I recently had a conversation with a fellow freelancer about how copywriters can receive payments for work done with international clients. Since this is a topic other freelance copywriters have asked about too, I thought I’d share his questions and my responses here.
– Susan Greene, freelance copywriter
Mark: I’ve had several prospective clients outside the U.S. contact me for freelance copywriting work. I’m afraid to take on their writing projects because I don’t know how to get paid. Do U.S. banks accept checks from other countries? Do they charge extra fees for that service?
A European client asked me to quote my copywriting rate in Euros. But what happens if the Euro goes down in value? I could lose all my profits in currency conversion.
If you wouldn’t mind sharing your expertise, how do you work with international clients?
Susan: I frequently take on copywriting projects for international clients. Here’s how I handle things:
First, I spell out the payment terms; not the client. I get to decide how I get paid for my copywriting services. If the client doesn’t like my terms, than he/she will choose not to work with me.
Second, I quote fees in U.S. dollars. That’s how I’ve designed my rate card. If a client needs to know how that translates, he/she can find a conversion calculator online and do the math.
Third, I use PayPal for international clients who need copywriting. I don’t let them send me checks because a) they’d take too long to arrive through the mail and be processed once here, b) my bank won’t accept checks drawn from many overseas banks, and c) my bank charges fees for everything, and I’m sure processing an international check is their version of winning the lottery.
Mark: Does PayPal accept international payments?
Susan: Yes, but the fees they charge for overseas transactions and currency conversion are greater than for American transactions.
PayPal charges the following fees (approximations, I did some rounding for convenience):
For international transactions on PayPal, the sender puts the USD figure into PayPal and is then told how much to pay in his/her own currency.
Mark: Do all countries have access to PayPal?
Susan: Most of the countries from which you’re likely to get work have PayPal access. I have worked with companies in England, Portugal, Australia, Malta, Hungary, China, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai to name a few, and had no problem billing them through PayPal. As you can imagine, being able to receive international payments opens up a world of possibilities!
The exception is working with clients in African countries. Some countries, like Nigeria, are not serviced by PayPal due to the frequency of fraud, which is sad. Also many U.S. banks won’t transact business with African banks. Even Western Union, another option for money transfers, does not operate in Africa.
The financial situation definitely hinders businesses in those countries from participating in international commerce. I’ve actually lost several clients from African countries because we couldn’t find a way to get me paid.
Mark: So do you immediately rule out doing any business with clients in Africa?
Susan: No, not necessarily. There are work-arounds. If someone is based in a country not served by PayPal, such as Nigeria, they usually know that making online payments is impossible. So they often have a friend or Western business partner with a U.S. or U.K. bank account who will make the payment for them either via PayPal, Western Union or check. This system works fine as long as you get confirmation the payment has been made before doing the assignment.
Mark: Do international clients balk at paying added fees for an American copywriter?
Susan: Most of the overseas people who contact me recognize there might be a premium for hiring a U.S. vendor. They know you incur payment fees and have to pass them along.
They also know that those additional fees are worth it to get their project done in American English by a skilled professional copywriter. I usually opt for transparency and state in my quote how much will go to PayPal fees.
Mark: If one of my copywriting clients doesn’t have a PayPal account, can he send money directly from his bank to mine?
Susan: Most likely, yes. But you’ll want to check with your bank. I’ve found bank-to-bank payments to be a good alternative to PayPal. Until recently, you used to have to provide the international client with your full name, address, and bank account number, which is risky.
Now most banks offer a better way. My account is with Bank of America, and here’s how it works.
I can have my copywriting clients wire money directly to my bank. The bank has set up a special international account to accept those payments so I don’t have to give out my personal account information. Money can flow in only one direction — from an outside source INTO the account, never out.
Your bank can tell you the account number and provide something called a Swift Code and Routing Number, which you’ll need to provide to your client. Here’s an example of what I write on my invoice after the dollar amount:
See below for wire transfer details:
Bank: Bank of America
Bank Address: 10301 East Colony Drive, Orlando, FL 34751
Business: Greene Marketing, LLC
Account No: 8970 5516 0540
Swift Code: bofaus3n
Routing No: 046 019 593
Once money has been wired to you, you should receive a notification that funds have been 1) received, 2) verified, and finally 3) transferred to your account. You can also go online and look at your bank account to see if the payment has cleared.
The typical fee to your account for wiring is roughly $16, so sometimes it is a cheaper alternative than PayPal for clients, especially because it’s a flat fee, as opposed to a percentage like PayPal. So for a large amount, it may be the preferred method. However, be sure to state in your quote to the client that he/she is responsible for any fees incurred on their end.
I mention this because I recently had a client in Malaysia, and when he paid me, he included the $16 U.S. bank wire transfer fee I told him he owed. However, his bank in Malaysia “helped itself” to a $20 fee that came out of the money sent to me. In other words, by the time I got my payment, I was shorted $20, and it took a while to figure out why, as the client swore he had paid my full amount including the $16 fee for my bank.
He did eventually square with me, as we had multiple transactions that came up $20 short so I couldn’t just let it go, but it would have saved some tense conversations if I’d had the foresight to say, “Client is responsible for his own bank’s wire fees.”
Mark: Other than the fees charged by your bank or PayPal, do you charge international clients the same as domestic clients for your copywriting services?
Susan: I don’t automatically add an international fee for my services. However, one of the variables I factor in when developing a quote for a copywriting project is time. If my international client is hard to understand and his/her emails require me to decipher the meaning, then I anticipate needing more time for the work.
Also, some international clients provide just a few key points as background, especially if their English isn’t good, and then ask me to do more research on my own. Again, I factor that additional time for copywriting research into my quote.
Mark: How are international payments for copywriting services taxed in the U.S.?
Susan: They’re taxed the same way as payments from U.S.-based clients. Income is income, no matter where it comes from, and you do have to pay taxes on it.
Mark: Now that I fully understand the payment issue, I have one more question. Do you like working with international clients?
Susan: I do! I’ve met some amazing people and learned about some incredible businesses.
Similar to working with U.S. clients, some international clients are great; others are difficult. You can’t predict which ones will pan out because they often hold their cards close to their vest until they’ve established a relationship with you, as do some American clients.
However, you have the added challenge of cultural differences, which can make reading between the lines difficult when they inquire about your services whether via email or by phone.
Nonetheless, I’ve done a lot of international work, and it represents at least 30% of my income. Today, for example, I am writing a website for a jewelry company in England. This is the second copywriting project I’m doing for them. They are nice, easy-going folks who pay their bills quickly and appreciate my expertise. I welcome copywriting clients like that anytime from anywhere. Wouldn’t you?