by Angela Tufvesson
17 January 2020
Five years ago, I left Melbourne and set up as a freelancer in Taipei, the densely populated, Mandarin-speaking, cat café-loving capital of Taiwan.
It sounds spontaneous, but it wasn’t.
You see, I’ve long been curious about a mysterious place called ‘overseas’. In childhood, I aspired to a career as a flight attendant. In adulthood, with the good sense to know I was better suited to a land-based profession, I saved up every day of precious annual leave accrued in salaried jobs to spend on holidays abroad. My feet were seriously itchy.
So when my husband was offered a one-year transfer to Taipei, the decision to accept was a no brainer. In fact, I felt relieved to finally try on the life I’d always imagined.
It fit even better than expected and as is the way in the expat world, one year quickly became five and during this time we moved to Hong Kong – a very different kind of China.
The best part of this story is my writing career has travelled with me. I may not live in Australia, but I still work for a predominately Australian client base. Indeed, I started working with many of these clients after I moved to Asia, proving that geography matters not if you can deliver the goods.
As a freelance writer, you really can live practically anywhere in the world and keep your Aussie clients happy. Keen to move overseas and take your career with you? Here’s how to go about it.
It’s pretty obvious that technology makes working from overseas possible. But there’s more to it than high-speed internet and a Skype subscription.
I’ve found that if you want to work with Australian clients and interview Australian experts, it helps to use technology to maintain a local point of contact. It’s not that people mind I’m overseas, it’s just that a foreign phone number can be off-putting or create a perception I’m difficult to contact. Or, in the case of interviewees, be a source of unnecessary chit-chat.
So I keep an Australian number, which is diverted to my Skype number and listed in my email signature. It costs me very little and means that when I make or receive calls, it looks as if I’m in Australia. (For my Hong Kong and international clients, I use a separate email signature with my Hong Kong number.)
I’m really lucky in this regard because Hong Kong is in the same time zone as Western Australia. This makes it a lot easier to structure my ideal work day: interviews and admin in the morning when clients are at work, and writing in the afternoon once Aussie workers knock off.
Unless you’re a night owl or extreme morning lark, working from Europe or the US is potentially more difficult when it comes to scheduling interviews and client meetings. But it’s not impossible. Batching calls, even if they’re late at night or uber early, can be an effective strategy, with the added bonus of uninterrupted writing time while your clients sleep.
Initially I was concerned clients would think I’d lost relevancy to the Australian market because my boots weren’t on the ground. But it turns out working from abroad is a valuable point of difference.
I’ve noticed media outlets are more receptive to pitches with an international angle as they know I have ‘expertise’ in this area. I’ve written about Australian restaurateurs opening overseas branches, how Asian smart cities are influencing goings-on back home and Hong Kong hacks for apartment living.
Clients will also come to me with commissions featuring overseas-based interviewees as they know I can accommodate different time zones and Skype interviews.
Freelancing is an isolating caper at the best of times, let alone when you’re working in a different country to many of your clients and you don’t speak the local lingo. Connecting with other professionals back home through your own networks or Facebook groups like Rachel’s List is especially important.
I’ve also found hiring a desk in a co-working space helps to alleviate loneliness and build a sense of connectedness with my adopted city. The best bit is office chit-chat is a lot less distracting when it’s in Cantonese.
This one’s a biggie. You’ll need citizenship or a visa with work rights to be able to freelance in your new location. Side-stepping the rules by working on a travel visa is just not worth the risk.
Some countries have special visas for self-employed folks and others will allow you to work on a partner visa. Many more aren’t so accommodating. Then there’s the process of setting up your business. In some places, like Hong Kong, it’s relatively simple, while in others, freelancers must navigate complex bureaucracies and pay high fees.
Every country is different so it’s really, really important not to assume anything – and to ask for help if there’s anything you’re unsure about.
You’ll also need a good accountant in Australia and in your new location. They’ll help you work out in which country you need to pay tax, if you need to use an ABN and where best to set up a business bank account.
For some people, it makes most sense to maintain an Australian bank account for clients to pay into. Others are better off arranging for payment in their new location, either through standard bank transfers or international money transfer services like TransferWise or PayPal.
Do you successfully freelance for Australian clients from overseas? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.