Location Independent, International Jobs: Jonathan of Joney Talks

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. I’ve interviewed some fascinating individuals who all have slightly different takes on location independence or living internationally. Recent posts include Mrs. Adventure Rich, Kerri, who owns a top-earning Etsy business, Steve from Think, Save, Retire,  and Pete of Do You Even Blog?. 

Guest posters will be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.  

The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Today I’d like to introduce Jonathan, a Belgian financier and blogger who’s lived abroad for the past ten years. His story is really interesting, because he moved to Norway, then moved “abroad” to Paris for a year on a work assignment. Today he tells us why he took on that project and how it’s worked out for him. 

Jon and I chatted via Skype and here’s what he had to tell us: 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am from Belgium, and I lived there until I was 25. My background is in finance and business [there’s a unique business engineering degree in Belgium that combines engineering and finance, Joney explained, and he took classes in chemistry, physics, and math first and then eventually finance]. Then after my studies I wanted to start my career with a 6-month internship abroad (with the thought of moving back after the internship) and this led me to Norway. I found an interesting internship and I thought, “okay, let’s do it.” It was a 6-month internship and was the start of my career. I didn’t know much about Norway before going there. The internship became a real job, and then I got another job that sent me to France.
Jonathan in front of Norway's Royal Palace--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Jonathan from Joney Talks in front of the Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway.

How did you make the decision to move internationally?

The first step to go to Norway was to join AIESEC (pronounced eye-sec), the international student organization. And they give opportunities to students around the world to do internships abroad. I joined that community to find a job abroad [Laurie: they’re one of the largest student organizations in the world that I’d never heard of, and are in the US, too, for those looking for internships abroad]. I didn’t have in mind to move to Norway specifically, but an opportunity came along there and I took it.

What was the process like for finding jobs?

I ended up living in Norway and I eventually changed companies to a more international one. It offered the possibility for expatriation abroad so I asked for it. After a few years, the opportunity came up (almost ten years after I first moved to Norway). In this company, it’s common to have people moving around. This opportunity came up to transfer to Paris, and they were looking for people in my field, so I talked within the company, and then I had an interview with the group in France, and it was done quite easily.

What was the best part of living and working in Paris?

I’d been living ten years in Norway, and then I moved to Paris. For me it was a good test to see if I would fit somewhere else, or if I would miss Norway. When you live in several different places, you think, ok, do I want to stay here or move on? Belgium is one hour speed train from Paris, so I could go there and visit my parents on the seaside. Most of my friends from university live in Brussels. It was quite convenient to live in Paris.
Belgian seacost--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The Belgian seacoast where Jonathan’s parents live.
I moved there at the beginning of 2016. It was a bit of a pain to find a nice apartment in Paris. The company put me together with an agency, and we looked at a lot of apartments. They’re charming and old school, but inside, they’re older. According to the real estate agent it was what made these “typiquement Parisien,”yeah right… LOL. In the end, I found a gem in the 17th arrondissement and lived there. I totally loved my neighborhood.

Do you have any funny culture shock moments?

Because I grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium, I’ve seen many of the movies French people have seen, know the artists, musicians, etc. We have a lot in common, culturally. I lived close to the border, so I guess it’s like an American visiting Canada, or something like that. It was not a real shocker to live there as I expected most things, but I’d never worked in France or lived in France.
Now, I live in Norway, where things are all digital and easy. But you go to France, and it takes a lot longer. It’s a bit old school. It has some charm and I do not mind it for private life, but when you want efficiency, like at work for decision-making, it can be very annoying to spend three meetings discussing an issue while in Norway it would take one.
I was annoyed with the administration in France [Laurie: I think we Americans would say “red tape”]. Luckily my company helped so things were made easier but otherwise it’s very hard to open a bank account, get an apartment, things like that, even when you speak French. I had my WTF France! moments (check out this English comedian who drives my point home) [Laurie: make sure kids aren’t around when you open this]. 

In Norway, there were a lot more shocks. I knew nothing when I moved there.

A first shocker was alcohol. They have monopoly shops for alcohol. It’s very restricted–you cannot buy it whenever you want. On Friday, past 8pm, you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket. If I want to buy wine, I have to buy it before 6pm.

I tried to buy alcohol after 8 pm on a Saturday before going to a party. After a discussion with the cashier, needless to say, I came empty-handed to the party, but we all had a good laugh about it! Velkommen til Norge.

A funny shock for me is that Norway is a society of conformity. People have their own tastes in music, clothing, etc. but after living for a few months it is easy to see that general trends appear.  I found much more variety in lifestyles of people from other countries.

One “positive shock” is that people are nice, trustful. When they say something, you can trust them. If they borrow your bike and say they’ll bring it back tomorrow, they will.

In Norway, it’s not very easy to chit-chat with random people. They keep the conversation to a minimum. In general, people aren’t very outgoing at first. But as time goes by, people will become more open.

It’s like a peach and an orange. In some countries, like Latin countries, people are easy to peel, but as time goes on, it gets harder to get into a closer friendship. But in Norway, at first it’s difficult to peel off the layer, but as time goes on they get easier to connect with and once that peel is removed they will be friends for life!

Why would you recommend a short term international assignment to someone? Or not?

Jonathan in front of the Eiffel Tower---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Jonathan in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

For me it was easy because I’m single. I recommend doing it for your career. It’s great work experience. It felt almost like being in a different company, even though it was the same company. The projects and areas were different. For the career it’s very good. The financial part is good. If you want to save a buck or two, you can stash some money.

If you’ve never been abroad, it’s the experience of being challenged. It will put you out of your comfort zone.

Why should someone NOT go abroad? If you have a family and your kids need to go to school, it’s an interruption and harder to plan. Maybe your partner might not be in that same spirit. When you leave the company for one year or several years, people in the main office may forget about you. You’re not part of the meetings any more. I was in touch, but it’s easy to be forgotten. You’re a bit outside of the system. Depending on what you want to do, it can be a negative.

I have my friends in Norway, and we stayed in touch, but you’re missing out on events, on birthdays, on whatever.

All in all, it was a really positive experience, in general. Paris is not that bad [Laurie: Jon, I think you’re the king of understatement!]. If I went to a country where I didn’t like the food, speak the language, or connect with the people, it might have been a lot harder.

How has working remotely positively (or negatively) impacted your finances? (since this is a personal finance blog!).

It was quite attractive, because the company paid for my accommodations as well as other bonuses.

Of course, the finance part was excellent. Because I had extra money and I rented out my place in Norway, I took the opportunity to increase my income but I didn’t shop at the Galleries La Fayette or drink champagne each day. I started to get on personal finance websites like Ramit Sethi or The Simple Dollar.

I started my blog around this point, and my goal was to help myself and others understand the basics of money (what is a stock? How is money created? What is an interest rate?…), to talk about it in a healthy way (debates on money and ethics, in which company should I invest? ), and to attain our financial goals (Real Estate, passive source of income…).

The reason was because I wanted to use the extra income wisely. Should I pay down my apartment, should I invest in stocks or real estate?
At first I left it there, and in the end, after careful evaluation, I simply decided to continue in real estate. I evaluated the market in Paris and other places but in the end I bought an extra apartment in Belgium–it’s under construction so I’ll rent it out when it’s finished.

What are your future plans?

I came back to Norway in early 2017. I did some evaluations of where I want to be. Now, I’m deciding whether I want to stay in Norway or go somewhere else. I’m looking at my options. My family lives in Belgium, and while I lived in Paris, it was good to be close. My cousin came to visit while I was there, and I got to visit my family a lot. I could see myself moving to Paris, or Belgium, or simply a bit closer to home, to be closer to my family.

When it comes to investing, I do a little bit of everything. I’d like to continue in real estate. I’m fond of real estate. It’s easy to see and understand–there are capital gains and income. It’s possible to have a lot of creativity. It’s not easy, because it takes effort, but the numbers make sense to me.

At some point, I’d like to have a few units (why not one in Paris?), making enough to retire on that income.

Wow, Jonathan, great job with being proactive with your extra cash and eventually deciding to invest in real estate. It also sounds like you’d love to be closer to your family in the long run! I don’t blame you! Me, too! 

Jonathan would love to have you visit his blog, and if you want to stay in touch, join the mailing list. He’s on Instagram and Facebook so you can connect with him there! Or just leave a comment in the comment section! 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

5 thoughts on “Location Independent, International Jobs: Jonathan of Joney Talks”

  1. I’ve heard about the ‘no alcohol after 8 p.m.’ rule before, but can’t remember who told me about it!
    I also agree with trying to step out of your comfort zone. It’s worth a try, even if you end up not liking it. Before moving to Italy I thought ‘no way I’m moving abroad, a seasonal job is more than enough’, but had no idea I was gonna end up still being here years later 😀

    1. Isn’t it funny where life takes us?! I don’t think I could have imagined I’d live in Chile for three years… and now New England for more than seven! Yes, I totally agree that stepping out of your comfort zone is the number one way to grow and become better! 🙂

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