À Propos: Expat Linguists in a Globalized World – Tips on Living and (Legally) Working Abroad

ata-fld-newsletter-logoA freelance career offers the flexibility to work where you want, when you want, so it’s not surprising that many freelance linguists pursue the dream of living abroad.

Making this a reality requires careful planning and an understanding of immigration and tax laws in the intended country of residence. Nothing can replace expert advice – which anyone moving abroad should seek – but there are a few tax, immigration and practical considerations to keep in mind.

Tourism versus residency

A quick Google search will reveal a commonly held view that, so long as you are working for foreign clients and you receive payments only in your country of origin, you can happily freelance on a tourist visa. This sounds lovely – but is probably illegal as most tourist visas prohibit work of any kind.

On the other hand, immigration laws haven’t caught up with today’s mobile workforce. It’s unlikely that any immigration authority cares if someone checks business e-mails while on holiday. But somewhere, the line between keeping up with work back home and working in a foreign country will be crossed.

Choosing the right country

To establish legal residency in foreign country, an applicant must meet the qualifications for a specific visa – which differ dramatically from country to country. Eligibility for a visa depends on the applicant’s personal circumstances, but a number of countries provide opportunities for freelancers that don’t require massive capital investment. A few of these include:

  • The Netherlands: The Dutch-American Friendship Treaty may offer self-employed freelancers the opportunity to conduct business and live in the country, with a low capital investment requirement.
  • Germany offers non-EU freelancers a pathway to legal residency. This process must be completed once you are in Germany.
  • Panama: If you are looking to live in a warm, Spanish-speaking country, Panama may be the place for you. The “Friends of Panama” visa offers residency to those employed by or owners of a Panamanian company.

Sometimes, a freelancer may be a “trailing” spouse or partner, which means that the family’s visa is contingent on the other partner’s employment. Many spousal visas do not grant a right to work. However, once legal residence in the country has been secured, a spouse or partner may be able to receive authorization to engage in freelance work, depending on the laws of the specific country.

Tax implications of working abroad

First, recall that all US citizens or permanent residents are subject to worldwide taxation, regardless of where they live, and must report worldwide income to the IRS.  Even the holder of a US non-immigrant visa may be considered a US “tax resident” and therefore subject to this requirement. Most countries, including the UK, Canada and Germany, do not impose this blanket requirement.

Of course, there is some relief from double taxation. The United States has entered into tax treaties with many countries, in an effort to limit double taxation. Any US person residing abroad should hire a qualified tax advisor who specializes in preparing tax returns for expats, to take full advantage of any available exemptions and tax credits.

Freelancers are also required to make social security contributions. These are often paid to the country of residence; however, US persons overseas may be covered by a bilateral social security agreement which creates a time-limited exemption to this requirement. Exemptions vary by country, so research is essential.

Reporting requirements under FBAR and FATCA

Two US laws create potential disclosure requirements for US persons residing abroad. First, the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) must be filed by all US Persons if their aggregate foreign financial account holdings – which may include securities accounts and life insurance policies – exceed a $10,000 threshold at any point during the year. Once this threshold is crossed, all accounts must be reported. Penalties can start at $10,000 per unintentional violation – so take this requirement seriously.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is a separate provision requiring foreign banks to report accounts held by US clients to the US government. The reporting thresholds are higher than the FBAR, but together, they reflect the government’s intent to crack down on offshore tax evasion and money laundering.

VAT Filings

In many European countries, freelancers – including linguists – must charge VAT to clients within their country of residence. Upon registering to work as a freelance translator, most freelancers working in Europe must obtain an EU Community VAT number. In addition, they may be required to track VAT-exempt transactions within the EU, and submit a VAT tax return on a quarterly basis.

Health Insurance

Finally, if heading abroad for any length of time, proper health care coverage is essential. For short-term stays, travel insurance may be sufficient. However, for extended stays, legal residents may be eligible for national health care coverage in their country of residence. It is also wise to research private health insurance coverage – whether for full coverage or as a supplement to a national health plan.

Laura Eilers Tridico

Laura Eilers Tridico, CT, is an ATA-Certified French to English Translator, specializing in law and finance.

FLD Continuing Education Series – Episode 5: Genealogy Translation

Welcome to the fifth episode of the French Language Division’s Continuing Education Series podcast. The main focus of this podcast is the craft of translation (English > French and French > English).

In episode 5, podcast host, Angela Benoit welcomes genealogy translator Bryna O’Sullivan (www.charteroakgenealogy.com) to talk about genealogy translation, the id photointersection between genealogy and history and terminology.

SOUNDCLOUD: You may access Episode 5 and other podcast episodes on SoundCloud here. On SoundCloud, you can listen to the episode in your browser or download a copy of this episode directly to your computer.

ITUNES: This episode and the entire podcast series are also available on iTunes here. On iTunes, you can subscribe or listen online. (Even if the link doesn’t show up on the iTunes preview, it is still there – simply subscribe.)


Here is Bryna’s 19th century marriage record in original manuscript format as mentioned in the episode (and a transcription is provided below):

Bryna's record


Mariage d’Antoine Charest et Marie Anne La Flèche Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

L’an mil huit cent trente six, le deux février après la publication d’un ban faite au prône de notre messe paroissiale le dimanche précédent entre Antoine Charest fils mineur d’Antoine Charest, Ecuyer, Capitaine de Milice et de Marie Anne Marchand, de la paroisse de Ste Anne de la Pérade, d’une part et Marie Anne La Flèche fille mineure de Louis La Flèche, Ecuyer, coseigneur du Fief St Maurice et de Marie Anne Goubin Boisvert, de la même paroisse, d’une autre part, les parties ayant [ ?] dispensé de l’empêchement de consanguinité de quatrième au quatrième degré et les deux bans de Monsieur Cooke Vicaire général de Monseigneur l’Évêque de Québec au date du vingt-cinq Janvier précédent ne [ ?] découvert aucun autre empêchement ni forme d’approbation, Nous soussigné Curé de Ste Anne avons, de l’agrément de parents de part et d’autre, reçu leur mutuel consentement + leur avons donné la bénédiction nuptiale selon  la forme proscrite par l’Église en présence d’Antoine Charest, Ecuyer, père, de François Charest, frère de l’époux, de Louis La Flèche, écuyer, père […]

Enrichez nous!

The deadline for presentation proposals for ATA’s 57th annual conference is March 4, 2016. The conference will be held in San Francisco, California, November 2-5, 2016.

Proposal submission is open to everyone. ATA membership is not required. You may submit multiple proposals, but a maximum of two proposals will be accepted per speaker.

First time presenting? Watch this free ATA webinar on conference presentation best practices. Read a summary of one of last year’s FLD presentations here. Email your administrator at divisionfld@atanet.org to discuss your ideas or suggest a colleague who might need a nudge to share.

Ready with your contribution? Click here to submit your proposal today!

À Propos: Review of #ATA56 Session – SOAP Notes: Getting Down and Dirty with Medical Translation


SOAP Notes: Getting Down and Dirty with Medical Translation. A Review of Erin M. Lyons’ presentation given at the 56th American Translators Association conference on November 5, 2015, in Miami, FL.

I attended this session out of personal interest as I used to do quite a bit of French/Italian to English translation of medical and hospital records early on in my career. However after some years I found that I preferred pharmaceutical translation which includes a wide variety of texts such as: informed consent forms, investigator brochures, clinical drug trials, packaging and labeling, and instructions for use, to name a few. I guess you could say I followed the advice of many ATA presenters over the years urging newbies to find their own niche and to specialize, specialize, specialize…

Erin Lyons, also a French/Italian to English translator, specializing in the area of medical and life sciences translation, gave a very thorough and quite captivating presentation on the nuts and bolts of the SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) format used by doctors and how to better make sense of the scribbled notes, acronyms, abbreviations and unique language found in medical charts, lab reports and the like. Her stated objective was to help translators replicate the style and voice of healthcare professionals in their medical translations. In my opinion, she totally succeeded in accomplishing this goal.

She began by clarifying exactly what a SOAP note is and showed the audience a visual display of a typical medical record and its various sections therein: the subjective, objective, and assessment sections and the last section containing the doctor’s plan and the recommended next steps to follow.

The Subjective section contains the patient’s main complaint or a history of the current illness. In other words, it lays out the primary reason the patient is seeing the doctor or why the patient is in the hospital. Doctors endeavor to gather and record as much subjective information as possible in this section such as the illness’ onset, character, severity, duration, location, aggravating factors, etc.

The Objective section contains the information gathered by the doctor through observation or measurement primarily of the Vital Signs (height, weight, temperature, BP), or by performing a physical exam, lab tests, and recording any of the patient’s prescriptions.

The Assessment section contains the medical diagnosis and includes all possible and likely etiologies (causes) of the illness.

The Plan section contains the next steps to take per the doctor’s recommendation and may include the ordering of additional lab tests, radiological work-ups, referrals to specialist doctors, future appointments, patient monitoring, etc.

After that initial overview, Erin delved into the nitty gritty of the actual phraseology and terminology encountered in a SOAP note and the necessity of researching correct usage so as to best render the sentence and/or word into the target language. (In her example, the source language was French and the target was English). Erin gave attendees a very useful tip by providing the link to an incredible website: https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/staticpages/icd-10-code-lookup.aspx where we can obtain the exact medical wording/terminology for almost any medical condition by entering a medical code or keyword in the search box. For example, from my home computer, I entered the word pulmonary in the search box and obtained a complete list of pulmonary-related ICD-10 Codes1 and their precise code description. To name a few for the purpose of illustration, pulmonary mycobacterial infection (Code A31.0), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (Code J84.112) or congenital pulmonary valve insufficiency (Code Q22.2). This link and resource will save tons of time for the medical translator and was worth attending this presentation in and of itself!

Erin emphasized using the present tense in our translations even though the source may use the past or a mix of tenses and explained the necessity of handling acronyms appropriately as the target audience of our translation may not be a healthcare professional. She suggested we expand acronyms (d/c = diarrhea/constipation) but not attempt to translate the more complex or lengthy acronyms directly as this often results in total gibberish! (I know from personal experience!) She said identifying the type of acronym or abbreviation can help us in the translation process. For example, becoming familiar with Latin abbreviations such as h.s. = hora somni = at bedtime, or inversions of acronyms written in the source language medical report, IRM (French) for MRI (English), etc.

In the middle part of her presentation, Erin gave a review of the body systems which frequently appear in a SOAP note (for example, musculoskeletal, neurological, endocrine, and cardiovascular) and the doctor’s use of specific terminology when dictating or writing ROS (review of systems) notes. She gave attendees another very helpful link with numerous tools for understanding SOAP Notes in general: www.soapnote.org and specifically with regard to deciphering lab tests, a wonderful link to an index of medical glossary terms, conditions and their related lab tests: https://labtestsonline.org/map/gindex

A few final points offered by Erin were to remember to refer to the physician in the third person, even when the first person is used, to be succinct using plain language, not to embellish the text, and to use an appropriate register (formal) and medical terminology (often the Latin cognate). For example, abdomen vs. stomach, renal vs. kidney, thrombus vs. blood clot, etc.

In sum, SOAP notes are intended to improve communication among healthcare providers by using a specific notation system which is structured and organized. This highly structured system can provide the translator with clues on deciphering the medical terminology and acronyms found within the document. Since SOAP notes are universal, Erin advised it would be wise for translators to learn the preferred terminology, acronyms, symbols and shorthand associated with their specific source and language combination.

The link to her complete and very informative presentation can be found at: https://www.slideshare.net/ErinLyons/soap-notes-getting-down-and-dirty-with-medical-translation

1 This refers to the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO). It contains codes for diseases, signs and symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances and external causes of injury or diseases.

Patrice Van Hyle

Patrice Van Hyle is a freelance translator and interpreter based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.