Leaving Work Behind

4 Things I’ve Learned While Freelancing in a Third World Country

Written by Alexander Cordova on May 31, 2016. 21 Comments

A Venezuelan man holding up his glasses.In order for this article to make sense, I need to explain something. I live in Caracas, Venezuela – and as you might know if you’ve been paying attention to the international news lately, my country is in the middle of a delicate situation (to put it lightly).

How delicate? Well, imagine going multiple days without power, spotty internet service, lack of water, and other basic necessities. I’ve gone (and still am) going through all of these roadblocks, and still found a way to build a modest freelancing career.

While hopefully you won’t ever find yourself in a similar situation or environment, the lessons I’ve learned so far may still be useful for some of you, particularly traveling freelancers.

Let’s take a look at the four things I’ve learning living in Venezuela.

1. Always Have a Backup

This particular rule should apply to everyone regardless of their working conditions. It becomes that much more critical, however, if you’re living in a place where basic services have a tendency to, let’s say, malfunction on a regular basis.

When I say have a backup, I’m not just referring to digital file storage. In my case, constant and irregular electricity outages mean that I always need to be prepared for a worst case scenario. I’m always armed with power banks, surge protectors, a reliable mobile plan so I can use my phone as a hotspot.

Imagine yourself with a deadline looming. You’re stuck somewhere with no power (and no idea when it’s coming back), with a laptop running out of juice, and in a city where breaking it out to work in public is basically begging for it to get stolen. Once, when the local power outages started, I had to spend three days in a cheap hotel while power was restored to my block. Cheap hotels not being renown for their stable internet, those three nights were kind of a wake-up call for me.

Ever since then I’ve started preparing regular backups. I keep both a power bank and a smaller external battery charged at all times, and I set up a modest Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) just for my modem and router. This gives my computer time to sync itself to Dropbox (where I keep all the files I’m currently working on) in case the power goes out. I recently also got a membership at one of those fancy co-working places where everyone is part of some startup or another.

What I’ve learned from all of this is that while trying to prepare yourself for every single eventuality is a fool’s errand, a little bit of planning can go a long way even in the most unpredictable of situations.

2. Identify Your Weak Spots

In order to do this, firstly you need to identify the areas you’re most vulnerable in. For example, in Venezuela the main two problems I contend with day-to-day are power (which I believe I may already have mentioned) and water shortages. The first is, of course, critical since I need to be online all day long in order to work, and the second is necessary due to some of my more bourgeois inclinations, such as remaining hydrated, cooking, and showering.

Since access to water isn’t likely to be an issue for you (and we’ve already covered electricity), let’s talk about the other most likely problem you’re likely to encounter while working on the go: bad internet access.

I know people for whom internet cuts are basically a daily issue, and they don’t have access to an alternative workspace. For these kinds of situations, having a good mobile plan can be a lifesaver since there’s usually coverage in areas with no other internet access.

Personally, I keep an old smartphone at hand just in case I need a hotspot, which enables me to continue working until my internet provider decides I’ve suffered enough.

3. Budget Accordingly

Third World countries are attractive for freelancers for the same reason they appeal to retirees. Their emerging economies enable us to maintain a decent standard of living on a modest income.

However, a problem arises when people who aren’t used to budgeting start earning enough to increase their standards of living. After all, why would you take the time to shop and cook at home when you could be having sushi for lunch every day?

Naturally, this problem isn’t specific to just freelancers living in Third World economies, but it certainly affects us just as often. When I quit my last nine-to-five job almost six years ago, I went from answering phone calls to translating documents from home, and my income multiplied almost overnight. Being a young and brash 20-year old, I proceeded to be completely irresponsible with said income.

As if recovering from that experience wasn’t enough, Venezuela has topped the global charts on inflation for years now. According to Bloomberg, we have an annualized cost of living increase of 772%, and trust me – there’s no better way to learn about fiscal responsibility than to live through a near-hyperinflation event.

Nowadays, I’m in a relatively comfortable position compared to most people in my country, but I’ve still had to begin adhering to a budget in order to prepare for the future. That means identifying my needs, tracking my expenses, and setting aside money for emergencies.

4. Plan for the Future

A lot of people have a hard time dealing with the inherent instability of life as a freelancer. Sometimes payments will be late, sometimes you’ll part ways with great clients, and you always have to be on the lookout for new opportunities.

The thing that separates the best freelancers, though, is that they take control of their own situations through hardcore planning. They have backups, they know their weak spots, and they handle their finances responsibly.

Take my situation, for example. At some point while reading through this article you must have thought to yourself Why would anyone put up with living like that?  Well, even in the middle of a crashing economy, freelancing has provided me with the stability necessary to continue my education, and save money in order to move someplace new (hopefully by the end of this year!).

The great thing about freelancing is that if you know what kind of life you want for yourself and what your professional goals are, it can provide the same results for you too – as long as you’re willing to put in the work.

Conclusion

Emerging countries can provide a lot of opportunities for freelancers looking for a different way of life and cheaper standards of living. However, you need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before taking a giant leap into uncharted territories.

If you’re ready to get on a plane and experience working and living somewhere new as a freelancer, keep the following four lessons in mind:

  1. Always have a backup.
  2. Identify your weak spots.
  3. Budget accordingly.
  4. Plan for the future.

Does life as a freelancer in an emerging country sound appealing to you? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Image credit: tpsdave.

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21 Responses to “4 Things I’ve Learned While Freelancing in a Third World Country”

  1. Laura Ginn
    May 31, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I lived in Thailand for the first four years of being a freelancer. After living through some bad floods, in which my whole home flooded, the electricity was out for days, and we were literally living on stale bread, and having to use my last bit of phone battery (in the days before smartphones) to text my best friend in the UK and ask her to set up a holiday notification on my emails explaining what had happened, I realised things needed to change. I did the same as you: got a separate phone which doubled up as a mobile hotspot and delegated the management of my business to someone I could trust to take over in bad situations. Aside from a 3 day power cut when the whole of the country lost power a couple of years later, I only used to lose about 2 hours per day due to the thunder storms – which inevitably meant no electricity until they had passed. It was frustrating but it was the price you pay to live out there. I’m not sure I could go back to that way of life now, though.

    • Tom Ewer
      June 1, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Wow! In an odd way, it’s nice to see people with shared experiences – of course, nobody wishes a poor experience on anyone, but it’s all subjective. 🙂

    • Alexander Cordova
      June 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      You know, delegating the management is a great idea. My work is a little more hands-on, but I’m thinking I could provide a friend with access to my work email for emergency situations.

      Thanks for the idea, Laura!

  2. Elvis Michael
    May 31, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I spent the first 10 years of my life in the Dominican Republic. All these things you mentioned are very familiar to my ears: Electricity, water, and other issues that made daily life really difficult from time to time. I know where you’re coming from 🙂

    I plan on visiting again next year, and it would probably be for a month. Considering I make my living 100% online, I have occasionally wondered, ‘what would I do if i lose internet access for several days?’ But your article has now put me at ease. Thankfully these days we are so much more equipped than we were 20 years ago, at least when it comes to technology.

    Thanks for a wonderful article, and best of luck over there!

    Elvis

  3. Kashif
    June 1, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Living in Pakistan, this so resonates with me, especially the point about power cuts as large part of my expense budget goes to electricity backups.

    • Tom Ewer
      June 1, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Hopefully this post can give you a bit of inspiration to plan ahead, Kashif. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Dennis Muigai
    June 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Being a freelance writer from Kenya has taught me alot about the internet and the real hardships of making money online. I don’t know whether its stupid or cute, but I never have a backup, I just give it all I can and stay positive. It has always worked for me.

    • Alexander Cordova
      June 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      It’s definitely something to consider! Depending on your situation my suggestions may be a little overkill, but at the very least you should regularly back up your work online.

      Just to put this in perspective, yesterday I almost lost several hours of writing due to my laptop deciding to malfunction. If it weren’t for Dropbox saving previous versions of said file, I would’ve had the worst night ever.

  5. Jason Morris
    June 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Great read Tom, as someone who is planning to spend time in Thailand this is a bit of a wake up call. I think I need to get a bit better prepared!

  6. Deevra Norling
    June 1, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Shoo. What an eye-opener on what some online workers face.

    However, not all third world countries should be painted with the same brush. I’m from South Africa and while this is a third world country, it’s fairly stable and well-functioning.

    Having said that, we have gone through several years of power outages due to our government not adequately preparing for the increase in demand for electricity. Hence, we ended up in the pitiful situation of not having enough supply to meet demand. This resulted in regular planned power outages – 2 hours at a time from one area to another. The situation seems to have stablised since August last year. But during the worst of it – it was really annoying. I don’t have any power backup solutions in place, so for those 2 hours a day I was unable to work. Instead of tearing my hair out every time, I just started taking it as my break and ‘down’ time.

    The one thing I will say about living in a third world country is – the slowwwww internet speed. It drives me nuts. As I am a freelance writer, Google is my friend and I often have several tabs open at the same time when I am researching info. Slow page downloads drive me nuts and don’t even talk about how long it takes for images to download when I’m looking up photos to include in blog posts. I believe I could get through my work so much faster if I had faster internet speed. It’s so frustrating. But oh well – the joys of living in a third world country…

    • Alexander Cordova
      June 1, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      You’re quite right, Deevra, I didn’t mean to use the term negatively. Believe me, I would be quite happy right now if my country were as stable as South Africa!

      Over here the fastest residential internet plans barely reach 10mbps and that’s when they’re working properly. Whenever I have to use a shared connection I may as well go get a coffee while pages load.

  7. Shea Laughlin
    June 12, 2016 at 2:48 am

    The irony, my wife and I did this to ourselves, on purpose. For the next 2 years we are traveling all across the US in our truck and camper trailer. On a day to day basis, we experience some of these very same issues.

    Will we be staying in a place with running water? Will I have cell phone, hotspot, or any internet coverage? How close is the nearest town for supplies or internet.

    Just in case, we have data backup solutions, multiple cell carriers, and multiple power options.

    So far, we’re having a blast on our journey!

    • Tom Ewer
      June 13, 2016 at 8:40 am

      It just goes to show that these issues affect people no matter where they are – none of us are immune!

      Good luck with your trip. 🙂

  8. Mary
    June 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Depending on your situation my suggestions may be a little weak, but I think one should regularly back up work online.

  9. Marcin Pietraszek
    August 19, 2016 at 6:50 am

    It’s really astonishing that although you’re leaving in such rough conditions you’re able to continue your work. Congratulations!

    On the one hand I understand that saving money for future is crucial, but on the other I don’t understand how money could save you in hyperinflation, or maybe you’re talking about different currencies, some other assets.

    • Alexander Cordova
      August 19, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Marcin, it can definitely get rough, but it’s doable with a little planning!

      Thankfully we’re not quite at hyperinflation levels yet – although we’re dancing on the edge of that cliff – so prices still haven’t lost their meaning. Saving in a different currency is key, though, maintaining savings in Bolivars these days is akin to setting your money on fire.

  10. Danny
    November 3, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Thanks for sharing this post about 4 Things I’ve Learned While Freelancing in a Third World Country. This awesome article has inspired me a lot which you have shared in this post. As I inform you that this useful post helps me a lot in my work because, recently; I have joined my new job in IT Sector and this awesome post inspired me a lot.
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