How to start earning foreign currency as a South African freelancer

Robin Louw


Jun 29, 2023

Businessman holding banknote and analyzing data growth
Businessman holding banknote and analyzing data growth

Freelancing is a great way to earn a foreign income and work independently for different clients or companies on various projects. I’ve been doing it for years, however, not many people know how to start a freelancing business in South Africa, and as South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, being a freelancer may be the best way to start earning an income. Here are some steps to help you get started (and with very little money).

Choose your niche and services

The first step is to decide what kind of work you want to do and what services you can offer to your potential clients. You need to find a niche that matches your skills, interests, and market demand. For example, if you’re good at writing, you can offer copywriting or editing services. If you’re good at design, you can offer graphic design services. If you are good at teaching, you can offer tutoring or mentoring services.

Set up your online presence and portfolio

The next step is to create your portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of your previous work that showcases your skills and abilities. It helps you attract clients and prove your credibility. If you’re a designer, you can create a portfolio by using online platforms like Behance, or use social media sites like Linkedin to share your work. Make sure your portfolio is relevant, professional, and updated regularly.

If you want to create a simple and elegant online presence, you might be interested in a mini-website service. These are platforms that allow you to build a one-page website with minimal effort and cost (they usually offer a free plan). You can use them to showcase your portfolio, promote your business, share your resume, or do anything else you want to communicate to the world. Some examples of mini-website services are Linktree and Carrd.

If you need a more traditional website, you could consider a no-code website. No-code websites are websites that can be created without writing any code. They are ideal for people who want to create a website quickly and easily, without having to learn how to code or hire a developer. Some examples of no-code website builders are Webflow and Framer (I use Framer, it also offers a free plan). Ensure that your online presence uses your niche’s keywords and is consistent.

Find clients and projects

To find clients and projects that suit your niche and services you can make use of online platforms like UpworkFiverr or Contra. These platforms are a great way to start freelancing as they connect freelancers with clients who are looking for specific skills or services. Payment and contracts are handled on the platform and you get to earn US dollars. However, you will need to create a profile, bid against other freelancers and familiarize yourself with the terms and fees.

Other methods would be to use social media to promote your services and share your portfolio. You can also join groups and communities related to your niche and look for opportunities and ask your existing clients and contacts to refer you to others who may need your services. However, you will be responsible for the admin of dealing with clients directly.

Manage your projects

Once you have clients, you need to manage your projects effectively. This involves setting clear expectations, communicating regularly, delivering quality work on time, and getting feedback. You can use tools like TrelloZoho ProjectsGoogle CalendarOutlook Calendar, and more to help you with project management. Online platforms like Upwork allow you to schedule Zoom calls and sync them with your calendar. Alternatively, you could use or calendly to schedule meetings.

Sell digital products

If you are a freelancer who creates digital products, such as ebooks, courses, or software, many platforms can help you reach your target audience and earn money from your work. Some examples are GumroadLemon Squeezy, and for courses, there is Udemy and Skillshare.

Improve your offering

If you are looking for ways to improve your skills and knowledge in your field of work, you might want to check out some websites or platforms that offer professional development opportunities. Some examples are CourseraLinkedIn LearningUdemy, and even YouTube can be useful.

Manage your finances and legalities

Now you’re all set! hold on… the final step is to manage your finances and legalities. For tax purposes, you will need to register as a provisional taxpayer. You can do so by visiting SARS or seeking the services of an accountant. And to file your taxes, make use of SARS eFiling to save you time. Also, if you need assistance with filing taxes, you can use TaxTim or seek the help of an accountant. If you manage to be successful and your annual turnover exceeds R1 million it would be best to get advice on setting up a company and registering for VAT.

To accept international payments on most online platforms you will need a PayPal account and to make managing your finances easier, it’s best to keep your freelance business and private bank accounts separate. A separate bank account to consider is the FNB First Business Zero account which is a business account aimed at sole proprietors (eg. freelancers) and FNB supports withdrawing directly from PayPal. Be sure to remain FICA compliant and understand the terms of using PayPal to avoid payment issues.

When invoicing clients you need to create professional invoices that include all the details of your work, such as the deliverables, payment terms, and contact information. You also need to provide a payment method that suits both you and your client. You can make use of an invoicing and budgeting app (or template) but it’s best to invest in bookkeeping and accounting software like Zoho BooksXero, or Freshbooks. You may also need some form of legal service, ideally, a plan that includes consultation for freelancing matters.


Freelancing is not easy but it can be rewarding if done right. To start freelancing successfully, follow these steps:

  • Choose your niche and services

  • Set up your online presence and portfolio

  • Find clients and projects

  • Manage your projects

  • Manage your finances and legalities

I hope this blog post has helped you understand how to start freelancing in South Africa. All the best and good luck with your success!

Disclaimer: The content of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice.