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Ask HN: Should I start looking for remote/freelance work outside my country?
61 points by BSousa on Nov 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments
Today, while browsing the job sites for my area I started to notice a, what seems to me, bad trend. Of the few postings that detailed the salary, all of them were offering around 1000 euros (1300 USD) before taxes for people with 2-3 years experience (searched mostly iOS and Rails). This comes around to 700 Euros after taxes or so.

While I know the economy and country (Portugal) is in the crapper, this saddens me. I actually am doing a bit better but even this weekend I met with a client to discuss their need for a custom backend which I estimated to be around 1500-2000 euros development (and I lowballed) I also just got back that maximum he was willing to pay was 500 euros.

I read here in HN that talent is hard to find now a days everywhere, but from everyone I talk to here, those are about average salary for developers. (A couple years ago a manager told me their programmers with 5+ years of experience were quite happy to earn 1000 euros after taxes)

Is there anything I can do/say to try and convince clients that good programming skills are actually worth paying for? Any book recommendations? Or (and for people that know the kind of mentality I'm talking about) the only way to actually start making some more money is to look only outwards, either for remote work to people in the UK/USA or create and market a product to those markets? (I already do a bit of freelancing like this but it's a lot harder to get clients)

If the market is bad for your area then you may be better off finding another area (be it geographical or skills.) Opening up your own dev shop is one way to open up your geographical area (remote dev) but that requires the extra skill set of being able to sell.

Those numbers do look pretty bad but I suppose that may be the reality of the market there. I'm a U.S. citizen living in the Philippines but there is no way I could / would work on local wages here. So, all of my work comes in from outside the Philippines.

In the meantime, there is probably something you could do with what you have there. Rather than looking at budgets being too low, instead look at what you can deliver for those budgets. A budget of only $100 is great if it's something which only takes you an hour or two to knock out. So, client needs a custom back-end for $500, then install Drupal and get as close as you can with add-ons and as little custom development as possible. A PHP based CMS may not be your idea of fun, but being flexible is what will allow you to survive.

Going independent means that you will have to build a brand for yourself. Position yourself as an authority and do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd. Build exposure by writing code which others will take notice of and use. Place yourself in communities where paying clients might be hanging out at. Branch out from your current skill base so that you can get exposure to things which paying clients are looking at.

For example, Wordpress support forums are loaded with people trying to get help with things they are working on, or looking for developers to take on their projects. Anything e-commerce is also huge because clients are looking for ways to build carts / payment systems into their sites. I see Twitter posts all day long where people are asking for help or looking for developers. As others have mentioned, Elance and Odesk are decent places to look also.

Don't get tunnel vision. Open up your eyes and get creative.

Now and again on HN threads like "Ask HN: Freelancer? Seeking freelancer? (November 2011)" pop to the top:


If you are unhappy with your pay situation then watch these threads carefully for better paying contract work. There is also a running google spreadsheet of contractors you should list in:


My company contracts with several remote/international HNers with great results.

I like that HN only occasionally has a jobs thread and mostly talks about other things. In support of that, I'll say that my offer is posted to the other thread and I welcome your email to johnny@cpap.com if interested or just to say hi.

As a spanish ex-freelancer I understand your situation, basically you have three options:

* Try to move to another country, in Berlin you can find a lot of startups and is not an expensive city.

* Give a try to Exquisite Jobs http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3244078 , odesk.com of elance

* Get a couple of small, cheap projects and do it really well in order to create a good portfolio to show to the next clients. Also you can collaborate in open source projects.

If you manage to get an regular income portugal is a nice place to live, I lived in Coimbra for one year and it was great.

The key to success as a freelancer or consultant is relationships. If you're not making a personal connection with your clients, you're just a commodity - and there's always a cheaper commodity programmer available.

If the market rate in your area is 1000EUR/mo then you can get above market rates by being an above market candidate. A track record of working for top International brands, launching successful products, being known as the author of books on the subject etc. However, these rates will always max out at a certain level.

Start creating your own intellectual property, get involved with communities where your target audience hangs out, create a brand around yourself. When you're "the guy that wrote the book on {$niche_subject}", it doesn't matter where you live and you can compete in the top end of the International market rather than the top end of your local market.

If you're a Portugese citizen, you can work anywhere in the EU, right? Why not take advantage, I say. Better, could you take higher-paying freelance work from Germany or the UK but continue to live in relatively lower-cost Portugal?

Better, could you take higher-paying freelance work from Germany or the UK but continue to live in relatively lower-cost Portugal?

Or, even better, take even higher paying freelance work from the US. With modern banking systems offering easy direct deposit between most western countries, it's reasonably easy. The employer just might need you to file a W-8 so they don't need to withhold taxes in the US.

I agree, Berlin or London are great startup hubs to look at. I'm in London and there's a great community and lots of people hiring but I hear so many good things about Berlin. Quite a few Silicon Valley startups are opening up offices in London so it's a good place to work for a valley company out of the valley.

The Berlin startup community is amazing, I lived there for 6 months this year. Check out http://maneeshsethi.com/blog/7-reasons-you-should-move-to-be...

I lived in Berlin for a few months some years ago and it's an awesome place to live generally. Plus relatively cheap for a city of its size and cool factor, especially if you get a place in the ex-East.

Amen. Given the current scarcity, any decent developer can easily find a job further north.

> Is there anything I can do/say to try and convince clients that good programming skills are actually worth paying for?

Try to diagnose the root of the problem. I see three possibilities:

#1: People don't want the services you have to offer. (There is a poor market.)

#2: People want the services you have to offer, but don't know about you. (You're having trouble finding each other.)

#3: People want the services you have to offer, but don't believe you have them (they don't trust that you will deliver for them successfully).

I would add #4: People want the services you have to offer, but cannot afford their cost (they trust you but have not budget for your services)

Such an overwhelming response. Thanks everyone! I'll try to reply to most questions here so they don't get lost:

a) About moving somewhere else, I've done it before, actually, between 18 and 27 I lived in Scotland, England, Germany and The Netherlands working as a software developer. They really they pay more but right now not really able to do so again. I have a kid on the way (found out 10 minutes ago that it's a boy!!!)

b) I have thought about setting my own shop, but between finding clients, supporting a house and taxes, it has been hard. Things should change beginning next year as I'll move to my own products or freelancing full time.

c) About opensource and github, inspired by some comments, I opensourced (MIT license) an old Mockup tool I was making for Mac before being hired. It is at:

https://github.com/BrunoSousa/wireframes https://github.com/downloads/BrunoSousa/wireframes/Wireframe...

I'll also open source a couple libraries for Mac and iOS but have to double check the agreement with my current company as part was developed for them or if not, remove the code that isn't mine (I started them before moving to this company)

d) To all that mentioned sending them an email, I'll be sure to do so by tomorrow. Need to update the resume as well.

e) Again, to all other posters, thanks so much for the info and suggestions. I'll take them all into consideration!

edit: I thought I had my email in my profile but anyway: brunomtsousa at gmail dot com

If you prefer not to move, there are many remote opportunities to be found on the net. It depends on what type of work you are looking for.

I've had great success freelancing on elance. It's usually not the most glamorous work, but in spite of what people say, you can get good clients there that pay a correct salary. iPhone development is in hot demand. Just don't start underbidding every one, you can't compete on price with Asian providers. It's a great way to add a little to your bottom line while doing the things that matter.

If you're looking for longer term work, I would go search for job boards in whatever technology you want to work. I don't have much experience there though.

In Italy salaries for tech jobs are higher, but still pretty low if compared to the US, UK or Germany (incidentally, that's why I'm working on creating a startup, even if personally I fare pretty well above the average) and also low if compared to some other jobs that require lots of skills.

I thought a lot about this situation, and I think that the fundamental problem here is that, for organizational, cultural and historical reasons, good or even great software can't give the same added value to businesses as it can give in other countries. As an example, efficiency here is often less important than personal relationships, and of course software con contribute much more to the former.

I don't know the specific situation of Portugal, but I guess the situation could be similar. If it is, working for other countries - either online or moving there - could be your best bet. If you stay there, though, you could also look for ways in which software solutions could add more value, and so be paid more - but this requires much more than sw development skills. I hope to be able to do that in time, but for now I'm developing for the international market (in my free time).

It's not easy to make money online, but it is probably much more profitable. A developer salary here with a couple years of experience is roughly $1000. I made $1500 this month doing some freelancing hours. I'm putting the remaining of my time on personal projects. I think, I'll be making $5000-$7000/month a year later. Probably not something crazy, but by any standards, above the 99% of my country.

Don't miss growth opportunities. I doubled my rates 2 times the last year and I'm still getting a few gigs every month. I'm working less and earning more. I'm developing more personal projects and the future seems promising. Don't try to convince people that don't value your work. They'll never pay you what you are asking for.

In the end, you are doing a favor for your country. You are paying more taxes, improving your living standard and the living of those who can now give you quality services.

Your English seems great so getting UK or US clients shouldn't be a problem with a decent portfolio and some sales skills.

I was recently researching contract development in London which seemed to range from £250-450 per day. Even at the low end of that you're earning far more than 1000 euros a month.

As an American who lived in southwest Spain for a year, I can say that the market down there is garbage, and that your clients will be friendlier and respect your skills more elsewhere. I left with enough personal and secondhand knowledge of bad experiences working in the area that I would never work for any Spanish or Portugese company. I know Americans there that love it but have a strict rule against doing local work.

The good news is that's still a wonderful place to live, and just about everywhere else pays rates that let you live the good life down there. Work your github, work your twitter, work your blog, and get remote work. If you're good, or even mediocre and professional, there's tremendous demand for programming talent.

You're not crazy. Your area is screwy.

Here's what I'd do. Take a couple of those low paying jobs - which are easy specs, and while you are doing them, focus some time toward making a product.

If you can't (or don't want to) do it yourself, there are many of us in the same position as you who would partner up.

Yes, you should.


1. You are in the EU, so the easiest way regarding entry requirements is to stay within the EU. The hottest tech hub is currently Berlin, the demand for good rails developers is huge. If your are an experienced Rails/iOS dev you get 600-800 EUR per day, Rails beginners get 250-400 EUR depending on the project and their negotiation skills. Berlin is very cheap to live, it's easy to find accommodation and it's very international -- people are very open. You get along with English, you don't need to learn German. Compared to London Berlin is MUCH cheaper and definitely more fun. Better infrastructure, higher accommodation quality for less money and the startup scene is MUCH more vibrant and alive than in London. Now is the right time to come over.

2. You could also work from Portugal remotely BUT first you should come over, be here for some time to make connections, to start projects and when people know you and got used to you, you can easily move back to Portugal, still pursue projects in Berlin, work via Skype, Campfire, Mail, Github, etc. with similar day rates.

If you interested in moving to Berlin and if you are passionate about building great software, I’d love to talk with you. If you don’t how to come and to live in Berlin yet, I could help fix that. Leave me a mail: nelpace (at) gmail (dot) com

Anyone else who is interested to come to Berlin and to get an easy entry to Berlin's startup and dev community can contact me as well.

If its 1000 Euros per month, I think you can do better if you start looking for remote/freelance work. You can try odesk.com or elance.com to get started with. As your portfolio starts building up, you can start charging more per hour and you will find potential clients approaching you instead of other way round.

I've found odesk.com to be heavily favored towards cheap labor, is that just because I haven't established a portfolio there yet?

I started doing part time (15 hours per week) freelance work on odesk around a year and half back. I was working on a startup and we had almost run out of our savings. My starting rate was 10$ per hour . (am based out of india). Currently I charge 25-30 $ per hour. So, if you work full time i.e. 30+ hours per week on a freelance project you can make more than 1000 euros per month.

Now, its true as your hourly rates go up you will have fewer potential employers on odesk. But the few employers who are willing to pay your rate are looking for higher skilled devs. for example, the current project i am working on on odesk, we have some really really devs who are ex google guys, MIT grads etc. And they all work over odesk.

And in case you reach a point where you are not able to get employers over odesk at your hourly rate, you can use youur odesk profile as portfolio to attract potential clients outside odesk.

Thanks. I have a full-time job and am only looking to freelance here and there, and I've had a harder time getting rates anywhere near my full-time salary "rate". I've used it as a way to get into different types of technology and create a portfolio, instead of a real income. However, I won't spend my free time dealing with a difficult client for relatively low pay - I'd rather work on a personal project for free...

Sites like odesk.com are fairly well arbitraged, with a sizable portion of workers willing to work for very cheap. Workers with a significantly lower cost of living can afford to take less for the work they do, bringing down the average cost. Great rankings and a good portfolio might help push up your potential project prices, but probably not significantly.

Well, one thing is that at least here in the U.S., its common to work on an hourly rate, so you set your rate and then maybe give an estimate of time but you aren't tied down to a monthly salary (which is especially important for a freelance project where the client may change the scope), have you tried this approach? That said, working remotely as a freelancer doesn't always provide a whole lot of stability, if you could move somewhere else in Europe where software development is more appreciated that may help your career, although you could try some of the freelancing websites to make some quick money, I know the average rate on some of those for a developer can be as much as $15, I think, so that may be more than what you can make locally

Sadly your manager did not lie, most people I have met in Portugal (which is also my home country) do get 1k eur/m gross. And they are quite happy with it because that's what most people get from similar jobs. They also don't seem to think much about it. The best I ever got was 1.5k eur/m gross.

I am now living in London and sometimes I look at the job boards, it usually starts at 2k gbp/m for 3 years of experience with rails. For iOS development I have seen much higher offers.

Check adzuna: http://jobs.adzuna.co.uk/search?what_c=iOS%20Developer&w...

Isn't 2k quite low? That is around 30k euro per year. In Germany you make more with an entry level position...

It's around 2.3k eur/m for the worst case scenario, more than double what he gets currently and the cost of living is London is probably around 1.5x to 2x more expensive than in Lisbon. It's enough for London but I should also note the website I linked to shows much more than that (around 50k eur/y average), I just like to work with worst case scenarios all the time. :)

Even 2k gbp is under 40k USD, and thats for 2 years experience and in London? thats a bit hard to believe that dev's get paid that little over there. You'd be hard pressed to find an entry level development job anywhere in the U.S. that doesn't start out at that.

Nah, it's nonsense, 2k is a starter salary in London, unless he's talking post-tax which is a bit weird.

2 years experience is a minimum £35K p/a (~$55k?). Still lower than America I think though.

Yes, worst case scenario and post-tax because that's how you do it in Portugal. But I should have made it clearer since I talked about gross wage on the same comment.

I'll insist on the idea that if you look carefully you can find offers at 1k gbp/m for entry level in London. I never talked about average, only minimum, and they do exist. Telling someone from another country that it will most probably get x gbp/m can be deceptive.

Also, check the Silicon Milk Roundabout infographic: http://theundercoverrecruiter.com/content/infographic-uk-sal...

Lowest salary for a junior developer of the startups that were on the fair: 20k gbp/y gross, around 1.6k gbp/m gross.

It depends what you do in America with regard to 55k / year after 2 years, I gravitated towards a platform / language that pays higher than median for developers as a whole so I got past that fairly quickly, but for guys who work mainly on the front-end or higher level languages it may be about the same, depending on location of course

What's going on there, or how is that possible, a happy developer taking 1000 euro per month. Is he working at home, or doesn't he have to support his family? What is the average earning of college graduates in Portugal?

I'm Portuguese. In average, a Computer Engineering graduate (Msc) from the top university in Portugal with 0 experience, earns about 1000 euro, before taxes, per month.

How does that compare to cost of living? What income percentile does 1000EUR/mo put you into?

Staying in Portugal or another place with a low cost of living and earning money in a place with high wages is a great position to be in - you can take advantage of arbitrage across the two markets and end up with far more disposable income than someone local to that market (who has to pay local rents, prices, etc).

Due to austerity measures, the cost of living is increasing quite a lot. Taxes are increasing on basic goods such as electricity.

There are actually a lot of people in a lot of trouble in the country, as they cannot pay their bills anymore. According to [1] (Portuguese data website, you might want to use Google translate), the average monthly salary for a qualified professional was 699€ in 2009. For high management, it was around 2.158€. The national monthly average was 867€. So when it comes to salaries straight out of college, I would say that 1000€/month is probably in the top 70%.

I got the chance to be an exchange student in Finland last semester, and I could see that over there, computer engineers are a lot more valued than here. Due to the austerity measures, the cost of living in scandinavian countries is not much greater than the cost of living in Portugal (we are losing regalies such as 50% discount on public transportation for students).

[1] http://www.pordata.pt/Portugal/Remuneracao+base+media+mensal...

That's outrageous. It's a (very) low salary for Rio de Janeiro and I always thought things were way better in Portugal. I wish things improve for you guys.

Thank you for the words of support.

Unfortunately people in my generation are not seeing a brief end to this. Emigration has increased by about 40% last year. And this is in a country where the public universities are the best ones, so the state ends up investing in people's education, but it cannot keep them in the country.

Also, low salaries in computer engineering are not the only thing wrong in the profession. I have heard countless stories of people working in consulting companies, having to do unpaid overtime work. Internships are also usually unpaid (and this is on every area, not just Comp. Eng.).

I am a senior student at the aforementioned top university, and I don't think I know anyone that isn't thinking about leaving the country (even if for a while, not permanently). The university's vice-president gave an interview for a national newspaper: he referred to this problem as "our brains are leaving the country" (and he meant not only students, but researchers as well).

Can I get your contact info?

I am interested in collaborating with other remote hackers from around the world, starting with email-chatting, on these aspects:

  - discuss experiences to get a better view of the opportunities available.
  - make concerted efforts around specific projects.
  - concerted marketing efforts.
  - or anything that could be useful.
My email is in my profile, for anyone interested.

I'm interested. Email Chatting is quite slow. What about Skype? My Skype id is in my profile (open for anyone)

also interested

Work with some code on github. With any luck you'll attract the interest of a startup or recruiter.

Be careful though. If they can get away with it, people will always try and get the most out of you for the least amount of money.

do you have a website/github with your projects? if not then I would recommend you to do so. Making an open source iOS library will also help you get recognition and will be easier for you to get gigs.

Just comparing how much you earn is a bad indicator,

You can probably buy more stuff with 1000 euro in Portugal than with 2000 euro in Switzerland or Norway.

Is this 1000 Euros per month ?

Yes ! here in Brazil we think as monthly salaries too... not annual like in the US.

Yes defo look for in e.g. US

is that per week?

Per month

Not that I'm trying to turn HN into a jobs board but if you're finding it hard to get freelance work, an email and a portfolio in your profile would help.

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