A-Z of working abroad

Just about every journalist who might one day go freelance dreams of striking out and freelancing abroad. Here’s some information and advice that might help put some flesh on the fantasies…


Make sure that you offer as wide a range of services as you can to as wide a range of outlets as possible. A South African freelance and NUJ member who had based herself in Ashford, Kent, realised she could benefit by marketing herself to the South African publications for whom she predominantly worked with the all-encompassing slogan: Covering Europe from a South African Perspective.

Business cards

Some cultures pay significant attention to cards. If handed one by a Japanese contact, for instance, you show respect by properly studying it while holding it in both hands.

In countries with split linguistic loyalties, such as Belgium, you can smooth things along by having two sets of cards: one in Dutch and English, the other in French and English.

Contracts and deals

Different cultures can have very different attitudes towards negotiations and contracts. Some cultures haggle quite openly, others prefer to let an agreement emerge in some nebulous fashion.

Brits, for instance, tend to be embarrassed by direct references to money, although freelances have to overcome this inhibition. People from the US are likely to move swiftly into and through a negotiation, others may spend time on apparently peripheral personal chat. Some cultures stick to the letter of a contract; others will casually breach any agreement if it suits them.

One British picture agency, for instance, has stopped supplying photographs to Spanish publications because they decided it wasn’t worth all the effort that was required to be paid. On the other hand, Nicholas Inman, a British freelance based in France, and writer of some 20 travel books, says that you need to understand the business culture of a country.

Only twice has he had problems getting paid by clients in Spain, in a period of 20 years, and those were both with expat British businesses.

Developing countries

Local UN representatives can provide useful background plus pointers towards stories, says US-based freelance Ian Williams. British embassies can be forthright as well as forthcoming about local conditions.


Look out for information about who is paying what for what. An article in the American Journalism Review (ajr.org) by Deborah Baldwin, for instance, reveals that the San Francisco Chronicle pays its Paris correspondent $200 a story – how many of those would you have to do to stay alive?

The NUJ’s London Freelance Branch website, londonfreelance.org, has a section, Rate for the Job, where people anonymously list fees they have been paid, which gives a good start at seeing what British outlets have been paying.


English gets affected by the other languages spoken by people who are using it as a common tongue for working purposes. A whole range of semi-official Euro-English expressions have coalesced around the European parliament and EU institutions. Competences, for instance, means areas of responsibility.

You need to keep this Euro-jargon out of copy filed for British publications. Watch, too, for slang such as the parking instead of car park.

Freelance statuses

In the USA, court cases have sprung up questioning whether people not directly employed as staff reporters on newspapers – freelances; citizen journalists; bloggers – can call on the press freedom protections of the First Amendment.

The US National Writers Union, which represents freelance journalists, linked itself to the United Auto Workers because the newspaper staff unions refused to accept freelances as members.

In France, the word freelance seems to be going into the language because the French word, pigiste, implies someone relatively closely linked to particular publications who is paid for contributions published but is nonetheless treated rather as though they are on salary.

A-Z of working abroad continues next week

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