Articles - 17th December 2019

What is life like for freelancers in the world’s most liveable cities?

Words by Elizabeth Bennett
Illustration by Sneha Shanker

The perennial dilemma of where to live is a topic that plagues all of us at some point in our lives. However, even more so for the growing number of freelancers. According to the National Office of Statistics, half the UK workforce expected to be working remotely by 2020, and for those no longer tied to the location of their workplace, choosing where to be based becomes even more pertinent.

So, if you can work anywhere, how do you decide where to go? The annual report from The Economist’s Global Liveability Index is a good place to start. They assess cities across the world for a number of different factors – including stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure – and crunch the numbers to create the list. So I chatted with freelancers all across the world about life and work in their city…

 

Damian Stewart is a freelance software engineer. He’s originally from New Zealand but has been based in Vienna for the last ten years.

There are many great things about living in Vienna: the perfect public transport network; cheap fresh fruit and vegetables; great tasting tap water; cheap eating and drinking out by Western European capital city standards. Viennese culture projects a kind of grumpiness that makes me think of the stereotype of New York, which is a fun atmosphere to be in (but some people experience it as a grumpiness that isn’t fun at all). My least favourite aspect is the climate. It’s too hot in mid-summer and too cold in winter. I’m from New Zealand so I miss the temperate climate and the ocean.

It’s a city ideal for freelancing. The biggest problems I face are administrative. I really don’t mind paying the relatively high taxes because the services I get for them are excellent, but I feel like the way the health-care system is paid for unnecessarily penalises self-employed people. This may be a way of promoting “employment” rather than a neoliberal contractor-based economy, but I can’t tell.

My work-life balance depends on how many and who my clients are, but generally, it’s great. The shops here have restrictive opening hours, and are closed by law on Sundays, which means if I’m working on a Sunday I feel it when I walk through the streets to my office, and it feels like I’m making a mistake which in the end encourages me not to work which is great.

 

Lizzie Cox works as a content specialist for a home services company while also writing freelance pieces for various publications. She moved to Vancouver from London three years ago.

I moved to Vancouver as I was bored of the London rat race and knew I wanted to live abroad at some point in my life. I thought I’d stay for a year, maybe 18 months – but after my two year visa expired I applied for Permanent Residency, and I’m not coming back to the UK any time soon.

There’s a massive ‘WFH’ (Work From Home) culture here, with a lot of roles offering the option to work remotely. However,  journalism – true journalism – jobs are thin on the ground. There’s very little editorial-style work to go around – most contract or freelance jobs are copywriting as opposed to journalism, and they often want years and years of ‘agency experience’ from those they hire which is frustrating.

My favourite thing is living in a city, with all the buzz and hustle and amenities that provides, but without feeling like I’m trapped in a concrete jungle. Skiing after work? Check. Day trip to a lake? Yep. Weekend walk along the beach? Which one? There’s at least 5 to choose from. It’s pretty idyllic here. Vancouver is all about the work-life balance, skewing heavily towards the ‘life’. Nobody really stays at work after 5pm – on Fridays there’s a mass exodus before the clock even hits 4.

 

Melissa Kuttan is a PR Director, writer and consultant who has been living in Melbourne for the past twenty years.

Melbourne really is one of the best cities in the world. We have an incredible arts and literary culture, the people are some of the kindest, most diverse and caring I’ve ever come across and the layout and development of the city is constantly changing to be more inclusive and beneficial to its inhabitants. We don’t pride ourselves on our beaches, or landmarks, or whatever else that is deemed stereotypically ‘Australian’. We are proudly creative instead.

That’s not to say that Melbourne is not without its racial bias, violent discrimination and history of indigenous violence and crime; but it certainly reflects and takes a greater accountability than many of its other counterparts and continues to lead the way in Australia on those counts. For context, I am half Chinese, and half-Indian with a funny taxed-on American accent. There’s a wealth of freelance work out there, and for someone like me, who felt at times I might not ‘make the cut’ – I have only rarely if ever felt judged or discriminated against beyond the merit of my work.

There’s a huge growing community of freelancers and a multitude of places to work from whether they’re co-working spaces or state-owned public areas such as the famous State Library. There are also some incredible Aussie freelance groups and individuals out there who are working to share their opportunities and are creating passion projects to support other freelancers such as @phoebemcrae and @FreelancerFeed for writers.

 

David Hal Chester is a professional screenwriter, pianist, songwriter and author of ‘Freelancing in Tokyo’. He has been living in Tokyo for 26 years.

I moved here initially because I had some success as a songwriter in the Japanese pop music world and decided to try and capitalize on it. It led me on an extraordinary life journey; hence, I am still here.  The best thing about living and working in Tokyo is probably the public transportation. It’s timely and there is absolutely no need for a car. The entire city is covered with an incredible network of trains and subways, and if that isn’t enough, there are also taxis and buses.

The worst thing is that it is simply too crowded. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of the day or night you want to do something, a million other people have decided to do the same thing. Also, it is incredibly expensive, insanely so, especially for housing and food. There are bargains, but one must really know the city well to know where to find them.

As a native English speaker with professional skills in the fields of music, film, journalism, voiceovers and more, Tokyo has been a fantastic place to work as a freelancer. That is why I wrote the book “Freelancing in Tokyo,” to let people know what kind of unique opportunities are here, outside of the standard ones of teaching English.

As my work has gravitated more and more towards screenwriting, I am able to work from where I choose, which is mainly home and I make my own schedule. In the past, I took on far too much work and sometimes juggled up to 8 jobs a week. But I think I’ve balanced things out all right in the last few years and have managed to make Tokyo work well for me.

 

Maria Eilersen is a yoga teacher, freelance journalist and PR consultant. She is originally from Denmark but after a decade living abroad now splits her time between Copenhagen and London.

I have the privilege of being able to work from anywhere so living partly in Copenhagen is a great way for me to spend time with family. The summers are incredible – the energy of the city transforms as the days become longer, with people spending most of their time outside, hanging out on the streets or by the canal to take a dip. I also love how close the city is to the ocean, and how easy it is to escape to nature, both of which have a significant impact on my mental health. The dark winters can also be tough, but all the hygge (the Danish art of cosiness) makes up for it.

Having spent the last decade abroad, I find it challenging to navigate the social etiquette of the Danes, who tend to be quite guarded, cold at times, and very direct. Yet once you get past that initial barrier, Danes are warm and friendly, and is worth the effort to make freelancing less lonely.

Though I set my own hours, I can’t help but be influenced by the healthy work-life balance of my friends and family, and often clock off around 4pm to socialise or relax. Sometimes I pick work back up in the evening, but even taking that break works wonders for my productivity, and doesn’t make the evening toil feel like hard work.

 

The Economist’s Global Liveability Index may highlight some of the world’s best cities for living and working but as these freelancer experiences demonstrate, there’s no such thing as a perfect place. It often comes down to personal choice and weighing up what’s most important to you. Choosing where to live is still a tricky decision but having the privilege to make that choice is one of the best reasons to be freelance.

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