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How to Start Your Freelance Career in Europe
Most full-time jobs aren’t particularly conducive to long periods of international travel. You might be able to squeeze in a trip or two during annual vacation time, but you’re generally not just free to pack up your things and explore. As a freelancer, however, you can keep earning money as you see what the planet has to offer.
While your options for travel as a freelancer are many and varied, you’re likely to find that Europe offers a good combination of cultural variety and working practicality. It is a melting pot of international residents, where you can make connections with not just regional locals but also freelancers and non-profit workers from further afield that flock to continental Europe and the United Kingdom. However, starting a freelance career while traveling across Europe is most successful when you take the time to plan ahead.
So, let’s take a look at some of the elements you need to bear in mind before embarking upon this path.
Check for Restrictions
Starting a freelance career in Europe is achievable. However, it would be a mistake to think that you can pick up your camera, your laptop, or whatever equipment you use and just hop on a plane and start working. You need to first take the time to review any restrictions that the country — or countries — you intend to work from has, and address them accordingly.
At the moment, the most prevalent of these relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have recently issued advice that those who have received both vaccinations can travel without the need for testing or quarantines. This is because studies suggest that vaccinated individuals don’t transmit the virus. However, while this is undoubtedly a positive step toward international travel, you have to understand that some European countries still aren’t accepting travelers from certain countries. Currently, the U.S. is not on the list of approved countries from which visitors can enter the E.U., but restrictions are currently being reviewed. Make sure you stay abreast of this before buying air tickets and booking accommodations.
It’s also vital that you examine the restrictions for freelancers working in Europe. You can’t arrive on a tourist visa and expect to work; this is unlawful. If you are a creative freelancer, for instance, to work in the U.K. for less than 6 months, you need a T5 visa. Germany, on the other hand, has a “Freiberufler” (freelancer) visa that requires proof of intended residence, a copy of your business plan, and evidence of income among other things. It’s also important to understand that getting a visa for one E.U. country doesn’t automatically entitle you to work across all member states — you’ll generally need a separate work permit for each country. These aren’t insurmountable obstacles, but you must act correctly and legally.
When you’re just starting a freelance career, one of the most challenging aspects is having enough work to make a living. While at home, you may be able to scrape by on a small gig here and there. But as a non-citizen in Europe your ability to remain will usually be predicated upon earning a minimum monthly income, as well as paying for health insurance contributions. As such, you have to be sure you can maintain liquidity.
Taking time to thoroughly map out the shape of your freelancing business can be essential here. If you’re planning on operating as a freelance photographer, for instance, you should spend time mapping out your business model, identifying how you’re going to find clients now, and how you intend to maintain and grow the business. Indeed, this can be a good jumping-off point for also discovering alternative sources of funding for your activities. There are often annual professional grants available that can help either pay for your equipment or support your projects.
However, it’s worth considering how you can diversify your income, rather than relying upon a single source. This way, if you have dry periods, it doesn’t have to disrupt your European travel plans. Particularly if you’re a creative freelancer, a good way to approach this is to create passive income alongside your active client-based income. If you’re an illustrator this could include creating t-shirts with your designs or setting up an e-commerce store to dropship prints. Alternatively, if you’ve built an online following with your activities, setting up a Patreon account can give you steady additional funding, and you could even include behind-the-scenes insights into your travels as supporter incentives.
Wherever you happen to be as a freelancer, a good sense of organization is one of your best tools. When you’re intending to travel around Europe as part of your role, staying organized can keep you productive, help you stay safe, and ensure you maintain control of your legal responsibilities.
We’ve briefly mentioned the COVID-19 vaccination program, and as the E.U. starts to open again, or you’re visiting currently accessible countries like Ireland and France, you must keep evidence of your vaccination with you. There isn’t a vaccine passport system, but it can certainly cut down on a lot of unnecessary delays if you have proof. Similarly, take the time to make sure you have all the documents you need each time you cross a border. Some places will require proof of return travel to your host country, others need evidence you have enough income to sustain yourself. Check the embassy website before you travel and keep these documents accessible.
You also need to keep your documents for your freelance activities well-organized, too. Rather than having a lot of paper invoices floating around, it can be helpful to use an online accountancy or invoicing application. Taking this approach means that, wherever you happen to be in Europe, you can create, amend, send, and access your paperwork. This is especially important if you’re operating across multiple E.U. countries, each of which might have different standards for freelancer invoices and tax reporting.
Freelancing can be a great way to travel across Europe while you’re working. However, it’s important to understand and apply the legal and immigration requirements of operating in another country. With some focus on practices that diversify your income and a commitment to solid organization, you can have a positive international freelancing experience.