How to Choose Where to Live and Work As a Freelancer
Shawn Campbell, a freelance auto designer, chose Borrego Springs, California, for the inspiration the landscape offers
For two decades, Shawn Campbell of Campbell Coachworks said he was always tied to a specific design studio.
“Although located in interesting places, most of them were just not where I preferred to be,” he said. The snow in Detroit and the rain in the United Kingdom, two of the places he used to live, also made him realize winter and seasonal
had a serious effect on him and his work.
So in June 2020, he took the plunge and set up his own studio in California. Now working for himself in the desert, he’s happier here than with any setup he’s had before. “My studio is literally surrounded by the pristine and rugged beauty of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park,” Campbell said.
In particular, he said the terrain offers endless inspiration. “Unlike my colleagues chained to their desks who are relegated to surf Google for design inspiration, adventure is literally at my doorstep, and I’m a better designer because of it,” he said.
Laura Gariepy, a freelance writer, chose Winter Haven, Florida, because there’s no state income tax
Florida is one of nine states in the US without income tax, and it’s a big reason Laura Gariepy has no plans to leave Winter Haven anytime soon.
Gariepy has lived in the city, located in the center of the state, since 2016. She moved from Massachusetts to Poinciana, Florida, in 2014 to escape the snow and found Winter Haven by driving around the state. “I bought a house there because it was so affordable and I liked the town,” she said.
She’s been writing professionally since 2018, so when she began freelancing full time, the lack of income tax was enough incentive to keep her rooted in the southern state. “I get to keep more of what I earn,” she said. “It’s the ideal place to run and grow my business.”
While taxes are a big one, there are other things she likes about her home. The affordable-housing market is a big perk — although it’s getting more expensive, she said. There’s also plenty of shopping and other amenities in town to keep her entertained when she’s not working. “Plus, it’s a relatively easy drive to Disney and both coasts,” she said.
Mariko Amekodommo, a freelancer in the fashion and food-and-beverage industries, chose India for the cost of living
A US citizen, Mariko Amekodommo relocated to India to run multiple businesses, mainly, she said, because it’s so affordable for her to live there. Currently, she’s in Goa. “It’s the white sandy beach and holiday destination of India,” she said.
She was originally living in Mumbai, but wanted to move somewhere less expensive with a better quality of life. “Many people were posting on social media about how Goa was the best place to live regarding both prices and quality of living. Then after researching, I decided to try it,” she said.
Rent for her luxury three-bedroom villa is $750 a month, she said, and her utilities never cost more than $40. She added she’s able to hire a maid to help with cleaning and food prep, get weekly in-home massages, and have regular physical-therapy appointments.
Healthcare is also extremely affordable, she said. “I pay out of pocket for my appointments — a general practitioner or specialist runs $10 to $20 and prescriptions are $1 to $3,” she said. She added she can buy groceries for about $100 a month, and the only time food gets expensive is when it’s an imported foreign good, “like a bag of Cheetos for $12,” she said.
Living in India isn’t the easiest thing she’s done, but as she said, “Having low expenses and access to wellness perks makes my work easier.”
Baruch Labunski, a freelance SEO professional, chose the Toronto suburbs to maximize income while minimizing expenses
Baruch Labunski, the CEO at RankSecure, lives near, but not in, Toronto. He’s called it home for 24 years and said he gets all of the benefits of city living, like access to museums, sporting events, concerts for him and his family, and a thriving and diverse population. He also likes that he still gets to enjoy the slower living and space that the suburbs have to offer.
According to Labunski, working for himself is the key to making this situation work. “If I had to live in an urban area, I’d never have as much space, and all the wages I’d earn would go toward exceedingly high rent,” he said. But on the flip side, if he worked for someone else in the suburbs, “It’s unlikely I’d earn enough to support my family.”
In theory, this city-suburb combo could work in any major city, but there was a specific appeal that led Labunski and his family to Toronto. For one, Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. “I wanted my family to not only feel accepted no matter what, but I also wanted them to gain exposure to people who don’t necessarily look or think the way they do,” he said.
The low crime rate was also important, and he liked that the city is a hub for business and finance. “Cities that actively court business investment maintain their infrastructure,” he said.
Jen Ruiz, a travel blogger and content creator, chose Humacao, Puerto Rico, for the tax incentives and community of like-minded digital entrepreneurs
Jen Ruiz is originally from Puerto Rico and chose to move back to the island in 2019. She was drawn to the weather and convenience of living in a US territory, but also because there are tax incentives to run her business from there.
“For that reason, Puerto Rico is a hub for digital content creators, podcasters, and crypto investors,” she said. These incentives come from Act 60, which is a consolidation of various tax decrees, including two fairly well-known ones: Act 20 (which promoted export services) and Act 22 (which incentivized forgeign investors to move to Puerto Rico).
Ruiz falls under the export-services incentive, a benefit any local can take advantage of. According to the law, eligible business owners who are providing export services can take advantage of a 4% corporate tax or fixed-income tax rate, exemptions on property taxes, and exemptions on dividends from export services.
However, Ruiz said that there’s some controversy locally about Act 60, mostly regarding the laws that previously fell under Act 22. Those incentives are not available to locals, “only to those moving to the island, and require the purchase of real estate, driving up prices and decreasing availability of housing for locals,” she said.
Though the tax factors do matter, she also likes the community she has found. “It’s a great community in terms of masterminds, lady-boss groups, book clubs, and more,” she said.
Jane Leach, a freelance architect, chose Manchester, UK, because of the opportunities
Jane Leach, a self-employed architect, lived in plenty of European cities before settling in Manchester. Just before moving to Manchester, she’d been in Barcelona.
The Spanish city had plenty of great benefits, she said — the weather, the architecture, the food — but nearly just as many drawbacks: Her living accommodations weren’t great, and there were limited work opportunities. She ended up choosing to move to Manchester because it was within an hour of where her family lived and opened a lot of doors professionally.
While Manchester has its downside (for one, it rains a lot), “Overall I’ve found that for quality of life and career opportunities it was the best choice for me,” Leach said. She moved in 2006 and is currently based in South Manchester, close to Cheshire, which she said is an area where homes and affluence are similar to those around London. “This gives me a lot of opportunity when working with homeowners to design their homes in terms of working with people with a sufficient budget,” she said.
She’s also in a more progressive area, where homeowners are more interested in implementing eco-friendly measures into their homes — something Leach specializes in.
When she first got to Manchester, “the income compared to the cost of living made it possible to rent a really nice house in a good location,” she said. She now owns a home in Chorlton, just a few miles southwest of the city.
Christina Vidal, a blogger and business owner, chose Charleston, South Carolina, because of the lifestyle and brand compatibility
When they decided they wanted a Stateside home base and HQ for their businesses, there was plenty to draw them to the South Carolina city: “The beach, the incredible community, the amazing weather, the foodie scene, the southern charm, and the small-town-meets-big-city feeling,” Vidal said, naming a few.
It also doesn’t hurt that the city is very in line with the brand of both her blog and the vacationwear brand.
The couple moved to Charleston in November of last year, and she said it seems many more people have migrated to the city since the start of the pandemic. “We thought, ‘Where better than Charleston, with everything it has to offer as both a vacation destination and a place to live?'” she said.
Marcia Layton Turner, a freelance ghostwriter, chose Rochester, New York, for the strong business network and affordable housing
Marcia Layton Turner, the founder of the Association of Ghostwriters, lives just outside of Rochester. “The school district is top-notch, housing is affordable, and the people are friendly,” she said. She added that because Rochester is so affordable, it may attract or foster other freelancers, too. “A smaller portion of their budget has to go to paying for housing, so the risk to go freelance would be lower,” she said.
Turner first came to Rochester in 1989 when she was working at Kodak. When she first started her business, she moved to Boston. However, she quickly realized Rochester was a better place to run it.
“Even today, I love Boston. But it wasn’t the right place for me at that time in my life,” she said. Within six months, she moved back to New York because she already had an established business network, and the cost of living was so much lower. “It would have taken me far longer to build my business if I had stayed in Boston, because I was effectively starting over in terms of networking and establishing a reputation,” she said.
She’s also looking to purchase a vacation property in Maine, which doesn’t have much to do with her career specifically, she said, “But the fact that I work for myself gives me the freedom to work wherever I want.”