4 places that will pay you to freelance

Feb 19, 2021

If you’ve spent the pandemic working from home in an expensive metropolis surrounded by roommates and street noise, you may have started to wonder why you’re still paying sky-high rent in a slowed-down city when you could be paying off a mortgage in, say, Tulsa.

Maybe you’re not ready to pack up and move, but you would like to spend some time in Hawaii this winter (of course you would).

If you’re thinking of joining the more than 15 million Americans who have relocated since the start of the pandemic, there are a few spots with moving incentives that you should know about. In exchange for joining the community — and the tax base — these places offer self-employed newcomers generous perks such as large cash bonuses, help with student loans, free airfare, and even a mountain bike.

Of course, if you are planning to relocate, it's crucial that you do so safely, by driving to your new home when possible or quarantining for a strict two weeks before you get on a plane, and quarantining again after you arrive.

1. Northwest Arkansas

If a slower pace of life near some world-renowned natural beauty sounds appealing, a move to Northwest Arkansas in the heart of the Ozark Mountains may be right for you. The region is offering a $10,000 bonus through its Life Works Here initiative to lure in qualified workers, as well as a mountain or street bike to explore the hundreds of miles of trails that have made the area a mecca for outdoorsy types.

If selected, you’ll get 25 percent of the bonus upfront to help with moving expenses, and a $500-per-month stipend after that. Once you complete 12 months as a resident of either Washington or Benton counties, you’ll get the remaining $1,500 in a lump sum.

To qualify, you must be at least 24, have two years of work experience, and be able to move to Northwest Arkansas within six months of being accepted. Like other remote worker programs, you’ll either need a full-time job that you can do remotely for an employer outside of Arkansas or a steady stream of freelance work. The program is a pilot, with a limited but undisclosed number of available spots. The application window is open now, but it’s not clear how long that will be the case, so apply soon if you’re interested. You can learn more here.

2. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Are you a fan of art deco buildings and spicy salsas? If so, you may want to apply for the Tulsa Remote program, which offers qualified freelancers a $10,000 bonus to move to the city known for its architecture, Mexican food, and occasional tornadoes. Like Arkansas’ program, you’ll get the money in installments, with a lump sum upfront to help with moving expenses followed by a monthly stipend, and then a final payment after you’ve completed your first year as a Tulsa resident.

Participants also get a desk at 36 Degrees North, a downtown coworking space that offers its members mentorship through a network of business advisors, as well as the chance to rub elbows with other remote workers (when rubbing elbows is safe again).

If you’re thinking about putting down some roots, Tulsa is an exceedingly affordable place to do so, with a median home cost of just $118,700 — about half the national average. For renters, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is just $669.

To qualify for Tulsa Remote, you need to be eligible to work in the United States, currently living outside of Oklahoma, and able to relocate to Tulsa within the 2021 calendar year. You must either work full-time for an employer outside of Oklahoma and be eligible to do your job remotely, or have stable income from self-employment. To learn more, visit here.

3. Maine

If you’re a recent graduate and open to moving to Maine, you may be eligible for help with your student loans thanks to the state’s Educational Opportunity Tax Credit.

The program started in 2008 to incentivize recent graduates of Maine universities to stick around after completing school by offering them a tax credit for their student loan payments, provided they didn’t move out of state. The program has since opened up to graduates of any U.S. college, as long as they earned their degrees after 2016.

If you qualify for the program, you can deduct your student loan payments from your state income taxes. For instance, if you owe $5,000 in taxes and you paid $4,000 in student loans, you’ll owe just $1,000 in taxes. If your degree is in a STEM field, you can get a check from the state if your total student loan payments exceed what you owe in taxes.

As for the quality of life in Maine, you can expect an abundant supply of lobster, scenic hiking spots, and a cost of living that falls slightly below the national average. In fact, a 2017 Thrillist article ranked Maine as the second-best state to call home, second only to Michigan.

4. Hawaii

The Aloha state is piloting a remote worker program with more modest incentives, but working from Hawaii could be considered an incentive of its own. If you’re not interested in a full-blown move and would rather freelance from a temporary, tropical home-base, Hawaii’s “Movers & Shakas” program may be right for you.

If you agree to stay for at least 30 consecutive days on the island of Oahu, injecting the local economy with some of your freelancer income, the state will pay for your airfare. You’ll also have access to long-term hotel discounts to make your work-cation more affordable.

So, what’s the catch? You’ll need to spend part of your time on the island volunteering for a local nonprofit, like Hawaii Literacy or Girl Scouts of Hawaii. You’ll also have to take a COVID test before boarding the plane, or submit to a 10-day quarantine after you arrive.

The first cohort of Movers & Shakas has already been selected, but the program’s site says they expect to begin accepting new applications in early 2021. For more information, visit here.

Alex Williamson

Alex Williamson is a journalist who learned how to freelance after the pandemic wiped out her local newsroom in April 2020. Now she reports on housing, health and inequality.