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I often see freelancers suggesting to other freelancers to use the small claim courts to get paid when the client is in another country. Already with the small claim court, there's a maximum amount allowed so I'm not talking about $10,000USD but amounts like $500-3000 USD.

I know this greatly depends on a lot of factors but to my knowledge small claims court cannot be used to sue someone who is not physically in the country/jurisdiction where the case will be held. I read all sort of things on some Stacks here which I think are wrong such as "get someone to represent you in the small claim court" for this kind of situation (overseas contract of small value).

From what I understand from my research, a case can be heard in civil court if represented by an attorney, but prosecution and collection can be so costly and risky that it's not considered worthwhile on small debts below $10,000.

If you need an example of countries, let's say 2 very different countries like Pakistan and USA.

So my question is:

Can a freelancer who works for a client overseas use sue for payment in small claims court, with or without representation? Or can representation in court be made only through an attorney?

Does the answer change if the 2 countries are part of the EU?

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    Another question would be: even if you can sue in your local court, does that court have any legal or practical ability to enforce the judgement on the defendant (ordering seizure of assets, etc)? – Nate Eldredge Nov 17 '15 at 22:07
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Can suits be filed in small claims courts from overseas?

You can bring a suit in any court of "competent jurisdiction", that is, the court in question will decide if it has jurisdiction and if the parties have standing.

For a US small-claims court (which I infer is what you are asking), there must be some relevant connection between the parties or the contract and the state in which it is brought. A contract between a Pakistani and an Australian for work done in Mexico is unlikely to be found to be within the jurisdiction of any US court. However, if one of the parties is a US Delaware corporation and the work is done in California then both Delaware and California courts will have jurisdiction.

A further question is what law the court will apply. For your US/Pakistani case, it may be heard in a US court under Pakistani law or a Pakistani court under US law. Contracts may be explicit about what law they are made under but each court will decide for itself taking the parties wishes into account (or not). Note that some laws are not-excludable by contract, so that the relevant law might be Pakistani but with certain specific Californian laws applicable.

Enforcement is another issue, if the defendant has no assets in the jurisdiction where the judgement is made, how are you going to collect?

Can a freelancer who works for a client overseas use sue for payment in small claims court, with or without representation?

Subject to the above, yes. However, the freelancer will need to physically attend the court if representing themselves and brief council if not.

Or can representation in court be made only through an attorney?

Well, it is said:

A person who represents themselves has a fool for a client.

Going to court is a game. Lawyers know the rules and know how to play to win. Good lawyers know when not to play. Generally, a lay person doesn't: would you back yourself in a tennis match against an ATP professional?

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