How to Invoice International Clients Without Paying Tons of Fees

by | Feb 24, 2014

A lot of people now do freelance work for overseas clients, or they’re traveling entrepreneurs who don’t have a permanent home base. This luxury is one of the great things about working digitally because you can connect with clients and customers all over the world.

However, there’s one huge downside to sending invoices from different countries and receiving payment in different currencies: the fees that eat into your profits.

So how can you stop paying a ton of fees for international payments?

The best payment methods for overseas transactions

When you’re being paid online for international services, you have to understand that you’re going to pay extra fees, in comparison to working with a local client. With that being said, there are still ways to keep more of your hard-earned money.

PayPal

If you’re in the U.S. and being paid through an online service like PayPal, you’re likely to pay 3-4% of the total transaction. If you live outside the U.S. the fees vary according to your country, with a fee of 0.5-4% based on the type of payment method used. Invoices paid with a bank account or PayPal balance have a much smaller fee, versus payments made with credit or debit cards.

There is an additional fee to withdraw any amount under $150, and you’ll still have to pay currency conversion charges. Even so, PayPal is also the most commonly known and accepted form of payment.

If you’re dealing with North American clients, PayPal is usually the best way to go,” says Sarah Li Cain, who currently works as a freelancer in China. “Everyone has a PayPal account, and they are able to navigate it in English.”

Wire Transfers

Many overseas clients may prefer wire transfers. Send them an invoice as usual, then include your account number as well as your bank’s info in the “note to recipient” box at the bottom.

Keep in mind that your client may have to pay fees to process a wire transfer. “You could take on the fee (instead of the client), and figure out your rate that includes this fee,” suggests Sarah.

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Invoicing Services

Invoicing services such as Freshbooks or Harvest are a great alternative. Many are free to domestic (and some international) users, and can connect with a variety of payment gateways for different countries.

Additionally, you can easily track different currencies by changing the desired currency directly on your invoice. This allows you to create an invoice in a currency that’s different from your default.

It gets a bit more complicated for overseas freelancers, as some invoicing services don’t cater to them, but there are some that are specific to a certain nation (like Alipay in China).

International Bank Accounts

If you’re processing a lot of payments, specifically as a Canadian or American freelancer, you could look into setting up an international bank account. (Important consideration: you may need a tax number or resident permit for the nation you’re living in).

Using an international account circumvents many of the fees that come with wire transfers, allowing you to receive direct deposits quickly and easily. “This is helpful for both you and the client, especially if they aren’t comfortable using anything outside of PayPal,” suggests Sarah.

Some international freelancers have multiple accounts in different currencies so they can transfer funds between their accounts for free, and have the ability to use local ATMs at no cost. Instead of paying a conversion fee immediately, keep the money in your international account, either for future expenditures in that currency or until there’s a more favorable exchange rate. (Click to tweet this idea.)

For example, if you live in Canada and have an American client who pays you via Paypal in USD, try transferring those funds to a USD bank account without paying currency conversion charges — though it must be at a U.S.-based bank. Don’t want to cross the border? There are still some options.

The best currency for your invoices

The best currency to invoice your clients in is the one you discussed with them prior to starting work.

That being said, the most widely accepted currency is U.S. dollars. Most, if not all businesses use U.S. dollars for international transactions, so it’s best to stick with invoicing clients in this currency.

Escrow services and bidding sites

If you want to guarantee payment, you could invite clients to a bidding site with escrow service. Sites like PeoplePerHour require payment upfront in an escrow account, and you won’t get charged a service fee, no matter what type of currency they use.

Another option is a site like Upwork, where they knock $10 USD off payment fees. Of course with escrow services and bidding sites, you’ll pay a commission to find work through their services, but it might work out cheaper than paying a big transaction fee.

Invoicing fees are tax-deductible

As tough as it is to pay a fee to receive the funds you worked so hard for, at least these costs are tax-deductible.

Any bank fees, PayPal charges or other invoicing expenses you pay on behalf of business transactions are considered qualified expenses. And since they are a part of running a business, you can write them off at the end of the year. At least there’s a silver lining!

Your turn: how do you invoice your international clients? International freelancers, how do you manage working for American clients?

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