freelancing for a company outside home-country - tips?

Although i have been following this forum for quite a long time, it is the first time i post here. So, glad to be part of core77 bif community.

I was recently contacted by a company outside my home-country asking me if i am interested to work on some of their products as a freelance designer. Yet we have not talked much therefore not many information to share with you.
However, if any of you have done this before and have some time, it would be nice to share some experiences from issues related directly to the process as well as trivia that may play an indirect role and people like me should have in mind (example: time difference bewteen countries and how may affect communicatione etc.)

Thanks a lot for any piece of information you can share!


I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years with companies in China. Here are some tips that apply to almost any freelance project:

  • Make sure you understand the project!! An accurate design brief is critical or you will be wasting a lot of time. If language is a barrier then make sure the translations are accurate. Agree on the deliverables up front!!
  • Understand the culture of the company. Know their expectations. What type of freelancers have they worked with before and what did they deliver?
  • If you are working with the Orient then don’t expect a lot of “atta-boys”. In general they don’t get really excited and give praise.
  • A time difference between locations can be leverage by sending work at the end of the day and having them review it while you sleep (for a 12 hour time difference like China). The project is always moving forward.
  • Make sure you get paid. I usually ask for some up-front money to start. They need to get some skin in the game. Wire transfers are sometimes difficult to shake loose at the end of a project. I’ve held my final 3-D files ransom to get paid.
  • In the Orient you need to sit down and drink with your clients. Face-to-face contact is important if you want to build a relationship. It’s probably different in other countries, but in China you need to build (earn) trust. After that the whole project can be done using email…

I hope that helps.

Never do any work before receiving a deposit. It’s close to impossible to sue them in another country so get half your money upfront or have them prepay phases.

A common tactic is to ask you to do some “example sketches” to show you can work on the kind of product they make. Tell them your portfolio is enough to show that.

Never do anything for free.

Write emails in short, concise sentences.

one-word-plastics and mpdesigner thanks for your advices.
They gave me a good insight of what, up to a point, should ask/clarify in my reply to them…

I forgot to mention that both my country and the base of the company are in E.U (it may be retarded but i do not really want to give more info about countries and company etc) so really big language and culture probs i do not think that will be big issues.

Another aspect about freelancing (although it may be country-specific) has to do with what’s happening with receipts , invoices etc… but i guess i should ask a local accountant for such things…

Thanks again and i am still open for more input!

You don’t necessarily need an accountant as long as you are organised about things.

Just keep a track of your expenses and income for when you have to file a tax return. Remember there are a lot of things you can write off when you work for yourself that you may not be aware of (percentage of utility bills, car insurance, phone bills etc)

In Canada if you independently earn more than $30,000 you need to register for a GST (like VAT in the UK) number and you must charge GST and pay it to the government on a quarterly basis.

As for working for someone outside the country, as far as I’m concerned it’s all the same thing, if someone is going to shaft you, they’re going to shaft you. I’ve learnt to start trusting my gut and I have a rule if someone dangles a carrot of more work in my face then keep them at arms length.

I’d say at least 75% of my clients are not in Canada (where I’m based). For me, it’s not an issue. The same basic things are true no matter where you or they are located.

  1. have a solid contract that outlines scope of work and payment schedule.

  2. Keep on top of billing and get a deposit.

  3. Use whatever tools you can to keep things efficient (ie. skype, email, etc.)

  4. take into account your own schedule and productivity in scheduling meetings, deadlines, etc. (ie. if you are X hours ahead as mentioned, use this to your advantage, likewise know when you are most productive - weekends/evenings, etc. can a consultant’s best friend).

  5. keep your communications to the point. as mentioned use numbered action points, clear email subjects and dates for reply.

Best of luck,


loafer, the way you describe things do not sound that different compared to here… :wink: thanks for the tip.

rkuchinsky, that’s a very good list of do’s n dont’s. thanks… skype is a very good medium indeed even for basic video conference and instant material submission!

Great to hear all of this, I’ve always thought about dabbling in freelance work sometime in the future, and (being in Australia) almost certainly any prospective clients would be overseas!

R - how does one go about writing up a solid contract? Is it case specific or is there a general template you refer to?

EU law regarding payment is uniform across all member countries. I’d still say it stands though, if anything goes wrong, its nigh on impossible to get your money (here speaks the voice of experience). If you could give a bit of info about the countries involved, perhaps we’d be able to give you a bit more specific advice. I prefer to use an accountant, personally. As far as invoicing etc, I always ask for payment by international bank transfer in my home currency plus a large deposit. I use the same invoice format whatever country I’m working with becuase its always in UK pounds sterling.
Especially with overseas clients, dont let invoices get too big before you issue them, give the client a modest credit limit. That way if something happens to their business, you minimise your risk.