Since I started freelancing in 2013, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients. Most of which are overseas, and include clients from Austria, Australia, Andorra, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, India, Isle of Man, Norway, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Uganda and the USA.
Most of my initial freelance work came through Upwork, which is why such a high percentage of my clients aren’t based in the UK. I now work with a mix of international clients both on and off the platform.
Freelancers can be nervous about working with clients abroad. There are more factors to consider, but for the most part it’s similar to working with a local client.
Here are some ‘gotchas’ to watch out for and tips to help your international projects go smoothly.
Use a contract
A contract is essential when working with clients overseas. Your contract should state that it is a legal document under the jurisdiction of your local laws. This will make it easier to begin legal proceedings should you need to.
Quote in your local currency
Where possible, quote for the work in your local currency and ensure your contract clarifies that the client is responsible for any international transfer fees or conversions.
If a client cannot pay you in your local currency, raise the rate to cover any potential fluctuation in the exchange rate.
Check your insurance
By default, your professional indemnity insurance may not cover the country your client is from. This is almost guaranteed if your client is in the United States — possibly the most litigious country.
Drop your insurer a line and see what’s what. Not insured? Check out With Jack.
When you get your first international client, open a TransferWise account. Their exchange rate will be better than both PayPal and your bank’s, which is handy if you need to convert your payment.
A TransferWise account allows your client to pay you like you’re a local. In seconds, you can set up a ‘local’ account that gives you native bank credentials that your clients can use.
If you use this link you’ll get your international first transfer (of up £500) free. If enough people sign up, I’ll receive a commission, so use it if you feel this post has been valuable.
Take a deposit
A deposit is essential for any project, but it’s critical when dealing with clients overseas. If a client isn’t willing to part with a reasonable deposit, warning bells should be ringing.
Prioritise work around timezones
As soon as you have more than one international client, you’ll need to factor the time zone differences into your workflow.
I use mornings to work on projects where the client is ahead of my timezone and afternoons for projects where the client is behind. This maximises the crossover periods in our working hours.
Be mindful of cultural differences
Depending on where your client is based, you may find that their working week and hours are not the same as yours. Clarify this before you get started.
Make sure there’s a time overlap
A great rule of thumb is to make sure that there are at least three hours of workday overlap between you and your client.
If this isn’t the case, it will require both you and your client to be on top form communication-wise. Without this, the project is likely to drag on.
Check the tax situation
Depending on where you’re working, you may need to sign a tax exemption form or similar. The client should pay any fees associated with this.
Should the worst happen...
On Unfinished Business, Andy Clarke discusses how he dealt with an overseas client that defaulted on a payment.
The situation reached the point where he needed to use a debt collection firm. He used a debt collection firm that was based in the client’s city. Lo-and-behold, the payment was quickly arranged.
Hopefully, you won’t end up in this position, but that could be a useful tip to make unscrupulous clients realise you’re serious about getting paid.
This advice is mostly common sense, but it’s worth tightening your standard practices when working with clients overseas.
Not only will it help to make sure your project goes smoothly, but you’ll be in a better position should anything go wrong.