Getting paid as a freelancer working abroad via Upwork is not that easy.
When I moved abroad a decade ago in 2013 my only option for receiving any payment was limited to keeping my former national bank account activated and receive payments in my country of origin. With my debit card I was able to make withdrawals in the local currency.
Works like a charm and everybody is happy, or not?
It is not easy at all to keep an account active overseas. Online banking would be location independent you would think, but the truth is different.
I avoided the use of banking apps as long as I could, because I knew their would be issues with sms codes not arriving, calling to verify and geographic limitations to the download of banking apps.
For years I used this print codes the bank send to my correspondence address for online access. This worked until 2019 more or less. I had to switch to this system with a little key generator.
The devices that generate the keys are battery powered and sometimes simply fail. Visiting an office to get a new ones becomes a complicated mission when your are on the other side of the globe.
Same with the renewal of debit cards, and keeping the world wide usage enabled at all times.
I did not even mention, the system failures of online banking, and limited acceptance at ATM’s.
Here in Bolivia I always take cash at supermarkets, with a line of ten different ATM machines from various banks, so if one or two fail, there are other options.
If you manage to keep everything working, the bank can decide to end the service. This has happened to us with two different banks and I heard many similar stories from other expats.
The last one to shame in public is ABN AMRO bank. The Dutch state bank decided to cut all business ties with Bolivia for some reason, and we had to allocate the funds elsewhere. Not pleasant, when we try not to depend of only one or two banks.
Why I have Nine Different Cards
Bank systems and international links fail on a regular basis, the bank itself can default, many reasons not to be with one bank.
Sometimes the ATM machine is simply empty, or after salaries have been paid, the line can be long with one bank. Than it is nice if you can choose the next ATM.
What alternatives do we have?
Get a local bank account
Banco Fassil defaulted this year in Bolivia and all other banks are not able to distribute dollars. By law it is not allowed to spread rumors, but technically, what do you call it when a bank is not able to deliver your funds upon request?
In very minimal amounts it is possible to withdraw dollars, basically the amount deposited the day before, is distributed the next day on a first come first served basis and limited to a certain amount per capita. For the rest you can withdraw freshly printed Bolivianos. Hello inflation!
Continuing about how fun it is to have a local bank account, there are fees to withdraw money and to receive funds. Typically receiving money the sending bank charges 40usd in the USA and in Bolivia another 10 USD is charged by the local bank. So that is 50 USD per transfer.
Acceptable, but not ideal.
What more alternatives do we have?
There is Western Union, I have not used it a lot so I cannot tell much about their service. I guess the costs for sending money are similar.
Upwork promoted the use of Payoneer some years ago. It seemed like a nice alternative for freelancers living in third world countries (excuse my words, emerging economies) with no access to banking services.
I created my account and applied for a card.
It never arrived.
Failure of the Bolivian mail distribution. It is a chaos and mails get lost all the time and if they arrive it is many months or up to a year (!) later.
Payoneer went bankrupt so I forgot about it, but it was revived and in search for alternative access to cash I accessed my account that to my surprise was still active.
This time I requested a new card to be send via DHL, to be sure it arrives. I send some funds, paid my annual subscriptions and ordered the card.
Payoneer wanted to do an ID check, to make sure I am who I say I am, so I submitted a scan of my residence permit.
My first upload was declined, because the card was a bit old, so I polished it and made a better picture.
No worries, I submitted a high quality scan of my driver’s license.
Furthermore, they requested a selfie with the current date.
I submitted the best quality scan of my ID again and the requested selfie.
I start to get a bit annoyed here. Several days went by now.
I created a ticket with customer service, with no reply.
Again and again Payoneer did not accept the official government ID’s so I decided to use my Dutch passport to identify myself. That must work!
Result? Account got blocked and no possibility to appeal.
Seriously? I created support tickets and even contacted a high employee of Payoneer on Linkedin who promised to look into it, but nothing.
They ‘allowed’ me to transfer my funds elsewhere (50 usd costs) and did not refund my annual fee that was just taken from me.
The story with payoneer does not end here.
My bank transfers from two different entities to a Payoneer client were refused. It seems I am on a blacklist there. True story, no idea why.
The only thing I can think of is that if you are not living in your country of birth, that is suspicious by default.
This is a clear case were AI wins from human reasoning. Computer said no, and this can happen to you as well.
Other alternatives: Paypal, Wise, Revolut
We have PayPal, Revolut (not tested) and Wise are newer alternatives.
I certainly hope Elon Musk will make X the app for everything, including payments, because his little child PayPal did not grow up behaving well.
The functionality of PayPal differs per country. In some countries, such as Bolivia, it is not possible to receive money on PayPal. It is a one way app to pay using a local bank.
With paypal accounts created in certain other countries it is possible to receive money. I’m sure Elon never wanted it to be that way.
The foreign Paypal account has to be linked to the foreign bank, so in the end the dependence of the formar nacions bank remains.
Up until this year! Good news. I was able to get a PayPal business debit card. I can use it to directly withdraw cash all over the world.
That is an excellent development, because now we can get rid of the traditional banks with their high transfer costs and monthly fees.
Wise Payments: Get Your Wise Visa Card And Earn From Referrals
I had some approval issues with my Wise business account due to a bug in their systems, not a good start and I am still bit careful with my funds here, but so far so good. I managed to make wise payments and cash withdrawals, so I am a happy user of Wise.
Use my link to sign up for Wise so I will receive a referral fee. For every three people that start using Wise because of me, I receive 90 USD.
This referral program is available for you as well. As soon as you sign up you can generate your personal referral link and send it to your friends, or share it in your social network of choice, to receive some extra money.
The use of Wise is growing, so I think this is a nice opportunity to take right now.
Watch my video about this post on Youtube
Some people prefer to watch, so here is the video I made about why I have nine cards.
Upwork Agency Member Perks
When you join an upwork agency, you will receive your payments directly from the agency. In that case more payment alternatives become available. For example a IBAN bank transfer at zero costs to European banks.
Think about a credit card top up or even Crypto.
The problem with crypto is that it needs to be translated into cash if you want to use it to buy groceries at the local market.
I think US persons can already link crypto wallets with PayPal, but a practical crypto to cash solution is yet to become available on schale.
Good old cash. As long as the USD remain its value (BRICS coin, anyone?) what is better than to receive dollars or euros in your hand to spend to your liking?
In Europe there is a war on cash going on, to make the transition to a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) as smooth as possible. Interesting developments.
Last but not least I want to propose sweat equity as a form of payment. It is sometimes frustrating as a freelancer to see other people reaping the fruits of your hard work.
If you contribute with a considerable contribution to the success of a startup, should you not receive part of the wealth you helped creating from scratch?
Something to consider!
At least as part of the compensation it would be nice to have an easy way to offer sweat equity as part of the payment. What I have heard for example, is an increasing percentage for every certain number of hours put into the business.
Just another idea for a startup, would be to make equity-splits dynamic and easy to manage and automate with the click of a button, as easy as hiring a freelancer via Upwork.
All venture capital backed startups should have part of their shares allocated to all the people contributing to the success. Staff, freelancers, or agencies.
With my agency I would love to have all team members work at cost price, and get all benefits from equity.
I know, it sound crazy, especially because 9/10 startups fail. That’s is why I prefer to work with scale ups.
If that is something you would like to discuss or have an opinion about, do not keep it for yourself and reach out to me or leave your comments below.
P.S. Are you new to freelancing?
I think it is a good habit to link to other great resources about the topic you are writing about, it may give the algoritms a nudge in the right direction and if these are really very relevant links if helps you as reader too.