If you’re a freelancer in Iraq, it can be a bit of a challenge to get paid. The country has gone through economic and political hurdles, and sanctions are still in place by governments and international organisations. As an Iraqi, it can be difficult to receive or send payments nationally and internationally.
Iraq’s cash economy means there’s little incentive for the use of digital payment methods, but there are ways around this so that opportunities with international clients can be opened. Although often slow and complicated, payment processes in Iraq do exist, but they require patience, perseverance, and… did we already say patience?
We’ve listed out potential payment options so that you have somewhere to start. The below payment methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to do your own research and choose the method that suits you the best. It’s always important to understand all of the associated costs and risks involved before making any decisions about how best to get paid for your work.
Payoneer is a popular online platform that accepts registrations from Iraq and connects with Iraqi bank accounts. You can be paid directly to your Payoneer debit card and the funds can be taken out from an ATM. Payoneer debit cards can be ordered for free – you only need to pay the delivery costs with companies like DHL. Unfortunately, Payoneer does not support withdrawals directly to your Iraqi bank account.
These are the steps to setting up your Payoneer account:
- Open a bank account
- Register with Payoneer with your bank account details
- Complete the verification process and order your debit card with a suitable delivery method
- Use your debit card as a payment gateway for services or cashout at a low-fee ATM
It has to be taken into account that cashing out with this method involves some difficulties. There are fees involved when withdrawing money and a low number of ATMs in Iraq. Iraq has 5.35 ATMs per 100,000 people, while the international standard is 61.33 per 100,000, so don’t be surprised if you try to withdraw money but the ATM is empty.
You probably already know that PayPal is the go-to portal to receive payments from clients all over the world. Not only does PayPal offer fast and low-fee transfers, but it’s also one of the most widely accepted payment methods online.
However, PayPal does not officially support accounts from Iraq. This means that Iraqis are unable to take advantage of some of the benefits that come with using a PayPal account – such as easy and fast international transfers.
Despite this restriction, many Iraqis have found ways to circumvent these limitations by using VPNs and phone numbers from neighbouring countries. While this workaround may be effective for now, it’s important to note that PayPal is very restrictive when it comes to account activities and can close your account at any time – with your funds frozen temporarily or permanently.
Wire transfers, such as Western Union and Moneygram, are a viable method to get paid for your freelancing work. They enjoy a wide reach and are much faster than bank transfers. Many Iraqis who work for companies outside of Iraq have their salaries paid through this method. Freelancers commonly use this method, however, many international clients do not use Western Union because it is a trust-based system. Adding to this, wire transfers have a reputation of being used by scammers and do not meet financial regulations of many companies.
Cryptocurrencies are decentralised, meaning they are not subject to government or financial institution control. This makes them an ideal payment method for freelancers all over the world, especially in Iraq.
Despite an official ban by the central bank of Iraq on cryptocurrencies, crypto doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. There are many outlets where people can exchange their cryptos for fiat money, and there is a growing community of cryptocurrency users in the country.
There are several crypto-friendly freelancing platforms like Braintrust that offer an anonymous crypto payout for freelancers. These platforms protect users from the unstable price of cryptocurrencies by using stable coins like USDT or USDC that are pegged to the price of US dollars. Transaction fees for such coins are virtually zero but the exchange fees vary from 0-5% depending on which exchange you use in Iraq.
Dealing with Iraqi banks can be very difficult. Fees and wait times can vary widely between banks as some Iraq-based banks use intermediary banks for international transfers. This can cause transactions to take up to 15 business days and requires additional paperwork and evidence of the source of the money. For example, if you’re being paid a few thousand by an international employer, the bank may ask you for your employment contract and payslips to prove where the money is coming from. This is to avoid money laundering.
While this method tends to be safer, it is also subject to restrictions and many international banks refusing to transfer funds to Iraqi bank accounts.
“First it was hard to send money to Iraq. Some banks like Barclays don’t allow sending money to Iraq, it is the same with modern banks like Wise. But usually companies can work with multiple banks and send your money via another bank they work with, or some will require extra paperwork regarding money laundering or so. This year, things got easier because Iraq was removed from a money laundering list.”Mohammed A. Ibrahim, Remote Full Stack Developer at Lufthansa Innovation Hub
The Iraqi financial sector often includes third parties, but the system is flawed in that many of the services these third parties provide are based on trust. This makes it hard to find reputable agencies to work with. Some freelancers use family members who live abroad as a third party and funds are sent back through family members or friends.
Mobile payment services are becoming popular in Iraq due to their ease of registration and support from Mobile Network providers. They are low fee and a readily available payment method for freelancers doing work inside the country. These services are also being used more frequently for personal transactions such as grocery shopping, bill payments, and movie tickets.
Zaincash is a popular way of receiving payments for freelancing work and other types of transactions. These applications make it possible to cash out wherever you are in Iraq. For more information on mobile payment services in Iraq, read our guide.
Before choosing any of the above payment methods you should take into account that there is no magical solution to the payment question for Iraqi freelancers. You may find yourself using different methods for different clients. Do your own research and choose the method that suits your situation the best.