How to work from afar and on the cheap in China
Working from abroad and living on the cheap
Have you ever dreamed about working from afar, anywhere in the world? Without a doubt, one of the countries where this is at least somewhat feasible is China, mostly because China is at least decently wired, and there are a great many places where you can live for a seemingly incredibly low amount of money (hint: Shanghai is not one of them).
Where to live in China if you can work from anywhere
Leaving aside the feasibility of working online or away from the physical location of your job for the moment, it should be quite obvious that not all places are created equal when it comes to living and enjoying life in China. There have got to be a lot of places that would (literally) drive you crazy.
This is the question a reader emailed perhaps a month ago. Precisely, he asked: “So where could i go [in China] for a good quality of life at a good price?”
Here are some places that might work for you or him:
- Lijiang, Yun’nan province
- Dali, Yun’nan province
- Yangshuo, Guangxi province
Now you might be wondering about the reasons why. Let me give you a brief run-down:
Four reasons to live (for a while) in Lijiang, Dali, or Yangshuo China
There are five main reasons to live in any of these three places:
- Beautiful things to see and do (outside)
- People are friendly – for the most part
- Things are cheap – food & rent
- It’s clean – cleaner than much of China
- No lack of good food or (temporary) company
Let’s go through each of these a little bit more in detail:
Beautiful things to see and do (outside)
This is one of the biggest draws to places like this – the amazing things you can do in your free time. All three have plenty to dig your teeth into right in and around the “city”, and much more within reach for day trips (or longer). While this may get old quickly for some, it’s nicer to take a nice bike ride outside than go to the gym any day, wouldn’t you agree?
People are friendly – for the most part
The people in these areas are really quite friendly – even when they are trying to sell you stuff (which will happen in all three areas constantly – they are after all tourist destinations). As a general rule, the smaller the place in China the friendlier the people.
Things are cheap – esp. food and rent
Living in Lijiang, Dali, or Yangshuo, like living in most smaller cities in China, is cheap. Staying at a guest house (in a decently clean room with hardwood floors) runs 30-40 RMB per night, probably a bit less if you negotiate long term. And renting a place should be even more reasonable, perhaps paying as little as 500 RMB per month for a two bedroom furnished flat, per a discussion with someone in Lijiang a couple of years ago.
Food is even cheaper – with a decent Western meal (there are tons of such restaurants scattered around thanks to the ever growing ranks of foreign travelers in these areas) going for about 25 RMB and good Chinese joints where you can get good food for sometimes as little as several RMB (some of the better noodle dives in Yunnan province fit this bill).
It’s cleaner than much of China
This one speaks for itself. Living in some of the bigger cities of China (first Shenzhen and then Shanghai) doesn’t do much good for the respiratory system. If you live in one of the above places in China, you can avoid this fate.
The places mentioned above are clean, relatively speaking, for China. And there is an incentive to keep it that way to make sure tourist dollars keep rolling in.
No lack of good food or (temporary) company
Like mentioned above in the cheap section – there is plenty of reasonably priced food in these locations – and much of it is delicious.
It is also pretty easy to meet people and go do things together in these places, when traveling many have a more open stance to meeting new friends. But most or all of these people will be in transit and leave quickly – which can get old fast. But for a while you might really love it.
What about a Visa?
Getting an appropriate visa for this kind of stay is one of the biggest challenges anyone who decides to do this would face. The easiest place to get an appropriate visa is probably Hong Kong – but not everyone will be able to get one. For more information, check out another post on this issue here.
The other option is to get a job teaching English in one of these places and have your employer take care of visa issues for you – not the most appealing route for me but it should cover a good bit of your living costs and make getting a visa easier.
The drawback to living in such places (and much of China overall)
The biggest drawback to such places is the extraordinarily transitory nature of living that takes place – some foreigners do hang around (and the local Chinese people do as well) for extended periods of time, usually because they have opened a restaurant, but they are in a tiny minority.
Living in such places can get pretty lonely – and they are not such a good place to spend truly long periods of time – everyone needs a support system of family and long term friends – whether or not they convince themselves otherwise (though you might not realize this until you don’t have it around you).
But living in such places for several weeks at a time or so, while ‘travelling’ around China could be great. Maybe some day you can figure out a way to do so.
What places would you recommend for several month stays in China?
Please add any additional places below you think would be good places to stay more than just a few days in China, on the cheap, or any additional thoughts or suggestions you have below.