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Digital Nomad in China – an Ultimate Guide

Digital Nomad in China – Challenges and Opportunities

As a country with a rich history and diverse culture, China offers unique experiences for digital nomads. 

However, life as a digital nomad in China is not without its challenges. Navigating visa requirements, the language barriers, adjusting to cultural differences, and the strict internet censorship may present difficulties for some. 

On the other hand, the country’s vast geography allows for exploration and adventure, and those willing to adapt to the various hurdles will find China to be a rewarding destination.

Understanding the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The digital nomad lifestyle is an alternative way of living and working that allows people the freedom and flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world. This lifestyle has gained traction in recent years due to advancements in technology, making it easier for individuals to stay connected and collaborate with others, regardless of their location.

Emerging digital nomads inject ingenious dynamics into rural revitalization in China

Digital nomads typically prioritize work-life balance and often seek experiences beyond traditional office settings. They opt for locations with reliable internet connections, such as coworking spaces, cafes, or even their own homes. The common goal is to create a meaningful and productive work environment that allows for both professional growth and personal exploration.

Digital Nomad Movement in China

The digital nomad lifestyle is growing in popularity across the globe, and China is no exception. The rise of digital nomadism was initially slow but has accelerated dramatically over the past few years, with communities sprouting in various provinces. 

The competitive and costly life in big cities, together with economic slowdown after covid-19 made many talented, tech-savvy young Chinese people to re-think their lifestyle and pay attention to more life-work balance.

Cities like Anji in Zhejiang Province, and Dali in Yunnan are home to vibrant digital nomad communities, where young entrepreneurs and remote workers enjoy a high quality of life near the nature with less cost of living while exploring a new lifestyle.

By traveling while working online, digital nomads are on the rise in China

Popular Chinese Cities for Digital Nomads

China is a huge country, rich in diverse cultures and lifestyles. Among numerous cities offering a perfect blend of modern amenities and traditional charm, here are some of the popular destinations for travelers and digital nomads.

Dali, Yunnan Province

 digital nomad Dali China
Brücke-Osteuropa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to digital nomad movement in China, Dali is the place that’s generating buzz. Located in China’s Yunnan Province, Dali is a captivating destination for travelers and digital nomads. Framed by the Cangshan Mountains and overlooking Erhai Lake, it offers a stunning mix of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The ancient city, with its traditional Bai architecture, invites visitors to explore its historical roots, including landmarks like the Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Temple.

Nature lovers can enjoy hiking in the Cangshan Mountains or relaxing by Erhai Lake. For digital nomads, Dali offers a laid-back lifestyle, affordable living, and a growing community, with plenty of cafes with good wi-fi and several coworking spaces ideal for remote work.

The local cuisine is a highlight, featuring Yunnan specialties like Crossing-the-Bridge Noodles. The Bai people’s vibrant culture adds to the city’s charm, especially during festivals like the Third Month Fair and Torch Festival. Overall, Dali is a perfect blend of natural splendor, historical depth, and modern amenities, making it an alluring destination in China.

Anji, Zhejiang Province

digital nomad Anji China

Anji in Zhejiang Province, around 3-hour drive from Shanghai, is rapidly gaining popularity among local digital nomads, thanks to its serene environment and the innovative efforts of young entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are blending the digital nomad lifestyle with the area’s rural tranquility, creating a community that supports modern work approaches in a peaceful setting.

A key example of this transformation is Digital Nomad Anji (DNA) in Hengshan Village. This community, converted from an old bamboo and wood processing factory, offers co-working and co-living spaces tailored to the needs of digital nomads, fostering a sense of community and collaboration.

Beyond these entrepreneurial ventures, Anji’s appeal lies in its natural beauty, from lush bamboo forests to adventurous activities like hiking and white-water rafting. The region’s culinary offerings, featuring fresh, organic ingredients, add to its allure. Overall, Anji represents a unique blend of innovation, natural beauty, and cultural richness, making it an attractive destination for those seeking a balanced lifestyle in China.

Shanghai

digital nomad Shanghai China

Shanghai is often referred to as the “New York of Asia” or the “Paris of the East” and is another fantastic choice for digital nomads. 

Shanghai’s skyline, marked by its skyscrapers and modern structures, reflects the city’s rapid development and focus on technology. And yet, Shanghai has maintained its rich cultural heritage, offering a mix of old and new.

As a major city, cost of living in Shanghai can be expensive, particularly for housing and dining, but it depends on personal lifestyle and choices, and there are also many affordable options available for those on a budget.

The city boasts mesmerizing architecture and is a hot spot for cultural pursuits, entrepreneurial activities, and expat communities. There are numbers of high quality coworking spaces, including WeWork, XNode, Mixpace Wonderwall, and People Squared, catering to the needs of digital nomads and professionals looking for flexible work environments.

Beijing

digital nomad Beijing China

Beijing, as a destination for digital nomads in China, offers a captivating blend of tradition and modernity. As the cultural and political heart of the nation, this vibrant city is a tapestry of contrasts, where historic temples stand alongside imposing skyscrapers. Its bustling streets are not only a hub of daily activity but also a gateway to some of China’s most significant historical landmarks, offering a rich and stimulating environment for visitors.

Travelers are drawn to Beijing’s iconic sites, such as the Forbidden City, a majestic palace complex that was the home of emperors for centuries, and the nearby Tiananmen Square, one of the world’s largest public squares. The Great Wall of China, a short journey from the city, offers a breathtaking experience with its vast, winding structure set against rugged landscapes. For a taste of traditional Beijing, the hutongs – narrow alleyways lined with quaint houses – provide a glimpse into the city’s old way of life.

While accommodation in Beijing, similar to Shanghai, ranks among the most expensive in China, the city’s unique blend of historical richness and modern amenities continues to attract digital nomads.

Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

digital nomad Guangzhou China

Guangzhou, located in southern China, is increasingly becoming a favored destination for digital nomads. Known as China’s southern capital, this bustling metropolis of over 15 million people is celebrated for its commercial dynamism. The city offers a range of coworking spaces and networking events, providing digital nomads with ample opportunities to connect with fellow professionals.

If you’re comfortable with summer temperatures in the 30°C range, high humidity, and a tropical atmosphere, Guangzhou could be an excellent choice. Notably, the cost of living here is lower compared to other major Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing.

The location also offers an added advantage for digital nomads. It’s situated close to several popular destinations, including Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. With its blend of affordability, vibrant community, and proximity to other nomad hotspots, Guangzhou presents a compelling option for digital nomads seeking a diverse and dynamic urban experience in China.

Life as a Digital Nomad in China

 life as a digital nomad in China

Coworking spaces are common especially in large cities, providing digital nomads with comfortable environments to work, ensuring access to reliable internet.

The food in China is diverse and delicious, reflecting the rich tapestry of its regional cultures and flavors. From the spicy Sichuan delicacies and Cantonese dim sum to the hearty northern dishes, you can enjoy a variety of culinary experiences, ranging from traditional Chinese dishes to international cuisines. Each region offers its own unique twist on ingredients and cooking techniques, ensuring that every meal is an adventure in taste and texture. Whether you’re sampling street food or dining in upscale restaurants, the Chinese culinary landscape is sure to delight and surprise you.

When it comes to the cost of living, China offers a wide range of options for digital nomads. Depending on the location and individual preferences, one can maintain a comfortable lifestyle on a reasonable budget. The cost of living varies significantly between big city living and smaller cities or rural areas.

For instance, a month’s accommodation in a modest apartment in the city center can exceed $900 (reference). In contrast, living costs are much more affordable outside these urban hubs. For example, in Dali, Yunnan – a popular destination for Chinese digital nomads – the rent is approximately 1,500 RMB (around $250) per month (reference), making it a more budget-friendly option.

In terms of food expenses, local markets and supermarkets provide affordable options for groceries, while dining out can range from inexpensive local eateries to high-end international restaurants. A digital nomad can expect to spend an average of USD 300-500 per month on groceries and dining out.

China offers an extensive public transportation system, making it easy for digital nomads to travel within cities and between different regions. High-speed trains connect main cities, while buses and subways cater to intra-city commuting.

Transportation costs are relatively low, with efficient public transport systems available in most cities. A monthly transport pass typically costs between USD 15 to 50, depending on the city. Taxis and ride-hailing services like DiDi are also affordable alternatives to public transportation.

Another aspect to consider is healthcare expenses. Public hospitals in China offer affordable services, although the quality may differ from place to place. For digital nomads who prefer international-standard healthcare, private hospitals are also available, although they can be more expensive.

As always, it is strongly recommended to have travel/health insurance and make sure that China is covered in the plan.

While embracing nomadism in China, it is essential to be mindful of the local culture and customs. Learning some Mandarin will help bridge communication gaps and show respect for the local people.

Impact of Covid-19 on Digital Nomads

Digital nomads in China

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant influence on the way people work, pushing many to adopt remote working arrangements. Digital nomads, defined as individuals who leverage technology to work remotely while traveling to various locations, have seen their numbers surge during this period.

In the United States, the population of digital nomads experienced an increase of nearly 50% from 2019. As a result, many countries, including China, also witnessed a remarkable surge in remote work.

According to a study from Harvard International Review, by 2023, there were around 35 million digital nomads across the globe, with an average age of 32 years. This increase in digital nomadism can be linked to the shift in work patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Digital technologies have undeniably played a critical role during the pandemic, not only in allowing remote work but also in helping economies recover. For instance, China’s digital trade managed to bounce back quickly, thanks to the adoption of digital technologies.

China’s growing number of digital nomads can be attributed to several factors. Besides the growth in remote working prompted by Covid, another significant factor is related to the burnout experienced by many young people, which stems from pressures of urban life, such as expensive housing, long working hours, and excessive peer competition. The term “neijuan” (内卷), translating to “internal depletion due to intense competition”, has become one of the hottest words used online to describe the phenomenon.

In summary, the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the growth of digital nomads, as millions of people worldwide adopted new remote working lifestyles. China also experienced an increase in digital nomadism, driven by both global trends and local pressures experienced by urban dwellers.

The Unique Challenges Faced by Digital Nomads in China

1. Strict Internet Regulations

One of the most significant challenges faced by digital nomads in China is the strict internet regulation. The Chinese government heavily censors and monitors internet usage, which can present a problem for digital nomads who rely on unrestricted global access for their work. This necessitates the use of VPN (Virtual Private Network) services, which can be a legal gray area in China.

2. Language Barrier

Another challenge faced by digital nomads is the language barrier. Although English is not uncommon in major cities, it may not be as widely spoken in smaller cities and rural areas. This can make simple tasks like grocery shopping or navigating public transportation difficult. We highly recommend that digital nomads in China invest time in learning basic Mandarin to help alleviate this challenge.

3. Visa Requirements

Visa requirements can also pose a challenge for digital nomads in China. A tourist visa allows for a maximum stay of 60 days depending on your nationality, after which individuals must leave the country and reapply for a new visa. Maintaining this cycle can be time-consuming and costly. It’s important to stay informed about visa and legal requirements to avoid any issues.

4. Challenges Faced by Vloggers and Content Creators

When it comes to creating content with a focus on China, vloggers and content creators face some unique challenges. They must be aware of the Chinese government’s strict control over media and avoid inadvertently creating content that might violate local laws or be deemed politically sensitive. Adequate research before producing content would be invaluable in avoiding such issues.

Navigating Chinese Internet

Digital nomads in China

Digital nomads in China must be aware of the country’s internet censorship policies. China has one of the most restrictive media environments, controlling information in the news, online, and on social media platforms. To cope with this situation, digital nomads need to navigate and understand the unique challenges posed by China’s internet landscape.

Popular global services such as Google, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Whatsapp, Slack are generally not accessible within the country due to the “Great Firewall,” a sophisticated censorship system that blocks access to many foreign websites. This can make it difficult for digital nomads to access their regular online tools and sources, which might affect their productivity and connectivity with peers and clients.

One of the major concerns while using the internet in China is the relatively slow internet speeds. Many international websites are either blocked entirely or load very slowly due to strict regulations and filtering mechanisms. This can make video calls, large file transfers, and time-sensitive work tasks particularly challenging for digital nomads.

Here are some steps to navigate Chinese internet censorship as a digital nomad:

  1. Use VPN service before entering China, Research, get the latest information and test them, as some VPN websites may be blocked within the country.
  2. Use alternative apps like Bing instead of Google, which can be accessible and provide better results within China. Or install Chinese apps.
  3. Exercise caution while discussing sensitive topics or sharing controversial content online, as doing so can lead to legal consequences.

It is important to understand the realities of internet censorship in China and take precautions to navigate the landscape.

Useful Apps for Digital Nomads in China

apps for Digital nomads in China

Messaging, Calls, Payment, etc: WeChat (微信)

In China, where popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are inaccessible without a VPN, WeChat stands out as the most versatile app. Initially a messaging service, it has transformed into a “super app,” integral to daily life in China. WeChat is now used for a wide range of activities including messaging, voice and video calls, paying bills, hailing taxis, and numerous other everyday tasks.

From July 2023, WeChat allows foreign users to make payments via the WeChat Pay by linking their international credit or debit cards issued by Visa, Mastercard, JCB, or Discover Global Network. Upon arrival in mainland China, foreign visitors can conveniently set up WeChat Pay on their WeChat app and add their international cards.

Once these cards are linked, foreign users can use WeChat Pay for a variety of transactions, including dining, shopping, transportation, and hotel accommodation. This development offers a seamless and convenient payment method, enabling foreign visitors to “pay like a local” in China.

Taxi, Car-hailing: DiDi Chuxing (滴滴出行) 

DiDi Chuxing is China’s version of Uber, offering a convenient car-hailing service with an interface available in both Chinese and English. The app provides various ride options, from budget “Express” to premium “Luxe” services, and includes detailed driver profiles for added reliability.

In China, DiDi is a practical choice for getting around, especially since hailing a taxi on the street can be difficult. It’s popular among both locals and expats, partly due to its English customer service support, which helps in resolving any issues.

While there may be occasional challenges such as waiting times or drivers leaving if not contacted promptly, DiDi is generally a useful and efficient way to travel in urban areas of China.

Maps: Baidu Maps (百度地图), or Amap (高德导航)

In China, where Google Maps is not functional, the go-to alternatives are Baidu Maps and Amap (Autonavi Navigation).

Baidu Maps is often considered the best option for navigating around Chinese cities. It operates similarly to Google Maps, offering direction calculation and route planning. For Android users, Baidu Maps is available only in Chinese. However, iOS users can access an English version simply by setting their phone language to English.

Amap, on the other hand, is China’s most popular in-car GPS and map app for iPhones. It also has an English interface, making it user-friendly for international users. Amap is known for its detailed and accurate maps, and it’s extensively used by locals. One of its useful features is the ability to download offline map packs by city and province, which can be incredibly handy for navigation without a constant internet connection.

Apple Maps is also reported to work well in China, offering another alternative for iOS users seeking reliable navigation tools within the country.

Translation: Waygo, Pleco

For travelers in China, two translation apps stand out for their usefulness: Waygo and Pleco.

Waygo is an award-winning offline visual translation app designed to help travelers easily navigate the language barrier in China. It goes beyond traditional character-by-character translation by allowing users to translate larger blocks of text like menu items and street signs. The app uses optical character recognition technology; users simply point their camera at Chinese characters to receive an instant English translation. A key feature of Waygo is its ability to operate offline, eliminating the need for an internet connection.

Pleco, on the other hand, is renowned for being the most comprehensive free Chinese-English translation app available. It’s an invaluable tool for both native Chinese speakers learning English and expats trying to master Mandarin. Users can type a word or phrase into Pleco’s search bar, and the app provides all possible translations. Additionally, Pleco offers a pronunciation feature, which is crucial for learning correct pronunciation. While it’s not a replacement for a language teacher, Pleco serves as an excellent supplementary learning aid.

Dining: Dazhong Dianping (大众点评)

For food enthusiasts in China, Dazhong Dianping is the go-to dining app. Think of it as an equivalent of Yelp, offering a platform for user-generated reviews and recommendations of dining places across the country. While the app is currently available only in Chinese, the culinary discoveries it facilitates are well worth the extra effort to navigate.

VPN apps

Dazhong Dianping boasts extensive coverage, featuring over 300 cities and listing more than 1 million shops, all accompanied by genuine user reviews. The app allows users to apply various search filters, such as proximity, budget, and popularity, to find the perfect dining spot. Each listing on Dazhong Dianping provides essential information, including the address, phone number, opening hours, and, in some cases, the option to make an online reservation. This app is a treasure trove for anyone looking to explore the rich and diverse culinary landscape of China.

To maintain uninterrupted internet access and bypass censorship restrictions, digital nomads often turn to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VPNs help users encrypt their internet traffic and route it through servers in other countries, effectively allowing them to access blocked websites and services. However, the reliability of VPN services can vary, and some might be blocked by the Chinese government.

Some recommended VPN apps include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark and VyprVPN. Check the latest information if the app still works in China.

Exploring the Visa Requirements

Digital nomads in China

China offers various types of visas for foreigners, depending on the purpose of their visit. For digital nomads, the visa requirements may slightly differ from the standard tourist or business visa procedures.

Tourist visas (L-visa) are another option, but they’re generally limited to 30-60 days and are not suitable for long-term stays. L-visas prohibit working or seeking employment during the visit. Additionally, tourist visas require proof of itinerary, such as flight and accommodation reservations.

Business visas (M-visa) allow foreigners to enter China for commercial purposes, such as attending conferences or negotiating contracts. However, an M-visa would require an invitation letter from a Chinese party and does not allow the holder to work for a local company.

To legally work remotely in China, digital nomads may need a work permit and work visa (Z-visa). To obtain a Z-visa, applicants must first secure a job offer from a Chinese employer and receive a work permit from the government. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that Z-visas are typically reserved for specialized professionals and may be challenging to obtain for digital nomads.

Visa regulations in China are subject to change, and it is essential for digital nomads to stay updated on the latest requirements. Upon arriving in China, foreigners may also be required to register for the China Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system. This system demands digital nomads to upload travel records, undergo criminal background checks, fulfill insurance requirements, and provide medical information.

While securing an appropriate visa might be time-consuming, understanding the visa requirements and obtaining the necessary documentation will ensure a smooth stay and allow digital nomads to minimize any legal obstacles while working in China.

Leisure Activities for Digital Nomads in China

Leisure Activities for Digital Nomads in China

China offers numerous leisure activities for digital nomads, catering to a wide range of interests. From exploring ancient temples and pagodas to immersing yourself in the natural beauty of various landscapes, the country provides a diverse range of activities for remote workers downtime.

A must-visit for history buffs is the Yunnan province, known for its ancient temples and unique ethnic cultures. Many temples are surrounded by breathtaking scenery, allowing you to nourish your mind while exploring the rich history and architecture.

For nature enthusiasts, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park should not be missed. With its dramatic sandstone peaks and lush vegetation, the park creates a dream-like atmosphere for hikers and adventurers. In fact, the landscape inspired the floating mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar.

Those who appreciate snowcapped mountains should venture to Tibet, a region renowned for its pristine natural beauty. Besides the stunning views, the culture and spiritual atmosphere provide a unique experience for travelers. Moreover, the Great Wall of China, one of the most iconic man-made landmarks, presents an opportunity for digital nomads to escape bustling city life and enjoy picturesque hikes along the ancient fortification.

No journey to China is complete without witnessing the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. This archaeological site consists of thousands of life-sized statues of warriors, horses, and chariots, all built to protect China’s first emperor in his afterlife. This awe-inspiring display offers visitors the chance to learn about China’s fascinating history.

In conclusion, digital nomads in China have countless leisure activities at their fingertips. From discovering ancient temples in Yunnan province to exploring the natural wonders of Zhangjiajie and Tibet, there’s never a shortage of breathtaking experiences to be had in this culturally rich country.

Wrapping Up: Digital Nomad in China

China, with its amalgamation of ancient traditions, diverse cultures, and rapid technological advancement, offers digital nomads an unparalleled experience. While challenges exist, the rewards include profound cultural immersion, technological innovation, and a deeper understanding of the world. This guide encourages digital nomads to embrace the journey, explore beyond familiar paths, and allow China to unfold its contrasting tales for an enriching digital nomadic adventure.

Mika
Mika
Mika is a digital nomad since 2014. She started her remote work career in digital marketing and every since she is traveling around Southeast Asia. Mika loves Yoga and sharing her insights and tips.
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