There are no shortage of great freelancing blogs and websites out there that teach you the ins and outs of freelancing. One of the more popular ones, of course, is the Envato Blog, Freelance Switch. While these blogs do a great job of educating the masses about typical freelance work, many of them fail to touch on the subject of Freelancing Abroad. Today, I would like to pick up where many of these sites stop on this topic.
My thoughts and insights on the world of freelancing abroad don’t come from just reading a few travel books and watching the Travel Channel. No, the suggestions and comments I will make come from years on the road as a man of various trades.
While traveling, I have worked as a magazine photographer in Aruba, a travel writer in Nicaragua, and a web designer in Costa Rica. These are just a few of the jobs and locations I have held. So, no matter what type of freelancing you do, you are sure to gain some helpful information on freelancing from your dream destination.
Any of you who have closely followed Outlaw Design Blog may remember when my wife and I moved to Costa Rica over a year ago. While we are currently living in the States for the time being, we lived in Costa Rica for over a year. In that amount of time I learned things about freelancing abroad that no book or blog could have ever prepared me for. There are just some things about freelancing from exotic destinations that you can never really prepare yourself for. Hopefully, by reading this post all the way through, you will limit the problems that can come up from freelancing abroad.
Please keep in mind that abroad is a very broad term (no pun intended!). It encompasses the entire world. Obviously some of the things I say in this post will only be relevant for certain parts of the world. For the sake of this article, I am mostly referring to Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
While some people may dream of working in places like Europe or China, I won’t really touch on them in this post. For many, moving to another first-world country is nothing more than visas and red tape. Moving to a third-world country, on the other hand, has its own set of problems and drawbacks.
Establish Your Business First
I am not going to say that it isn’t possible to start up a design company in another country, but if you are new to freelancing, you may want to establish your business in an area with a more stable economy. Once you have learned some of the basic ropes of freelancing and have a number of repeat clients, then it’s a little safer to make the jump to a foreign location.
Reason being: if you are moving to a third-world country, you can pretty much assume that no one is willing to pay what your work is worth. Thus, the chance of finding local clients is slim to none. The ones you do find probably won’t see the benefit in paying $2,000 for a custom website.
In the event that things go wrong and you go broke, it can be a lot harder for your friends and family to help you out. Depending on where you live, getting money sent to you is sometimes easier said than done.
If I haven’t scared you off with the above information, then you might have the right mindset to freelance abroad.
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Deciding Where to Freelance From
Many of you will already have a dream destination that you would love to work from. This is a great place to start, but you might want to be prepared for the fact that it might not be the most reliable place to work from. It really depends on what sort of work you do and what sort of internet connection you need.
For example, writers really have the most choices when it comes to location. This is because they don’t always need a high-speed internet connection. Even in some of the most under-developed cities, you are likely to be able to find a dial-up internet connection. Photographers, bloggers, designers, and other people who need a faster internet connection will be slightly more limited in the destinations they can choose from.
Your best bet in choosing a place to freelance from is to pick somewhere you have visited before and have enjoyed. By doing this, you aren’t as overwhelmed with the move and have a better idea of what to expect. By choosing a place that you have been to before, you have a better idea of what the internet situation is really like, what areas are safe to live in, the cost of living, and other useful information. This sort of first-hand information is invaluable, as it is very hard to find accurate information of this sort in any book or website.
Deciding where to freelance from is really a personal choice and not something I can really make recommendations about. What I can do is tell you a few things you may want to think about when considering where to freelance from.
How much money can you realistically make on a regular basis?
It is always best to low-ball this amount in case you have a really slow month and don’t have much money saved up.
What are the most important creature comforts to you?
Are you partial to hot showers or air conditioning? Not everywhere has these luxuries, so you might want to double-check that house ad before you pay a deposit on it.
Do you want to rent a house or live in a hostel?
Hostels can be cheaper to live in, but you have to put up with group kitchens, lots of people, and less-than-private accommodations.
How important is a high-speed internet connection to you?
As stated before, not everywhere has easy access to high-speed internet, so you might want to research what the internet situation is in a particular area before you decide.
Will you be moving with your family? Do your kids need to be near a school?
Traveling with a family is a lot different than traveling alone. Some under-developed countries don’t always have schools nearby.
How long will you be moving for? Six months? A year? Permanently?
Depending on how long you plan on staying in any one location, you may be able to get discounts on rent when you agree to 6-month or 12-month lease.
What is Passive Income?
If you are unfamiliar with the term “passive income” you probably don’t know how to make any! The idea of passive income is simple: it’s finding a means of making money without having to do anything. Of course, that’s a very simple explanation – the reality is a little more complex. Let me give you a more specific example of what passive income is; a designer makes a premium WordPress theme and then sells it on ThemeForest.
This is an example of passive income because the designer only had to create the theme once, but will make money from that single theme forever with little to no more work required.
That is how passive income works: by creating a product or service once, and then being able to profit from it time and time again with little to no work on your part. All the Envato Marketplaces are perfect examples of how creatives can start building up passive income.
- ThemeForest – Website Templates, WordPress Themes, HTML Themes, Code Snippits.
- GraphicRiver – Stock art, Vectors, Icons, Photoshop styles, Design Templates
- FlashDen – Animations, Image viewers, Menus, Site Templates, Loaders, Games
- AudioJungle – Music Loops, Sound Effect, Songs, Music, Source Files
- VideoHive – Stock Footage, Video Graphics, Project Files, After Effects
Another reason passive income is such a good idea for freelancing abroad is because it makes for a nice emergency fund. Even if your passive income streams only make $100 a month, that can turn into quite a nice emergency fund that you can probably have pretty quick access to if something should go wrong.
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Dealing With Clients Overseas
If you are already running the majority of your business over the internet, you will be in great shape when you move abroad. One of the hardest adjustments to make is getting used to having many different clients in many different time zones. Although this can be easily remedied with a few clocks on your computer, it still takes some getting used to.
There are so many apps and tools on the web these days that you can pretty much find any tool you need to conduct business online. Below I will list a few essential tools that many freelancers could find useful in running their businesses abroad.
Fax.com – Some clients would rather fax you back information than email it to you. There are a number of similar services like this that allow you to send and receive faxes via email.
Basecamp – This project-management software is great for designers and developers, but might also come in handy for writers or photographers. It could serve as your own personal organisation and backup area online.
RightSignature – Need signatures on forms and contracts but don’t have time to wait for snail-mail? RightSignature makes it easy to get legally signed contracts taken care of via the internet.
Skype – A telephone service like Skype or Google voice is an essential tool to have. It will give you a telephone number where clients can reach you, no matter where you live.
Earth Class Mail – If you still have a need for snail-mail, services like EarthMail will check your mail for you, open the mail you tell them to, and then scan the enclosed information to your secure account. This is good if you still have bills or important documents that you need access to while away.
Offering good communication between you and your client is critical to success for any freelancer. This is especially true when freelancing abroad. If you want to keep your clients happy while on the road, make sure you stay in touch with them. When living in a new and exotic location, it’s easy to put off client calls and email to head out to the beach for the day. I am certainly guilty of doing just that, but I always made it a point to email, chat or call clients at least once a day. Even if I did no other work that day, I made sure to stay in touch with my clients daily.
You need to get used to the idea that you may not have a phone or internet service in the house you are renting or living in. In some parts of the world, very few houses actually have a phone. Even less will have high-speed internet service. Start getting used to the fact that you will be spending a lot of time working from internet cafes. I mention this because it might make it that much harder to stay in touch with clients, depending on where the internet cafe is in relation to your living quarters.
Obviously there is a lot more to moving, living, and working abroad than this post covers. For that reason I am working on creating a membership site called Freelancing Abroad. The idea of the site is to help educate freelancers with basic knowledge with which they need to be able to run a profitable freelancing business from anywhere in the world. If this is of interest to you, I encourage you to sign up for updates at my site Freelancing Abroad.
Freelancing from your dream location might be the most amazing thing you can do with your life. Think about it: what could be better than doing something you love from the most beautiful place you can think of? I am here to tell you, it is not as hard as you might think. The hardest part is taking the first step and getting the ball rolling. Once that ball is in action, you won’t let it stop.
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