Choosing a Path
貝美達 Alumna, Interpretation Track
To be quite honest, I did not expect to freelance after graduation. I assumed, as someone quite anxious about making any little mistake, I would find a stable full time job where I could really master the language used in one specific field. However, a few things changed those plans.
First, an outbreak of Covid-19 in May of 2021 caused the professional exam to be delayed until the fall. In the time between finishing the semester and completing my thesis, I ended up falling into quite a bit of translation work, including team subtitle work through GPTI, a book for an NGO I have worked closely with, and several projects from clients referred by classmates. Even after the professional exam, I was fortunate enough to have work find me for a few more months, and during this time, I decided I wanted to move back to Kaohsiung for both personal and financial reasons.
Then, while I did look at full time jobs after returning to Kaohsiung, I found that most interpreting or translating jobs in the south really seemed to be looking more for entry-level secretaries with basic English proficiency. This, coupled with mild earlier success and a new mortgage requiring more than minimum wage, guided my decision to try freelancing full time.
With all this said, I was in a good position to make this decision, and I recommend that anyone considering this path really assess their own situation first before committing to freelancing. For me, I was fortunate to be financially stable due to savings from my previous job, and my teaching certification served as a fairly strong backup plan for finding employment again at international schools in Taiwan if needed. Additionally, I had worked full-time for over seven years before GPTI, and during that time, I had spent a significant amount of time refining my writing skills, learning how to communicate in a professional setting, and handling many of the administrative tasks required by freelancing. I never would have admitted it then, or realized it for that matter, but I would not have been prepared to work in an unstructured environment like that of freelancing early on in my career.
However, the most important thing that allowed me to sustain a steady case load and income were connections. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to go out of your way to network in order to meet certain clients or attend events; instead, I believe the most important connections you have are your classmates, alumni, and teachers. These are the people that will seek you out to collaborate or recommend you to other clients, provided you have proven to them you are consistent, responsible, and dedicated. Alumni and teachers, in particular, have been so important to my first year of freelancing. I cannot express how grateful I am to those who have been kind enough to share their expertise and advice over the past year.
While our GPTI teachers provided great preparation about legal hurdles and administrative issues (in addition to interpreting and translating skills of course), there is one thing I had to learn on my own over the past year. What follows here are some legal considerations I think are important for international students, or those without Taiwanese citizenship, to know before planning on freelancing.
First, as a foreigner/non-Taiwanese citizen/new immigrant, you are unable to legally freelance unless you have an APRC. I was very fortunate that I was able to apply for an APRC before starting GPTI because I had stayed at my previous job in Kaohsiung for over five years, made over the minimum annual income, and had no criminal record. With an APRC you can apply for an open work permit through the Ministry of Labor and legally report tax from multiple employers. A typical work ARC does not allow you to do this as it legally limits your employer, and you will face tax reporting issues with nearly every case you try to take on.
Second, there are complex tax issues to be aware of. As a U.S. citizen, I am legally obligated to report taxes in both Taiwan and the United States. When working a typical full-time job abroad, I was able to file for a tax exemption in the U.S. for any income tax under a certain amount; though I am still able to file for an income tax exemption, this exemption apparently does not extend to self-employment income. Unfortunately, this means that I am required to pay income tax in Taiwan and self-employment tax (appx. 13%) in the U.S. If you believe social security and Medicare will still be around when you hit retirement age, perhaps you won’t mind this as much, but let’s say I have my doubts. Lastly on taxes, do make sure you are able to stay in Taiwan for over the 183 days before making the decision to freelance. Tax obligations are quite different if you do not.
Finally, if you decide to make this leap, be aware you will spend a lot of time teaching clients how to file your taxes. Many accountants (at least in the south) are not familiar with this process and insist on filing it as if you are not a resident. In short, there is an extra layer of client education non-Taiwanese interpreters must master. (This is in addition to very baffling, frequent inquiries you will get about if you speak Mandarin…when they are literally hiring you to interpret/translate into English.)
Overall, I am very happy with where I am at the moment. There is still much to learn, but interpreting and translating is really the perfect job in which to continue learning. For those of you that would like to talk more about freelancing, working in the south, working as a non-Taiwanese citizen, or anything else, please feel free to reach out. Again, networking helps us all and the overall interpreting/translation environment in Taiwan. I wish you all a productive, smooth academic year.