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The Truth About Location Independence

Feb 8, 2011 , ,

location independence marian schembariToday’s guest post is by the ever-entertaining Marian Schembari. I found one of her posts last year via the Twitterz and have been stalking her ever since.She’s a social media thug (consultant is a ridiculous word) who helps creatives rock out online. She blogs over at Marian Librarian where she cuts through the BS of social media. Check out her Profile Overhaul service if you’re looking for a quick and dirty revamp of your existing online presence. Follow her antics on Twitter @MarianSchembari.

Back in April I uprooted my life in New York to move temporarily to London, and then New Zealand where my Kiwi boyfriend and I could live in visa-drama-free harmony.

Whenever I explain to friends and family how this is possible I say something along the lines of, “My job is online, I can work from anywhere!” Strangers assume this is mildly glamorous. Blog readers have expressed jealousy in my ability to “live carefree.”

I may be now living in one of the most beautiful countries on earth, but location independence is harder than it looks. I am not on permanent vacation. I spent six months in London not actually experiencing because my eyes were too adjusted to my computer screen to be able to focus on real, live humans.

And the two months I’ve been in New Zealand? I’ve taken one trip beyond my new neighborhood. And that’s because it was Christmas.

So before you go traipsing off to Thailand like every other lifestyle designer on the interwebs, let me share a few truths I’ve learned from my year as a “location independent freelancer.”

Truth #1: Normal People Don’t Understand “Working for Yourself”

The UK apparently didn’t like my “self-employed” line as they thought it meant “gonna lock down a job in the UK and steal all the monies from hard working Brits.”

After reading my journal, locking me up in a detention facility overnight and stalking me on Google, I was to be officially deported to my last port of entry. They eventually let me go without deportation – *wipes brow* – but not sans the help of a phone call from mommy, a $1,200 return flight purchase and forcing immigration to actually sit down and read my blog.

You see, not only was it very clear on my site that I run my own business, but I also wrote a post about my eventual departure form London to New Zealand.

TIP: The blog post apparently worked as it was written months before my departure, but I wouldn’t recommend this tactic. Before entering any country you plan to be in long-term, bring proof you work for yourself. As most freelancers know, folks with “real jobs” tend to get nauseous just thinking about us.

Truth #2: You Can’t Actually Work from Anywhere

After moving to New Zealand I found out about broadband limits. Apparently there’s no such thing as unlimited internet on this side of the equator and when you go over the measly 20-40GB? Oh. Right. They switch you to dial-up speed.

So those videos I make for my clients that require a massive upload to my website? I’ve had to cut those down big time.

The books clients send me so I can see samples of their work? Scratch that.

So no. I can’t actually work anywhere. You can’t actually work anywhere.

TIP: If your business is mostly run online, check the internet regulations and specifics of your country of choice. Also make sure there’s at least one cafe that doesn’t charge for wifi (I’m looking at you, New Zealand Starbucks).

Truth #3: You’ll Want to Travel. But You Won’t.

Being a freelancer is like being in school: There is always some assignment hanging over your head. So when you imagine yourself cruising across the Adriatic in that jet boat, remember when that smoldering Italian fisherman asks you to come to his villa for some gelato and pasta he’ll feed you with his fingers, you may have to bail early to finish that project that needed to be turned in yesterday.

TIP: Cut back your workload. Listen, I got nothing better for you on this one. Know you will regret not taking that road trip across the South Island because you had to finish that copy for client x. So either reduce the stuff that needs doing or stay at home where you won’t feel like you’re missing out.

Truth #4: Getting Paid is a Royal Pain in the Ass

Regardless of where you are, your clients will most likely be back home. And unless you’re big into taking large sums of money via PayPal and parting with 3% every time someone pays you, you need some way to get moolah.

Luckily, my family is still in the States and, because they’re nice, my parents deposit client checks on my behalf.

Because I’ll be in New Zealand for the foreseeable future, not having Kiwi clients hasn’t stopped me from opening up a bank account. Right now I pay around $10 for each withdrawal from my US bank and it’s a gain head ache. Never mind a waste of money.

TIP: Find a credit card that won’t charge ridiculous fees for taking out cash (Bank of America had a deal with Barclays while I was living in England) and have someone nice at home who can collect payments and deal with them. Sure, they need to really like you and live near your bank of choice, but I gotta say – not having to accept thousands of dollars through PayPal makes this totally worth it.

Lesson? Do it.

This isn’t to say location independence isn’t great. Looking back, I really should have been more prepared, but I was sort of fooled by the ease these online-lifestyle-design-douches seem to be running their businesses from really obscure countries.

At the end of the day though, after this year abroad I never want to HAVE to be somewhere. I feel ill just thinking about it. But just because I’m traveling doesn’t mean I’m not working. And just because I’m IN these countries doesn’t mean I experience them in the same way a traveler would.

That all said, I’ve only been doing this for a year. I may get better at it, I may decide to settle down. I also think plenty of folks do it significantly better than I.

Have you tried it? Are you considering it? Do you now want to hit me upside the head for not making it seem sparkly and magical? Better you know the truth…

44 comments
Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai

Thanks for the insights Marian! I've thought of being location independent in about 5 years. I don't plan to travel constantly... but rather, be in each place 3-6 months a year.. and these places are my homes for the summer and winter. It'd be great to vacation travel for about a month at a time, and have VAs and partners pick up the slack.

Gabe Lee
Gabe Lee

Ahhh yes, I know all too well the downside to location independence. I am currently working from Switzerland. Although my employers have been very forgiving of my extended travels, I find that it is almost imperative that I keep US hours. This means when I call it a night here in Geneva at 3am, the people in Boulder Colorado are wondering if they should stop for a quick bite before they catch movie downtown. It is a little difficult to live with my fiancee here and be on opposite schedules. She works 9-5 and my day is just beginning when she wants to have a nice dinner. I do find that going to the gym right after I wake up is a lot easier when it is 10am rather than 5am. I am a night person anyways and I find it very useful to be able to answer the phone (Thanks Skype/Google voice) when the US needs me, or vice versa. I get back on E.U. time during the weekends and that keeps my fiancee happy.

Diane H.
Diane H.

Excellent post! We're spending a year in the south of France with our kids. One of the things we got totally wrong when we came here was getting that this would NOT be like a vacation. We've been self-employed for a long time so always do some work when we're on vacation, but you can delay a lot of things in a two-week trip that you can't when you're gone for a year. And totally agree about the moving money around the world thing. It's just plain COMPLICATED. I have clients and vendors that are international and am constantly dealing with that. At least wire transfers are cheaper in France then they are in the US.

Susan
Susan

Hi Marian, Excellent points! Five years ago I decided to become Location Independent. Although I generally work 70% of the time from my home office in LA, I've also managed to work effectively from Buenos Aires, Mexico, Canada, Italy and Thailand. And I plan to keep doing that. But not until recently, when my live-alone, aging father became critically ill, did I realize just how much location independence would mean to me. My hometown of Atlanta may not be the most exotic location I had in mind, but being there with him for weeks at a time has been a god send. I wholeheartedly support your advice to Try It! Susan

Cherie @Technomadia
Cherie @Technomadia

I so resonate with much of this, and you bring up so many points as to why I'm hesitant to take my location independence international. I've run a small software development company for over 15 years being LI. But it's only been in the past 5 years that I've done it while being *completely* mobile. My sweetie and I have traveled the US via RV for most of that, and now we've in the US Virgin Islands (not by RV) for a few months. Not dealing with things like visas, international taxes and such is one reason we've stayed stateside thus far. And we think we have one heck of an amazing traveling lifestyle. But there are downsides. As we're fully mobile, we depend on cellular data to keep connected. Which can be quite spotty and definitely not anywhere near broadband speeds and there are *5 GB* caps on some plans. We deal with having to be cautious about state income taxes as we meander about. So yeah, definitely commiserate with being stunned by folks who assume our life is like living on Easy St. Sure, it is definitely fabulous.. but you have to be darn dedicated to getting your workload done while you're in amazing places. We're pulling sometimes 80 hr work weeks (each) here while in tropical paradise. Our life isn't constantly a day at the beach with a rum drink. In the future.. we do plan to do extended international travel. And we know it'll be a whole new ball of challenges. But it is so worth it!

Susan Johnston
Susan Johnston

Marian, I so agree! I have a hard time working at the Starbucks across town, much less working while I'm halfway around the world. There's often a screaming child, a lack of power outlets, spotty wireless, etc., so I've never fully bought into the idea that you can be just as productive LI as you could on your home turf. You need to make allowances and sometimes that means cutting corners or changing the way you operate. That said, I'm still in favor of travel even if you can't fully engage in a place if you're buried in work.

TravelnLass
TravelnLass

Great post, and those comments from family/friends/strangers (ranging from "...crazy" to "...lazy" to clearly misguided "...envy...so glamorous") sound oh so familiar. Not fully LI per se, but suffice I ran my own little int'l adventure tour company for nearly two decades and was back and forth between islands, jungles, and my home office in Seattle constantly. Surely beat 9-5 in an urban cubicle but "glamorous"? Hardly. When I wasn't down in Central America doing research (racing from place to place, sleeping in a different bed every blessed night, and worrying about the business I was missing back at the office), I was guiding groups of 12-16 (great, well traveled folk in those days, but still...) Let's just say that guiding groups and being "on" 24/7 for 3 solid weeks ain't exactly a walk in the park. Surely some of the hardest work I've ever done. And this, for verily half the pay of what I'd have made climbing the proverbial "career ladder". Still... not a single regret. After all, I was able to make a living traveling the world doing what I love, and it surely doesn't get much better than that. Just good to tell it like it is - not all glamour by any means. And plenty of trade-offs to be made.

Michelle Mangen
Michelle Mangen

Welcome to the Redhead's site, Marian. I often say I only need the internet, my laptop and a printer to work.....which crosses even Starbucks and places w/free wifi off my list. Of course, there is some stuff I can do from the local coffee shop but waiting the 24.35 minutes for my Vista powered laptop to load up typically frustrates me to the point of no return. One thing you may want to look at (obviously dependent on your clients' willingness to use) would be Intuit's version of Paypal. They only charge you $.50 to get your money (whether $5 or $5,000). The advantage is they automatically deposit into your bank account vs. hanging onto it until you request a transfer. But....it may not work for you if you don't have a US bank. So that may not be useful to you at all. Was a pleasure to "meet" you by way of this post.

Melissa Breau
Melissa Breau

With an SO in the Military, I'm taking a serious look at this whole LI thing. Glad to have your warnings now ... :-)

The Redhead
The Redhead

I'm a huge fan of trying. Gimme a T! Gimme an R!....

Miss Stanton
Miss Stanton

Have a friend who is constantly saying to me "If *I* were a freelancer, *I* would just travel all the time." As if that is obviously what I should be doing, because I don't spend half the day wilting in front of my laptop.

eemusings
eemusings

I've always been frustrated by the idyllic picture of LI painted by the lifestyle design gang. Surely it isn't that easy! Thanks for confirming it and keeping it real!

Francisco
Francisco

Oh Joy! Somebody understands my plight. LOL After many, many, many, many looks of disapproval, scoffing at my "lazy lifestile", more than one shake of the head from the in-laws, and a rant by our very own Erika regarding the fact that freelencers are quite rightly business owners, I changed my response to "What do you do?" from "I am a freelance translator" to "I own a technical translation company". It has made all the difference in the world. Thank you, Marian. Thank you, Erika.

Marian Schembari
Marian Schembari

As of right now, since all my clients are American, I'm only dealing with US taxes. Thank GOD. But if I get a permanent job here and/or land Kiwi clients then I have no idea what to deal with!

Nathalie Lussier
Nathalie Lussier

What a great post! I spent 4 months traveling Asia and trying to maintain a semblance of a blog and it was tough. I actually prefer the settled life myself, maybe it's my roosting instincts kicking in. But I totally love travel and am so happy you got to experience London and now NZ! I think it's one of those silver lining things we're all told are so special. :)

Kirsten
Kirsten

Ah, so you're with Telecom NZ, then. There are better telecoms companies who don't cut your speed, but charge you a bit more, but no unlimited BB. This is a country that still advertises Dial-up on the TV!! But apart from the tech side of things, a fabulous place to live. I can help with your adventures beyond your suburb! So many adventures to be had.

Trudy
Trudy

YES! Thank you for cutting through the crap, explaining the truth, having perspective but still letting readers know that this can be an option with preparation and information. I appreciate this post because let's be honest, some minimalism, location independent, expat, and other popular trigger word blogs are...kinda full of ish. Conversely, plenty of "real job" traditionalists are full of crap as well. Again, great post. Great.

Austin Wulf
Austin Wulf

If I had the money, I'd love to live outside the States. At this point, though, I have a feeling my fiancée and I won't go much farther than sunny California--which is alright by me. Great post!

Henry Lee
Henry Lee

Marian, your tweet fairly "compelled" to come on over here to Erika Napoletano's blog, and to your guest-post which was an eye-opening read! Thanks to you both!

Sarah
Sarah

Re #4: Paypal is fine up to $400. Beyond that, think bank transfer and shop around to find the best deal. Other than that, I no longer try to explain to family and friends that my interpreting assignments are *not* vacations or why I can't tell them a thing about the exotic locales (airport hotels most of the time) I travel to.

Chelsea Talks Smack
Chelsea Talks Smack

I was location independent for 4 years, then took a job for 6 months where I wasnt- NOW, I'm back on the location independent track- while I AM going to Ireland for three weeks to "escape to a cottage," etc...you're totally right about the above list- it's not east finding a remote cottage in Ireland with WIFI. I found it, but it took some digging- also, time changes, money (I also have nice parents depositing checks...etc.) It isn't all glamorous, but TOTALLY worth it.

Jasmine@EatMoveWrite
Jasmine@EatMoveWrite

I agree. As a freelancer, I work a whole heck of a lot more hours than I ever did working in the "real world." Although, I will admit that I wouldn't mind trying my hand at that New Zealand. I know you say it's not all it's cracked up to be, but ... well... I don't believe you!

Kimberly Gunn-Stone
Kimberly Gunn-Stone

I've been telecommuting exclusively for three years for a major financial institution and I love it! I just bought my dream home 7 hours away where I can live 1/2 of the year and still work for the same company. For me telecommuting is the #1 benefit of having this job.

J
J

People think Freelancers walk around in their underwear all day and smoke pot and *maybe* write 500 words. The truth is, I worked harder as a Freelancer than I do now that I'm employed by somebody else...

Angel K
Angel K

I recently posted on facebook that since I now work for myself, people constantly ask me "so what DO you do all day?!" My self employed photographer friend messaged me back the following... I had a good friend who's currently enjoying two weeks off while in between jobs say, "Now I can just hang out and live your life for a couple weeks!" I almost choked. I like the past tense of "HAD a friend."

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

Enlightening! I work from home (in dumpy ol' Denver, CO) so a lot of people assume I don't do anything all day. I try to do the co-working/ cofficer route, but even in this modern age, places still can't get their wifi working properly. And in America no less! How is this possible? We have the Verizon "Can You Hear Me Now?" guy! Either way, you seem to be making it work. Congrats to that.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

Wow! You live in my favorite country. Always wanted to go there. That's quite a dark overview of working abroad. But I understand you want to set the record straight, there are a lot of people ou there speaking of LIP as the next best thing after winning the lottery. I have been doing this all my life from hell-holes (read desert in southern Sudan) to 5 star hotels and true it's not always easy but it sure beats working in a cubicle with some guy/gal on an ego trip dumping more work on your desk at 5pm on Friday. You are right there is a big difference between becoming and expat and being a traveler. Mainly, work. #4 is a pain but as a consultant I ask for some cash upfront, it keeps everyone happy. Paypal is a pain but still the fees are less than bank transfers. Why don't you open an account in NZ? You are so right about #1, we are freaks. But mostly fulfilled ones. Cheers Marian, enjoy Kiwi land.

Cortney Jacobs
Cortney Jacobs

nice post! Good info that I had been wondering about myself. Wonder what the broadband is like in Costa Rica...

The Redhead
The Redhead

And sometimes what makes us happy isn't glamorous. It just is. Thanks for stopping by and as a patron of guiding services like yours, I get what you did and thank you for it!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Oh....this is sexy to me, Michelle. Can you send me an email with the details? PLEASE?!

The Redhead
The Redhead

This makes me laaaaaaaaaaaaaugh! So true!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Marian did a great job of depicting a real "day in the life" of those of us who are Location Independent. A high five in her direction.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Sometimes my rooting instincts keep popping up as well. Now is one of those times while the location for roots is...indeterminate :)

Marian Schembari
Marian Schembari

LOL. Yes, we're with Telecom. Lame, lame, lame. Please DO help with my adventures abroad though. I love getting "favorite places" from people who live here, so I'd love any tips or things to do! My email is maschembari at gmail.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Why, thank you for stopping by, Henry!

The Redhead
The Redhead

I agree completely! Owning your own day means twice the responsibility, especially with no one but YOU saying where you need to be and what you need to be doing...

The Redhead
The Redhead

My answer to that question? "I fucking WORK. What do YOU do?" ;)

Marian Schembari
Marian Schembari

Not a dark picture, just an honest one. Like I said, I definitely recommend it, I just think people should go in with their eyes open. And also like I mentioned, I DID open up a bank account here. Thing is, my network and clients and referrals come from the States so they pay me in American money with American checks. T not o get said checks not only mailed over here but deposited? That would be more effort than it's worth.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

Yes I agree eyes wide open. I only work with wire transfers for US clients, cheques take about 6 months to clear !:)

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grant Griffiths, Shelly Kramer, RedheadWriting, Bre Roz [Web Design], Leigh Haugseth and others. Leigh Haugseth said: Interesting perspective… The Truth About Location Independence http://t.co/TAjYYrF via @RedheadWriting [...]

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  6. [...] US expat Marian Schembari, being location independent is not always the cure to all your cubicle 9-5 ills. If you think that [...]

  7. [...] month ago, US expat, Marian Schembari wrote The truth about Location Independance, read it if you are planning to head off with your laptop for only baggage. If you wonder how to do [...]

  8. [...] of time out of the house working at coffee shops and libraries.Not in New Zealand.Not only did I quickly discover coffee shops here don’t have free wifi, but the general internet is total crap. Not only [...]