How To Start Your Career As An Online Freelancer From Iraq
This is a guest post by Sumayya Kamal Mohamedamin, a passionate changemaker looking to use tech to bring change to her local community and help people in Iraq go global. Sumayya is a self-taught programmer which she has been pursuing during her major in Pharmacy at HMU. She has been involved in the tech field for the past three years working on different programming projects. Sumayya has a strong taste for code and neurons and is looking to land somewhere in the field of Computational Neuroscience. Credit to Adam Azad and Mohammed A. who shared their experiences for this article.
The topic of freelancing has been a part of my daily discussions, and I’m sure for many others as well. My goal is not to tell you how to land in Silicon Valley, but to help you go global through freelancing, and let your skills speak for your talent. I am writing this because I am convinced of your potential!
But what is a freelancer? A freelancer is an independent person who works freely without belonging to a company or organisation. The field of free work is expressed by the word ‘freelance’ and the person who works in the field is called a ‘freelancer’. In recent years, freelancing has become more popular due to the expansion of technology and the ease in finding clients online.
As Iraqis, we’re deprived of many essential opportunities including the fact that PayPal is not available in Iraq. This limits how we can take advantage of popular freelancing platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. However, there are ways around this and I hope my research helps you in some way so that you can broaden your network of clients, and gain a higher income if you nail it 😉.
To work as an online international freelancer, besides registering on a freelancing platform, you need a way to receive money from your clients after you complete work for them. Most freelancing platforms support payments through:
- PayPal (provides online money transfer)
- Payoneer (like PayPal but with higher fees. Available in Iraq)
- ACH (money is transferred electronically from one bank account to another in batches called ‘collections’. It is free to use but slow to receive money and only available in the US)
- Wire Transfer (just like ACH but faster because it’s not transferred in batches. High fees but internationally available)
To learn more about their differences, check this out .
Adam Azad has been working as a remote Web Developer on Freelancer since 2013. Adam explains “when I started freelancing, I used Payoneer which issued me a debit card, and withdrew funds from Freelancer to my Payoneer debit card. Then, I used local ATMs to receive cash, or pay for goods and services online. Once you grow and build trust, people will offer you contracts. For my returning clients, I use Western Union and Moneygram.”
Payoneer supports Iraqi banks and provides online money transfer and digital payment options similar to PayPal. It is the most reliable alternative to mainstream online payment methods. Here’s how to open a Payoneer account:
- To start, you must first open a bank account at a local bank. If this is not possible, Payoneer allows you to link your account to a friend or family member’s bank account.
- Register for an account on Payoneer. It will ask you to connect it to your bank account.
- Once your account is approved, register on Freelancer or any other freelancing platform, and connect it to your Payoneer account.
- Set up your freelancing profile.
Congratulations, you’re now one step closer to becoming an international freelancer.
After you’ve successfully completed some freelancing work and earned at least $30 in your account (although I recommend $300), you should order the free Payoneer debit card through the ‘order a card’ option on your Payoneer account. Payoneer will send the physical debit card through a shipping company like DHL for a fee and you can then withdraw your cash through the card using ATMs, like Adam did. Payoneer does not support withdrawing directly from our local banks yet.
Upwork doesn’t have Iraq on their list of countries, but other freelancers suggest making an account and choosing another country during registration. This workaround is worth trying although not recommended.
Keep in mind that there are fees for using a freelancing platform. For example, on Freelancer there is a 10% fee per project, and other fees related to transactions, withdrawals, exchange rates, etc that will impact your final income. These fees are automatically deducted from the payment and you will lose up to 20% of your income. It is a high fee, but it is still a good start until you grow and get recurring clients. As you build your reputation, you can then slowly move away from freelancing platforms and deal directly with your clients using Western Union or Moneygram to receive payments and remove extra fees.
If you want to stand out among the competition, be sure to research how to make your profile attractive and how to write engaging proposals for your client. Make sure you don’t copy and paste. Other things like upgrading your account to get more perks are also useful ways to improve your profile.
This is how you can get paid for your work. I ask anyone reading this that if you’ve ever aspired to join the online global workforce, don’t hesitate to start now because that’s the biggest step that people miss!