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5 Things That can get an International Freelancer Screwed

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Passport, ticket, money? Check. Bags are in the hallway and your office is where it’s been since you started working: safely zipped in your laptop bag (even if you do most of your work from your phone these days). Goodbye, gritty bedsit, crazy roommates and the neighbor lady who fries onions at 8:30, you’re taking your freelancing self international – to an exotic locale and one of those best views from the office people brag about on social media. Congratulations! We’re here to inform you that at some point you’ll run out of money, work, or courage, but you’ll have the best stories. In order to minimize the damage, here are five random points crowdsourced from my tribe of freelancers working internationally. Consider them carefully before you leap to avoid getting disheartened, broke, or just royally screwed.


You don’t save money in the first year: in fact, give yourself a high five if you break even. Going international is expensive, particularly in the beginning: paperwork, less stable, rent, coffee mugs (important!), travel and visitors from home. God forbid you need emergency dental work. Yeah, it’s still worth it, just plan a little!


Depending on your work, most of your gigs will be negotiated in local currency. If you were teaching English in Nagoya in 1998, good for you – if you were a tour guide in Buenos Aires, not so much. Currencies fluctuate, markets crash, regimes become hostile to foreign workers. You can’t control this.


Not so very global after all: work can be surprisingly hard to find. If you move abroad, perhaps you have the wrong visa. You might still get work, but most things available will be on the lower-paying end. Working for clients in other countries is easier than ever (thanks, internets!), but still involves ridiculous amounts of bureaucracy – whether you stay in your own country or move abroad. At times, the hassle of paperwork outweighs the joy of the paycheck. Speaking of working online, particularly for agencies: if you can, avoid telling them where you are located. They love cutting rates for freelancers who work from countries with a lower cost of living. Don’t help them!


Your clients don’t need to know where you are, but the tax office does. Research carefully what to file, where and when (no, tax day is not April 15 everywhere!), what qualifies for an exemption, what paperwork is needed to avoid double taxation, what receipts to keep, for how long and how to store all the said documents. (Luckily, most of the process can be done online these days, which automatically creates an archive for you, so you don’t have to schlep all those trapper keepers across the globe). Sure, you can probably get away with not filing anything and nobody will notice (particularly if you’re earning a pittance, and sorry to rub it in). However: most countries have an area where tax law and immigration law overlap. This may not mean much when you’re 22, getting slaughtered every night and winging it from one paycheck to another. Now think 5 years from 22: you’re married to a lovely foreigner, who’s 35 weeks pregnant with your first child. You apply for a family reunification visa. Guess what a freelancer needs to prove she or he can provide for a spouse? Yes, aha: tax records. My friend, you are so screwed. You have no idea how very screwed you are.


Where’s your deadline? Yes, you read that right. You know it’s on Thursday at 11:00, but where?  Sure, we all have 24 hours in a day, but if you’re an international freelancer working to beat several deadlines across several timelines they may not be the same 24 hours, if you know what I mean. If you’re in Lisbon and your deadline is in New York, that’s one thing. If your deadline is in Moscow, it’s quite another.

Still ready to do it? Go ahead then – you won’t regret it.

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Barbara S

Barbara S