Travel entrepreneur David McNeill is the owner of Expat Empire and lives in Portugal. David created a business that helps expats and digital nomads navigate the bureaucratic, legal, and practical channels of moving to another country, whether for the long term or short term.
David has been living just outside of Porto for several years with his Japanese wife. He previously lived in Japan and Germany and has traveled extensively. David is originally from the United States and mostly works with US expats.
📍 On moving to Portugal
“We decided to take a trip (to Portugal) in 2018 and we thought, “this is the spot”. This is amazing. We loved the nice warm, friendly people – English speaking at a high level – great weather, great food. And we just felt super comfortable. So many people are hearing about Portugal…and are really falling in love with the place. And it’s quite open to people from all different situations and backgrounds.”
📍 On Porto vs Lisbon for living
“it was a difficult decision but I think we always thought that Porto was maybe a little more beautiful. All of this is subjective, but we kind of like the vibe here. On the other hand, I thought there’s probably more international English-speaking job opportunities in Lisbon. But when it came down to it and I got the job in Porto, I was more than happy to take that opportunity. I’m really happy that we’re in Porto. And of course, Lisbon is only three and a half hours by bus.”
📍 On leaving Berlin for Porto
“What we were leaving in Berlin was not only the coldness of the weather but also this big city, a bit dirty DIY kind of punkish scene, which at the first, at the beginning was great. But after a couple of years, got a little bit old. Here we’re just able to slow down, take it easier, learn to kind of go with the flow. It’s cleaner and the people are super welcoming and friendly”.
📍 On the joys of exploring Tokyo
“In Tokyo, there was just so much to explore. And of course, if you’re an active walker or explore or adventurer, even in your own city, there’s always so much more to see. There is great people-watching and small alleyways to explore. It took me many months or even the whole two years that I was there to really try to figure out Tokyo, whereas here in Porto, it maybe took a couple of weeks”.
📍 On advising clients about moving locations
“What I try to do with some clients that are thinking about which country to move to is to give them a data-driven approach. And of course, I use some of the more reliable rankings for a variety of different aspects and metrics. But they’re not always looking at some of the figures around things like safety. And people that are concerned about those things.”
📍 On the Expat Empire business
“The idea is to inspire and help people to move all around the world and we try to help anyone move anywhere as best as we can. We’re not immigration officers but we try to give as much advice as we can to people that are looking to, for example, find a new job abroad, start their international careers or become location independent digital nomads, and naturally people that are retiring abroad as well.
We help people look at different destinations in terms of countries or cities and different potential visa routes. And we put together personalized timelines and checklists of all the things they need to do between now and when they settle into the country. We also do coaching and work with our network of partners around the world to help people with their tax situation, visas, or housing”
📍 On the ‘five-year plan’
“As an employee over the years and when interviewing for jobs so many times I got this question of ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ I could never figure out a good answer to it. And frankly, whatever I said would never end up coming true. Life changes so quickly. With my business, I committed to working on this with my whole energy and vision for the next year and then see where I’m at. So far things are looking positive and that’s as far as I’ve come to. I’m making good progress.
I make quarterly goals and I’m working toward my annual goals. “
📍 On passion for work
“I realized that I didn’t like the fact that I was having to rely on the company to continue to sponsor me, and that I was having to manage all of the politics of having a boss and of having a corporate hierarchy of some sort. I was working as a product manager on products that I wasn’t that passionate about.
But taking that knowledge and being able to apply it to something that I am passionate about, being able to decide my hours, to decide where I’m working from today or tomorrow, and sponsoring myself until I have that dual citizenship that I’m working toward here in Portugal is the route toward more freedom for me.”
📍 On starting the business in a pandemic
“It’s especially hard to start in these COVID times when your business relates to helping people to move abroad. Many people might ask, well, ‘why would you start that business?’ But I actually thought it was a great time to focus on that. It was a chance to set myself up for the coming wave of people moving abroad long-term or becoming digital nomads”
📍 On growing and scaling the business
“I want us to scale as much as we can from a template and manuals. I try to set up as much automation in the company as I can. Some things have taken a little longer than expected and obviously, there’s so much governmental legislation and regulation. At the same time, I don’t have a baseline for the company pre-covid. I don’t know what it would have been like.
I’ve tried to focus as much as I can on organic growth. I haven’t spent anything on paid ads yet. In May, we released our first two online courses, on Udemy as well as Skillshare. We continue to work on the podcasts and YouTube channels. I also have released two books. We also have a Meetup group in Porto.
It’s been a continuous process of iteration. We look at where we’re getting traction where we aren’t and then we try to double down in those places where it’s going well and maybe reduce if not cut our focus on areas that aren’t.”
- Porto, Portugal
- Matosinhos, Portugal
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Tokyo, Japan
- Berlin, Germany
- Cascais, Portugal
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Budapest, Hungary
👉 Podcast edited with Descript