Live Anywhere as a Freelance Writer: How to Create a Location-Independent Career

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Have you ever imagined moving with the (nice) weather? Winter in Bali, summer in the States, with a quick sojourn to Europe in between.

Do you want to see the world and run a successful business simultaneously?

If so, think about taking your freelance writing business on the road.

You can work from anywhere

Perhaps the biggest benefit of freelance writing is location independence. Escaping the drudgery of a morning commute and working from home is a privilege many freelance writers hold dear.

But, why stop there? As a freelance writer there are no physical limitations on where you do your job.

Seeing the world while simultaneously running a business may seem like a dream existence for many, but for freelance writers, it can become a reality.

Imagine relaxing on the beach with a margarita, laptop in hand, or going for an early morning scuba dive before starting work. While it may not always be quite that ideal, running your freelance writing business from a tropical island is a real possibility. Some of the most remote places on Earth enable you to run a business just as effectively as if you were sitting in your living room.

Global internet coverage and unremitting connectivity make it insanely easy to connect with editors and publish blog posts from the other side of the world.

You don’t need a Starbucks with lightning-quick broadband; you can write from literally anywhere. When I lived in the Bolivian jungle, I went old school with pen and paper, before hitchhiking to the nearest village to publish my work on the web.

So, why live abroad?

At one time, running a business and moving around the world may have been considered lunacy, but in today’s economic climate, it’s fast becoming a sensible option. As more companies look to streamline their businesses, there are enormous opportunities for astute freelancers. Sean Ogle created a business, Location 180, that helps people make this dream a reality, and the guys behind 37signals published a book on the rise of the remote work phenomenon.

Financial savings are still perhaps the foremost incentive to live abroad as a freelance writer. Imagine paying $100 a month in rent instead of $1000, or spending $3 for lunch instead of $30. Reducing overheads is a major goal for any business, and writing is no different. The economic benefit of living in a developing country as a freelancer can be drastic.

Quality of life is also an important factor. Living on a sunny island next to the ocean or close to your favourite outdoor activities can be the ultimate reward for taking your business abroad. Imagine hiking in the mountains or doing yoga on the beach to unwind from a busy day of work.

I’ve lived in Argentina, Colombia, Vietnam and China, with a healthy amount of travelling in between. I’ve had experiences I could never have imagined. All of the quirky, downright crazy moments are stories that one day, I’ll be proud to tell my grandchildren. All because I took a leap of faith and blazed my own trail.

Leverage the fact that as a freelance writer, you’re completely mobile and free to enjoy the world. As a travelling scribe, you have the autonomy to choose how, and where, you work. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

Taking the leap

Ok, so now you’re motivated. How do you manage the logistics?

First, pick your paradise. Look at a map of the world and decide where you want to go. The only consideration that will make your life considerably easier is to choose somewhere with reasonable internet access — though as you can see from my experience in the jungle, it’s not a deal breaker.

Next, buy your ticket. Many people say they’ll move “when the time is right.” Unfortunately, the time for such a lifestyle change is never perfect. Give yourself a deadline to avoid procrastination or paralysis, but allow a reasonable window before departing to save money. Moving to a new country is stressful enough without the worry that a lack of funds could cut short your expedition! Don’t treat the move as a short holiday; view it as a lifestyle investment.

Consider completing a TEFL course before you leave, which will qualify you to teach English as a foreign language. Even if you already have a successful freelance business, it’s good to have a fallback option. I’ve found teaching English one of the best ways to supplement my income when required. Also, you can generally choose flexible hours, which provides enough time to run a freelance writing business on the side.

What happens once you’re there?

When you arrive in your dream location, seek out any local English language publications and ask them if they could use any help. If you’re new to freelance writing, consider asking for an internship, which would let you to hone your skills in a collaborative writing environment. Additionally, contact your country’s embassy or the local tourism board to inquire about any writing opportunities in the area.

Get out and explore. Go on trips to remote places, sample regional foods, and talk to local people. Use your experiences as material for extraordinary articles and blog posts. Editors are often looking for contributions from exotic locations.

Be social and make connections. The expatriate community is notoriously friendly, making it easy to form profitable relationships with those in high places. One day you may be chatting to a CEO or ambassador, and the next you could be having a beer with an English teacher. Use this tight network to your advantage in building your freelance writing business.

Go forth and conquer

It takes bravery to say goodbye to loved ones, relocate a business and move overseas. Working remotely is not for everyone, but if you choose this path, the rewards can be great. As a business, freelance writing is well-suited to this adventure. Will you give it a try?

What do you think of location independence? Have you taken your writing on the road?

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Joel Key is a writer and physiotherapist who inspires his community to make positive changes in their lives. He has just created a new campaign called "Write for Life," which raises awareness of worldwide... .

Joel Key | @joelkey_com

Joel Key
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Comments

  1. Okay, so I write for a living (along with designing websites and managing social media strategies for clients) and one of the perks, as you mentioned, is that I’m not tied to anything or any one place. I can go anywhere just about.

    However, I’ve always wondered, how does branding work? Really? I see articles like yours regularly that tout the fun and excitement but what about business cards? Do you not use an address at all?

    We all know a Skype phone number is inexpensive and you can talk all across the world for little, so that’s covered. But what about mail? Yes, yes – you can have it forwarded to you…but from where? Where is your home base if you’re a nomad? What about car insurance? Most won’t accept a PO box in some random state for coverage?

    You don’t have to answer all that here – I’d actually like to, for once, see a post that touches on real-life concerns of living in such a wonderful way and not so much focused on the fun-and-sun angle.

  2. I clicked Post too fast. Regarding the business card/address question that also ties into websites contact info. If I have a client, for example, paying me, let’s just say $4k to design a website and I don’t even have a “permanent” address I’d think that would give cause to doubt. I admit I’d certainly think twice before handing over a project so important to someone who may just skip out into the night to the next fairweather location.

    And how do you live? Just a handkerchief filled with the barest of essentials tied to a stick like the old Snoopy cartoons? What about furniture, electronics, desks, candleholders…things you’ve collected over the years? I know that material things are not the priority in general but it certainly isn’t even foreseeable that someone would just keep setting up a household and then starting all over again perpetually.

    Questions real writers with nomad tendencies would like to know the answers to.

    :)

    • Gotta leave it all behind til you become rich;-) good post and good luck from maui

      • A response just as I expected.

        • Hi Patricia,

          Thanks for your comment, and questions. As you rightly point out, there are many practical issues to consider before moving abroad, and it’s remiss to suggest that the process is not without its difficulties.

          As for branding, it really depends on who you’re targeting and how you’re picking up clients. As a freelance writer, most of the contact (from the pitch to submission) is possible through email, so if you have a professional online presence, through a website and writing samples, you should be fine. As you point out, Skype can usually cover any additional briefing that’s required.

          As for a home address, when I go away I’m fortunate enough to use my family for correspondence. If I’m expecting anything important (which is rare), they can generally help me deal with it. You’re right in thinking that without such a forwarding address, living abroad would be much trickier.

          As for car insurance, I’m not sure how that works in the US from state to state. I don’t have a car in the UK, and generally I’ve lived in ‘developing countries’, and sort out local transport when there.

          With regard to payment, as most of my work has been freelance writing, I’ve been paid after publication. If you’re working one-on-one with a client to develop a website, I think trust becomes more of an issue. If you’re able to provide a contact address in the states and/or the address of where you’re living abroad, combined with testimonials, and re-assurances that you are who you say you are (over Skype for example), I doubt there would be a problem.

          I think that as a client, there’s always the risk of being scammed, even if you’re hiring a self-employed freelancer in your own state. The client has to do their due diligence; checking your website, your LinkedIn profile and perhaps verifying your previous clients to assuage any fears. If they still have concerns after all of that, and you’re still keen to work with them, there’s always the option of using sites like Odesk/Elance to check they’re happy with your work before any funds are released (even if you do lose a commission to the site).

          As for the material aspect of living abroad, I think even those who rent their house while away will generally put their furniture and possessions into storage. It really depends how permanent your move abroad is, and if you’re willing to ship your life with you. Whenever I’ve moved abroad, I’ve lived in pre-furnished apartments, and with a few local purchases, I’m pretty much set up. If you’re intent on travelling and working on the road, it’s essential make material sacrifices.

          I fully acknowledge that if you have a family, then more stability may be required. My time abroad has always been made easier as I only have to worry about myself.

          You’re correct in highlighting the practical implications of such a move, but if you can leverage your job to work abroad (even if it’s for a short time), I think it can be a fabulous option.

          Thanks again!

        • Another idea for mail that I’ve heard good things about it Earth Class Mail (https://www.earthclassmail.com/), an online mail scanning and forwarding service.

      • Thanks Joseph. You can live like a king in some parts of the world (even as a freelance writer!), and your life can be enriched in lot’s of other ways. Thanks for reading!

  3. This post has really touched my heart, as travelling and writing would suit me just fine, but how do you stand if you wish to stay in a country that has strict visa rules, for example; I would love to tour Canada whilst writing but would they allow it? Or would I be eligible as long as I could prove that my employers were based outside the country?

    • Great question, Julie. Visa rules differ in each country and while we can’t share visa advice, a good place to check for Canada is the CIC’s website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/

    • Hi Julie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As a UK citizen I would be able to stay in Canada for six months, and I wouldn’t envisage any problems working while travelling. I wouldn’t declare this to immigration officials when arriving, but would rather say I was visiting as a tourist.

      It can be a bit tricky to stay in Western countries for prolonged periods. Most of my experiences have been in the developing world where visa rules are usually more flexible. They often allow you to stay for three months and then do a ‘visa run’, which involves leaving the country for a day, before giving you another three month visa upon re-entry. Sometimes you can also get a slightly longer ‘business’ visa through agents in the country.

      It’s always advisable to say you’re merely a tourist when travelling to avoid any complications. Hope this helps!

    • Hey Julie,

      I’ve been location independent the last 7 years and lived everywhere from Europe to North America to Central and South America. Every country has different visa requirements. Europe and the US are very strict about the times you can stay and when you can return. Some you have to leave the country periodically, but don’t enforce time limits for how many times you can leave and return. Some, well, don’t seem to care what you do.

      Most countries I’ve been have tax laws that require you to pay taxes on money you earn while in the country even if the employer is outside. It is extremely difficult for them to actually monitor or collect on this, particularly if you’re moving around often.

      I think most countries haven’t quite caught up with location independents beyond whether or not you have a bank account in country or acquire residency.

  4. Wow Joel,
    Great post really.

    I like the fact that freelance writing is location independent.

    As a freelance writer, I’ve never gone that wild, working while travelling or while on some remote places. But I’ll see about giving it a try.

    Cheers.

    • Hey Zoe, hope this provides some inspiration to get on road. If you can make your business work for you while travelling, it’s an awesome way to see the world. Thanks for reading!

  5. I’ve taken my freelance writing business on the road, and it’s working out really well. I was in India for a month, Australia for 5 weeks and have been working from the beaches of Thailand for the last couple of months. I’ll likely go back to London after I’ve been out here for a full 5 months.

    Patricia, all those material things become strangely unimportant when you leave them all behind! I’ve never been one for collecting a lot of things but even if I was I don’t think card holders and the like would matter much if you were the sort of person who loves to travel!

    In terms of an address, I personally don’t need one. I’m a freelance writer *online* and I write for global travel companies so all my clients kind of expect me to be based wherever! My website is my home. :)

    However, it’s entirely possible (and easy) to create a PO Box address and put all that stuff in storage! This is just my way of doing things is all.

    • Wow Kirsty, it sounds like you’re living an enviable life! You’re clearly combining your writing work with some awesome trips and gathering valuable writing material in the process!

      I’m quite similar with regard to material possessions. As long as I have my laptop, some music and a guitar, I’m generally happy!

      Enjoy the rest of your travels, and spare a thought for those who are sitting in (sunny for a change) London!

  6. Love this post Joel!

    I’ve had a few clients start out skeptical about hiring a writer who isn’t in the same city that they are, but it doesn’t take them long to realize that location truly doesn’t make a difference to this sort of work!

    I’ll admit I haven’t fully embraced being location independent, but I do like to take advantage of it occasionally. My family lives all over the country, and I love being able to go visit them without having to fully take time off work. It makes my schedule so much more flexible. Though this coming week might put that to the test — I’m not sure how “location independent” I’ll feel when I’m in a house with a six week old nephew and his two exhausted parents!

    • I agree Katharine, it’s great to be able to take advantage of being able to work from anywhere. Though I agree that it can sometimes be difficult to get work done when I’m visiting family! Best of luck this week!

    • Hi Katharine. I think clients are becoming more open to the fact that writing really is location independent, and they can guarantee a reliable, quality service regardless of whether it’s in their city. Also, this way clients can have a greater pool of writers to choose from.

      It sounds like you’re taking full advantage of the perks of freelance writing, spending time with your family and travelling the country. On this occasion, it sounds like you’ll have to take some time off to help relieve two stressed parents!

      Good luck!

  7. Hi there. I’m an American currently living in Spain via a student visa and would like to get a freelance writing and editing business off the ground. My question is more centered around how to establish yourself as a legal tax entity. How do you handle banking and taxes and addresses for these purposes when leading a nomadic life? Any insights are appreciated.

    • Hi Lauren, thanks for checking in! You may want to check into any restrictions on your student visa, as some countries have strict rules about working while on those visas and the penalties can be harsh. I’d recommend talking to an expert!

    • Hi Lauren, great question. I think there’s certainly a difference between developed and developing countries with regard to visas and penalties. If you’re planning a prolonged stay in Spain, it will be more risky to start a business without the proper permission (if you go down the official route they’ll probably tell you not to work on a student visa). Conversely, it’s pretty common in many developing countries to work as a teacher and I’ve written freelance without any problems.

  8. It is quite possible to thrive as a freelance writer without the trappings of a traditional workplace. I happily write in the southern Caribbean on a tiny island that I’ve called home for several years. I have clients around the world, and they really couldn’t care less where I’m located or where I perform the work. If I can meet my deadlines and produce high-quality work, they are happy.

    For US expats, you can set up various methods of payment that allow your clients to pay invoices electronically (Paypal is an easy one, as is Payoneer, a prepaid debit Mastercard that provides you with a US bank account for accepting electronic transfers). And the clients I have that are local (I do have a few), they don’t really seem concerned that I don’t have business cards. Most of our business is conducted informally (on the beach, over coffee, etc.). That is the reward of working on a small island.

    Visas can be tough if you are planning to stay long-term in the foreign land of your choice. That is another article, altogether. But if you are just passing through and staying legally as a tourist, why even mention that you might write while you’re there? Tourist status makes things smoother/easier for you.

    Yes, the climate is enviable and being self-employed is wonderful. But the nuts and bolts of actually working as a nomad is much easier to tackle than you’d imagine. It just takes a bit of forethought and planning to set things up initially. The rest just develops naturally.

    Go for it! You won’t regret it!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Liz. It’s true, often clients don’t care where you’re located, or how much you move around, as long as you do a good job and finish work on time. I’m a bit jealous of your Caribbean island!

    • Hey Liz, thanks for sharing your inspiring story! You’ve definitely made me envious with your talk of life on a Caribbean island. I think you’re living the freelancer’s dream!

  9. Anne Vinnola says:

    Wow! I am in the process of having to redirect my whole life and this truly excites me! I am a little unsure of how to find the jobs. Is it best to look in travel writing or what may be some other ideas?

    • You can do most types of freelance work in a location-independent way, Anne, so you’re not restricted to travel writing. You could easily focus on copywriting, social media services or another type of writing.

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

    • Hi Anne, I hope the article provides some inspiration for your new direction. I totally agree with Heather in that you’re not limited to travel writing. If you have skills from previous jobs, you can leverage these to your advantage. For example, I have a health background which lends itself well to health and fitness articles. It just so happens that I can target this niche while living in an interesting, exotic location!

  10. Thanks for getting me thinking at a time when everything’s changing anyway. The idea of taking control and making a BIG move is growing on me. Hmmmmm…

  11. I use Traveling Mailbox for my mail. They give you a “real” address, not a PO Box, and they scan my mail for me, forward it, shred it, whatever I need. Been happy with them for the last year.
    Thanks for this article. Freelance writing while on the road is my goal and this is helpful.

  12. Hi! Do you have advice for how to get started in a freelance career? I’m a freelance writer pro-bono, and definitely want to learn how to make a profit from my work as I build my portfolio of clips.

    Cheers,
    E

  13. Hi Edwina. That could probably be the topic of a whole new article but in short, you’re doing the right thing. Building a portfolio of clips is essential to show prospective clients. From then on, it’s basically a numbers game. Decide exactly what type of writing you want to do (leveraging any skills and knowledge you have) and then send out as many email queries and pitches you can. After a while you’ll get some clients biting. Good luck!

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