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Freelancing in Mexico: Should I let clients believe I am still in the U.S.?
Thread poster: Monica Davis

Monica Davis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:08
Spanish to English
Nov 11, 2009

I'm going to preface this by saying that I swear I saw a similar post on this before, but I can't for the life of me find it now. If an existing thread exists, please feel free to re-direct me to it.

I am a U.S. citizen currently living in the U.S., where I have a full-time (non translating) job. However, I've wanted to get into full time freelance translating for quite awhile. I have a Certificate in Translation (Spanish to English) from New York University, and have done extensive vollunteer translations for organizations over the past couple of years. I also used to work as a project manager for a translation agency, so I know the "ins and outs" of the translation business. However, I haven't dedicated myself as a full time paid translator yet.

After a two year long distance relationship, I am planning to move to Mexico this spring to be with my boyfriend. The most logical employment choice for me is freelance translation. I've already researched the implications of doing this type of work there with the Mexican Consulate, who assured me that I can live there on a tourist visa as long as I am getting paid in Dollars to my U.S. bank account, and my work is all online with U.S. agencies.

My question is this: on my Pro-Z profile (and in my resume, for that matter), should I list my "location" as Mexico, or maintain it as the U.S.? My concern with changing it to Mexico is that agencies in the U.S. will be less likely to work with someone based in Mexico, or, worse, will want to lowball me because of living in a country with a lower cost of living. I plan to charge around 10 cents a word, which I feel is a reasonable going rate for this language pair.

The time difference won't be a factor since it will only be an hour different from where I live in the U.S. The only issue might be if a client wants to contact me by phone - obviously I will have a Mexican number (although I think there is a service allowing you to have a U.S. number that directs to your Mexican phone). However, I don't want to be seen as "misrepresenting myself" by showing a U.S. location when I am, physically, in another country. But for all other purposes - taxes, bank registration, etc - I am still in the U.S.

Any advice, one way or another, about what to do? I really appreciate it!



Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dont lie Nov 11, 2009

You have to be professional and trustworthy, so you should be honest in all the information you provide.

Why you would think that a US agency would be less willing to work with someone in Mexico I don't know, fortunately most agencies seem to have a broad minded approach and what they worry about is the translator's work, not where they live.

Though I have to admit I don't know if they use a pay less if you live in a "cheap" country approach, though if that where the case I would think no translators in the US would get work because it would all go to the "cheaper" translators. So personally I don't think they do that, though I could be wrong.

You mention you worked in a translation agency, did your agency discriminate on location?


Laurie Price  Identity Verified
Spanish to English
+ ...
Omission isn't lying ... Nov 11, 2009

and what you do as a result of your personal life shouldn't affect your business relationships unless you have a full scale nervous breakdown or something like that. (I'm joking here, please!)

I don't think it's necessary to inform them about your move, especially if you plan on continuing to keep up your usual pace, etc. Your decision to make the move is based on your personal life -- they don't need to get involved with that, nor do they want to.

You didn't say where in Mexico you'll be going, but either way, by this time you can find plenty of other American English speakers there so that you can keep your English language skills fresh. I think that's more important than where you live. And I think that's one of the issues that agencies and clients are concerned about.

As you've done all the research regarding the logistics of such a move, my only other advice is to set up a Skype number where you can be reached. Personally, I find that the reception over Skype is better than the reception I have on my cellphone, either for local or long distance calls, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper, or free, if you Skype computer to computer.

Just one opinion. What does anyone else have to say?


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Where will you be paying taxes? Nov 11, 2009

Monica Davis wrote:
I've already researched the implications of doing this type of work there with the Mexican Consulate, who assured me that I can live there on a tourist visa as long as I am getting paid in Dollars to my U.S. bank account, and my work is all online with U.S. agencies.

If you're a tourist in some country, you may be "living" there but it isn't considered your home, even if you "live" there for a long period. If I go on holiday for several months to another country, should I change my location (in's profile, for example)? If you're on a tourist visa, then for all official purposes you are simply on holiday.

If you want to say that you live in Mexico but you want to create a non-Mexican impression in the minds of clients, you can downplay your home address and upplay the fact that you are a US citizen and that you are a US permanent resident (if that kind of classification exists in the US). You can also have a postal address in the US and put that on your invoices (or you can put both residential and postal address on your invoices, if you think that is more honest).

The big thing is to be honest. I agree with Alex that you shouldn't lie, and I partially agree with Laurie that omission isn't lying. The fact is that if you deliberately create a false impression, even if you never get caught out, then you are a liar... in a manner of speaking.

So... where would you be paying your taxes? In Mexico or in the US?

My question is this: on my Pro-Z profile (and in my resume, for that matter), should I list my "location" as Mexico, or maintain it as the U.S.?

This is a deficiency in the profile system that the staff seems unwilling to fix. You can't have two "locations" in your profile. Make it the location where you are based officially, not where you are based physically.


FrenchPhD  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:08
French to English
+ ...
Tell the truth Nov 11, 2009

Just tell them you're down there, but I'd also keep an address in the states so they feel comfortable with you.


Monica Davis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:08
Spanish to English
I will pay taxes in the U.S. Nov 11, 2009

Thanks for the advice so far. It is interested that some of you say I should be honest, while some contend that omission isn't lying and well I technically will still be a U.S. resident for all intensive purposes. I agree with both!

I will be paying taxes in the U.S. Sam - I see your point about technically being a "tourist abroad" even though my home base is and always will be the states. I may end up being in Mexico for one year, five years, or more! I just don't know yet.

Laurie - thanks for the idea about getting a Skype phone in number. I hadn't thought about that.

Alex - yes, when I worked for an agency, I distinctly remember my boss at one point looking over some translators I had selected for a project and saying "this person lives in XX country and is charging X? No way. The cost of living is so low there, and that is too high a price"....something to that effect. But then again, she was a crazy lady who I would not work with again so maybe I should not pay too much heed to that...:-)

All in all - I don't want to create a false impression (if, say, I list my location as Philadelphia and then a local agency contacts me and, I don't know, wants to meet with me in person, let's say) - but then again, for all intensive purposes, like I mentioned, I will be a U.S. resident (especially if I get this U.S. based phone number, and like I said, my bank accounts will remain with my U.S. bank, even my car in Mexico will continue to be registered to the state I live in in the U.S.)....

if only there were some way to put "dual locations" on the Pro-Z map!

I am still undecided about what to do. I suppose I put my location as "USA" and then clearly state in my profile that I am working from Mexico for the time being, but that it has no effect on my work.

Thanks again so far for your feedback everyone.


Ulf Samuelsson  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:08
English to Swedish
+ ...
Working in Mexico Nov 11, 2009

There is absolutely no reason why you should get paid less for your work while you work in Mexico. You do the same work no matter where you live, and it is you who decide your rates.

I have been working in Mexico for several years, and a special visa is necessary for a foreigner to be able to stay in Mexico legally longer than 90 days.

If you leave your company registration in the US (or any other country) and pay your tax there, then you can apply for a non-immigration visa called "FM3". This means that you are not allowed to work for any company in Mexico and that you receive your income from an external bank (you'll need to open a local bank account and use the bank statements as evidence every year). After 5 years with FM3, you can apply for FM2 (work permit), if you by then choose to become a permanent resident in Mexico and register your business in Mexico, or you can keep using an FM3 visa.

FM3 is the easiest type of visa to apply for, but you'll need to have your business already established so you can have a steady flow of money sent to your Mexican bank account (800.00 USD per month is sufficient). You do not pay taxes in Mexico with an FM3 visa, so you need to be registered in the US for tax purposes (and to be able to have the necessary US bank account to send money from to your Mexican account).

For an FM2 visa, you'll need to pay your tax locally in Mexico as you will be considered a permanent resident by the tax authorities, though you won't have to pay any VAT as long as your clients are outside of Mexico.

Visa applications are made at the local Mexican embassy, but when you have your FM3, you can prolong it at the local Immigrations office.

The rules might have changed, but this is how the rules were still four years ago.

The only problem with leaving the company registration in the US is that you'll then have to do the tax report there each year (though I think you can do it online). And as far as I know, you also have to name a person as a contact person for the company while you are away, as you'll have to have a registered address in the US.


Michele Johnson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
German to English
+ ...
Don't lie and don't omit Nov 11, 2009

Imagine the shoe was on the other foot: you start working for a company that says it's based in the US, and then you find out that they're really located in, say, China. This is just a random example, it could be anywhere, but imagine it's someplace where you don't speak the language, i.e. basically it would be next to impossible to pursue legal recourse if there are problems (e.g. non-payment). Don't you think you would have liked to have known? This is part of my risk assessment of potential business partners and one of the reasons I fundamentally don't do business with companies outside the US and the EU (and even then with many limitations). Also, the contradiction of a stated residency in the US and a non-US phone number would raise a red flag for me. And I mean, what address are you planning to use on your invoices? If your legal residence is Mexico, i.e. that is where I would have to serve you papers in case of a dispute, I think you definitely have to be open about that.

Seriously, there's much to be said for transparency in our work relationships and as long as your work is stellar and you're honest with your partners, where you live is not going to matter. Which is why I'd be totally up front about it.

[Edited at 2009-11-11 13:29 GMT]


Amy Duncan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:08
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Tell the truth Nov 11, 2009

In other words, that you're in Mexico on a tourist visa. Then if you get a permanent visa later on, tell them that, too, because then you'll actually be a resident of Mexico.


KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:08
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
The Skype connection Nov 11, 2009

Those Skype phone-in numbers work great. I have two of them that I forward to my regular land line here in Germany. One is in California strictly for the use of family and friends in the US; the quality of the connection is superb most of the time.

Just tell your customers that your business is based in the US but that you are staying in Mexico on a tourist visa. End of story, no evasions involved. I would see this as an advantage, since living there you'll be in closer contact with the Spanish language and probably develop a better understanding of the language than you would in the US. Who knows where you'll be in two or three years. With modern communications you can be in contact most anywhere.

As for the lowballing, laugh it off and point out that the US remains your tax home and your overall costs are the same. (You don't have to point out that half your expenses are for poolside margueritas.) Your quality costs the same whether you live in Switzerland or the Congo, so they'll just have to deal with that. If you start cutting rates, you'll be in a bad position if you return to the US.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Why is it so important? Nov 11, 2009

You will be staying in a country where your source language is spoken. So to me it makes total sense that you report where you actually are. Until you have a permanent residence in Mexico, keeping your US residence and invoicing with your US address would not scare away any customer in my opinion.


Nikolaj Widenmann
United States
Local time: 00:08
Member (2007)
Danish to English
+ ...
Tell the truth Nov 11, 2009

If you deliberately let your clients believe that you are in the U.S. even though you are in Mexico, then you are not telling them the truth. I think it would be best for your client relationships if you told them the truth. If you're good at what you do, you shouldn't necessarily have to lower your rates.


Aguas de Mar (X)
Totally agree with Michele... Nov 11, 2009

... and the others who recommend not to lie and not to omit information.
I myself am a US citizen, have resided in Mexico and Brazil a couple of times, and will move to another Latin American country soon. My clients always know where I am physically located (even during holidays); some have followed me around, and some have not (some US agencies have a requirement that the translator be a US citizen residing IN the country). I, too believe that transparency is a strong indicator of professionalism.


Mattia Brundo  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
Member (2009)
Italian to English
+ ...
exactly Nov 11, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

You will be staying in a country where your source language is spoken. So to me it makes total sense that you report where you actually are. Until you have a permanent residence in Mexico, keeping your US residence and invoicing with your US address would not scare away any customer in my opinion.

I agree, I think stating you live in a spanish speaking country would be good for your business.


Marita La Palm
United States
Local time: 02:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
Your method sounds really complicated to me... Nov 11, 2009

I am also an American living in Mexico with the same translation pair.

First of all, like Ulf said, you can only stay in Mexico for a short period on a tourist visa. My last couple tourist visas were for 120 days. Then you have to exit and re-enter the country. That would be quite expensive unless you are going to be living on a border town. It makes much more sense to find a client in Mexico, then get an FM3, which probably costs about $200 depending on location and their mood that day, and you have permission to stay in the country for a year. Of course, that means you have to pay Mexican monthly taxes as a free-lancer but Hacienda will even calculate your taxes for you if ISR and IVA and IETU do not make much sense. It is not a big deal at all. Furthermore, if you have business expenses but no income, I got the sense you get money back. Also, an American residing in another country gets quite a large amount of tax-free income, I believe it is around 75,000. In addition, if you are thinking of marrying this guy/ green card situation, an American living in another country (in Mexico with an FM3 or FM2) is eligible for DCF - Direct Consular Filing, which means your green card process is about twice as fast, gives you a green card right away rather than a K3 or K1 visa and saves you about $1100.

Let me clarify...I think Ulf was talking about a different type of FM3. There are some where you are not working in Mexico, and there are others where you are. I suggest the type of FM3 where you are registered as a free-lance translator in Mexico. That only requires a letter from the Mexican company that will hire you for whatever translation, your documents translated by an offical translator with an apostille on the originals, and other documents they will request from you.

My Mexican clients are wonderful and I have found better translation opportunities here than in the US. I imagine that a free-lancer gets better rates than an agency would pay...There are also agencies here. As an American in Mexico speaking Spanish, I have had more than an abundance of work opportunities. That is also dependent on where you are in Mexico.

I do not know why you should feel the need to hide your location. If you are on a tourist visa, you are simply temporarily living in the country so it is not like you are a resident, taxpayer or even a worker in the country. You are just that, a tourist with a temporary Mexican location.

If you were to decide to get a FM3, then you would need to say where you are, in my opinion. Unless clients really want to get to know I do not see why it is so complicated. You either tell them the abridged story - You're temporarily living in Mexico - or you just do not have to say anything at all. But it would obviously be counter-productive to your business to say what is not true. And if you are not going to be anywhere near your American address anytime soon, it is not going to be very helpful to have business correspondence going there.

[Edited at 2009-11-11 18:57 GMT]

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