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What are the rules for visas while freelancing? I am specifically asking about the UK.

Typically, to stay in a country like the UK for longer then a few months, you need a work visa. This usually requires you to have a job offer from a local company, etc. But in today's world of telecommuting and freelancing, are there any ways around that? What if:

  1. You make your living through freelance work, say as a web designer. Perhaps you have an LLC registered in the US or maybe you've just been doing it as a Sole Proprietor, but want to move to the UK, would that be sufficient to get a Visa of some kind? OR....

  2. What if you telecommute for a US company full time, but want to live in the UK.

In both cases, you aren't taking a job from a UK citizen, nor are you just moving there to become a homeless person living off the system. Instead, you are in fact actually bringing money into the country. So I would assume they'd be okay with it, but I just couldn't find any information about a work visa that didn't require you to have a job offer, or maybe an investor visa which requires an insane amount of cash up front.

  • 1
    This is more a question about immigration laws than about freelancing. Definitely you should contact an expert, Internet forums no are not the best source of legal counsel. – Paulo Scardine Mar 8 '14 at 22:17
  • Yeah but I couldn't find an SE for immigration laws :P. If it ever comes down to me actually doing it I would definitely contact a lawyer, I was just more curious then anything, see if maybe someone had some experience in it. – Taylor Huston Mar 9 '14 at 4:10
  • You could try expatriates.stackexchange.com – Spehro Pefhany Apr 12 '14 at 18:23
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This varies from place to place and sometimes with time, as well as the relationships of the countries involved.

In general, it is a reasonably safe bet that some sort of work permit is required to do billable work onsite for a customer in another country. The form of work permit may vary. For example, if you are a professional in IT services with a 4 year degree (whether it is related or not), and an American travelling to Canada to work, you can get a NAFTA-related permit on arrival (last I did this it was $150 CAD). The same, I believe, is true of Mexicans entering the US for such things, or to Canada, and Canadians entering the US and Mexico, since it is governed by NAFTA.

Similarly, with the UK, answers will probably depend on whether you are coming from another EU country (I would expect low to no visa requirements, but check with a lawyer since it is better to be safe than sorry), coming from a commonwealth country (in which case I am not sure, but would expect no or minimal visa requirements), or other countries. I would expect it to be easier to go do work in the UK from Canada or Australia than from the US.

The point is that this question rarely is answerable even in the case of a single country regarding a single set of rules. The relationship and trade agreements between countries are necessarily important because you are, in effect, trading services.

In the telecommunicating example, this varies with local law, so be sure to ask a lawyer. Many countries in fact do allow telecommuting to a business outside their borders without a work permit but some do not. I don't know specifically about the UK. I suspect with most countries, like the UK, you are more likely to run into length of stay issues when working for an employer or client in your home country while residing there. I would not expect this to be an easy way to a long-term stay (again unless there are other treaties involved). However there are exceptions. I know someone who lives in Malaysia and owns a house there but leaves every three months for a weekend or so he can get a new entry visa. Many countries don't look kindly on that practice though.

This would be a good question to ask on the expat SE site when it enters beta (commit to it on area51 today).

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This comes down to how long you're planning on spending in the UK. If you want to live there for a few months (<6 months) and experience a new country, then there may be visa options for you that allow this. In the case of less than 6 months, you don't have to worry about tax, you can prove that you can afford to live there and pay your way, and generally are pretty low risk as far as the government is concerned.

However, when you start moving into longer amount of time (6 months or more), the question of taxes and tax residency comes into play. If you're living in the UK, you are using their public transport and their roads and enjoying their well looked after gardens and parks. The government pays for this stuff using taxes, and generally if you're working on a work visa somewhere for more than 6 months, you need to pay some degree of taxes to the government*, This usually involves getting a tax number, and your home government usually recognises the tax paid in the UK as a tax credit so you don't pay tax twice *.

There are a couple of things also to consider. Even though you may be contributing money into the economy, the government has to also consider the economical impact of you on their government infrastructure in the long run. Freelance work can have it's ups and downs, and usually everyone who has the legal right to be in the UK for any kind of relative long term basis will be supported on their national healthcare/unemployment programs to some extent.* This may have an effect on whether they grant you a visa or for how long.

For the government, this is a matter of risk vs reward, and they have very strict (mostly automated) criteria for determining how risky your case is. These systems have been in place for years, much longer than freelancing online has been around, and so a lot of the systems do not really cater for the kind of world travel that freelancers like you and I can now do. It's going to take a couple of years before the immigration/visa laws start catering for workers online.

I've spent quite a lot of time researching into this, and it seems we may just need to be patient and wait for the immigration laws to catch up.

* In general, in my experience. I am not a tax expert.

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