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Advice for working abroad as a freelance journalist
Freelance journalists share their pointers on how to make a success of working abroad
There are a number of advantages to doing this. First, who can argue with endless blue skies when it's raining back in England? Local knowledge could give you an edge when it comes to pitching too, and if the country you've based yourself in has lower living expenses than home - but you're still earning pounds from UK publications - you'll be at a financial advantage.
Still, it's never that simple, and there are factors that need to be considered if you want to work successfully from abroad, whether that be for a few days, weeks or months.
Plan in advance: Before you go, set up as many leads and contacts as you can. Let your regular editors know where you're going and see whether there's any interest in local stories. Do you know anyone living in the country you're heading for, however distantly? They could be good starting points for finding stories once you arrive. You may have press contacts who could set you up with travel related activities, or you could set up interviews with local contacts in advance. Check out any events news too, to see what's going on during your stay.
Mind the time difference: Not only do you want to avoid ringing a contact at some unearthly hour, you also need to consider your deadlines. Amy Watkins is a British travel journalist who is currently based in Canada. She says: "If you're a last-minute monkey like me then those early morning read-throughs and late night finishes can be thrown into disarray with a tricky time difference. I'm based on the west coast of Canada, which means 8am in the UK is midnight the night before here in Vancouver – 'first thing Monday morning' can easily mean 'last thing Sunday night'."
Think outside the travel box: It's natural to consider a new specialism when you go abroad, but travel writing is tricky to break into. "I've actually done very little travel writing," says Michael Cross, news editor of Law Society Gazette, who has lived and worked in seven countries and corresponded from around 50 in his 40 years as a national newspaper reporter. "How I've always done it is choose the subjects people will pay for. When I was in Japan freelancing for three years, I focused on high tech and the city. It was a time when Japan was economically top of the heap and everyone was willing to pay for Japanese coverage. It's probably the one period of working abroad when I made a good income."
Keep in touch: If you're going to be away for an extended period, you'll need to be careful that you don't find yourself becoming disconnected from colleagues and contacts. "I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter interacting with other journalists to keep myself in the loop," says travel writer Catherine Cooper, who is currently based in France. Planning regular trips home can be useful too, if you're not too far away. "When I am back in the UK I make the effort to meet with PRs," Catherine adds.
Go high tech: Technology is key if you're going to stay in touch, not to mention get copy filed on time. If you're unsure about internet access, invest in a dongle or mobile WiFi device. There are also solar charger systems for phones and laptops if you're not going to have regular access to electricity. Talking of phones, beware of massive bills - speak to your provider about roaming rates or consider getting a local phone. "Some countries charge you for just receiving calls from abroad," says Amy. "It's cheaper to buy a local SIM, or international one, if you're going to be working abroad for more than a few days."
Keep on top of finances: You might be located in a far flung country, but assuming that you're away for less than a year, you're still a UK resident as far as the tax man goes. If you're making your move on a more long-term basis, however, it's worth consulting a professional to assess your options. "Before we moved I had an accountant look at the various tax regimes to decide what would be the best way to set myself up," says Catherine. "I still have my UK bank account which makes being paid by UK companies much easier. I'm sure some would be willing to pay into a euro account, but this can involve extra charges."
Be disciplined: Distractions are easy to come by at the best of times, but when you're in a new place with a holiday vibe, it can be tough to put in the hours you need to keep yourself afloat. Michael says: "I tried to live in a boat off the west coast of Ireland and my work ethic totally disappeared because there's always more interesting things to do when you're floating around on a boat than keep up with the agenda on the news desk in London!" Having said that, remember to take time out and relax too. After all, if you can't enjoy working abroad, why do it?
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