Back in the day, unless you were a travel writer or an international affairs expert, you might never have occasion to work with a foreign publisher. With the near omnipresence of the Internet, it is increasingly common that you will encounter at least one foreign publisher during your writing career.
As with domestic markets, the process of negotiating the substantive details of contracts with foreign publishers varies from client to client. This topic has been effectively covered in a number of features on this website (see Writing-World.com's International Freelancing section). This piece will address aspects associated with receiving payment from foreign publishers that are applicable to many circumstances that you might encounter as a writer.
Disclaimer: This piece contains general information about financial dealings with foreign publishers and does not represent legal or financial advice. Please consult with the appropriate professional (CPA, attorney agent, etc.) with specific questions you may have about your particular circumstances.
It goes without saying that you should vet a foreign publisher before you submit any work or provide sensitive data such as your bank account information. Fortunately, the Internet has made the process easier than you might think.
An important consideration working with a foreign publisher is determining whether you will be paid in US Dollars or in the publisher's currency. In many cases, the publisher's website or writer's guidelines will state the policy on dealing with foreign writers. If that's not the case, ask before you begin any actual work, even on spec.
If there's no set policy in place, the publisher may ask you whether you prefer to be paid in US Dollars or in the currency for its country. There are advantages and disadvantages to either option. If you're being paid in US Dollars, you avoid currency conversion fees, which can be substantial. However, you may end up receiving less pay than you would have if you were paid in the publisher's currency, depending on the exchange rate your bank uses for foreign currency versus the exchange rate the publisher uses. Regardless of whether you or the publisher determines whether you will be paid in US Dollars or in foreign currency, you'll need to do some advance research:
If the discrepancy with foreign currency exchange rates originates with the publisher, you'll have to gauge whether you can negotiate higher payment for your work or convince the publisher to absorb any fees. On the other hand, if the discrepancy originates with your bank and is the result of bank fees, you may be able to negotiate lower fees or a fee waiver if you're a long-term customer. [Editor's Note: You will often find a credit union to be more flexible in this regard than a major bank.]
Remember paper checks? Some foreign (and domestic) publishers still use them, and if you receive one as payment for services rendered, you could wait more than six weeks to have access to your money. Many banks have a policy of submitting large foreign checks (or all checks drawn from banks in certain countries) to a process called "collection for verification" before crediting your account. Collection involves sending the actual check back to the originating financial institution for payment. If the collection process results in the check being returned unpaid, you're out of luck.
To avoid a lengthy collection wait, request your publisher to issue a foreign draft payable in US Dollars that is drawn on an American bank. The publisher will often have to pay the fees involved with drawing the draft, not you. Still another means to avoid lengthy collection waits for foreign check payment is to ask your publisher if its bank has a "corresponding" bank within the United States. If so, ask to be paid by a check drawn from the "corresponding" bank.
Some banks offer global check clearing services through Fedwire or Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS), which means that you receive payment within days rather than weeks. Major banks like Wells Fargo and Citibank are more likely to offer such services than smaller community banks or even credit unions. If you deal regularly with foreign publishers, it may be advantageous to open an account in such a bank just to process payments, even if you conduct the bulk of your banking business elsewhere.
If you're dealing with a Canadian publisher, inspect the check's Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) line, the line that appears near the bottom of the check. If the number "45" appears in the MICR line, the "check" is actually considered a Canadian Postal Money Order, which many banks will credit to your bank immediately.
If your publisher pays foreign writers by wire transfer, you may receive payment in US Dollars or in the currency of the publisher's country. If you're given a choice, use the steps listed above to determine your decision. Depending on the country from which your publisher is sending payment, a wire transfer can be processed in a single day or require several days to post to your account. However, unlike foreign checks, once an international wire transfer posts to your account, the funds are available immediately.
To process a foreign payment by a wire transfer, you will need to obtain your bank's Society for Worldwide Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) Code. If your bank does not have its own SWIFT Code, you will need to obtain the name and SWIFT code for the intermediary bank, the bank within the United States to which your publisher's bank will initially send your payment. You must also provide the account number for the account your bank maintains with the intermediary bank, your bank's routing number, your name as it appears on your account, and your bank account number. Your publisher may also request your bank's International Bank Account Number (IBAN).
If you or your publisher provide incorrect information, your incoming wire can be delayed by days or even weeks. Worse, as the receiver, you can only trace the wire as far as your bank or the Intermediary bank. Only the sender can initiate a formal trace.
Many international publishers use PayPal to pay writers and other contributors. This is especially true for publishers that operate primarily or exclusively online. If your publisher uses PayPal to process foreign payments, you may be better off making a request to be paid in US Dollars to avoid PayPal's foreign transaction fees.
To determine if such a request makes financial sense with a particular publisher, compare your publisher's foreign currency exchange rate with the foreign exchange rate used by PayPal. Don't forget to include PayPal's currency conversion and transaction fees. If your calculations don't favor being paid in US dollars, or if the publisher only makes payments in its own currency, negotiate your contract to receive larger payments at less frequent intervals so that fees take as small a bite as possible. [Editor's Note: If you expect to do business frequently with the publisher and you have reason to spend the same foreign currency as used by the publisher, you can set up one or more "foreign currency" funds within your PayPal account. This enables you to receive and spend that specific currency -- e.g., British pounds -- without having to convert them to US dollars and incur the conversion fee.]
Whether you opt for a personal, premier or business PayPal account will also have an impact on the fees you pay. In many cases, receiving funds in your personal PayPal account is free. However, you will then have to wait for funds to transfer from PayPal to your regular bank account, which takes several days. As an alternative, you can request a check from PayPal, which can take more than a week – and also carries a fee.
If you need or want instant access to your funds, business and premier accounts are eligible for the PayPal debit card, which allows you to withdraw your PayPal funds immediately at an ATM. However, PayPal charges higher fees for sending and receiving funds from business or premier accounts. PayPal also charges $1 for every ATM withdrawal, over and above any other ATM fees you pay.
Several years ago, I worked with a client from Australia who refused to deal with PayPal. I didn't want to wait days or weeks to receive a check mailed from Australia, and my client didn't want to use wire transfers. After researching payment alternatives, I eventually settled on Moneybookers, with favorable results.
However, as of this writing, Moneybookers is reconstituting itself under the name Skrill, and BBB currently gives Moneybookers an F rating. (PayPal presently holds an A+ rating from BBB.). If you encounter a client, either domestic or international, that wishes to pay you through Moneybookers/Skrill, inquire with the Attorney General's office in your state for its recommendation before agreeing to your publisher's request. (For more information, visit http://www.cardpaymentoptions.com/credit-card-processors/skrill-moneybookers/.)
Other online payment alternatives to PayPal are listed below. Available services offered by each payment platform vary, as well as the applicable fees. However, each payment platform accepts international credit card payments, electronic bank deposit payments, or both. Some services also allow you to incorporate merchant services directly onto your website. If you accept credit cards for your services, or if you sell e-books or other services directly from your website or blog, these features could be useful.
I have had no dealings with any of these services, so I cannot make any recommendations. However, as of this writing; each service (or in the cases of Amazon, Google and Intuit, their parent companies) holds at least an A- rating from the BBB.
Even if you perform all the necessary due diligence, and your publisher is on the up and up, bad things occasionally happen. Sometimes checks really are lost in the mail. Wire transfers or online payments can go awry even if you and your publisher do everything right. If this happens to you, try not to panic. If you're dealing with a reputable publisher, odds are very good that you will be paid. No legitimate publisher wants to risk its reputation over a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars.
That said, your publisher may have more pressing problems than the fact that you haven't actually been paid. You will likely have to take the initiative if you have not received your money after a reasonable period. Politely, and without making accusations, approach your publisher with a request to track down your payment.
If your publisher drags its heels on initiating a trace for your missing funds, you may have to repeat your request more firmly. If weeks pass with no indication that your publisher intends to pay, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center or with econsumer.gov (http://www.econsumer.gov/english/), a service provided by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. This step should be viewed as a last resort, and only if you never intend to work with that particular publisher again.
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