Can’t decide whether to go freelance or not? Whether you’re a writer, a graphic designer, a consultant, a personal trainer, or even a male model, it is important to know the facts about how to make it freelancing in China. We’ve gathered the pros and cons to help you make up your mind.
One of the pros of Freelance work: you can do it anywhere
Source: Giorgio Montersino
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 9-5 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 and freelancing from Sanya for a week is tempting! Also, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you could stand to make more money from freelancing in China than a single salary would give you. This is especially true if you become a freelancer for companies outside of China as you won’t be paid in RMB.
However, there are cons to weigh up. For some people, the idea of working outside of an office situation can be daunting. Freelancing involves self-control and discipline. Without a manager making sure you are at your desk at 09:00 you need to make your own routine and stick to it. 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. Sometimes, you will have lots of work and other times you could be living ‘hand to mouth’, especially if your employers are tardy with payments.
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.
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 “Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours, and other activities.” – 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 in China. Otherwise, there are agencies that will get you an F visa at extra cost, but it isn’t entirely above board.
Since the September 2013 change in visa regulations you can no longer obtain an F visa in Hong Kong, many people have had to return to their country of origin to apply.
Another option, however, once again this is not entirely above board, would be to study and get a student visa. However, attending class everyday will obviously take time away from doing your work, and you will have to pay for tuition. The monitoring of attendance at schools and universities is becoming much stricter, so think long and hard before you take this route.
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.
If you are freelancing for a company back home and being paid into a non-Chinese bank account, then you may need to be paying taxes in that country. This might be worth investigating to ensure you don’t have trouble when you go back home.
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, and you can now upload your resume and have potential employers look for you. 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, as are sites like Linkedin, and there’s a lot to be said for word of mouth. For modeling and acting work, job boards are a fertile field. Try city specific job boards for jobs near you. After a couple of jobs you are liking to be picked up by an agent you can help ensure a steady stream of work.
Of course, making it freelancing in China 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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Keywords: going freelance; become a freelancer Freelancing in China
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I'm glad to find this posting! Regarding the visa challenge: It's still possible - since the 2013 reform - to get a 1-year Z-visa in Hongkong without any invitation letters, that has always been the smarter choice compared to an F-visa in my opinion.
May 25, 2014 14:47 Report Abuse