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Becoming a Foreign Correspondent (3)

As featured on Journo Grads, a UK-based blog for Journalism students and recent graduates.

Graduate Olivia Crellin has freelanced internationally for several major news providers. In the final piece of a three-part series, she shares her tips on working overseas…

Aim high but don’t be too picky. When I was in Chile, I remember being taken on by a US business magazine to write about business issues in the country.

I was not keen on the idea of writing business pieces but the money from the monthly 1,500-word article paid my rent for the month and the experience was invaluable (and regular).

It freed me up to spend the rest of my time hunting for other stories that were not such easy money.

Think about your finances

It definitely helps to have other means of earning while you are abroad. I did a TEFL qualification in Seville where I took a six-week Spanish course before heading to Chile.

When I arrived I only spent six weeks teaching but the money was helpful, the other teachers I met were kind and the visa my employers processed for me to work for them meant that when an opportunity to string for Reuters came up I had the necessary paperwork.

Aim to freelance from somewhere where the cost of living is very cheap and your money will go further. When reporting abroad, you soon understand how the economy of being a foreign correspondent works.

Being paid in strong currencies like Dollars, Pounds and Euros means that you can probably afford a very nice standard of living – despite not necessarily selling many articles at the beginning.

This is essential when you are starting out and getting your name out there, as is developing relationships with editors, and finding your feet with the culture, language and the stories.

These savings will also allow you to spare some cash for more flights in the region when you decide you want to branch out and cover more stories.

One thing you can bet, though, is that once the cost of flights and insurance are out of the way (which can be bought reasonably cheaply through agents like STA travel) you will be saving more money than you would be if you were renting a place in London and doing unpaid internships.

The tools of the trade

In today’s tech-reliant era we are all familiar with the notion of backpack journalists and one-man-band production teams filing stories complete with photos and video straight from an iPhone. There is no reason why, for a small investment, you cannot do the same thing yourself, even with minimal technological nous.

Useful kit I would recommend: a DSLR that can shoot video and preferably has an audio and/or a broadcast quality audio recorder like a TASCAM.

Even if you are not interested in broadcast (although being skilled across multiple platforms will give you more work opportunities) a Dictaphone/notebook and laptop are useful.

One absolute essential for the foreign reporter is a website. Be sure to link to this in your email signature so that, like a business card, it should easily and quickly tell editors who you are when you make contact with them. It is a good way of letting them know what you have had published and what your specialism is, if you have one.

Health warning!

Being a foreign reporter can be immensely lonely. Do not shy away from this. Even if you are in exotic countries and living the dream of being a reporter, you can still have bad days. These are automatically made worse being away from friends and family.

Keep in touch over What’s App and Skype and if you have decided to base yourself somewhere close enough to home, schedule in regular trips back if you need to – these can also be handy to meet up with editors too in order to discuss longer story ideas.

Once you’ve been bitten by the foreign journalism bug it is hard to go back, especially with the current job market as congested and competitive as it is back in the UK. There is a lot of the world to see and even if you just plan to go somewhere for a couple of months, the opportunities to improve your portfolio and impress editors on your return are countless.

Olivia Crellin is a freelance journalist who has covered stories overseas for the BBC, Reuters and many more. She is currently working in Brazil, covering the protests over the 2014 FIFA World Cup. You can visit her website here and follow her on Twitter @OliviaCrellin.