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Freelance Writers Can Work Anywhere, Right? Maybe Not.

by | Feb 26, 2016

Is the life of a digital nomad even possible? Is it real?

Yes. No.

Over eight years I’ve lived in four different countries, hopping between the United States, England, New Zealand, Australia and, now, Germany.

The only reason I’m able to do this is because my work is portable. I started early as a social media consultant and recently moved into full-time copywriting.

So I was eager to read The Freelancer’s last post, Expat Freelancers on the Advantages and Challenges of Working Abroad. Writer Joann Plockova lives and works in Prague, and many of her experiences working outside America mimic my own.

Taking advantage of your dual-culture knowledge? Check.

When I lived in New Zealand, my experience running social media campaigns in the United States was a huge benefit. The technology hadn’t yet picked up steam there, so my knowledge and expertise were in demand.

Needing to hustle no matter where in the world you live? Check.

It’s harder to hustle abroad. My work is portable, but my network is not. It’s hard to maintain a solid professional community when you can only stay connected online. I’ve had to more or less start over in each country, making the hustle that much harder.

Trying to run a business in “foreign waters?” Double check.

I’m still not sure I’m correctly registered with the German government. It’s hard enough dealing with taxes in America. Try dealing with German tax paperwork.

Plockova is right though: freelancing is freelancing, no matter where you are. Unless you’re moving with an already healthy client load and established business, you will likely not be typing in outdoor cafes in Ubud.  

Speaking of outdoor cafes, Plockova missed a crucial issue for freelancers considering expat life.

File under: WiFi problems

It took me three months to get reliable Internet in Germany, and very few cafes offer WiFi. I spent more than $200 per month on data sticks and sent a lot of frantic emails to clients when I couldn’t send big files due to slow Internet.

Easy WiFi is not as prevalent outside the States, and it’s been a massive headache in every country I’ve ever lived. So if you plan on country-hopping, find a long-term portable Internet solution. And if you’re moving to a specific country for a longer period of time, expect at least a month or two of shoddy Internet.

I also wish Plockova had talked about her tax situation.

Freelancing: When tax time is all the time

While not a sexy topic, taxes are often the biggest source of contention when you work outside the States.  

The US is one of the few countries that requires you to file taxes no matter where you live or for how long you’ve lived there. On top of that, you still have to file in your chosen country.  

You’ll likely need to hire two accountants. And, remember, if you plan on working anywhere in the European Union, expect significantly higher taxes. I’m expected to pay almost 50 percent of my income to lovely Germany. And sure, you could argue I’m getting more benefits — free healthcare being the big one — but it doesn’t truly even out.

Basically, it depends what kind of freelancer you are.

I work primarily as a copywriter, which means a lot of business clients. Plockova, on the other hand, is a journalist. “Standing out from the crowd as a foreigner can be a massive advantage,” she wrote. “I’ve had numerous editors express their appreciation about receiving story ideas from Prague since I can provide perspective both as an insider and an American.”

Since I don’t write for many traditional publications, I have yet to experience this benefit. I’ve actually had the opposite response. Many businesses are not eager to work with a writer who’s so far away. Our massive time difference means I hold many meetings at night, which isn’t ideal for a good night’s sleep and romantic dinners with my husband.

That said, she is right about having great material when you travel and live abroad. I’ve written a number of essays about my experiences and there’s a constant curiosity on how I make it work. What visa do you get? What are your expenses? The answers to these questions make great content, what can I say.

I live abroad for adventure. To experience the world. For me, freelancing has been harder abroad. But the benefits of a lower cost of living and being able to hop on a train to Amsterdam for the day? That’s what makes it worth it.  

International freelancers, what do you think of Plockova’s article? How would you rate your experience as a freelancer?