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When we think of freelancing from abroad, images are immediately conjured up of warm weather, blue skies, and a poolside office with little more than a laptop for company—it’s the dream for many of us. You might think this lifestyle is a world away from your current 9-5 office job, however it’s actually a lot closer than you might think. Leaving the world of corporate offices behind in favor of a kinder climate, cheaper rent, and flexible working hours can seem daunting at first, but the end result is more than worth the complicated visa applications, intermittent Wi-Fi, and grumpy landlords.
Freelancing—especially in tech—can allow you to work anywhere with an internet connection. But freelancing is massively different than working remotely at an established company—all of the infrastructure set up by your employer to make things run smoothly no matter where you are is left up to you. I’m a freelancer living in Lanzarote, a Spanish island in the Canary Islands. Here’s what you need to know about ex-pat life, and how to make it happen.
1. Research, research, research.
From dealing with language barriers to the red tape around work permits, there are plenty of issues that will arise on your journey to freelancing successfully. At the most basic level, simply trying to spread the word about your services can be a challenge when you’re not fluent in the language of the locals. Make sure you hang onto some clients back home so that your business can keep going, since it’ll take longer to build up a new client base.
Start with researching working laws in your country of choice. This is critical: Working laws vary country to country and visas can be a complicated mess. Beyond that, you might end up working with multiple currencies, tax policies, and payment methods. Go in with a plan instead of winging it.
And because freelancing means constant direct contact with clients, you’ll need to get to know the culture. The best solution? Spending an extended period testing the waters to get a feel for what life will be like when you call it home. You should aim for a minimum of a month exploring your surroundings, speaking to locals, and getting to know your potential home properly, so that you don’t find yourself suddenly lost in a place you don’t know.
2. Nail down your communication systems.
No matter where you work or what you do, communication is vital in your day to day life—and for freelancers, this importance is only emphasized by the distance between you and your clients. Speaking to a new client from London when you’re based two thousand miles away can be tricky—especially when face-to-face meetings are so critical to building relationships—not to mention those clients you kept from back home. Whether you master the art of online conference software or invest in an international telephone package, keep your correspondence transparent and consistent to keep clients happy and in the loop (including letting them know which hours you’re available in their timezone). You might also have to make adjustments around them and be flexible—you’re the one who decided to move—not your clients.
3. Bake in time for a social life.
When you first head abroad as a freelancer, it can be tempting to sacrifice a social life in favor of more time working. While it’s an understandable impulse to plan to spend your early days working weekends and evenings until you find your footing, remember that your job isn’t the only component in the new life you have to set up for yourself.
Living and working remotely can be a lonely experience—especially when you’re so far from everything you know and everyone you love—so it’s crucial that you make connections with people as quickly as possible and surround yourself with a network of friends.
Whether you’re simply exploring your new home or getting to know the locals at coffee shops, bars (pro-tip: Get to know the bartender and soon you’ll have an entire group of friends), or coworking spaces, take the time to actually enjoy life in another country. (Also, try using sites like Yelp or Nomadlist to find hangouts for ex-pats from your home country who can show you the ropes, and speak your language). It will do wonders for your motivation, efficiency, and mental wellbeing.
Before I moved to Lanzarote, family members warned me that it wouldn’t be easy. They were right: It wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad it’s the path I took. People often talk to me about freelancing abroad as if it’s an impossible feat, but with some up-front legwork, taking the plunge is totally within reach.
Sam Wright is an experienced freelancer and content writer for Optima Villas in Lanzarote—providers of luxury villas in Lanzarote.