An Expat Copywriter during the Time of Coronavirus

Everyone has a story of their time during COVID-19.  A crisis on this global scale will be analysed, written about and documented in the history books. Coronavirus has affected everyone in some way.  As of July 11, 2020, over 12.6  million people have tested positive for coronavirus, and over almost 600,000 have died. 

It is extraordinarily challenging times, especially for freelance copywriters.  Without the security of long-term contracts, many freelance copywriters are very vulnerable. 

But if you are an expat freelance copywriter, there are extra layers of difficulty and stress.  At the same time, you navigate both your professional and personal life during COVID-19.

Our move from Australia to the Austrian Alps

Wanderlust, Fernfeh- whatever you want to call it.  We were itching to move.  The plan for our return to Austria, after living in Vienna in the late 90s, had been percolating in our minds for a few years.  I had already established myself as a freelance copywriter in Australia, ready for the move. 

It would be a significant change for us from a big, tropical city to a small alpine village surrounded by mountains and rolling green pastures.  There was not to be a “Sea-change” or “tree-change” for us.  We were going in for the full “Mountain-change”.   

I spent months finishing up client projects, organising my family, packing, selling our house and saying goodbye to friends.

We arrived in Austria in December 2019.  It was a snowy winter wonderland. 

Coronavirus arrives in Austria 

Coronavirus seemed to be occurring in the background.  We followed it on the news, but it seemed far away – not really a worry to us, half a world away in snowy Austria.  We learned quickly about how small the world really is.  All of a sudden, the virus was wreaking havoc in Italy.   Then a few travellers returning were diagnosed in Austria.  At the beginning of March, during a busy ski season, 100s of cases were diagnosed in the Tyrolean ski resort town of Ischgl.

Coronavirus had arrived in Austria!   It was just over the mountain range from where we live.   By mid-March, the Austrian Government introduced measures.   Schools were closed,  Major events were cancelled; Ski resorts, restaurants, shops and all tourism facilities were closed. We were only allowed to leave our home for essential work, to go to the grocery store, pharmacy or Tabak (yes this is Austria) or to assist someone in need.  Neighbouring villages were locked down under strict quarantine measures.  Now coronavirus became our new reality. 

An Expat in Austria during COVID-19

 Against the new reality of COVID-19, the difficulties of being an expat had been notched up to stratospheric levels. Dealing with the expectations on how we envisioned our new life abroad to our reality was stressful. 

It is an unsettled time, for those of us that are starting a new expat adventure during COVID-19.   Being an expat is fraught with challenges at the best of times. 

Expat life is sometimes pictured as a perfect life -Travel, culture, adventures and new experiences.  But it’s not all sunshine, sparkles and unicorn dust. The life of an expat can be an emotional roller coaster.  Dealing with homesickness, stress, anxiety and the “OMG! What have I done?” moments.  These ups and downs are much more prevalent during times of crises. 

Relatives and friends did not understand why we were not jumping on the next plane to go back “home”. How do you tell them it’s not home anymore?  Home was now Austria.

Being the new kid on the block is hard.  You do not have a pre-existing social network of friends, family and neighbours, making it difficult to acclimatise and integrate into a new community.   Meeting the neighbours, making new friends, joining social and sports groups- are all activities not allowed during COVID quarantine measures.

In addition to all the typical hassles of moving to a new community, it is astronomically harder if you do not speak the language.   My German was rudimentary.  During COVID, all German language classes were cancelled. So my plan on improving my understanding and pronunciation of German looked like it was put on hold indefinitely.   

Then the dreaded bureaucracy of being an expat: visas, permits, health cards, licences, insurance paperwork etc.   During COVID-19 most of these offices in Austria were closed, all processing was delayed or just not happening.  The issuing of my permanent visa was delayed.  I was soon going to be faced with an expired visa and having to leave the country.  I felt like I was left in a state of prolonged estrangement – a new home but not a sense of belonging.   A bit like Tom Hanks in Terminal, being stuck without a residency visa.  There were long, nervous days wondering if I would get my resident visa before my tourist visa ran out. 

On top of that our children were sent home from boarding schools and/or working online from mid-March.  They were without their peer groups and needed to work really hard to make new friends.  My daughter attends an Austrian school, where the language of instruction is German.   Not only was online schooling difficult, now it had a whole new level of complexity- she had to learn her lessons in German!  I don’t know how to explain Pythagorean Theorem in German!   


Expat Copywriter woes during COVID-19

We had relocated to an alpine sports and tourism paradise.  I had unpacked my computer and set up my desk.  I even eventually received my residency visa and Tax file number.  I was now a real person!  I can now hang out my Copywriting Tile.  But not so fast…My plan for starting my copywriting business was put on hold.  

Every tourist facility, restaurant, bar, hotel were closed due to coronavirus.  The new clients I had dreamed of writing fantastic English copy for were closed and laying off staff.  Almost every Austrian business was working on “Kurzarbeit” short working hours.  No one was looking for a freelancer.

I am a new fish in a big pond- competing with a lot of established German copywriting companies.    The “coronashark” seemed to have eaten many of the small fish.   Travel, at least for the next few years, will be challenging and expensive.  So that means the local tourism industry will be concentrating their marketing efforts on domestic German-speaking travellers.  My service of offering English copy for English-speaking tourists is probably not going to be in high demand.

My Current reality as an Expat Copywriter

But enough, it was time to get off the pity train and put on my big girl pants.  The British, American & Dutch tourists will come back again.  There will be a need for excellent English tourism copy.  There may not be much work coming in, but there was a lot I could do now to prepare.  I am using this downtime to learn new skills (hello Canva) and expanding on current expertise in proofreading and editing.  I still have my scientific and academic clients.  

Most of all I decided not to stress about things that I cannot change.  To have faith that eventually, my business will happen.  Instead, I am using my free time to go hiking and biking in my amazing new home. 

We have been lucky.  My family has not been sick with coronavirus.  The Austrian Government responded to the crisis quickly and decisively, meaning we have been spared from a far worst outcome.

For months, we social distanced, learned to Zoom, we WFH (worked from home), and we feel naked if we go out without a face mask.  I am learning German by watching the Austrian/German news and TV programs. We have learned to be more patient, that we can survive on weekly shopping trips and to enjoy the little things in our new hometown.   

Our teens have survived – remarkably, they have not killed each other.  They have switched, seemingly effortlessly, to their online life – TikToks, Snapchat, What’s App or whatever social media platform is cool at this moment.  They are “talking” to their new Austrian friends and their friends 15,000 km away.  They are riding bikes and going for walks (one of the advantages of living in the countryside), learning to cook, watching Netflix and at some point also did their online schoolwork.

It’s now summer in Austria.  The restrictions have been eased and, the borders have reopened to neighbouring countries.  Tourists are starting to come back to the mountains.  Although this in itself is a bit scary- Will there be a second wave?  What is really our new reality?

So, I will embrace life in our new adopted home as an expat copywriter during COVID19.    And know that these experiences will make me a better copywriter and I will have a story to tell of our expat life during COVID-19. 


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