Tips for surviving as a freelancer abroad

Dispatches from the Road, Expats Abroad, Featured, South Africa, Working Abroad — By on February 24, 2010 at 6:00 am

By Courtney Brooks
LG International Correspondent (South Africa)


Cape Town South AfricaFull disclosure before giving any advice: I’m not actually surviving as a freelancer in Cape Town. Before deciding I could move here I secured a few grants to be able to afford my four months without living on peanut butter and jelly, but if I weren’t making at least some money as a freelancer I would be living very differently. I believe that with enough dedication and penny-pinching it is possible, even if just for a few months, to live purely as a freelancer. With that said, here is what I learned while in Cape Town about making ends meet while working from home.

1.      Networking is crucial – My best freelancing gig ever, working for an international news wire in Cape Town, I got by hearing from a friend interning for them that they could use a writer in Cape Town. I was told they might have me cover a story or two but I eventually wrote about 12 for them. Keep your ears open and meet as many people in the field as you can.

2.      Any job is better than no job – I have met freelance journalists who write for newspapers and magazines for little or no pay, and then spend their free time doing completely random online writing, including writing press releases about fertilizer. Anything that pays is worth your time, but make sure you continue to do the work you are passionate about, no matter how little you earn for it.

3.      Take working holidays – If you are going away, even for the weekend, try to think of a way you can turn it into a story. This could mean a travel article, a political article, a photo slide show for a website, or even just a post on your personal blog. The most important thing is to always be learning and practicing your craft.

4.      Learn a new skill – As a freelancer you are likely going to have a lot of free time, so use it constructively. While in Cape Town I took a photography class and created a photography project for my university. I didn’t earn any money doing it, but left Cape Town with a new interest and useful skill I didn’t have previously, and something I can use in my future career as the multimedia aspect of journalism becomes more and more important.

5.      Learn to live like a starving artist – As a beginning writer and freelancer you are not going to have much money. That is just reality, and it’s time to embrace it. So learn to live like a starving artist: rent a tiny apartment, cook for yourself, have drinks at home with friends, and do free activities during the day, like hiking or hanging out in a park. Be sure to splurge every once in a while on something really good, like a concert, so you don’t feel too deprived!



  • kelly says:

    I had an adorable tiny flat when I was in Paris this summer. One room, hot plate, and a fridge that was about as big as my home printer. Didn’t get much work, but the frugal living made all of the difference! Thanks for the tips.

  • kelly#2 says:

    I kinda disagree with point #2. Doing things on the cheap isn’t a good business model. Whether you’re freelancing as a writer, photographer or a designer, many clients out there think people like that are a dime a dozen. Lets face it how many people out there call themselves a “travel writer” or a “travel photographer” just because they have a blog and a camera.

    If you’re serious about making a living as a freelancer you need to treat it like a business, and it’s impossible to run sustainable business over the long haul, deliver good quality and care for the client at low-ball prices.

    By taking jobs for little or no money you’re selling yourself short and probably losing money. Not to mention the message you’re sending to clients. You’re telling them that that’s all the work is worth, and giving them the impression that they can get away with paying the bare minimum.

    As Freelancers we deserve to be fairly compensated for our time, our education, our practice, our overhead, our gear, our licenses, our insurance, our taxes, our cost of goods sold and everything else that goes into doing it right.

  • Are you interested in doing a guest blog? Where are you traveling to next? Take a look at

  • Courtney Brooks says:

    Hi Meryl,
    I would love to! Unfortunately I’m not traveling at the moment and won’t be for a couple of months but I can write about South Africa, Cuba or Ireland! You can email me at if you’re interested.