Whether you’re a writer, a graphic designer, a consultant, a personal trainer, or even a male model, you need to know the facts about freelancing in China. Can’t decide whether to go freelance or not? We’ve gathered the pros and cons to help you make up your mind.
Photo: Felipe Setlik
The pros are pretty obvious. The main advantage is flexibility. If you work full time for a single company, you will most probably be on a nine to five schedule, with limited holiday time. As a freelancer, you can manage your time yourself, and take your vacations outside of peak season. If you’re a freelance writer and your projects are web-based, you can work pretty much anywhere. When it’s cold and dry out, the idea of taking your laptop to Sanya for a week is tempting! Also, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you stand to make more money from freelancing than a single salary would give you.
However, there are cons to weigh up. For some people, the idea of working outside of an office situation can be daunting. You need discipline to get out of bed early if you don’t have to be at your desk at 9am on the dot. The structure of full time work, despite the daily drudge, is something that keeps many people going, and the banter of colleagues is something you might miss if you work from home. Plus, the life of a freelancer isn’t the most stable, especially when you first start out. It can be ‘hand to mouth’ at times, especially if your employers are tardy with payments.
Freelancing has its drawbacks from a logistical standpoint too. The main problem will be your visa. If you’ve worked full time for a company before, and leave to take up freelance work, you may have time left on your Z visa. You’ll also have your residency permit sorted. However, if you’re starting off as a freelancer straight away and don’t have a working visa, you may encounter problems.
An F visa is the way many freelancers go. According to the guidelines, the F is for “an alien who is invited to China for a visit, an investigation, a lecture, to do business, scientific-technological and culture exchanges, short-term advanced studies or internship” – pretty vague stuff, which can apply to many lines of work. To get the visa through the official channels, you’ll need a letter of invitation from a company. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you’ve already lined up some freelance work. Otherwise, there are agencies that will get you an F visa at extra cost, but it isn’t entirely above board.
Invoicing and tax
As for invoicing and tax, if you sign a contract as an individual and invoice monthly, the company will sort out your tax payments for you. If you earn below 5000 RMB per month, you don’t have to pay tax. This sort of arrangement works well if you are a low- to mid-range earner, but if you want to make big bucks working for large companies, you should consider setting up a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise. A WFOE is a limited company owned in full by a non-native, and allows you to trade, manufacture and consult. The set up investment cost is high, so you should only consider this if you have a lot of money to invest. Learn about the ins and outs of WFOEs here. There are also third party companies that will sponsor your Z visa and invoice on your behalf, such as AccessFinancial who have offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Something else to bear in mind when going freelance is organisation. Working for more than one company can get confusing, especially when it comes to invoicing, so make sure you have a spreadsheet, and sort your email into folders for each company or project.
The ease of actually finding work depends on your industry. For creative work, the expat job boards are a good place to start. eChinacities has job listings for more than 50 cities in China. A good, specialised website to try is FreelancerChina.com – the self-professed “largest outsourcing platform in China”. Companies post ads for jobs and projects, which freelancers then bid for. Payment is processed using escrow. It only takes a couple of minutes to sign up, and is very easy to use. Networking events are another good source of clients, and there’s a lot to be said for word of mouth. For modeling and acting work, job boards are a fertile field as well, as many agents and representatives advertise for new talent.
Of course, freelancing is riskier and less reliable than working full time for a single company, but the rewards are plentiful if you play your cards right.
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But in case I was a freelance with an European VAT number, and decide to go to China with a touristic visa because I do not have an invitation letter of a Chinese company or I did not already find a job, can I work from home with my previous European company? I mean, it is as if I was 3 months on holiday, and I work, but I would invoice with my VAT number. When the touristic visa expires, I come back home and my Chinese holiday finishes... If I was a writer I could write a book wherever I want (I think...) and if my editor is French he will pay me on my French bank account... Am I wrong?
May 28, 2014 18:11 Report Abuse
Moonlighting in China is illegal - for foreigner and Chinese national alike. Many do, some get away with it because they've just got that kind of maverick personality, others don't and lose their day job for breech of contract and then risk losing credibility in the freelance job because of it. The choice is yours.
Secondly, slight error in the article: no matter how well you've sorted or navigated your visa situation, if you are earning a regular income on anything other than a resident permit which you have obtained from entering China on a Z visa, you are breaking the law. Thats what it boils down to.
But, again, people go ahead and take up that little job on the side whilst on their X/F/L visas. Some get away with, others bring a shitstorm down on themselves because of it. Again, the choice is yours.
Jul 22, 2011 00:16 Report Abuse
The great thing about being an English speaker in China is the amount of freelance work out there. The downside is how boring a lot of it is -- dealing with Chinglish all day starts to warp you after a while. Also, there are so many people out there teaching English or writing/editing that have absolutely no command of the language. Also on this list should be this helpful hint: when applying for jobs or placing ads offering your services, be sure to use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation!
Feb 04, 2010 18:06 Report Abuse