Finding Employment Abroad

Working as a Freelancer or Digital Nomad While Living Overseas

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by Cyrus Kioko


Becoming a location rebel is an idea that has crossed everyone’s mind at some point, even if only fleetingly. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to work from any corner of the globe, armed with just a laptop, a handful of software tools, and a reliable internet connection? Well, what seemed like a pipe dream a couple of years ago is now a reality for many, and you, too, can live it with a bit of guidance.

Working as a freelancer or digital nomad living overseas starts with securing a visa/work permit, understanding your tax obligations, creating an online portfolio, and acquiring the necessary software. Once that’s done, the next steps are finding work and setting yourself up for long-term success.

The rest of this post will cover these steps in greater detail. Read on for an eye-opener on how to launch and sustain an illustrious career as a freelancer or digital nomad living overseas. 

Prepping to Work as a Freelancer or Digital Nomad in a Foreign County

Before you begin working as a freelancer or digital nomad, you’ll need to sort out a few things to ensure you launch your career without a hitch.

And I’m not talking about basic stuff like picking a niche and learning your host country’s customs and social etiquette. These are undoubtedly important steps, but I won’t cover them because most people looking to become digital nomads or freelancers usually have them figured out. 

What I mean by “prepping” is taking preemptive measures to tackle common challenges freelancers and digital nomads face so they materialize down the line and mess things up for you. This way, you set yourself up for success and avoid run-ins with the authorities. 

The preemptive measures I’m referring to are:

  • Securing a visa and/or a work permit.
  • Understanding your tax obligations
  • Setting up an online portfolio.
  • Acquiring the necessary software tools. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these measures to help you understand why they’re important, how to tick them off your checklist, and more. 

Securing a Visa And/or a Work Permit

In most cases, you’ll need a visa to work as a freelancer or digital nomad living overseas. The specific type of visa you’ll need will depend on the country you’re looking to source work from. 

Many countries (especially in the EU) have specific visas designed for digital nomads and freelancers. These “special” visas allow you to live and work in the country for a specific period, usually from a few months to a year.

If your host country doesn’t have such visas, you’ll have to explore other options like long-term tourist visas, business visas, working holiday visas, or any other option that allows you to work as a freelancer without getting on the wrong side of the law.

Some countries require freelancers to have a work permit and a visa. Again, the situations that require getting one or both types of paperwork vary from one country to another, so be sure to take the time to do your research.

Understanding Your Tax Obligations

Why did the digital nomad bring their accountant on their travels?

Because no matter where you go, taxes will always find you, and they’re not taking any vacations either!

Odd jokes aside, you need to think about your tax obligations as a digital nomad or freelancer working overseas. Depending on the tax laws in your home and host countries, you may have to pay taxes in one or both. 

To give you a rough idea of how much the tax obligations for freelancers and digital nomads may vary depending on their host and home countries, let’s briefly review the laws in the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

  • The United States. The US uses citizenship-based taxation, meaning American freelancers or digital nomads living abroad still have to pay taxes back home. On the other hand, non-American freelancers offering their services to US-based companies from their home country or another foreign location may or may not owe taxes to the IRS depending on the tax laws of the freelancer’s home country and any applicable tax treaties between the two countries.
  • Canada, the UK, and Australia. Canada’s residence-based tax system means that the tax obligations for  Canadian freelancers and digital nomads working and living abroad depend on whether the individual is considered a resident of Canada for tax purposes. Similarly, foreign freelancers working and living in these three countries may be required to pay taxes in their host country, depending on the tax treaties between the host and home countries and the type of services provided.

As you can see, tax laws can be a tough nut to crack. Mind you, the above descriptions barely scratch the surface of the intricate tax laws in each country. There’s so much more we haven’t covered.

That’s why I highly recommend talking to someone who knows his stuff when it comes to international tax law. Otherwise, you might be looking at run-ins with the taxman 一 which are never fun, to say the least.

Setting Up an Online Portfolio

With your visa, work permit, and taxes sorted out, you can now turn your attention to landing clients. There are several strategies you can use to market your services as a freelancer (we’ll cover that in greater detail in a separate section; hang in there), but most of them won’t work if you don’t have a solid portfolio. 

Your portfolio is arguably the most important tool for client acquisition. It showcases your work samples, projects, or services to potential clients, making it easier for prospects to determine whether your skills align with their needs. As long as you’re good at what you do, a well-crafted online portfolio can drastically increase your chances of securing projects.

What amounts to “a well-crafted portfolio” may vary depending on the nature of your work, your niche, your industry, and the platform/format you use to showcase your work and experience (i.e., whether it’s a website, an online portfolio platform like Adobe Portfolio, PDF document, or a web-based presentation).

However, there are some elements you need to have on your portfolio regardless of these individual-specific factors. Here’s a rundown of the most important ones: 

  • High-quality samples of your work. This is the most important element in a portfolio because it’s what most clients will use to determine whether you’re a good fit for their needs. Showcase what you would consider your best work, ensuring every sample highlights your unique skills and aligns with the specific type of work you’d like to attract.
  • User-friendliness. You need to make it as easy as possible for potential clients to browse your portfolio. For instance, if you offer multiple services or different versions/styles of the same service, ensure your samples are categorized accordingly. And if you’re using a website to showcase your work, make sure the various pages are neatly organized and optimized to load as fast as possible. 
  • Visual appeal. The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” couldn’t be more relevant in modern marketing. Consumer psychology statistics show that 93% of consumers view visuals as an important factor when making buying decisions. And this is just one in a long list of statistics demonstrating the importance of high-quality visuals in marketing. So go the extra mile to make sure you use high-resolution images and engaging videos to showcase your projects. 
  • Testimonials. Few things give a freelancer more credibility than testimonials. Positive feedback from people and businesses you’ve worked with reassures potential clients about your professionalism, reliability, and expertise. If possible, have your testimonials in video format; it’s a nifty way to combine the credibility provided by a good testimonial with the power of visuals in marketing. 
  • Case studies or project descriptions. This is a great way to provide context and insights into your projects. Explain each project’s goals, challenges, and solutions, demonstrating your ability to understand client needs and deliver results.
  • Contact information. Displaying your contact information on your portfolio makes it easy for prospective clients to contact you. 
  • Clear Calls To Action (CTAs).  With the right placement, CTAs can increase your conversion rates (in simpler terms, this means your chances of converting a prospect into a customer ー or client in this case). Some examples of CTAs you can use for your portfolio include “contact me,” “Hire me,” “request a quote,” and so on. Ideally, these would be embedded with a link that redirects potential clients to your contact information.

Acquiring the Necessary Software Tools

Working remotely often requires software tools. The right software can streamline your work, increase productivity, and help you manage projects effectively.

Your choice of software tools will be dictated by the type of work you do, but you’ll most likely need one or several from the list below.

  • Project management tools. These are pretty much a necessity for freelancers who often find themselves juggling multiple projects simultaneously or collaborating with team members. Examples include Trello, ClickUp, Asana, and Basecamp. 
  • Communication and collaboration tools. You’ll probably need one of these if your project management tool doesn’t have it built in. The most popular options include Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.
  • Time tracking and invoicing tools. Freelancers often need to keep track of their billable hours and generate invoices. Tools like Toggl, Harvest, or FreshBooks can help with that. 
  • Creative Tools. Your choice here will be dictated by the nature of your work. For instance, design, photography, and video production tools like Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro), Canva, or Figma can be handy if your work involves creating and editing visual content. Similarly, writers and editors can benefit from content editing tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor and keyword research tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, and Google Keyword Planner.

Tip: When choosing a software tool, prioritize options with multiple functionalities and extensive integration capabilities (ClickUp and Asana are great examples). It’s a great way to streamline your work and minimize your expenditure on paid subscriptions.

Finding Work as a Digital Nomad or Freelancer Living Abroad

This is the most challenging part of becoming location-independent because a significant chunk of the global workforce is taking that route. As the popularity of freelancing and digital nomadism continues to increase, so does the competition.

Sure, more companies are hiring freelancers, and that trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. However, the competition remains stiff because the demand for freelancers still lags behind the supply.

That’s why being able to differentiate yourself is so important. You need to stand out enough to land a client and command decent pay, even when up against freelancers who don’t mind getting paid peanuts because they live in a country with a low cost of living.

How do you do that?

Well, the first step is crafting a stellar portfolio per the guidelines I provided above. Once that’s set up, leverage expat job search strategies to market your services through online job boards and freelancing platforms, referrals from existing clients (if you have any), cold pitching, and online forums related to your specialty.

Whatever platforms you use to market your services, be sure to make your unique value proposition the core of your marketing strategy. Your unique value proposition refers to how a client benefits from working with you and not any other freelancer with your skillset. List these benefits and build your marketing strategy around that; it’s arguably the best way to stand out.

Tips For Long-Term Success as a Freelancer or Digital Nomad Living Overseas

It’s one thing to land a client or two and an entirely different endeavor to succeed long-term as a freelancer or digital nomad living overseas. Building a sustainable freelance career or nomadic lifestyle takes strategic planning, resilience, and adaptability.

Here are some things you can do to give yourself the best chance of long-term success:

Diversify Your Client Base

One of the biggest mistakes freelancers and digital nomads make is settling for one or two clients. I understand that constantly seeking clients is no fun, and it can be tempting to drift into cruise mode when you land that well-paying client who promises long-term work.

However, giving in to that temptation only sets you up for days or weeks of operating in survival mode when the project ends or the client decides to work with someone else. Sometimes, that can happen without notice!

The only way to avoid that hassle is to juggle multiple clients. Ensure they’re from different regions, countries, or industries, if possible. That way, you won’t lose a significant source of your income (and probably be stranded in a foreign country) when a client decides against working with you.

Keep Refining Your Skills

This is particularly important for individuals in fast-paced industries like digital marketing and advertising, Information Technology (IT), E-commerce, and media and entertainment.

Changes in industry trends can cause you to lose your competitive edge to freelancers who’ve invested time and money to stay ahead of the curve. And if the changes are disruptive enough, they can render some or all of your skills obsolete.

That’s why you should never stop honing your skills, even when you think you’ve perfected your craft. Enroll in courses, attend seminars and industry events, join online communities, and so on; whatever it takes to grow your skillset and keep you updated on new developments in your industry. 

Build a Stellar Reputation

A solid reputation is one of the most powerful client acquisition tools. It can get you positive reviews and testimonials to add to your portfolio, boost your credibility, or even land you clients through referrals. Building one takes time, but it’s worth the effort.

Some of the things you can do to build a stellar reputation as a freelancer include:

  • Delivering exceptional work.
  • Consistently meeting deadlines.
  • Providing exceptional customer service.
  • Maintaining a professional attitude. 
  • Demonstrating honesty, transparency, and integrity in all your dealings.

Strike a Good Work-Life Balance

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is an expression more freelancers need to live by. In the pursuit of peak productivity, many location-independent individuals often overlook the most important aspects of digital nomadism: setting aside time for relaxation, self-care, and pursuing personal interests. Ironically, this does more harm to their productivity than good. 

A poor work-life balance negatively affects mental and physical well-being. When these two important aspects of life are compromised, productivity suffers. 

Your long-term success, especially when juggling multiple clients, largely depends on how productive you can be in the long run. When you’re not operating at peak productivity levels, you’ll probably miss deadlines or deliver substandard work. Neither is ideal for your long-term success as a freelancer.

That’s why striking a good work-life balance is so important. It helps manage work-related stress, boosts physical well-being, and prevents burnout. This translates to improved performance and productivity, two essentials for sustained success as a freelance or a digital nomad. 

So take those breaks and allocate some time for fun, no matter how busy you are. Also, learn to say no to projects that might overwhelm you or eat into your “me time.”

Cyrus Kioko
Cyrus is a seasoned blog post writer with over five years of experience in crafting and editing articles spanning technology, lifestyle, and finance niches. Fueled by an authentic passion to contribute valuable insights, he has invested thousands of Netflix-less hours in research for this site. Each piece he writes is aimed at empowering readers to make well-informed, real-life decisions. Holding a degree in commerce and armed with ample copywriting courses, he brings both expertise and a touch of nerdy flair to the table.
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