Can 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)|
|Personal Savings (retirement, emergency)||$200|
|Monthly Total:||around $2,000|
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:
- 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.
- 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.