Writers love to freelance for a number of reasons — you can choose your hours, pick your favourite topics, and wear boxers and t-shirts at least 80% of the time.
For me, this career has mostly been motivated by my two great loves: literature and travel. But it turns out the two don’t go hand-in-hand as easily as you’d hope.
Earning US dollars and UK pounds while spending Mexican pesos sounds pretty ideal, but getting that money into your hands can be an absolute nightmare.
I’m a Canadian freelance writer, currently based in Mexico. Because most of my work is done for US, UK and Canadian clients, I’ve had to juggle all kinds of payment methods to make this business work for me.
Sometimes it’s like trying to extract money from an old shoe; other times I have to barter. For example:
“Okay, I’ll agree to rework the English side of your web site, but only if you build a big carpeted cat house for me as payment!”
“Okay, deal. What colour?”
When all the moons align, getting paid on the go is the best thing in the world. If you’re in search of a solution to the international payment issue, read on for an explanation of the most commonly used payment methods.
At first glance, being paid via a bank transfer is fairly straightforward. The client sends a payment, and in a few days that money you’ve earned is sitting in your bank account.
But wait! Where did these fees come from, and why has your money just disappeared into the digiverse?
Here’s how a bank transfer works:
- An account holder requests that money be taken from his or her bank account and placed into the account of another person.
- The bank needs the account details and in the case of international transfers, a SWIFT code. Simple!
- Here’s the catch – until that payment reaches its destination, there is literally no one at either bank that can tell you its status. It’s just… somewhere.
Waiting for an invisible, untraceable lump sum to make its appearance is stressful, and there are transfer fees that will reduce the final amount. Although bank transfers are usually successful, they aren’t ideal when you need your cash quickly.
Wire transfers are incredibly quick, and can get you out of a financial jam just in time. Unfortunately, you’ll have to prepare yourself to lose a good chunk of your pay to fees, and hope the client remembers to stop by Western Union on the way home.
Wire transfers are the same as bank transfers, except that they can be performed by businesses that are not banks. This is why you’ll see Western Union signs in the Post Office, or MoneyGram counters in the grocery store.
Transactions at these places are very straightforward, easy and super quick. All you need is your passport and the transaction number, and in some cases you can have your cash in your hands just an hour or so after the client sends it.
The problem with wire transfer companies is that the fees are stiff. Although sending the money is usually free of charge, collecting it will cost you upwards of $22 at Western Union and $15 from MoneyGram.
Yes, there are people still writing cheques in the digital age!
Usually, for international bloggers, this involves Bank One (home of the funds) talking to Bank Two (future home of the funds) and disagreeing. If that cheque is from another country? Forget it. Better just mail the cheque to your mom to deposit and transfer to you another way.
When a cheque from another country is deposited into a local bank, it takes one working week to clear – and that’s only if the currencies match. So, not too shabby for members of the European Union, because Euros make that match easy.
For all cheques deposited with a different currency than the local bank, however, it may take close to two months to clear.
PayPal is my go-to payment plan for 99% of my work.
I can access it from my laptop, receive payments from most other countries, and finally deposit that account balance into a real, physical bank in whichever country I’m currently calling home. The process takes less than one working week.
Fees apply when you receive money for services rendered, in which case you’ll be charged 2.9% of the total funds you received, plus the equivalent of USD $0.30. If you’re receiving payments from a content agency or some other kind of intermediary between you and the client, then the transaction fees may be paid by the issuing agency.
The only real annoying thing about using PayPal is the setup process. My original Canadian PayPal account managed to connect to my TD Bank account with virtually no problems. In Mexico, however, I discovered that I could only connect to a local bank with a specifically Mexican PayPal account.
When connecting the two, I faced a lot of confusion from local bank tellers, and it wasn’t just the language barrier. When my accounts were finally connected, I faced a further problem: a cap on the total amount of transfers I could make each month, due to my being an “unverified client.” The cap was a measly USD $500!
To work around that limitation, I was forced to set up a PayPal account for my fiancé, and then connect it to his regular bank account. Each month, I would send myself $500, and then send Pepe $500 via PayPal. Then, he would transfer that money to his bank account, and voilà, we had a whole $1000!
This was okay for me at the time, because my rent was only the equivalent of $274. Viva México! The problem was later solved by setting up an online credit card with Entropay – another long and complicated process.
Cash! It’s a wondrous way to be paid, and oh-so-rare.
To make cash payments happen, I’ve done writing for local businesses wherever I happen to be travelling. You can do it too!
It’s possible to find local, cash work in a near-infinite number of ways once you start thinking about it. For example, take note of all those badly translated restaurant menus and reviews you find in non-English speaking places, and offer to fix them up for a cash fee.
E-transfers via debit
Interac, also called debit and EFTPOS (plus I’m sure plenty of other country-specific names) is another method of moving money from one account to another. These all fall under the umbrella of e-transfers.
Interac is a service that comes with your bank’s debit card, meaning that when you make a purchase you can pay simply by swiping your card and withdrawing money directly from your bank balance.
In some cases, it’s possible to use your Interac or an equivalent service to get paid.
Your client will have to access his or her provider via phone or web, and request to send money to your email address. In this way, e-transfers are similar to PayPal. The difference is that Interac transfers are viable only if yours and the client’s accounts are both in the same country.
This is an interesting option for freelance bloggers in the United States. Bill.com allows freelancers to choose a payment option (your choices are PayPal, credit card or e-transfer), send invoices to clients and receive funds quickly. Bill.com will send the invoices for you if you choose, either via email or paper mail. Although I haven’t used Bill.com, it seems like a pretty good option for dealing with US-based clients.
Don’t panic, but things will still go wrong
As hard as you try, international and even local payments will still pull at your last nerves sometimes.
About a month ago I was set to receive a bank transfer from a UK client into my Mexican bank account. When it was late, I went up to the bank teller to ask what the deal was. The conversation (in Spanish) went something like this:
Me: My UK money transfer has not showed up in this account. I am worried that because your bank only has one central SWIFT code, it may have been transferred to Mexico City instead of here.
Bank Teller: What is a SWIFT code?
Me: Umm. It’s the code that every bank has so that other banks can identify it and send money? Yours is AZTKMXMM?
Bank Teller: Well I don’t know about that. Where is the money coming from?
Me: England! It was supposed to be here four days ago!
Bank Teller: Oh, well, you just have to wait longer.
Sadly, this conversation was not all that surprising to me. I remember a few years ago trying to take money off a Canadian credit card at a British bank, and they looked at me as if I were an alien.
Banks are terrible places full of people who only know the simplest answers to your simplest questions. At least, that’s how it feels when you’re waiting for a payment and nobody can tell you anything but “keep waiting.”
Make the process as easy on yourself as you can. Plan way, way ahead, always keep some emergency money in your pocket, and if necessary, have clients send money to your family or friends who can then PayPal it to you for further “processing.”
The truth is you’ll figure out your own special system for getting paid, and once you do, life is going to be pretty golden. People will ask you what you do for a living, and then gasp in jealousy at the response. “I want to do that!” they’ll say. “Tell me how to do that!”
And you’ll just smile mysteriously, go back to sipping your cocktail at 11am on a Wednesday, and realize you’re one of the luckiest people in the world.