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I'm a British citizen, living and working in Europe, and I recently did some work for a small US company based in California.

My client was working for a third-party and I was sub-contracted to work on the project. It was cut short early, but other than that it went well, everyone was happy with the work. I sent my invoice and my client said they would be paying when the third-party pays them. We have a contract stipulating that invoices should be paid within 40 days.

It is now more than 2 months past the due date and the client has not yet paid. After contacting them, they initially told me the payment would be made within 1 month of the due date, and subsequently that it would happen before the end of April.

I plan to wait a while longer before pursuing any legal action, but I just wanted to find out if anyone knows what my options are? Can I, as a foreign national, make a claim in a US small claims court?

  • Eh...you're not going to like the options. Now, I'm not a lawyer (full disclosure), but while it looks like you can sue them, it may quickly become cost-prohibitive. At that point, you might just have to eat the cost if they continue not paying. For best results though, you should chat with a sort of international business lawyer. – Chris Forrence May 1 '14 at 21:40
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I'm not a US citizen. Like you, living in Europe. But, in the past I needed some legal assistance overseas. At that time, I got on the internet, searched for some legal advisor and found a lawyer who assisted me and for my surprise, delivered results.

What can you do from your situation?

If I was you, I will search for a legal adviser in the US and ask this legal adviser to send them (to your client) a letter by mail post (I believe the synonym to Royal Mail in the UK used for handling most of the legal communications is USPS). What this letter should do? Inform your client about his obligations to you, the time and legal constrains and some other legal stuff.

Why send them such a letter? Because this is how a civil law process starts/gets prevented (if the defendant fulfils his contractual obligations). By doing this, you give the defendant the chance to solve the conflict before taking any official and future legal actions (maybe isn't the most appropriate comparison but take this first step as part of an "informal litigation").

Waiting will do any good.
Start sending them daily reminders about the due payment and meanwhile, find a legal assistant overseas. As soon you found someone, send them a letter by mail post.
This is all you can do from your current position before starting a civil action.

And, in the future, do one of the essential things any freelancer should do:

  • Keep some sort of control over your work until you receive the final payment (or at least ask for as much money as possible before handling the final work).

Will this solve your problem? Let us know.

  • Thanks for your help. As it stands, my client is trying to get a settlement from their direct client, who should be paying the bills. Looks like it will be only 50% of the total but it's better than nothing! – onions Jul 17 '14 at 8:44

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