Freelancing in another country

Having just returned recently from a 4 week whirlwind tour of the UK, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Holland and Hong Kong; I lobbed back into ‘lil old Adelaide with the very strong desire to do it all over again. But this time in a slightly less frenetic pace.

I’ve searched high and low (ok, so I’ve googled a bit) for answers to the following question: Can you operate your business from a different country to the one which it is registered in? More specifically, can you do work for clients in the country that you will be residing in? Even more specifically, can this be done either without a UK Visa (the UK is where I intend on travelling) or can it be done on the UK working holiday Visa?

I’m interested in being able to do freelance and temporary development & design work during my stay in the UK, but there’s still fairly large grey areas surrounding what I can and can’t do whilst there. And it’s grey mainly because I run my own business, and most business owners don’t normally move countries and still try and operate the same business. Which is actually a whole other quandary I currently face; what to do with my business?

Has anyone had a similar experience, or can shed any light on the Visa questions above? If so, I’d really appreciate your advice.

Please follow and like us:

8 thoughts on “Freelancing in another country”

  1. Hi Jason,

    Caveat: I’m a Flash developer, not an immigration law expert!

    I recently returned from 2 years living and working (as a freelance Flash developer) in London. I was lucky enough to get an Ancestry visa that allows me to live and work in the UK (and in their tax system) for 4 years, whereas the Working Holiday visa will allow you to stay in the UK for 2 years but only work for 12 months of that time.

    I went over with no particular plan, hooked up with an agent (to find me work), an umbrella company (to handle invoicing and payment) and was kept busy and well paid for the whole 2 years. I should’ve set myself up as a business (to avoid paying 30 quid a week to the umbrella company) but the convenience factor was VERY high.

    In theory you could definitely do what you’re describing – move there, get clients, do work, invoice from your Australian business and require payment into your Australian account. As long as you stay away from the VAT (tax) people in the UK this would probably be achievable… But recently the UK tax folks have been cracking down hard on contractors, and the majority of prospective clients (any mid/large organisations) will check with you/your agent to confirm that you’re not breaching immigration/work legislation. Although there isn’t a surplus of Flash talent it’s likely you’d be passed over in favour of someone who wasn’t breaking any laws.

    It might be different if you already have contacts who’d be prepared to fit in with your ‘Australian based’ system, but if you’re gonna be winging it I’d always recommend complying with the law – the biggest reason isn’t even work related… Deportation can be extremely depressing if you’re having a great time travelling, or if you’ve met that ‘someone special’ over there! 🙂

    For a definitive answer, contact the British High Commission – I live in Canberra and they were extremely responsive over email and phone.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks very much for the response Chris. Lots of good info there.

    Can I ask you a few more questions.

    Did you get a national insurance number when you were over there? How long does this take?

    Did you ever do any work for clients back in Australia while you were living in the UK? This is my main quandry at the moment, and I don’t really know who to call or email to get answers about this. My accountant is probably a good start, but as its such a unique situation I’m not sure they’d have particularly useful advice. Similarly ringing up the ATO or emailing HMIR would probably end up with people collectively shrugging there shoulders.

    And you mentioned umbrella companies, can you explain a bit more about them? The Visa I applied for precludes me from setting up a company, and I don’t think UK clients would be that keen to pay into an Australian account (as this would cost them to do so) – so other than PayPal (which has its downsides as well) I guess I can get a UK bank account and get them to EFT directly into that. I have an Australian business bank account, but am guessing a personal one would be ok to receive funds into while in the UK.

    Thanks again for any assistance you can render.

  3. Hi Jason,

    I should’ve got a ‘proper’ NI number after I’d been there a month, but they give you a temporary one by default and I never got around to getting the proper one. Other folks I know got one though – you get a number to call (from First Contact, I totally recommend them!) and arrange an appointment at a the first available NI office. You show up, sometimes need to wait a few hours, they ask for some details and then 6-8 weeks later you get your number in the mail. Probably the biggest hassle is taking 1/2 a day off for the appointment.

    I did do a couple of small jobs for Aussie clients while in the UK, but I just treated them as though I were still in the country. I emailed, spoke on the phone, delivered and invoiced the final files the same as I would’ve had I been living in Australia. The only difference was that I got a much lower rate per hour than I was making in London at the time. When I left London last July Flash devs with solid OOP AS2 and a decent folio were getting 300-350 pounds per day. Elite Flash devs were getting 400-450 per day (but that was generally regarded as unusually high). At that money it just doesn’t make as much sense to be working for Aussie dollars! 🙂

    If your visa doesn’t allow you to set up a company then I’d strongly recommend the ‘umbrella company’ path. If you’ve ever contracted through an agency in Australia there are very similar systems in place here. First, your agent finds you the work (I completely recommend Sean Johnston at GCS mailto://, he was an excellent agent for the 2 years I spent in London and unlike most Flash agents actually knew his stuff, and his clients, very well). He takes a percentage of your daily rate. Then you set up with an Umbrella company. They get your NI number, bank account details (you can set up the bank account through First Contact, and you’ll definitely need a bank account before you can rent anywhere to live by yourself) and the details of your employer, and they invoice on your behalf and apply the correct tax/NI etc. It takes ALL the bother out of the process. I used ‘Giant’ – – they charged me 30 quid a week to manage the process and they have an excellent online system that lets you see all stages of the process. They’re also very diligent about staying within the frequently changing laws – the UK government is cracking down hard on fraudulent contractors and they have so many clients they can’t afford to be on the wrong side of the law.

    I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying to manage your UK funds through an Australian bank account. Day to day UK life relies heavily on EFTPOS and credit cards, and if you’re doing those transactions on an Aussie card you’ll be charged between $5 and $10 every time you use it. It just ain’t practical.

    I think that covers your questions… The next thing you should do is check out First Contact (url above), and then write a short note to Sean Johnston (email also above) with your CV and ask what kind of day rate you might get and what the work climate is like currently. Tell him I said hello (I’m definitely not getting any commission or finders fee, I just got on really well with him!) Then you just need an airline ticket! 🙂

    Good luck, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the big smoke!

  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for all your suggestions so far, it really is appreciated 🙂

    I leave for the UK next Tuesday (yikes!) and am wondering about the ease of getting a back account and some type of Visa debit card when over there. Do you mind shedding some light on how you ran your finances when over there? Obviously using my Australian credit and key cards is going to get very expensive very quickly, and I don’t really want to take oodles of Pounds over there so am wondering if you’ve got any suggestions?

    Also, I’ll be based just out of Cambridge for about 6 months (I’ll be playing cricket up there 😉 I’ll endeavour to get my new web site finished and my resume updated so I can chase some more IT work from local companies. Obviously this will probably impact on the amount of Flash work that is available, but as far as I can ascertain Cambridge is a pretty tech savy place with a fair bit of IT work going on.

    If anyone else has further advice or stories to tell, please don’t be shy.

  5. Hi,

    Let me just say that you have to be very careful with these umbrella companies because the Inland Revenue are looking in to the dispensation they offer to contractors.

    I opted for a genuine self-employment route via a service provider who only offers an invoicing service (self-employed) so noway can there be any doubt as to your status and no nasty surprises from the Inland Revenue a few years down the line.

    These are the guys I used I did not have a problem with them and I used there service for 3 months..

    Hope this helps you guys out.


  6. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the reply.

    My Visa doesn’t permit me to start up a business in the UK, so I’m not sure that the option you’ve recommended will work for me. Besides, provided the Umbrella company is paying the tax on my behalf to HMR I’m not sure I see how there can be any issues? Care to elaborate on why you think they’re could be an issue?


  7. Hi Jason,

    Right, you can still get benefits from contracting without having to set-up a business.

    The reason I mentioned about umbrella companies is that the Inland Revenue are currently reviewing all the dispensations, which are being offered by various umbrella companies because the expense has to be actually incurred otherwise you are receiving something you, should not be claiming.

    The consequences of over claiming expenses is that if you ever get an investigation in to your earnings they will scrutinise every claim you have made and if you have over claimed they will deduct the expense and tax you on that amount plus interest therefore if I was you I would keep all receipts for anything you purchase just in case.

    If you go self-employed you won’t have any problems at all because you will declare all or income at the end of the tax year via a self-assessment and you will be able to claim far more expenses than that of a umbrella company.

    Hope this helps.


Leave a Comment