Can You Really Work Overseas as a Freelance Translator?

Can you really work overseas?

Let me tell you, freelance translators are lucky.

We can do our job from anywhere in the world. We only need one thing.

Internet access.

As long as we have a good internet connection, we can do everything a freelance translator needs to do to be successful:

Still, some people can’t believe it.

Many of us have been programmed to believe that we have to stay in one place. That we need possessions that tie us down, like house/car payments, big expensive toys, a yard that we have to take care of every week.

It takes a mindset shift to make the change from that way of thinking to understanding that it’s OK to get up and leave.

It’s not easy to sell what you own, move, and work overseas as a freelance translator somewhere else, whether in a different state or a completely different country.

But it is doable. It takes a leap of faith and a strong belief that you will succeed plus a little bit of planning.

10 Benefits to Wanting to Work Overseas

Before we get to the planning phase, though, let’s look at some benefits to wanting to work overseas as a freelance translator.

1. Cost

One of the biggest benefits to wanting to work overseas is the ability to choose where you want to live. And you can make that choice based on the cost of living of that particular place.

There are plenty of places where you can have a high quality of life for a lot less money than you would in the United States. By choosing where you live, you can make your money stretch farther and you don’t have to make as much to live like you want.

2. Convenience

When you work overseas, your level of convenience can often go up. In many places you don’t have to worry about things like owning a car or having to drive everywhere. You can walk to the corner store to get groceries. Take the bus if you need to go anywhere further than walking distance.

Sure, there are some things that will be more difficult than back in the U.S., but there are definitely some things that will be much more convenient.

3. Life Satisfaction

Stress. We all face it at some point or another. Some of us let it get to us more than others. The thing about stress, though, is that it is often a result of our environment.

When you work overseas, you change your environment. There is always a chance that the change of environment could be more stressful to you. But the greater chance is that the new environment will actually be mentally stimulating, opening your eyes to new possibilities and additional forms of joy that you haven’t experienced previously.

4. Job Opportunities

When you work overseas, you will have more opportunities to find freelance translation jobs. It’s one thing to find jobs online. But what about all those local companies and businesses that need translation work but don’t want to hire someone across the globe? It’s easier for them to hire a local person to do the work.

That’s where you come in. As you get to know the businesses in your new locale, you can offer your services. And for better or worse, you’ll stick out and be able to open doors that might be otherwise closed to local translators.

5. Knowledge/Language Acquisition

There is nothing better than living in the source language country to improve your knowledge of the language. You could study out of language books your whole life but you will never have the in-depth knowledge you would when you work overseas where they speak the language. That is a huge benefit.

6. Appreciation

The world is so unique. Different cultures are amazing. Seeing that we’re a part of all humanity is a great realization to have. It can be hard to get that, though, by staying in one place your whole life.

Moving overseas will give you a perspective unlike no other. It will give you the ability to appreciate others on a much deeper level.

7. Freedom

You want freedom? Then get rid of all your things here and go overseas. Stop being tied down by your bills and possessions. When you only have to worry about what’s in your backpack, you are free to experience the world around you. It’s an amazing feeling.

8. Understanding of Self

Everyone is in to self-discovery these days. Wanting to know who you are. What your purpose is in life. Where you fit in. What you should be doing.

The thing is, you can’t answer any of those questions if you haven’t lived. If you haven’t experienced life and everything it has to offer. Traveling gives that to you to some degree. But if you want it even more, move to a new location and live there for a year at least. Experience what that place has to offer and see how it impacts your life.

9. Family Bonding

If you have a spouse and/or kids, living overseas will either pull you apart or cement those positive relationships even more. Hopefully, it will do the latter. Without the comfort and familiarity of home, you are forced to rely on each other more. You have to be there for each other and help one another. Those bonds are bound to grow, if you let them.

10. Outlook

Your outlook on everything will change. Your perception of reality will change. You will grow in ways that you didn’t think were possible before.

The 5 C’s to Work Overseas

All right, so you’re convinced that you want to try this whole “work overseas” thing. That’s awesome! But I’m sure you have questions. Every person that has done the same thing you want to do had the same questions you have.

And basically, answering those questions comes down to understanding the following steps when before you make the move to work overseas. I call these the 5 C’s.

Connectivity

The most important thing you’ll need to work overseas is a good connection to the Internet. Years ago this would have been difficult, but now, even third-world countries have high-speed Internet.

You will be working remotely and need to be able to get online at a good speed in order to run your translation business. You can’t get around this.

Some countries do a better job of providing infrastructure to support high-speed Internet than other countries. You’ll want to make sure you move to a country that has that support.

A good place to start your research is the Wikipedia page: List of countries by Internet connection speeds.

Scroll halfway down the page until you come to the table titled Akamai Q3 2015 rankings. Here you can sort by speed or country.

For example, as of 2015, these were the top 20 countries ranked by average connection speed:

The top 20 countries in the world ranked by average Internet connection speed as of 2015.
The top 20 countries in the world ranked by average Internet connection speed as of 2015.

It makes sense to take into consideration the state of Internet wherever you’re thinking about working overseas. Now granted, you don’t have to choose one of these top 20 countries. However, you should make Internet speed a top consideration in your ultimate choice of destination.

Cost of Living

The next (almost equally) important “C” you need to figure out is the cost of living. What is cost of living?

Cost of living is the amount of money you need to maintain a certain standard of living. It typically includes basic costs like health care, food, housing, and taxes.

Obviously, some places in the world have vastly different costs of living than other places.

As a freelancer, your goal is to maximize your standard of living while minimizing the cost it takes to sustain that level. Some places will be easier to do that than other places. Luckily, the Internet is once again your friend in figuring out which countries and cities are going to give you the best bang for the buck.

And when researching cost of living specifically, there is one website that is really head and shoulders above all the others: Numbeo.com

Numbeo’s cost of living page is really where you want to start out.

There is too much information on the website for me to go over here. Suffice it to say, the information, which is all user-generated, is a great source for anybody looking to move overseas.

For example, here’s a map of the world provided by Numbeo that contains markers on major cities providing a rough outline of cost of living. Red markers means a high cost of living. Green means a low cost of living.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 10.45.48 PM.png

This is just one of the many maps you can generate on their website. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Criminality

Venezuela might have a low cost of living index, but I would never want to live there due to one thing. Criminality.

Criminality here refers to the safety and security of where you want to work overseas.

If your location isn’t safe, you’re not going to last very long because you’ll soon be spending all your time worrying about whether or not you’re going to make it another day.

I’ve been in that situation.

Stress levels significantly increase when you have to worry constantly about your safety.

Working and living overseas is already stressful enough without adding unneeded stressors.

There are a number of different websites where you can find worldwide safety indices. Let’s look at a couple of them.

Global Peace Index

The Global Peace Index, a scale designed by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, rates countries and regions based on their relative level of peacefulness. The ratings are based on 23 separate factors, including for example:

  • Number of jailed persons per 100,000 people
  • Number of deaths from internal organized conflict
  • Political instability

Here are the 2017 top 10 most peaceful countries according to the GPI:

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Portugal
  4. Austria
  5. Denmark
  6. Czech Republic
  7. Slovenia
  8. Canada
  9. Switzerland
  10. Ireland (tied)
  11. Japan (tied)

The GPI of course isn’t the only safety and security index around. Let’s look at another one.

Numbeo Crime and Safety Index

We have already looked at Numbeo data once before, when looking at cost of living. Numbeo data also provides great insight into relative crime and safety ratings for various countries and regions around the world.

One thing I like about the Numbeo data is that you can filter it in a number of different ways, such as by year, region, country, crime index, or safety index.

For example, if I filter on the safety index, I get the following top ten most safe countries:

Crime and Safety Index for 2017 based on Numbeo data.
Crime and Safety Index for 2017 based on Numbeo data.

SafeAround

SafeAround is yet another safety and security index you can check out before you start to work overseas.

According to the webpage, the rankings take into account various factors such as crime, road deaths, and terrorist attacks. However, there doesn’t seem to be much more information about where that data is coming from.

So you should probably take these rankings (as will all rankings) with a grain of salt.

These are the safest cities in the world based on SafeAround as of 2017:

  1. Denmark
  2. Iceland
  3. Austria
  4. Finland
  5. New Zealand
  6. Singapore
  7. Switzerland
  8. Canada
  9. Czech Republic
  10. Slovenia

Not a bad list of cities. But remember, safety and security is just one aspect of what to look for when moving overseas.

Communication

You might not realize this because it’s so obvious but here’s something to remember when you work overseas.

You don’t have to speak the language of the country where you want to live.

Would it be easier for you if you did? Definitely.

But that doesn’t mean you have to move somewhere where the language of communication is the same as yours.

However, it is something to think about before you move overseas to work.

Do you want to move to a place where English is widely-spoken? That will limit your choices?

What if you’re a Spanish translator? Do you want to move to a country where Spanish is spoken by the majority of the country’s residents? If so, you’ll have to be more selective on where you are willing to work overseas. For example, China might not be the best place if you’re a Spanish speaker looking to live in a Spanish-speaking country.

Let’s say that you’re an English speaker that wants to work overseas but you’d rather move to a place that has a higher percentage of English speakers.

Luckily, Wikipedia is a great resource for finding out that information.

There’s even a page titled List of countries by English-speaking population.

Here’s what it shows us:

Percentage of English Speakers by Country
Percentage of English Speakers by Country. The darker the shade of green, the higher the percentage of English speakers. This includes both native speakers and second-language English speakers.

You can find similar information for other languages as well. You just have to do a little research.

Or, you can forget about the language and go somewhere where you don’t speak the language at all. There’s nothing quite like being in a situation where you have to really put yourself out there to figure out what’s going on 🙂

I’v been there, done that! It’s awesome!

Conveyance

What do I mean by conveyance? Here I’m talking about transportation.

I hesitate to even include this as part of the list. The reason is because in most places throughout the world, transportation is important, but completely different than it is in the west where cars reign supreme.

Most countries I’ve visited are well served by public transportation. Cars aren’t necessary. You won’t need one.

You can get around wherever you need to go using one of three different methods:

  • Public transportation
  • Manual power
  • Cars for hire

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Public Transportation

In the U.S., public transportation usually refers to the public bus system, unless you’re in a major city like New York or Washington, DC. In that case, public transportation could include subway and metro systems.

If you’ve never been outside the U.S., one thing that might be difficult to comprehend is just how much people in the U.S. depend on their own privately-owned vehicles.

It’s not like that overseas. Many many people don’t own their own car because

  1. it’s cheaper to use public transportation
  2. there’s nowhere to park
  3. driving conditions are terrible
  4. long road trips aren’t as common

For most places that you consider in your quest to work overseas, public transportation will serve your needs easily.

Manual Power

I’m a cyclist at heart. But not a racing cyclist. I’m a guy that likes to ride my bike for the sheer joy of riding.

If this is you, working overseas can provide a great opportunity to do the same. Biking and walking are much more popular modes of transportation in many countries than they are in the U.S.

Stores are usually within walking or biking distance to residential areas.

Cars for Hire

Finally, you’ve got options for hiring drivers.

Here in the U.S. the choices are usually either Uber or Lyft.

But to the surprise of a lot of people, these services are becoming more and more popular overseas. As of 2017, for example, here are the places Uber operates in Africa:

Uber Overseas
Uber is all over the world. In Africa alone it operates in 15 different cities, from Abuja to Cairo.

But these aren’t the only taxi-for-hire type companies around. Some South American countries have a service called 99Taxis. BlaBlaCar is a company that is popular in Europe.

These are just a couple of services.

While more expensive than walking or taking public transportation, these taxi-for-hire companies do offer convenience so you can get where you want to go.

Conclusion

Here’s the ground truth.

It is possible to work overseas. You can be a freelance translator and truly live where you want. Sure, it will take effort. It will take time. And it will be stressful.

But it can be done.

Do your research, make a plan, and then go for it.

You can do it!


P.S. You need clients to work overseas. Find more by reading my book on getting more clients.

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