Masterclass: Freelancing in Tinseltown- make sure you charge $400 a day

Fancy plying your trade in the US of A? It is possible with careful planning and a bit of luck, freelancer Julie Moult writes from Los Angeles.

I'd had itchy feet for some time before the grey London day in October 2009 when I boarded a Los Angeles-bound plane, having never been to California before.

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After nine exhilarating Fleet Street years, first as a news reporter at The Sun and later at the Daily Mail, I longed for a change of scenery – even though the thought of freelancing gave me sleepless nights.

If you too are harbouring a dream of crossing the Atlantic with pen and notepad in hand, take note – it hasn't all been plain sailing. But three years on, I can say with certainty, it has been worth the effort.

Firstly, you need an I visa to allow you to work in America. If you haven't already got one in your passport, check out the US Embassy website and see if you qualify. Don't think you'll be filing to the New York Times or People Magazine however – working for a US company could see you booted out of the country.

Next, pick your location. The major metropolitan areas see the most action but are also where you have the most competition. NY, LA and Miami are all well covered. But less so Chicago, Seattle and Dallas. Keep in mind the time difference. If you get to your desk at 7am in LA, it is already 3pm in London and most news editors will use someone on the East Coast who can get going that much earlier on a breaking news story.

So if you choose the West Coast, be prepared to generate your own work and widen your expertise.

I had been a news reporter my entire career, but this week I won an award for a showbiz feature I wrote for the women's magazine Fabulous.

Hopefully you've saved some money. Have at least £15,000 for start-up costs and to see you through the first few months.

Opening a bank account here is easy and necessary. Getting a mobile phone, a car lease and cable TV may prove harder when you've just landed in the country with no financial history – so bring a copy of anything that proves you are solvent.

Look into health insurance before you touch down. You'll quickly get misty-eyed about the NHS when you see how things work over here. Factor in £120 a month for a policy for the basics.

Contact the US correspondents and introduce yourself prior to arriving. Make sure all your colleagues and former colleagues in the UK know your plans.

The work they give you will be crucial as you get a foothold in your new patch. Finding a good British photographer made the world of difference to me. Step forward John Chapple who with 15 years experience in the States, knew everything I didn't. Set your fee in line with your competitors.

Expect to earn $400 a day. Undercutting may make you popular with news desks but it won't with your fellow hacks. And finally, don't be over-reliant on a small number of outlets. Last year when the News of the World closed suddenly, a lot of us had a gaping hole to fill. It was a wake-up call.



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