Writing Business Basics for Expats: 4 First-Class Tips for Freelancers

First-Class Writing Business Tips for Expats. Makealivingwriting.comCan you build a writing business while you travel the world?

Do you daydream about lounging on a white-sand beach in tropical Southeast Asia as you type away on your computer, chat with clients, and make money writing?

Or maybe your writer’s paradise is in South America, Europe, or some other far-off destination outside the U.S.

That kind of writing business might sound like an impossible dream. But it’s not.

I’ve been a freelance writer for more than four years. I’ve lived in Germany, Russia, and India, and freelanced while traveling to 11 other countries. It’s an ah-mazing way to be a freelance writer.

But get off the plane in Tokyo, Madrid, or Buenos Aries, and you’ll quickly realize Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz was right when she said: “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Take your freelance writing business overseas as an expat, and you’ll need to know a few things to make it work. If you could make a living writing from anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Buckle your seatbelts, I’m going to show you how to make it happen. Check out these first-class tips for expat freelancers:

1. Decode the paper work for your writing business

The first thing you need to figure out is if you need a visa, and if so, which one?

Unless you’re already married to a foreign national, or you have $20K to $1 million to spare to buy a residency visa, you have three options:

  1. Tourist visas are the most common option. You will have to move every 3-6 months, so keep a fund for frequent travel and hotels. You will register your business in your home country and pay taxes there. Do not work with any local businesses while you travel, as this would violate your visa.
  2. A “Work Holiday” visa is a scheme meant for those under 30 who have a positive cash flow. US Citizens are eligible in South Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
  3. Self-employment visas. A handful of countries offer a self-employment visa, but you may have to prove your work is in demand and meet other requirements.

2. Manage your money as an expat freelancer

Emerging countries are considered to be more affordable. But is that the reality? Here’s a rundown of expenses for one person living in Goa, a famous beach-side city in India for expats:

Cost of living in Goa, India (per month)
Mid-ranged Hotel $1288
Monthly Meals $200
Health Insurance $100
Travel (in-city) $75
Local Internet/Phone $13-20
Hobbies/Activities $100
Personal Savings (retirement, emergency) $200
Monthly Total: around $2,000
Annual total: $24,000

Pay taxes

Don’t forget about taxes! You actually need to bill around $35,000 for a full year in India, assuming you’re paying 33.5% taxes. I suggest adding another $5,000 for business expenses and travel since you can only stay in India for six months at a time on a tourist visa.

Resident-visa holders typically foot a higher tax bill, because you still need to pay local taxes and USA Social Security. There are exceptions, most located in Europe where the cost of living is higher.

Expat tip for freelancers: No matter where you go, you HAVE to pay taxes to someone. Otherwise, it’s tax evasion.

Budget for health insurance

There are two types of insurance for expats: Travel and health insurance. I’d recommend skipping the travel insurance since most expat health plans will cover travel costs, but not vice-versa.

In terms of health insurance, you can even purchase some packages that apply while you’re at home in the US.

  • The most affordable insurance package that covers US travel with a $0 deductible comes from IMG at $100 a month for one person, while the most expensive is GeoBlueXplorer at $455 a month.
  • Other popular choices for expat insurance include World Nomad, Cigna, Atlas Travel Insurance, and Aetna. You can also ask your current health provider if they can add an international component to your current plan.

Calculate costs for software and communication tools

You’ll need a connection to the Internet and a phone, so either upgrade your phone, or buy a local phone. But hello? Not every country offers mobile plans to non-residents, so it’s vital to research this before you go.

  • Local phone plans. If you can manage to get a local plan, the fees are often inexpensive, and the data packages can also serve as your Internet provider. I use my mobile data while working on my laptop.
  • Wi-Fi connection. You can also work from your hotel or a cafe with Wi-Fi. That said, Wi-Fi connections are vulnerable to hackers, so consider purchasing a VPN to keep your data safe.
  • Other writing business costs. In addition to your Internet costs, you may require software like Grammarly or LinkedIn Premium. Software costs are usually consistent worldwide, so don’t expect to get a discount because of your location.

Choose a reliable payment method

If you’re traveling on a tourist visa, you won’t be able to get a bank account abroad.

  • ATMs and foreign exchange counters carry high fees, and if you choose to travel outside of Western Europe, your credit card may not be accepted.
  • Expat tip for freelancers. I would suggest traveling with two credit cards and consider opening a TransferWise account to receive and transfer money. Localized wallet apps like PayTM or Paypal can also be a life saver when short on cash.

Save for retirement

An important note on retirement savings: You aren’t legally allowed to buy mutual funds if you aren’t residing in the USA.

Expat tip for freelancers: I recommend that you retain a USA permanent address and bank account, so you can still contribute to a ROTH IRA and plan your retirement investments.

3. Master international communication with clients

There are two main points you should keep in mind when communicating with clients as an expat freelancer:

  1. Keep track of your time zone difference. Despite living in India, I can make most calls between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., without ruining my sleep pattern.
  2. There’s no need to advertise that you’re an expat. Unless you’re positioning yourself as an expert in the French economy or your niche is travel, it’s not usually relevant.

There’s a range of free tools to communicate with clients: Skype, Zoom, Slack, Asana, Trello, What’s App, and many others.

Expat tip for freelancers: International clients need English copywriters! Since living abroad, I’ve found clients in Europe, Asia, and Africa who pay pro-rates. Network, ask around, introduce yourself.

4. Be social

Culture shock and isolation are easy to dismiss until you’ve experienced it. Sure, you could hole-up in your apartment or hotel and write all the time. But you’ll end up feeling alone and miss out on everything your home-away-from-home country has to offer. Take care of yourself and enjoy being an expat freelancer by doing things like:

  • Schedule calls with your loved ones at home.
  • Find writers in your area through meetup groups.
  • Learn the local language and culture on your own time.

Ready for the expat-freelance life?

Thanks to technology, you can be an expat freelancer almost anywhere in the world…as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. Just don’t forget you’re running a writing business. Take the time to plan, and you can make a living writing from that white-sand beach or your own writer’s paradise.

Have business writing tips for expats? Tell us more in the comments below.

Kelsey Ray writes about finance, blockchain, travel, and language. She’s lived in Germany, Russia, and India, and visited 11 countries.

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6 comments on “Writing Business Basics for Expats: 4 First-Class Tips for Freelancers
  1. Swati Rapotra says:

    Amazing! This is really great stuff for sharing. Keep posting informative articles, your tips are really helpful.

  2. Thank you for providing your informative article. It’s timely arrival will remain on file. My husband and I currently consider our expat life. We have purchased Permanent Residency status in Panama. We’ll use that as our home base. Our future travel plans are still being discussed. The information you provided will be invaluable to me as a freelance writer.

    • Hi Judith! That’s wonderful! I’ve heard Panama is great. Definitely check into your long-term investment plan and retirement funds. Generally accessing them shouldn’t be a problem, but every firm has different rules.

  3. Bonnie says:

    An income of $24,000 a year will put you in the 10 or 12% tax bracket. (most likely 10). As a self-employed person you must also pay self-employment tax (which covers medicare and social security), but half of that is deductible off your income. Plus you have the 20% off your income you deduct off the top. This scenario overstates the tax obligation. You could count on 15% or 20% on the high side and earn enough to pay all your taxes in the US.

    • Hi Bonnie!
      This was from the point of view of living in India as a resident instead of a tourist. If you’re living there as a resident (as I am), it’s 30% after about $13,000. Plus you have to pay USA social security (about 15%), and you may have to pay income taxes on anything you earned while living in the USA.

      If you’re a tourist, you don’t have to worry about this. But if you’re planning long-term residency or working on an employment/freelance visa, it’s something to consider!

      While it’s rarely that high, it’s good to budget for the worst-case scenario. I hired accountants in both countries and ended up paying about 25% in taxes, which was less than what I budgeted. So I was very pleased.

  4. aquince kaunda says:

    Wow thanks for sharing,very educative