know people living in spacious one-bedroom penthouses with an outdoor terrace for less than €1,000 per month, in excellent locations with sought-after sea views.”

And along with the superior accommodation and climate, John says there are a lot of other bonuses to living in Malta.

“The way of life here is a lot more laid back and weekends can be spent at the beach, taking boat trips, scuba diving or going to beach clubs,” he says. “People eat a lot more in outdoor restaurants and will spend an entire evening socialising [there], instead of just having the meal and leaving.

“So far I’m really enjoying the lifestyle and weather. I don’t think I’ve worn more than a T-shirt and shorts since I got here, and go swimming every day. Because the population is much smaller and they’ve employed more sensible restrictions, Covid doesn’t impact life as much, and restaurants and bars are open with socially distanced tables. Mask wearing is mandatory in all indoor public areas and temperatures are checked frequently, so it feels like Covid is being handled well.

“And in the last month, I’ve met a few people who have also recently moved over from Ireland and are working remotely due to Covid – in fact, some never plan to return to the office or even full-time to Ireland.”

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