Interest Pieces

International Freelancer: Challenges To Consider And What To Avoid 

The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly affected the world negatively in a huge range of ways. But it is worth noting that it also created change on a very broad scale and this change has opened up some new possibilities with regard to how individuals work. Take the United States as a prime example; before the pandemic, Americans spent an average 5% of their working life at home – by the height of the pandemic this figure was up to 60%

The fact remote working was a necessity during the pandemic showed businesses that they could allow staff more flexibility and that this arrangement might be good news for everyone. Remote work has been normalised on this basis and it has led to many individuals looking to see how they can structure their lives.

This has led to the rise of the international freelancer. Similar to working as a digital nomad, an international freelancer can live anywhere in the world that they want to and work for businesses located around the world. If you are considering freelancing in any industry (and you want to broaden your possible employers), it can be smart to collaborate with businesses in other countries.

However, just as there are huge advantages for freelancers working internationally, there are also challenges too. In this article, we will take a look at some of the biggest issues for international freelancers, as well as the things that you really need to avoid. 

Language barriers

One main issue that can arise when working across borders is the issue of a language barrier. Many businesses might have a website that is written in English, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all staff are fluent or that all of their work is going to be conducted in English. 

Perhaps the most common issue here is that some clients have a strong command of English but may not be completely fluent. This wouldn’t be a problem in a casual conversation, but if you are being instructed on highly technical and complicated issues any incorrect use of words or grammar can dramatically affect meaning. 

This can mean that it is necessary to go over things with a fine-tooth comb and to ask lots of questions to ensure that everything is fully understood. This means that briefs can take a very long time. 

Paying taxes

One of the most common problems that international freelancers encounter is making mistakes with their taxes. In general, you will be taxed on your income in the country that you live in, but there may also be tax implications in the country in which the business is located. It is up to you to ensure that you are paying the right taxes as a freelancer, and it can be sensible to work with accountants who have experience in helping international freelancers.

Many international freelancers choose to base themselves in a country where they can enjoy a low rate of income tax. Across Europe there are various tax implications depending on where you are based and the type of classification clause you are taxed under. Another option is setting up your sole trader headquarters in a country with minimal corporation tax – for example in Gibraltar, corporation tax is 12.5%, compared with 19% in the UK, while in Portugal it is up to 31.5%. 

Time zones

You might be used to working a schedule of 9 to 5 at home, and look at freelancing as an opportunity to set your own hours and work when you want to. Of course, this can be a valuable part of freelancing. However, it is also worth noting that if you are going to freelance internationally, you might have to get used to working at unusual hours.

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If you are working for a client in a different time zone than you, it might be necessary to work around their hours. For example, if you need to finish a task by the close-of-play Friday, you might find that this actually constitutes 11am on Friday in your time zone depending on where you are, and where the client is located. International freelancers do need to carefully keep track of when work actually needs to be completed, and it may be a relatively unusual time.

Communication breakdowns

You might be surprised just how reliant you are on face-to-face conversations. Being able to read someone’s body language, understand what they are thinking and react in real-time makes the task of communication in a business environment far simpler. When you work in-house and there is confusion about an email, you can simply get up, walk over to the sender’s desk and have a chat. For international freelancers, it is not that simple.

Typically in this environment, face-to-face chats are impossible. So it becomes necessary to find alternative ways to communicate. Messaging apps, facetime calls and group chats can all be useful – it is important to find a method that is effective for the way that you like to work, and allows you to get the information you need.

International freelancers open themselves up to the possibility of working for businesses based anywhere around the world. This can certainly be lucrative. But if you go in blind to the challenges, it can leave you with a negative feeling about freelancing. The more that you prepare for this significant change in the way that you will be working, the more likely you are to make a success of it. 

Article by Dakota Murphey.