Freelancing Abroad, Pt. II: 4 Capital Cities for Ex-Pats

Written by Elizabeth Wellington on October 12, 2017

Freelancing abroad is a life-changing adventure. As exciting as it is to enter this new stage of life, it’s also challenging to figure out where to go. Think about what you want out of the experience: climate, culture, location, language, the local economy? Beyond that, you also have to consider the practicalities, like the type of visa you’ll need to set up shop in a different country.

If you don’t want to get a freelancer or a resident visa, you can travel around as a digital nomad, never overstaying the tourist visas of the individual countries you’re visiting. Beyond that, you’ll need to invest in a legal process that lets you to live and work with one base abroad. Some places are much easier to work from than others. With that in mind, I researched four easy capital cities to live and work abroad as a freelancer. Take a look before you pick your next destination:

Berlin, Germany

Berlin may be the capital of Germany, but it’s also one of the best places in Europe to work as a freelancer. This capital is one of the most affordable European cities and offers the dual benefits of a thriving culture and a strong economy. In fact, the city is so dedicated to attracting the best talent from all over the world that they’ve developed a special freelancer visa.

If you choose to live in Berlin, you can skip past all the red tape that often accompanies a move to Europe. Yes, you still have to apply for a visa, but it’s a much smoother process. Need some inspiration from Berlin’s creative community? Check out the best co-working spaces across the city. Not only are they beautiful places to work, but other startups and creatives can offer valuable referrals when you’re getting settled.

Sofia, Bulgaria

If you’re a freelancer, all you need to work in Bulgaria is a residence permit. Sofia is a vibrant metropolitan area steeped in 2,000 years of history. Tourists often overlook this beautiful city, and that makes it all the more charming. As a hidden gem, it’s extremely affordable and offers a great quality of life. Plus, it’s only a short flight away from other European destinations.

Because Bulgaria remains a bit under the radar, that means you may have to do more legwork to get freelance work. Rather than depend on the local economy, make connections across Europe and plan on embracing remote opportunities.

Panama City, Panama

Panama City is perched on the Pacific in Central America, making it a tropical destination for freelancing ex-pats. Experts say it’s easiest to set up your business and get a residence visa once you’re in the country. So, head to Panama before you start the paperwork.

Panama not only boasts a tropical climate and lively community of ex-pats, it also offers high-quality, affordable health care and certain financial benefits. Freelancers in Panama benefit from a lower income tax rate than the U.S., and you can easily put that money toward some cool travel adventures or your retirement fund. If you have small children, there are great international schools, too. Because it’s in the same time zone as much of the U.S., you can continue working remotely with your favorite American clients.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

If you run your freelance business under a sole proprietorship, you can get a visa for a sole proprietor partnership in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur — known to most people as KL — is the fastest growing city of Malaysia. The city is extremely diverse, with the majority of residents of Malay, Indian or Chinese ethnicity. English is compulsory in school, so most residents can speak the language. Though it helps to learn some phrases in Malay, you can easily get by as an English-speaking visitor.

If you’re looking for an Asian base for your business, Malaysia is one of your best bets for a visa. The freelance community continues to grow and offers opportunities both locally and within nearby markets. That said, do some research before you book a ticket. Although KL is a diverse city, its moderately conservative Muslim culture can be a change for progressive Americans moving abroad.

Freelancing abroad opens you up to a whole new world — and a whole new world of clients, too. When you pick your first-choice destination, make connections with freelancers who live in that city or region. Set up a video call and learn more about the country, the economy and the opportunities for independent contractors. Build those relationships, so you can start creating a referral network. In the process, you may just make a friend or two who can help you get settled abroad.

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