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Working as a freelance journalist abroad offers a unique opportunity to experience a different culture and way of life.

You may have to put the hours in initially to learn the ropes of your new base and build contacts, but a lot of the time being a freelancer overseas also offers you a very individual angle on the stories you cover.

"One tremendous advantage I have over local journalists, whether freelance or otherwise, is that I can observe, describe, debate and critique what goes on around me from a slightly different, more removed and more objective perspective," said Christopher Clark, a journalist from Devon, UK, now living in Cape Town.

Another clincher for many expat journalists is the lifestyle. For some, it's a chance to live in a warmer climate or a place with a more affordable cost of living – particularly if they're paid in US dollars, euros, or pounds sterling and are based somewhere with a favourable exchange rate.

For others, such as Pooja Makhijani, who moved from New York City to Singapore in 2010 for her partner's job, it's a way of getting the work/life balance right.

"I have a young child and freelancing allows me the best of both worlds," she said.

Of course, as with any job, freelancing in another country has its downsides too.

There can be language and cultural barriers to overcome, not to mention visas and often complex tax systems to navigate.

So if you're considering working as a freelancer abroad, here are the things you need to know before you pack your bags.

Image by Ben Husmann on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Where to go?

There are three important factors to consider when picking a place to freelance abroad:

  • cost of living

  • lifestyle

  • opportunities

Are you seeking adventure? Do you like the hustle, or do you prefer a more laid-back pace of life? Does the location you have in mind generate globally relevant news? And can you afford to live there on a freelancer's income?

New York might have lots of opportunities, for example, but it's also an expensive place to live – and it's chock-full of other foreign freelancers chasing the same stories. On the other hand, somewhere off the beaten path might offer more opportunity to carve out your own niche.

It's also important, of course, to consider whether you will need a visa to live in the country you choose, and how easy it is to get. has information on visas UK nationals require to travel abroad, but some countries, such as the USA, require journalists to get a special visa if they want to work during their stay. If in doubt, contact the British Embassy for more information.

By Joel Kramer on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Power-outages, culture shock, and other adventures

However, as special an experience as freelancing abroad can be, it can come with its own 'special' issues.

"One challenge specific to South Africa has been electricity and internet access," explained Rebecca L. Weber, an American journalist also based in Cape Town.

"We had rolling blackouts in 2008, and again in 2015. A long-life laptop battery became a need rather than a want."

Beth McLoughlin moved from London to Brazil in 2010 and didn't speak a word of Portuguese, which she describes as "a baptism of fire".

"I had lessons but also spent many hours studying, and talking to Brazilians, who thankfully are very sociable," she said.

McLoughlin also notes that Rio de Janeiro, where she's based, is "quite a sexist place to live" and a tough city – she said she has been robbed at gunpoint, ripped off, and thrown suddenly out of her apartment for no reason.

"Having a mix of native and expat friends really helps, but it is also important to go back home to visit as often as you can, and not put too much pressure on yourself to stick out long stints, especially in demanding places," she added.

Working across different time zones can also make life tricky. Use an app such as for scheduling interviews, and watch out for Daylight Savings: the clocks change on three different weekends in the US, Europe, and Australia.

Pitching and building contacts

If you already have a network of editors in your home country, Weber recommends letting them know ahead of time that you’ll be moving and asking if they have any stories or special projects coming up that may be relevant to your new location.

"Update all your social media profiles with your new location and, when you arrive, network with local journalists as well as foreign correspondents," she added.

If you don't take pictures yourself, McLoughlin recommends teaming up with a photographer in your new home city as original photos will help to sell your stories.

"You can find correspondents' associations in most big cities," she added, "which you may want to join in order to get advice from folks who know the ropes already, or to make friends."

Barbara Diggs, an American freelancer in Paris, points out it's a good idea to get familiar with the publications you want to pitch to before you leave, especially if they're print magazines.

"Even though virtually every magazine has a strong web presence now, in my mind, it still doesn't beat knowing the print edition well... and you may not have access to it abroad," she said.

By Phil Roeder on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Income and tax

When working for clients outside of your home country, make sure you check how they plan to pay you. Some companies charge a wire transfer fee or even mail paper cheques if they're sending money to a freelancer overseas. It's acceptable to ask the client to pay any wire transfer fees.

Obviously, you need to get a bank account if you plan to stay in another country for a significant period, but if you're travelling a lot in the true "digital nomad" sense, PayPal is a good alternative for accepting payments. PayPal may charge a small transfer fee, which you should factor into your rates.

Bear in mind too how the exchange rate might affect your fee if it is paid to you in another currency.

Anna Hartley is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Paris, although she's originally from Australia and most of her work is published there and paid into her Australian bank account.

However, when it became necessary to move funds around, Hartley said she saw "hours of work just vanish into thin air" due to the poor AUD to Euro exchange rate.

"On a positive note, this forced me to re-assess my projects and begin to decisively target euro and sterling-paying publications," she said.

Setting up shop overseas usually takes time, and you should aim to have at least a two-month money-cushion to hold you over before you start selling stories.

In Cape Town, Clark admits that getting to the point where he could live exclusively on the proceeds from his writing was "a long and arduous process".

However, he got a job in a bar and used it to build his network and local knowledge.

"I made the effort to strike up conversations with pretty much everyone and anyone that came into that place," he explained.

Overseas freelancers may also need to pay tax in two different countries. If the intricacies of international tax law aren't your strong point, it's well worth hiring an accountant to tackle it for you. The money you spend will save you days, if not weeks, of frazzled nerves.

You may need to document income expenses in two currencies. Wave, a free app for accounting and invoicing, allows you to organise digital copies of expenses in a handy multi-currency format.

Image by Public Domain Pictures under a Public Domain Licence.

Final words of advice

Freelancing abroad isn't for everyone, but it can be a really rewarding experience as well as a chance to explore new horizons and bring more flexibility into your work.

"Don't be afraid to try it, to jump in at the deep end," advised Clark.

"Even if it doesn't work out for you, it will be an important learning experience on many levels.

"At the very least it should expand your worldview considerably, and harden you for future endeavours."

***For more tips on getting started as a freelancer, check out this comprehensive guide.***

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