I’m an Australian freelancer and decided to travel Europe. I’m a location-neutral freelancer, meaning I’ve always done my work off-site anyway. So being in Australia or overseas doesn’t impact my clients at all.

Freelance copywriter James Mawson, of Handsome Genius

So, I write to you from Berlin, where I’m enjoying a second summer, a first class transit system, an excellent work/life balance, and a front row seat on a whole ‘nother piece of planet.

Was this as simple as buying a plane ticket and bringing a laptop? Nearly. Here’s the deal:

On paper, with everything from cathedrals to street festivals there to distract you, work would suffer.

In truth, it’s been far easier to set aside the time in a foreign capital than it was in my lounge room.

Having an office definitely helps. For me, the greatest value of a coworking space is not the internet speed, microwave and coffee facilities, or even mystifying the natives by trading cricket banter with expatriate subcontinentals. It’s how much it improves your focus.

Sure, I’ve skipped some work days to look at forests and buildings. As a big believer in getting away from the screen the moment it’s not genuinely productive, I’m not beating myself up over that.

Still, it’s only been four days off in three months. If you’re completely undisciplined, maybe you’d take many more – but that would be true anywhere.

Handling work half a world away

Unlike the time I freelanced from Bali for a month, I am now a full eight hours behind Australia’s eastern states.

For someone who mostly writes documents and emails, that’s really not that big a deal. It definitely places more pressure though on communicating efficiently. If things have to go back and forth a few times, half a week can disappear.

Slack conversations and video conferencing are more difficult. That means scheduling things for 9am here, which is 5pm in Australia. It would be nice to offer an 8am meeting so they can finish work by 5pm, but Germany is fairly traditional about working hours and the office doesn’t open until 9am.

If you’ve handled overseas clients from Australia before, you’re already used to all of this.

There’s also your Australian phone number to think about. Even if you rarely handle customers by phone, you’ll still need it whenever the bank sends you a verification SMS and so on.

If you’re only here a month or so, it might be easiest just to pony up for global roaming. For any longer length, you’ll probably want a European SIM card. Happilly, EU rules mean you can use these anywhere within the EU for no extra cost.

You’d think by now there’d be some fancy pants service to handle your Aussie number through an app. Sadly, the state of the art solution is still to juggle SIM cards like a schmuck.

This can be done very cheaply. $5 of credit on ALDI prepaid lasts for 365 days if you’re not using it, with no charge to receive SMS messages.

Visas schmisas

Australian passport holders are automatically granted 90 days visa free travel on arrival in the Schengen area, which covers most of continental Europe.

Unlike the “blind eye” system that operates for traveling freelancers in much of Asia, you’re officially granted very permissive terms for business activites. Touring musicians even play shows on these things. The one thing you definitely can’t do is work a job.

So what’s the downside? Your 90 days are for all 26 Schengen countries. When my time is done here in Berlin, I can’t kick on to Budapest, Lisbon or Prague.

If you can get an EU passport, you’re playing this game on easy mode – stay as long as you want. You can enjoy similar rights if you are married to an EU citizen.

Then there are working holiday schemes, which allow stays of up to 12 months. Most of these are for people 30 or younger; some allow you to be as old as 35.

Lastly, Germany and Czech both offer freelancer visas. These mean registering your address there, enrolling in the local tax system and, well, basically setting your life up there. That’s ideal if it’s what you actually want to do, but unsuitable if you only want a bit more than 90 days.

Your other option is to move on to a country outside the Schengen area. Within Europe, that means the UK, Ireland and a number of Balkan countries. So at the end of the month, I’ll be moving on to Bucharest, after some quick sightseeing down the Adriatic coast.

Finding a roof

This is largely a trade-off between price and convenience.

Hotels are about as convenient as it gets, but will get expensive after a few days. Rental marketplaces like Airbnb and Flipkey can be much cheaper, nearly as convenient, and are trusted platforms you can use from overseas.

Next down the list are the real estate agents who specialise in fully furnished apartments for monthly rental to expats. This tends to be cheaper than Airbnb, though still over the odds for what the locals pay. It’s up to you whether you want to inspect it in person or roll the dice on it from Australia.

Every country also has websites (in Germany, it’s WG-gesucht.de) for anyone offering or seeking a share arrangement for a short or long time. This is what I’ve done and it’s worked out well. It’s only really practical to sort this out after you land though.

I’ve also met travelling freelancers who have rented apartments by Airbnb to see if they like it and then made a private offer to the owner to stay longer.

Cash flow

There’s no doubt about it: it’s expensive to live in Australia. You can enjoy a great lifestyle at a gentler cost of living in much of Europe – especially east of the iron curtain.

But in the short run, you face a lot of expenses up front: flights, deposits on months of accommodation, miscellaneous bits and pieces. That’s on top of the buffer you need to manage the lumpiness of freelance income.

Maybe you could try scraping by week to week – or flogging your credit card – but to my mind, to worry yourself this way would completely miss the whole point of doing this.

Wrapping up

If you’re at all interested in following along with my journey, please feel welcome to visit my travel diary.

Or how about you? Have you freelanced from Europe before? Are you planning on it in future? Leave a comment below!

James Mawson
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