How to become a self-employed international freelancer abroad

Panna Kemenes

With the spread of high-speed internet, you no longer have to live near your workplace year-round. If you work in the right field and jump through a few legal and regulatory hoops, you can design websites for American retailers while looking out onto a vineyard in Provence.

This article provides some essential points for kicking off your freelance/self-employed abroad career with confidence. You’ll find tips on navigating the bureaucracy and tax office, and assembling the skills you need for success.

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Can I legally travel and work as a freelancer abroad from the US?

work and travel as a freelancer abroad

Let's start with the most important question: Can I freelance in another country? Yes, the United States will not prevent you from traveling and working abroad. If you choose to do so, you may be referred to as an American expat. You need to research the visa and licensing requirements for freelancers in your chosen home-away-from-home.

Working with government bureaucracy is a hassle the world over, but if you start the application process early and provide all of the correct paperwork on time and with a good attitude, you can get a visa in around 3-4 months.

Don’t try to do this after you leave, though. It’s recommended you contact the consulate of the country you hope to live in while you’re still in your home country

You can also freelance for a foreign company. Freelancing for a foreign company can have its perks. For example, the average salary may be higher. The foreign company may also have a local partner to make contracts easier. If you come into a dispute however, you will often need to resolve this in the country of the company.

What if my spouse or partner is a resident of another country, can I legally freelance?

Most countries permit you to reside in them long-term if you’re married to a native citizen. If your visa is already secure based on your marriage or long-term relationship, then in many countries you may be free to take on contract work.

What jobs can I do while traveling the world?

what jobs can i do

Some jobs are more suitable for remote work than others. However, if you can do your job with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection, then you can probably be a digital nomad. This means you can live and book freelance gigs from other countries.

Typically, the most doable freelance gigs are in content production and knowledge work.

Here are some of the most common freelance careers:

  • Journalists/writers/editors

  • Copywriters

  • Graphic designers

  • Software/web developers

  • Photographers

  • Sound or video editors

  • Interpreters/translators

  • 3D modeling and CAD designers

Do I need a special visa to freelance overseas?

do i need a special visa

Often, yes. Typically, to acquire a work visa in a country you need to have a firm, written job offer from a corporation with offices in that country.

In more and more countries, immigration offices are developing special classifications to accommodate foreign freelance workers. The rules vary based on a given country's openness or protectionism. Many now offer some sort of freelance visa that allows you to legally reside in that country without being employed by a local firm, but instead taking part-time jobs from a number of vendors.

Many EU countries, such as Germany, now have some version of a freelance visa.¹ If you want to become a freelancer or self-employed in India, it’s already saturated with native freelancers so it’s trickier, though possible, to obtain a freelance visa.

What’s the average cost of a freelance visa in another country?

Costs vary between countries, and some have you pay a single fee, while others charge for every meeting with an immigration official. In Europe, it typically costs from 100-400 Euros to obtain a freelance visa. For example, in Germany it will cost 75 Euros to apply for a freelance visa.²

What‘s the difference between being self-employed and being a freelancer?

what’s the difference between self employed and freelancer

When you’re doing contract work for an organization, you’re not their employee. So does that make you self-employed, or a freelancer? The difference can be confusing. If you’re self-employed, it means that you technically own your own business. But it’s only freelance work if you do it on behalf of another company or organization. Not, for example, an independent plumber working for private homeowners.

That’s why freelancers are able to conduct their business under their own name, rather than a brand name. Self-employed people often work under an official business name.

Put simply: all freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers.

Do I need a business license to freelance internationally?

do i need a business license

In most cases, yes. In addition to obtaining a freelance visa that legally permits you to vie for freelance jobs in a country, you also need to register yourself with the local business office.

Staying in a country less than 3 months

Most travel visas allow you to stay in a country for three months after you’ve entered. If you’re only staying for that long, they typically consider you a traveller and don’t expect you to make long-term visa plans. Because of this, you can usually do freelance work in a country without having to get approved for a freelance visa.

Staying in a country for more than 6 months

Staying past 6 months, however, is typically the cut-off for requiring a freelancing visa, registering your business, and being obligated to pay income taxes to your country of residence.

How do I get paid from abroad?

get paid from abroad

As a skilled expat worker, you’ll likely get paid through a wire service. There are many options, such as Convera or PayPal. But you’ll want to be aware of the fees and exchange rates charged by different financial institutions. Most banks and currency exchange companies will tell you their transfers are free, zero commission, or really cheap.

Sadly, though, it’s not true. They add a markup to the exchange rate, which means you could be paying more than you should. Opening a bank account abroad can be a solution, but this can be tricky if you are not a citizen.

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What about taxes for international freelancers from the US?

filing taxes

Even if all of your income comes from abroad, you'll most likely still need to file an income tax return in your country of residence if you live there more than 6 months of the year. When filing taxes, US expats may be required to complete additional filings and be subject to specific reporting requirements.

Taxation regulations vary between countries, so consult an accountant for advice on how to remain tax-compliant back home and in your new country. Depending on where you’re from, they will offer expat tax advice tailored to your nationality and the country you’re residing in.

  • For Americans, H&R Block offers a tax service specifically for expats abroad.

  • Citizens of the US can also solicit help from the firm Taxes for Expats, who were was founded specifically to provide just this service.

It’s important to research the possible tax deductions you can claim to reduce your overall tax burden. Freelancers who do content, marketing, development, and IT work can often claim office, travel, and meal expenses.

Before you file your taxes, discuss your possible expenses with a savvy accountant and see how much you can save.

You can also read ‘US Taxes: a guide for global citizens’ for more information.

How do I find a coworking space?

finding a coworking space

As more and more people work remotely, “coworking spaces” have risen in popularity. They effectively replicate the office environment by filling a large space with desks, long tables, Wi-Fi, and coffee and tea services.

Freelancers pay a flat monthly rate for access to the space. The option of getting out of the house and working a few hours a week amongst others can be worth the expense. Freelancing can be a lonely, competitive hustle, so the social and networking opportunities of coworking spaces are invaluable.

You’ll likely share industries with many of the people you share a coworking space with. It should be your goal to buddy up with them to discuss common clients, productivity methods, and job-hunting ideas. And, of course, grab some drinks to vent about your frustrations.

To find coworking spaces near you, try WeWork or create a Google search for “coworking spaces” plus your city.

Looking for a coworking space in India? Discover the top 15 coworking spaces in India

Tips on becoming a successful freelancer abroad

successful freelancer tips

Create a strong freelancer profile

When you create a user profile for a site with freelancers, make sure to use an up-to-date photo and list as many marketable skills as you can reasonably claim.

Be as specific as you can with your skills. For example don’t just say you can write in Microsoft Word if you’re experienced or, even better, certified, in advanced documentation software like InDesign or Madcap Flare.

It’s important that you not just list what you can do, but also demonstrate a knowledge and expertise at the popular tools in your field.

Broaden your skills as a freelancer

Try to also supplement your core skills so you can compete for more gigs. For example, if you’re a writer, you can brush up on your editing or transcription skills. If you’re a photographer, you may learn some video editing.

You need to stay agile and anticipate how you can grow your skill set in the future. The more you can do, the more jobs you can land.

Consider creating your own website

While sites like Upwork and SimplyHired are invaluable resources, you may consider creating your own website. Sites like Squarespace or Wix offer numerous simple, useful templates for establishing your online presence for a competitive price.

Having a URL that uses your own name and includes writing samples and contact info can send a strong signal that you’re a professional with experience who’s ready to work.

Determine your rate for freelance work abroad

Before you start competing for job opportunities, it’s important to determine your rate. You are competing with other freelancers in your skill space, so if you overcharge you won’t get work. But if you undervalue yourself, you could be costing yourself thousands of dollars in the course of a year.

Spend some time researching the market value of your skill set and determine a solid hourly rate for your efforts.

Build a strong reputation

This may seem obvious, but reliability is a crucial skill to freelancing. That means responding to messages quickly, communicating in a professional manner, being open to feedback, and most importantly, turning work in on time. Remember, you’re your own PR department.

Any freelance marketplace you use will allow your clients to rate your work and leave reviews. Not every client is going to rate and review you, but many will. And those ratings are crucial to your ability to book future opportunities.

If you turn in accurate, quality work on time and with a good attitude, people will notice. If you blow past deadlines and get irritable with your contacts, they’ll criticize you in reviews. There are no training wheels. It’s important to do good work from the start.

If your clients are consistently raving about you and giving you high marks, your profile will be more prominently featured in search results. In turn, you can charge a higher hourly rate. Happy customers lead to more opportunities.

A world of opportunity and flexibility awaits a freelancer who can market their skills, complete work reliably and on time, and continue to seek out new clients.



  1. German Freelance “Freiberufler” Visa
  2. Residence permit for a freelance employment

All sources checked 15 December 2023.

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