Working with clients in your home country is one thing, but working with freelance clients across the globe creates a new set of challenges.
Managing international payments, working across different time zones, and cultural differences can make working with overseas clients awesome… or more likely: a pain in the ass.
Considering 41% of freelancers intend to freelance forever, working with international clients seems inevitable in landing higher-paying clients and running a successful business.
Unsure how to manage the complexities of global freelancing? This article will help you feel confident working with foreign clients–building great partnerships while reducing operational costs and unnecessary stress.
How to work with international clients
- Check your insurance
- Get advice from your accountant
- Use a contract
- Speak with fellow freelancers
- Navigate time zones
- Have an awareness of cultural differences
- Consider the language barrier
- Understand local markets
- Embrace async communication
- Navigate international payments
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1. Check your insurance
Did you know that working with overseas freelance clients can make your business insurance invalid?
Professional indemnity insurance may only cover you for working with clients in the country you live—not the country your client is from.
Some 51% of freelancers believe the potential for a client to take legal action prevents businesses from hiring them. In the unlikely event of an overseas client claiming compensation if you make a mistake or accidentally disclose confidential information, you want to feel assured that you’re covered.
Reduce the impact of any legal action taken against you. Chat with your insurer and check you have the right level of coverage to work with international clients as a freelancer.
2. Get advice from your accountant
Working with international freelance clients can create more opportunities to fill your pipeline. But it also comes with added responsibilities around income tax and accounting.
Depending on where you’re working, you may need to sign a tax exemption form or disclose foreign income to:
- His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), if you’re in the UK
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS), if you’re based in the US
- Australian Tax Office (ATO), if you’re an Australian
- State Administration of Taxation (SAT) for freelancers based in China
- Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), if you live in India
- Federal Central Tax Office for German freelancers
Our advice is to get expert advice. Talk with an accountant and find out what you need to know now. Feel assured you’re not breaking the law–or worse, facing a hefty bill–when paying your taxes and working with overseas freelance clients.
3. Use a contract
A freelance writing contract protects you and your client from disagreements. You’ll reduce misunderstandings about payment terms, rates, and timescales by outlining your terms and conditions before starting work.
Nonetheless, issuing a contract for international clients is no different from creating one for local clients. Your contract should include:
- Project deliverables and deadlines
- Pricing (either in yours or your clients’ currency)
- Availability for meetings or calls
- Preferred communication method
- Procedures for situations beyond your control (for example, political unrest)
The added advantage of contracts? Freelancers can create a sense of professionalism and eliminate problems like scope creep. You’ll know exactly what you’re committing to.
Take it from Jasmine Jade, a freelance content writer, who says: “I didn’t have service-level agreements or contracts, so there was a lot of scope creep and overwhelming expectations. With my payment and work processes, I get paid more and on time.”
4. Speak with fellow freelancers
Your freelance network is a gold mine of helpful information. Reach out to trusted freelancers on social media platforms. Find out how they work with global clients and what processes they have in place to reduce any problems.
Freelance communities like Peak Freelance have a vast range of resources for freelancers who want to find local and international clients and scale their businesses.
5. Navigate time zones
A flurry of emails, text messages, or phone calls when you’re sleeping, makes working with cross-border clients a nightmare. After all, you need rest to create the best work, so interrupted sleep can play havoc with your quality of work.
“Time zones can be a bummer if you’re working with west coast USA. The solution is usually just to jump on the call later.”Oliver Orme-Lynch, freelance SEO content strategist and writer
Let’s say you have a client based in Mexico and live in South Africa. The time difference between these two counties is eight hours. When you go to bed, your client is probably working.
Reduce the risk of being disturbed at inconvenient times by establishing client boundaries from the outset. Set expectations around response times and meeting availability. Confirm the times you aren’t available and ask your potential client the same.
Freelance copywriter Robbie Foston adds: “Time zones are the only issue I’ve faced. The solution was to ask detailed questions during briefs and proposals so small problems don’t surface later. [There’s] nothing worse than having to wait 12 hours for a reply to a minor question that’s slowing you down.”
6. Have an awareness of cultural differences
Working with international clients means understanding different cultures, values, and beliefs.
Make sure you understand local meanings and phrases and avoid assumptions about local expressions. (Did you know that wagon in the US means a wooden vehicle pulled by horses? Yet, in Ireland, it means an unpleasant woman.)
“I once worked with Chinese clients who had difficulty communicating their ideas and what they wanted,” says Kiran Shahid, a freelance writer. “My only advice would be to be patient and meet them halfway for clarity. Give them examples based on your research and ask them if that’s what they’re looking for.”
Secondly, working with global clients often means navigating national holidays. Holidays in the UK, for example, are different from holidays in countries like Norway.
Craig Wright, freelance tech writer, says: “I’ve worked with Scandinavian companies where it is normal for lots of staff to take a month off in the summer. This can mean you’re unable to get the information you need for an extended period. It can mean a hectic workload before and after holidays too.”
7. Consider the language barrier
International clients often speak another language and become a roadblock for freelancers. It’s why 97% of freelancers in the US have domestic clients, yet only 58% have overseas clients.
Sending and receiving information about contracts, content outlines, and proposals using different languages can be challenging.
Working with cross-border clients that speak another language doesn’t have to be demanding. Simplify how to navigate working with different languages by:
- Using reputable translation services
- Developing transparent processes for working with clients who don’t speak your home language
- Undertaking your research to extend local knowledge
- Understanding local dialects or common abbreviations
- Taking a course to improve your writing skills or learn another language
Factoring in additional time and costs, like interpreting services which reduce profits. Stay aware of extra costs and include them in your contract.
8. Understand local markets
But relying on research in your home country can make content irrelevant and unfit for purpose.
Let’s put that into practice and say you’re writing a blog post for a software client based in China. Referencing data and priorities for a US tech market might not be the most accurate; the market is entirely different in China.
Become a better writer and spend time researching local markets in different countries. Monitor local social media discussions, read industry reports, and use a VPN to show Google search results in your reader’s location.
9. Embrace async communication
Working with global clients means communicating at different times. Considering communication (such as face-to-face and video conferencing) takes place as it occurs, async communication doesn’t happen in real-time.
Waiting for a response to find out if your latest articles need editing–or if a new proposal has been agreed upon–can make client collaboration frustrating.
Async communication platforms like Google Drive, Trello, and Slack can make collaboration easier. Instant messaging and threaded conversations allow everyone to communicate in real time, reducing the to-ing and fro-ing of email.
Raphael Ibrahim, a B2B and SaaS content writer, adds: “I try to reduce meetings as much as possible with asynchronous collaboration tools like Trello and G Suite.”
You’ll also reduce stress and burnout by having the information you need to hand.
Let’s say you’ve received a content brief containing technical specifications. Prepare a list of questions and reach out to a client to get clarification before starting work. That way, you’ll create content that meets client expectations with a proactive approach that reduces the risk of errors or misunderstandings.
“I think my best tip for working with international clients is to fully embrace async communication—get used to the fact you’re unlikely to get an immediate reply, so make sure you say everything you want/need to get the most thorough reply.”— Alex Boswell, freelance marketing writer
10. Navigate international payments
You’ve done the work. Next up is getting paid.
Once a project closes and your invoice is sent, fees from online payment providers and exchange rates can mean less money in your pocket.
Payment by direct bank transfer is one of the easiest international payment methods for you and your client. Simply provide your bank details and clients can pay your invoice directly into your bank account.
However, note that many local banks offer poor exchange rates and conversion fees.
“Currency is always the big one, especially changes between =£ when quote versus =£ when the invoice is paid.”Mel Barfield, freelance copywriter
Online payment platforms like PayPal, Payoneer, and Stripe allow clients to transfer funds electronically. They’re usually a fast and secure way to send and receive money online. However, much like bank transfer, each platform takes a percentage of the transaction amount to cover the costs of using the service and fees to exchange currency.
The best solution? A multi-currency account to streamline getting paid by international clients.
Wise, for example, is a reliable money transfer and currency exchange provider. With a customer base of over 13 million, Wise charges for each transaction and has competitive exchange rates. There are no setup fees or hidden charges to receive payments in foreign currency like USD, GBP, or INR.
“I’d say my number one pain point was losing money to exchange and transfer fees. I used PayPal, which meant I lost a lot of my project fee (around 5%!), but then I switched to Wise and didn’t lose money to exchange rates.”Holly Stanley, B2B SaaS writer
Feel confident when working with overseas freelance clients
Choosing your clients doesn’t need to be complicated. The flexibility to choose your rates, clients, and type of work can make freelance writing enjoyable and rewarding.
The best part? Opportunities when working with international clients are endless.
Use the tips here to feel optimistic about securing new clients. Seek new freelancing opportunities overseas and remove the hassle of navigating the complexities.
Do you want to further extend your knowledge about working with global clients? Get All Access membership to the Peak Freelance community and connect with international freelance writers from around the world.
How to work with international freelance clients FAQs
How to work with foreign clients
- Check the time difference
- Work out the best payment method
- Remain compliant with taxes and insurance
- Send a contract
- Manage time zones
- Seek advice from other freelancers
How do international freelancers get paid?
Some common ways to get paid as an international freelancer include online payment processing platforms like PayPal, Wise, and Stripe. Other payment methods include direct bank transfer and a check in the mail.
How do I find international clients?
- Ask existing clients for a referral
- Browse global freelance job boards
- Scour social media platforms
- Try pitching your services
- Get referrals from fellow freelancers
- Attend networking events