What it’s like to launch your own freelancing business in Israel [Broad City GIFs included]

If you don’t have a lot of time to read this and want a quick answer, I’ll tell you: It’s insanely hard.

I moved to Tel Aviv from the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from the University of Oregon two years ago (#GoDucks). Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, so much had changed so quickly within just a few short years, as things often do for millennials.

Essentially, within six years I’ve gained and abandoned so many lifestyles that I’ve basically become the definition of a Wandering Jew.

The lifestyle that I now have in Israel is by far the best. I own my own business. I set my own hours and choose my clients (I’m lookin’ at you, Renoun). I value my time and live in the most magical place in the world.

(If you haven’t been to Tel Aviv, imagine LA and San Francisco and Bar Rafaeli having a baby. That’s TA.)

Although moving abroad as a millennial is fairly common nowadays, it’s still never easy. Especially when you’re not just traveling, but setting up shop in a foreign country, things can get complicated.

Imagine having to learn a new language and dealing with your taxes, managing a bank account, paying rent, maneuvering socialized medicine, handling emergencies, getting ripped off, reading important labels, understanding bills, delivering and receiving packages, and using public transportation in that language. It can be and often is the definition of hell, especially in the beginning.

Why I considered freelancing

Long before I ever fathomed an entrepreneurial path for myself, I had a job in Ra’anana that paid 25 NIS (around $6) an hour. I was working around 10 hours a day and disgusted  by the amount of stress that this minimum wage job was causing me.

But, every other new Israeli immigrant told me that this was “normal,” I “chose to live in Israel where people don’t make a lot of money,” and “this country brings so much more meaning to your life than a paycheck.”

All of these things are true. Israel brings tremendous meaning to my life. The money is normal. And many people are also completely happy and satisfied with these wages, including grown adults who support spouses and children. And that’s great. I’m genuinely supportive of those people and cast zero judgement if that’s what makes them happy.

But it’s not for me. I wish I could find a non-pretentious way to say this, but I’m from Marin County. If any of you know anything about that place, you know that I am not exactly cut out for a strapped-for-cash kind of lifestyle.

I’m not saying that I demand a mansion and a Ferrari (I’m a San Anselmo kid, not a Belvedere kid). I just want to be able to travel. To have as many kids as I want and have the means to support them. To give generous gifts to my family, to live in a house that I own and to buy healthy food. I just want to live free of financial stress. That’s my goal.

Given my position, the answer became clear: I had to freelance. I could charge my own fees, work my own hours, choose my clients and generally create the lifestyle that I desired.

Then it got hard.

Here are the three hardest parts I’ve encountered:

Learning Israeli laws

To freelance in Israel, I had to learn the laws. I had an idea of how to freelance in the States but had no idea how to in another country. After about four months of doing it wrong (and probably illegally), I finally decided to hire an accountant to lay it all out for me.

If you’re my age, you might be thinking “WTF?! An accountant? That sounds terrifying,” but it’s really not. It’s just a lady who sits in an office and specializes in helping idiots like us.

I found her through a friend. It was important that I asked other American freelancers in my community about their accountants so that I could get trustworthy advice. After learning about several, I chose one and hired her.

My accountant, Osnat, deals with pretty much everything I’m scared to. She collects my receipts each month, submits my paperwork and tax money to the IRS, keeps track of my client receipts, and consults me on everything I need to do in order to legally run a business. Nothing goes through the cracks.

Essentially, she prevents me from committing tax fraud and ending up in Israeli jail.

I pay her very little each month for her services. It’s totally affordable and worth it to me.

Navigating Israeli culture

Working with Israeli clients is tough, man.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Israelis as people (shout out to my boo, Eliav), but professionally, I’ve found that they can be incredibly stubborn.

They get deep satisfaction out of challenging you over things that they know nothing about. Negotiating is as fun to them as eating. And meetings often turn into large and emotional screaming matches while they simultaneously call each other “achi” (“brother”) and pass a bag of Bamba back and forth.

It’s exhausting, turbulent and emotionally draining. But, this is also because I feel deeply connected to my clients on a level that goes beyond professionalism.

Israelis are like family to one another, which is why they share so much emotion, fervor and concern for the people in their lives, including professional colleagues. Yes, my clients and I might argue once in a while, but if I asked any of them if I could join them for a Shabbat meal, I know they’d say yes.

Israelis are good people, but they can also be heavy. Doing business with them is not for the faint of heart. But if you can survive it, you have won.

Taking care of myself

Of course, it’s difficult for us to completely isolate our work from the rest of our lives. I might have a business in Israel, but my family is on the other side of the world. This can hurt.

Sometimes on rough days, all I want is to stop by my parents’ house for dinner and relax. But I can’t. I can’t swing by my favorite burrito place or head to Target for some retail therapy. Everything I knew growing up is now unavailable to me, and these gaps are difficult to fill when I’m down.

At the same time, I think that doing all of this so far away from California makes me stronger and more resilient. I’ve learned a great deal about my capabilities and weaknesses. Overall I’m pretty proud of myself. And Israel gave me that feeling. It turns out that the craziness was totally worth it.

About the Author
Lena Elkins is a Millennial Business Coach and the host of the popular Facebook group, Millennial Go-Getters. Lena teachers her community of over 15,000 Gen-Y entrepreneurs how to strategize, launch, and scale 6-figure online businesses. Originally from the San Francisco By Area, Lena now lives in Tel Aviv.