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Romania: It's Happening

Just want to give you guys an update on the Romania experiment. We leave in a week, and will fly to Istanbul, then on to Bucharest. We'll be in Romania for just over three weeks, and in that time, we'll need to finalize the establishment of a business, open a bank account, secure the services of an accountant, scope out the art scene, and possibly look at some real estate. You know, your average holiday abroad.

Obviously it makes a huge difference to be doing all of this with Bogdan and his family. I'm not sure I would have even thought about the possibility of relocating to Romania, even part time, if it weren't for the support of my extended Romanian family. The bureaucracy, the language, the legal system, all of those things would have been a huge barrier to the idea.

If you haven't been following our newest adventure, Bogdan and I have been running our art business here in Texas since 2015, and have been selling more each year, developing relationships with some wonderful collectors, and getting established as part of the community of artists here in the Houston area. That's all great, but we're still not able to live solely off our art business. That's been fine, because we have some savings from our previous work lives, and Mom and Dad left some when they passed away. But the writing is on the wall. If we continue to just barely make ends meet, or sometimes not make ends meet, that buffer of savings will slowly be eaten away. That just sounds like a bad business plan to me, not to mention the prospect of not having enough money to "retire". (Like that will ever happen).

So we know that we must make some changes in the business plan going forward. We could return to get regular jobs. After several years of working on my own as a freelance entrepreneur, self-employed with near total control of my destiny, I found that last sentence difficult to even type. We do not want to return to a 9-5 day job. There may be some instances where a gig job could be tolerable, say if someone wanted me to set up a library for their new school, or if Bogdan went and worked for a TV series for a season. Those types of gigs might be fun, but there is absolutely nothing that is going to get in the way of me following my passion. I'm an artist for the rest of my life, even though there may not be all that many years left. So getting a regular day job would be the very last, desperate move for us.

A second option is for us to just become more famous and make more money. I'm on board for that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that happens over time, and that there are no short cuts. As I mentioned, every year we sell more art, know more people, get better at our craft, and make more money. Waiting around to be discovered and finding instant fame and wealth just isn't going to happen. So sure, we can and will continue to better our art, sell more to collectors, market our business and develop our brand. Fame and fortune will come, but I'm pretty confident that it won't pay all the bills for several more years.

That leaves us with a third option. If I know I'm making a certain income consistently, then perhaps I need to cut my spending to match my income. I know that may sound like a no brainer, but I think internalizing that realization is a natural progression in running a small business. When we first opened the business here in the States, we knew that we would have to subsidize the enterprise for a while, until we got on our feet. We think we understand now what the workload and product will produce, and realize that we can slowly grow that level of income over time. But there has to be that moment when we shift from financially covering what appears to be an expensive hobby, to living off our art as professionals.

We know that we can't sell our home and afford something closer to the city, and moving farther away from Houston (or any other large city) would only diminish our income more. The option then becomes for us to move to a place where we can afford to live off the proceeds of our art. If moving to a remote rural setting in the States won't work, we can move abroad, where our regular income will stretch much further. One possibility is Romania.

So we've met with a Romanian lawyer, and an accountant, and the process has begun. We are setting up a limited liability company, with both of us as partners. Bogdan will be the administrator of the business, because of the language and citizenship issues, and I will be the owner. Owning a business in Romania will grant me a special visa, which will allow me to stay in the country for longer periods of time, and to earn money while I'm there. The Romanian government is making it really, really easy to open a business as an American. So many people left Romania when they gained EU status, because they were able to earn more in other European countries. The government is trying to lure people back with great incentives for digital nomads, foreign businesses, and a high tech industrial environment. My tax rate in Romania will be 3% of what I earn in the country. If we are able to hire an employee, that tax rate falls to 1%. Even if we face double taxation between what we earn here in the USA, and what we earn in Romania, 3% more is not going to break our backs. I can also "buy in" to the Romanian national health system for $600 per year. As far as we can tell, once established, we could live comfortably in Romania for about $2,000 per month.

So what is the downside? What would we stand to lose if we try to live both in the USA and Romania? We do realize that the people in Romania do not generally have the money to buy expensive art. We're not likely to sell a lot to Romanians. But because of Romania's membership in the EU, we can travel around Europe to art fairs and galleries. We have no illusions of making a lot of income from a poor population.

We would also be removing ourselves from our current collectors, and possibly diminishing any momentum we have established here in the USA. We would largely be "out of sight" and therefore would quickly become "out of mind". That is a threat we will have to face, and deal with, as we move forward.

But there's also the realization that living in Romania can be tough. They're not going to open their arms to a gay couple. Currently, same sex marriage is not recognized there. General services can be spotty, and many of the things we rely on daily may not be available. Some things like electronics and art supplies can be very expensive or hard to source. And for Bogdan, it may be hard going home after so many years living abroad. While I am moving to a new adventure filled with possibility and opportunity, Bogdan is moving home. He will be moving back to his family, who haven't been present for all of the changes he's made to his life and his values. In many ways, I think the move to Romania scares him more than it does me. I have to be super sensitive to that as we explore this new chapter in our lives.

But in spite of all the difficulties, and in spite of some of the reg flags, we're off to Eastern Europe in a week to give this dream a test drive. Stick around, we'll keep you posted.


“Art Life Blog with John & Bogdan” is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. Bogdan is a videographer and fine art photographer who constantly seeks to stretch the boundaries of traditional photographic work, with the added flare of his artistic eye.  Both artists’ work can be seen online, or at their studios at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, in Houston.

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