geoarbitrage, fiscal nomad, perpetual traveler: the FREE in freelancer

From the Blog

Posted by Fernando Colaco at 8:13 pm

My workshop cities and dates are now officially announced and registration is up. This time I am running the full-day workshop for ONLY €150 (instead of the usual €400). If you are interested (or know anyone interested) in learning how to code in a FUN and relaxed way, building a game from scratch in ONE DAY, just check if there’s a city near you in the listing, and hurry up, as it usually sells out quite quickly, even at full price. Just have a look at the workshop website for more information by clicking the image below.

I am also proud to announce that Fred, who I presented in my last post about talent, will be working with me during this workshop tour, which is a good example how someone who just had his first exposure to coding 7 months ago (with this same workshop) already went as far as releasing a mobile game on his own.

Hope to see you as one of the attendees in any of the tour venues!
And please share the workshop page. Thanks.

Posted by Fernando Colaco at 6:56 pm

I want to share a story about one of the most rewarding things I’ve done over the last few years. I always had the idea in the back of my head, but it only went ahead when I really decided to go fiscal-nomad. Since the beginning, I decided that the money that would vanish in taxes otherwise, would be redirected to something more useful than paying for politicians holidays, their luxury cars and respective drivers. So, as soon as I went tax free, I decided immediately to create a fund for something I always wanted to do: Investing in talent that I keep spotting, people genuinely interested in creative and technological subjects, but without the resources or the best conditions to pursue that. Sponsoring and supporting these geek/artist prospects to attend workshops, conferences, get books, and maybe an occasional laptop if there’s enough effort and motivation, might be much more rewarding that feeding government crooks, right? And it doesn’t feel as lazy as just transferring money to some bank account for donating to this or that cause (as noble as that can be, sometimes ends up diverted somewhere else or poorly managed, anyway).

Long story short, someone I was glad to bet in and invest some time during the last few months teaching and mentoring, only 17 years old, just launched Squatrix, his first mobile game: concept, ideas, design and programming all by himself… without any prior knowledge of coding before all this started (7 months ago). And I have to say I am outrageously proud of himself!


In October last year, I decided to run a pro-bono workshop for students in my hometown, actually at my high-school (a “few” years since last time I was there). Apart from high-school students, there were some designers, university students and teachers, as my workshop targets people with no experience in programming, but curious and interested to learn the basics from scratch, in one day. In this case there were two extra days with further materials, after everyone learned the basics by building a game from scratch on that first day. There were a lot of 10th grade students, but it was quite clear that most of them spent that Friday there to have a day-off from school. Only a few of these seemed genuinely interested, but one really caught my attention quite quickly. His name: Frederico Felicidade (you’ll probably hear about him soon, anyway). Apart from finishing the challenges faster than everyone else, he was already helping a few colleagues fixing their mistakes and “bugs”, but most important for me, he was already playing and messing around with changing the code to see what happened. I paid attention to all this and by middle of the day I actually asked one of his teachers if they already have programming in their IT classes. To my surprise (and I found later), this was actually his first contact with coding (and he was not really sure what the workshop was going to be about), so I was even more alert. Being shy by nature, he didn’t express a lot what was going on, but I kept my eye on everything. To my surprise, Saturday and Sunday, which was mostly taken by teachers, university students, professionals and only a bunch of students, and where I was not expecting a lot of high-school students spending the full weekend from 9am to almost 8pm, he actually joined in and followed up for the advanced workshop days. Finally I was able to chat a little bit and confirmed how interested he was getting into this whole new coding thing. Right after the workshop, and for the few extra days I stayed at my hometown I had a chance to follow up occasionally and noticed his level of motivation. As I was starting to plan my nomad life, he immediately inherited my entire collection of (heavy) geek books, which are not very practical to travel with, anyway.


I was insanely busy at the time, packing to leave Geneva and all the mess involved with going “wherever”, but always kept in touch, and he continued enthusiastic, which made me start thinking in more ways to contribute to all this momentum. So, next opportunity was actually in early December, as I was going to be briefly in Portugal as one of the speakers at the Flash Camp conference in Lisbon. One thing I remember that changed my perspective completely was when I started to attend conferences and to get inspired with what others were doing, and that point was really important in my career. So, one day while I was teaching him something at one of my hometown cafes before going to Lisbon, I had the idea (one day before) of bringing him to the conference. Risking his family finding the idea a bit odd, I asked him to see with his aunt (who takes care of him) if it was OK and ask her to actually meet me to talk about this. Funny enough, she was not even aware of the hidden coding talent going on in there (again, he is quite humble, and a few months ago, he was 10 times more shy than he is now). Everything was OK and he took the bus to Lisbon and met me there, as I had to be there a day earlier. I was really glad, since I am sad to say that most people in my hometown is way too close-minded, and in a case like this, it would be more common for the family itself to not even believing that this would be worth or even useful for him, let alone believing in his possible talent. But as it has been until now, he had all their support in this subject, and I am really happy for that. Otherwise it could be a dead stop right there.


In Lisbon, he arrived the night before the conference and after I picked him at the coach station I took him to meet the other speakers and the usual artist/geek gang. Even with his shy nature, after a while he was feeling comfortable enough with the group. After I tell him who they were and what they do, he was even more impressed, specially how accessible and “normal” everyone was. That’s one of the things I really love in the developer community: there’s not that much of the “rock-star” patronizing attitude and it’s more about sharing knowledge and inspiring others. After dinner and some time in the pub, and I made it important for him to mingle with everyone all the time, I showed him some of Joshua Davis‘ work, which impressed him a lot (generative art was the topic on my workshop’s second day and I remember he was quite curious). Next day during the conference sessions he got even more impressed with all the stuff going on. That was exactly what I expected. That shift in perspective that shows what’s actually going on, and even where we can get. Tom Krcha‘s session about the future of gaming with the Flash platform, with all the demos, also got him tuned in. Funny enough, more or less the same subjects that grab my attention (I am switching to game development during the last couple of years). After we are back from Lisbon to my countryside hometown, I was really glad when I heard from his aunt next day on the phone that he told her in a very solid tone: “This is what I want to do from now on!”.


After this first change of perspective, it was quite clear for me that I had to show him some international conferences and more people and their work. From here on, I started getting more active on this “investment in talent” thing, and teaching him as much as I could. I reserved some time to teach him some more Flash/Flex/AS3 coding stuff before leaving my hometown to be back in Switzerland, as I was moving to the middle of the Alps. I was already thinking that a good opportunity would be gotoAndSki, the conference I organize in the Swiss Alps every year. After I was already living in the alps, I contacted him and his family and again, they were OK with it. I should remind he was 16 years old. A few months (and several hours of weekly Skype remote lessons) later, Fred was in the alps for his first international conference. This was actually even better for his communication skills and also practicing his English, since his school had the brilliant idea of removing a bunch of students from English classes and placing them in French classes… in a IT/Multimedia course!… (that will feed a possible future post, as I am not very keen on schools doing career-sabotage to students). This was his first international networking with professionals with solid careers on this field, not only the speakers, but the attendees too. And he got to learn snowboarding with my fellow Jens Brynildsen. His peak interest was during Eugene Zatepyakin‘s session about computer vision and image feature detection, again, the kind of things that also get me tuned in. Everything went well again, and his “geek spark” got even more active after this event. Al this started feeling very rewarding for me. Again, every spare time we had, I was teaching him as much as I could.


When I moved to the Netherlands, I already had in mind bringing him to FITC Amsterdam, my favorite big conference in Europe. I started talking with him and his aunt about this right after the alps. It even went better than planned as I had a chance to get him a paid internship in one of the client projects I was working on, as well as his first solo gig, building his first simple website for another client (HTML/CSS stuff). Apart from that, he was going to help in the  CoderGang project: he was the official cameraman for FITC for all the interviews. Actually, Fred is now part of the crew, as he is in charge of the video post-production too (apart from coding, he also has a lot of related side-skills “classes” like Adobe Premiere, Photoshop and Illustrator). He stayed in Amsterdam for 2 weeks for this internship/apprenticeship. Apart from the conference 2 days and his (17th) birthday, which were basically the only days off, everyday was filled with learning (at a fast pace) as well as working hard on the parts of the project we was assigned, with some occasional time for exploring Amsterdam by the end of the day (he should be missing the bike). Of course he was introduced to my “world office”: working from Starbucks and similar places, which he seemed to like too. I am quite happy that he also was able to experience (outrageously) better (and realistic) pay rates than he would get in Portugal for the same work. Sad enough, when he was back, the school didn’t find all this was a benefit to his career, knowledge and experience at all, and didn’t even bother listening about what he learned (but I don’t even want to get there… yet). Unfortunately I can’t take him with me to my next “essential” European conference, Beyond Tellerand Play in Köln/Germany, next week, where he would get even more inspired with all the excellent content in every year’s sessions.


After Amsterdam, to compensate for the school days he missed, and that were not covered by weekends or holidays, the school “offered” him with a lot of stuff to do during Easter holidays, otherwise he would fail the full 3-year IT course, since the internship was not recognized. This was not a big deal for him (apart from stealing him the holidays), considering he was doing quite more advanced stuff a few days before. I saw the task list, which I confess it was quite unfair, and taught him a few more things during our usual Skype lessons, usually twice a week, or more, including stuff I don’t use for about 10 years but he needed for that test/punishment. I also saw the results in the end and he managed to do an excellent job, which again, was not a surprise for me. Now rewinding a few weeks before, while he was still in Amsterdam, I challenged him to think about and come up with a simple game concept and ideas, which would be a good project for him to start from scratch by himself. One night in a bar, he said he already had an idea. Took me a while to get him to talk (less shy but still shy by then), and when he did, this was another one of those rewarding moments: apart from technical skills, I saw there was also creativity in there. He started building this game right after he was back to Portugal, slowly, with stuff he learned in the other projects, as well as from Skype lessons taught later, as he decides what he is more interested at. I am a pain and I never make things too easy, forcing him to try and research for himself, and always throwing new challenges. The first results, I saw them yesterday, as his first game was finally ready. Squatrix is now waiting for approval was just approved and it’s now available for the PlayBook tablet at BlackBerry app world (iOS and Android and Facebook versions coming next), and I am sure it will get trough. Simple arcade/puzzle concept, but I got addicted while trying and could only stop on level 41 (because I lost) after, well… several rounds.


I am really proud of him for all this and I am really happy for finding this talent by accident, actually in my hometown, and for what I was able to help pushing forward so far. As I said, this has been a very rewarding experience, and will carry on for sure, as I want to take this further. Apart from Fred having a lot to learn from here, there’s plenty of talent out there, but sadly enough, not that many people investing in talent, unless they can squeeze it and profit from that. So, I recommend and challenge everyone with a solid career to spot some talent in need of a small push, which I am sure everyone already happened to bump into, and take the small extra step to help them moving a little bit forward. Even the shortest amount of effort, I can grant it will be outrageously satisfying after seeing the first results. As John Dalziel said during the conference in Amsterdam, in a pub night while we were talking about Fred’s case, “it must feel like gardening”. As I don’t really lean towards such activities, and would probably be useless taking care of a garden, I completely agree that’s really a good way to describe it. I will be in Amsterdam for another month but will stay for 2 months in my hometown before leaving for a 12+ city European workshop tour, and then Asia. During my time in the south of Portugal to see my parents and a few good friends, I am really looking forward to spend some more time teaching Fred a lot more. And already have part of another project to share with him as part of his apprenticeship, so, part of his holidays will be busy but he seems happy with that. Our hometown only has the small (big) problem of being small enough for people without a life of their own to try to drag everyone else, specially when they see someone getting unstuck from the status quo and starting to move forward (let alone shine, as Fred will). That said, I am glad that Fred also realized already that his career path will be completely different if he stays there, or even in Portugal (there comes perspective again, and how it changes the way we see everything). So, I guess everyone will see him “wherever” too, soon enough.

I confess I am really impressed with the amount complex stuff he learned in a very short time-span, and I am quite curious to see where all this is heading.

Congratulations for where you got so far, Fred. Well done, my friend, and thanks for all your efforts. I have no doubt you will be shining soon on the creative/technical field!

During Fred’s ongoing apprenticeship, he will be also accepting some projects under my supervision. He is finishing his website now, and there will be more details (and link) about that soon, but I should warn the usual cheapskates that apart from technical subjects I am also teaching him how to build a career as a freelancer, including that important “how to spot and run away from the usual rip-off clients” chapter.

UPDATE: I am glad to announce that Fred will be working with me during my European workshop tour, this summer.

Posted by Fernando Colaco at 2:03 pm

I had to write a post about how to set your own company. There’s plenty of choices, but in my case I picked Seychelles for a simple reason: there’s many jurisdictions with zero taxes, but for most you still have to present yearly reports for profit and expenses, and others demand you have a secretary on the chosen country (Hong Kong for example). For a Seychelles IBC, which stands for International Business Company, you don’t have to even waste time with that, and time is money, specially when it’s wasted on the yearly tax paperwork ritual. Now receipts can actually be trashed directly (and I don’t have to travel with a folder or box full of them). Opening your IBC is usually done trough a lawyer or a specialized company that takes care of everything for different jurisdictions. I picked one of these companies in Geneva and I am glad I did.

The process was straightforward and surprisingly simple. We even had a few meetings for inevitable questions from my side, and guess what, they were free of charge. Opening the company is as simple as collecting the needed documents, which are basically your passport and some info on what kind of activity you want to start. As a freelancer this is even simpler as you are the sole director and share-holder of your company. Then you just need a name (and another two alternative ones) for your company and it should take a couple of days for you to get your confirmation and a few more to receive all your documents. That’s it: you are the owner of a company abroad

No dodgy steps as hiding one company inside another (inside yet another and so on), it’s all public and legal. Don’t mix this up with the typical financial “structures” often associated with money laundering. Again, this is not tax dodging as far as you don’t settle and become a resident of any specific country, because, of course, in that case, you are eligible to benefits and will have to get back to your contribution with all the taxes and whatsoever you already know. As I get a some friends and colleagues asking if clients won’t refuse an invoice from an offshore company: so far, I’m in my 22th invoice of 2012 and no client posed any problem at all.

The company I used to take care of everything, and I highly recommend is SFM. I did most of the stuff trough their office in Geneva and part remotely, as they can take care of everything by mail/fax/phone/internet. They also have offices in other cities. Check their website for options, jurisdictions and service prices. Talking about that, it got down to a single payment of €790 to get everything setup and from now a €690 yearly service fee. Of course it already made a huge difference regarding money and time saved, as in my last post.

I am starting actually a foundation for doing something genuinely useful with the money that would end up in taxes. It’s technology/education related and a dedicated post about that will be coming soon.

Posted by Fernando Colaco at 1:34 pm

OK, this post is definitely late. As I write this, I am actually in the train moving to my second country stop: On my way to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
So, this is a recap of the first 3 months owning an IBC (International Business Company). The first chosen country was… Switzerland. Yes, that was the country that I decided to leave. And I did, moved to Portugal for a while while paperwork was still resolving, to London for a few weeks for work and running my workshop, and then moved back to Switzerland, but this time after revoking my resident permit, so, as a tourist. I rented a chalet literally in the middle of the alps, in Stechelberg. This was my “office” for 3 months:

Now regarding the offshore side of things: The difference is huge as you are not ripped-off with the usual resident “welcome pack”, which applies to every country. That translates really quickly in time saved, huge amounts of time. Yes, time is money, and it also works the other way around, so, if you are not throwing half of your money in the trash (paying politicians luxuries and their holidays and the usual crap), you don’t need to work as many hours, which means you get more free time, either for dedicating to your good clients or to your own projects. That’s exactly why I started investing part of my time after some “bad client cleanup” in some projects of mine I had to push forward. One of them is Macacool: a web and mobile series of games which I started as a spare-time project with my cousin David, almost 2 years ago, moving slowly but now finally getting launched. The first (of many) games is actually now on pre-release in Facebook: BuddyBonk and the mobile versions are on the last beta stage. I am also involved in an exciting project, music related, that I can’t announce yet, but I will soon.

This first 3 months of my “nomad-geek” life were in fact really productive and they went really fast. I started a new exciting client project after I carefully assessed my availability regarding time I could dedicate to new projects. The rule was to only get something really interesting, as I had enough work filtering out clients and projects I was better off without, and wrapping those up. At the same time I was also working on gotoAndSki, my developer conference, that takes place in the middle of the alps every year. And it went really well this year again. the fact that I was on location helped a lot with organizing everything. I was missing the alps immediately after leaving but now I guess I am settled in Amsterdam, well, until next stop in mid-May: Beijing. The alps will be my only fixed yearly stop, because of my conference, and because I don’t think I’ll be able to leave without the mountains in there, and all the lovely local people.

I should also add that the fact that I had no Internet access (except email on my mobile phone) in the chalet led to one of my most productive quarter, ever. I was “forced” to focus on no-internet activities in the morning, meaning no distractions at all. Everything that needed a connection had to wait for the afternoon, as the nearby hotel as a connection. Very slow connection, in fact, and for a few times I worked from an internet-cafe (with amazing food and tea) in Lauterbrunnen, 15 minutes bus ride anyway.

The few times I really needed a car during this first 3 months without my beloved Prius, I just rented one, and guess what, it’s freaking cheap compared to owning a car (and parking, and insurances, and whatever).

From January also, as a new year resolution, I declared Monday as my official day off, and further, Monday is my MANDATORY Spa day (and I mean full-day). In the alps there’s plenty of Spas but ended up most times at Interlaken. Why Mondays? Well, definitely is the day of the week when everyone from your customers, to service providers, and even random people you might need to deal with will be on their worst mood, if not fussy. So, I skip this day regarding interactions, specially related to work, and specially meetings, even phone and Skype ones. It’s now declared as the day I am unreachable. My other day off is usually Sunday, but Monday is THE confirmed one, for sure. Made a huge difference.

Posted by Fernando Colaco at 11:35 am

So, first part of my plan already started, I am now in Portugal for about 2 weeks but still taking care of some paperwork for Switzerland. Yes, it’s a pain in the *** to get out. I am now waiting for my taxes for 2010 and the ones for this year to get resolved. Before that, my residency still counts as if I was still in there, meaning I am still paying all rip-offs insurances and taxes, including the TV tax for my apartment, with someone else already living there. But by the end of this month, or worst case next one, should be fine.

Meanwhile, I have been pushing some client work ahead as well as some personal projects too. And preparing a brand new 3-day workshop (to start end of September) while touring my Intro to Coding workshop by the end of this month in Geneva, end of next month in London and also some dates to confirm for next month for Lisbon and possibly Porto. Also have to prepare a presentation for an incoming conference. Slowly planning also already my gotoAndSki conference, held in the Swiss Alps in January, to where I am moving in November (into a lovely chalet in the middle of nowhere, which as been my creativity hideout a few times before, but now will be for 3 full months).

So, kind of busy, but at a less insane pace for sure, with a break last week on the Portuguese SouthWest coast (Zambujeira, to be more precise) with good friends, barely turning the laptop ON (that’s new!). I leave everyone a hint of what the place from where I came back yesterday is like:

Alteirinhos beach, Zambujeira, WestCoast, Portugal Zambujeira, WestCoast, Portugal


Posted by Fernando Colaco at 8:09 pm

Now only need to get rid of a shit-load a lot of some MORE paperwork. The main bureaucratic stuff is done, but there’s still enough to get “entertained” for the next month,  while in Portugal, specially 2011 taxes in advance (grinds teeth). Apparently getting OUT of Switzerland is even more of an exercise than getting IN. For anyone who thought that odd loop of “you need a permit to get a job BUT you need a job to get a permit” was screwed-up (and somehow reminiscent of the chicken-egg thing), getting out involves a few more variables: Taxes, Insurances, Permit and whatsoever, and there’s quite an odd dependency FAILs in-between. Of course the last ones you are able to close are the ones you have to pay every month, so if some department has their stuff stuck for a while, you keep paying all your lovely insurances and some pseudo-service (cough*Billag*cough*tv-tax*cough) bills every month (being there or not), until everything is sorted and your work/residence permit is finally collected. And someone should remind this people (please!) that probably the taxes we pay should be enough to cover those pesky 25 CHF we have to pay for every lovely freaking form. And there’s more than enough of them. Hmm, why am I ranting so much today? Oh, spent the afternoon filling forms…
Enough of boring crap, but I couldn’t be creative enough to make paperwork stuff sound interesting.

Now, for everyone wanting to know how it feels to see all your stuff (specially if you accumulate A LOT for 8 years) in a month, it feels OUTRAGEOUSLY GREAT, kind of a huge relief, you actually feel free from those things, which is exactly what they are. If I started cringing for material things (even if some are nice gadgets (that I used once or twice)), then I guess I should be worried with myself.

So today, after finishing selling/donating EVERYTHING in this hectic 4 weeks, and some cleaning to the huge mess the flat ended up, this is how my ENLARGED apartment looks like now :)

So, more stuff coming soon. I have work in progress and some personal projects finally moving forward. Also, Incorporating offshore will be within a few weeks. Quite curious how much of a pain it will be or not (more paperwork, yeah). Apparently can be done in one to three days, but I prefer to stay skeptic :)

I definitely have to make a review of my new travel bag (which I’ll be living off, basically).

So, here goes the first post:

I’m Fernando (just another computer geek), and I’m about to do a small (well, probably huge) change in my life and want to share it with whomever might interested.

Every couple of years or so I add a challenge and something to change (for good) regarding what I do or should not do. And always happens around some big change, so it’s actually easier because you have more important things to focus and to get worried with. This is just another “small big change”, like my usual ones: When I moved from Portugal to Switzerland over 7 years ago, I completely stopped smoking (2 to 3 daily packets of Marlboro), when I resigned from the advertising agency where I worked for 3 years I stopped drinking coffee (about 15 daily double espressos), later I went from eating almost exclusively fast-food crap and rarely any vegetable to being vegetarian,  when I resigned from a company on the finance field and decided to start freelancing I ended up “upgrading” to fully vegan (no meat, fish, dairy or eggs) and 2 years ago, completely gluten and refined sugar free too. Several months ago, alcohol is also out of the way. Best of all, I am alive and feel better than ever. I like to use myself as a guinea pig, so I can get back if something is not that good or not as expected, I don’t do things because someone famous said so, because I read it in some book or because it’s somewhere in the internet, or because it’s some kind of a trend now or whenever. I check if things work for me, and if they do, that’s great, and I keep them, and I don’t need or want to bother everyone to do the same (well, some people end up doing it, specially the vegan part, but I guess that was because of the extra 30 kg that vanished after that).

So what happened now? Well, (without a big drama) recently I just burned out, thanks to being kind of a workaholic for loving what I do, not really for the need to work as if there’s no tomorrow. By the way, I’m fine now (my mom will read this!). Well, guess what, apart from the great wake-up call, this was inevitable to push me on re-planning my life, the way I work, and as usual a great opportunity for another change. And it already started, mostly on the planning stage but some decisions and actions already taken. Moving forward already to actually make the FREE in Freelancer actually make sense. Basically I am getting rid of all my STUFF and detaching from a lot of bureaucratic nonsense ties while not going illegal, renouncing the usual apparent benefits, and will use this blog to share everything, not only every step and what will go right and wrong, but all travel experiences, living in each of the countries and cities that will be part of this, and the occasional travel gadget review. If you want all details on THE PLAN, just check the ABOUT page on the main menu on top, or click my scribble below:

So what is this all for? Well, this will take the usual time wasting extras of life out of my way and leverage the value of the income earned with my work, allowing me to allocate less projects at a time. Most important is that it will benefit my most valuable asset, TIME, which will give me more freedom to invest in my own projects (that usually die in some kind of imaginary drawer for ideas, after someone has a similar one, usually some years later), dedicate more time to my good clients and the really interesting and challenging projects (as I won’t need anymore to waste time with the not-so-great ones for paying-bills-sake) and start again teaching and sharing my skills, which I already officially started with my workshops. Also, traveling, specially by train (avoiding airport stress and instant back to work without a break) also feeds my mind, with direct positive results on my creative side.

Thank you and feel free to bookmark this blog, subscribe to the RSS feed or by email (on the sidebar) and of course share this by using the like/tweet buttons on the footer where you can also find links to my website (more stuff in the portfolio coming soon now that I will finally find some time) and the usual social websites where everyone is. More details on the ABOUT page.

See you around… wherever!