Welcome to this post on living in Asia!
It’s been a while since I wrote a post for the Art of Selfhood.
That’s because I’ve been enjoying a much-needed summer break with Mrs. Freedom and Junior Freedom, enjoying life in the fresh green hills of Ireland.
But it’s time to get back to business. In 4 weeks, the Freedom Family will be heading back to The Philippines, the place we’ve called home for the past year. Heading back again has got me in a reflective mood, thinking about the pros and cons of living in Asia and all of the challenges and delights that lie ahead.
While I’m on this train of thought I’ve decided to put together an FAQ, covering some of the questions people have asked me over the years about living in Asia and what it is really like.
Fore those who are interested in moving to Asia, living in Thailand or some such other dream, this article will shed some light on what to expect, what to hope for, and what to be ready for.
Living in Asia FAQ
Q. G, what are the best things about living in Thailand or other countries in Asia?
A.The first thing you’ve got to understand is that while they do share some similarities, every country in Asia is different. If you live in China and then move and live in Thailand, it will be about as different as living in Russia then moving to the USA – different language, different culture, different opportunities and pitfalls different cuisine, different just about everything.
When I first came to Asia I planned on living in Thailand and since I couldn’t figure out a way to make a living there, I took a job in Indonesia thinking since they were geographically close they’d be roughly similar. Man, was I wrong! I might as well have been on a different planet.
Living in Bali or Boracay might be similar since they’re both tropical islands, but you’re still in totally different countries and you’ll need to be ready.
That said, there are some common threads that run through the South East Asian countries that make them great. The cost of living is much cheaper than the Western world, the weather is much warmer than in Northern Europe, people live a much more outdoors based lifestyle, it’s possible to island hop and do things usually reserved for the rich at home for chump change, and the pace of life is much more relaxed outside of major cities like Bangkok, Jakarta and Hanoi.
Q. G, what are the downsides of living in Asia. It can’t all be sunshine and surf.
A.It certainly isan’t all sunshine and surf, and there are some things about Asia that are enough to drive a sane person crazy.
First, you’ll witness extreme and merciless poverty. You only think the unemployed moans in the West are poor, but when you get to Asia you’ll see how some people live day to day without shoes on their feet begging for change just to eat. You’ll see kids exploited and peasants living in what we would consider a feudal society in the countryside. It’s pretty intense, and it can get on top of you if you’re that way inclined.
Second, with the exception of living in Singapore and some parts of Thailand, the infrastructure in SouthEast Asia sucks. Electricity can go out and there will be nobody competent to fix it, roads are shabby and there is just a general atmosphere or disorganization and cluelessness when it comes to city planning and the like.
If you want to live in Thailand, Bali or any other place in Asia, you’re going to have to accept that these are developing nations and the things you take for granted at home like drinkable water from the taps and stable wifi just aren’t available here.
Again, it’s worth noting that this differs from country to country. Singapore puts most Western countries to shame, while Cambodia and Laos have barely made it out of the 1800s in terms of infrastructure.
Q. G, is it really as cheap as they say it is to live in Asia?
A.Asia is a big place, and the answer depends on where you’re talking about.
If you move to Japan or Korea, you can expect things to be roughly the same price as they are in the USA or Europe. If you’re living in Jakarta, living in Bangkok or any of the other Southeast Asian cities, you can expect things to be a fair bit cheaper.
Remember that things like electronics, cars and consumer goods aren’t really cheaper at all. They’re pretty much the same the world over and in fact can be more expensive in Asia because of import taxes. Mrs Freedom actually makes some money bringing small items home because of this, when most people would naturally think it should be the other way around.
However, rent, eating out and groceries are ridiculously cheap as compared to the Western world and you could live on $1000 a month as a single man without obligations quite easily if you stay out of major cities. I’ve actually done that, so I know it to be true.
Q. What’s the health care like in Asia?
A.There is none. If you don’t have a private health policy here you will be left to die in the street. There’s nothing akin to public health services and free hospitals like in many places in Europe. If you’re coming to live in Thailand or any other Asian nation, get yourself a comprehensive medical plan before you do so.
Q. Have you ever experienced racism, discrimination or those kind of problems in Asia?
A.Yes I have, but it’s usually of the non-violent variety. What will happen regularly is people will double the prices of things, and charge you extra to enter national parks, etc, because they see a Western face.
While we would consider this blatant racism, and it is, the locals in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are literally one or two paychecks away from abject poverty in most cases, and they simply see it as an opportunity to make a few extra bucks for their families.
Racism does exist, but not in the way we traditionally think of it. It’s just a subtle ‘you will be taken advantage of if you let it happen’ attitude, and you’ll have to accept it if you want to live in Asia.
Q. What is dating Asian women like?
A.Dating Asian women is something that can’t really be stereotyped or put in a simple to understand box. Every woman is an individual and your experience dating Asian women will be as varied as dating women back West, but there are some common threads.
Asian women tend to be more traditional, adhere to old school gender roles, and will not give you the same type of attitude you’ll get at home about asserting your authority as a man. That said, she’ll 9 times out of 10 exxpect you to win the bread and will think you’re a bit of a bum if you can’t do it. You’ve got to step up to the responsibilities that come with the traditional gender paradigm.
A lot of people say Asian women are ruthless and can’t be trusted. I don’t agree. My experience dating them has been a mixed bag, full of both good and bad experiences, just like home.
Use your common sense and don’t go in holding pre-cooked ideas. Take every person as they are and every situation as it comes and you should be good.
Q. What kind of work can I find in Asia?
A.This is a very important question to answer before you get here, and no move to Asia should ever be made without a gameplan for income generation.
Asia is not a place to be fucking around without a clue, as there are virtually no public services, especially for foreigners, and if you find yourself stranded without a dollar you’d better have a ticket home fast.
Teaching English in Asia is a huge industry and if you do a TEFL certificate and have any form of college diploma you’ll be able to teach in China, or if you prefer Southeast Asia teach in Thailand or the other surrounding countries.
Many people living out here also run their own online businesses. This could be a service based business like translation or writing ad copy, or it could be exporting arts and crafts from Asia back home, or something else altogether.
Generally speaking, do not expect to rock up to a job centre in Bangkok and secure employment. This is a bad game plan and anywhere in Asia, you can operate by the rule of thumb ‘If it can be done by a local, you won’t be allowed to do it’. Nor, in most cases, would you want to, if I’m being honest.
To earn while travelling you’ll have to rely on your own wit and determination. Especially in Asia.
Q. Can I start my own business in Asia?
Yes, you can. The best advice I could give you based on my long experience living in Asia is this: do not, under any circumstances, get involved in physical real world businesses in Asia until you have a very deep understanding of the country you are living in.
Asia can be ruthless, and countless Westerners have been taken to the fair by naively investing in businesses with their new Asian ‘friends’. The rules of the game are different here, and generally speaking if you leave yourself open to being conned, you will be.
Stick to online businesses and use the cheaper cost of living here to your advantage. This can be an amazing advantage to living in Asia, since your funds will go a lot further and you’ll have much more time to get things up and running before you run out.
In most Asian countries Westerners can not own land, property or businesses without a majority local partner. Remember that, no matter what you’re told by anyone.
Q. Is it easy to travel in Asia?
A.Hell yes it is! This is one of my favourite parts of living here. Since the entire Southeast Asian peninsula is connected by rail and bus, and there are cheap airfares between basically all of the countries here, you can really travel a lot if you’re determined to do so for very little.
While living in Indonesia I regularly went to tropical islands for long weekends and on holidays, something I freely admit would be beyond my ability to afford if I lived in America or the UK. I also went for massages and 3-course meals a few times a month, again, something I wouldn’t be able to do normally while working the 9-5 grind at home.
Travel in Asia is one of the top reasons people choose to move and live here. You’ll have to deal with the less than phenomenal infrastructure, a few delays and some annoyances, but you’ll get to see places and do things usually reserved for millionaires and tycoons back home.
This is one of the top reasons I choose to live in The Philippines 9 months per year.
Q. How do I obtain a visa to live in Asia?
Obtaining a visa will depend on the country you decide to live in. Every single place is different, and you’ll have to check on the embassy websites to figure it out.
If you want to stay long term you’ll have to get either an employment permit, which is usually sorted by the person you are working for such as an English school, or you’ll have to get married. Do NOT rush the latter. If you really want to stay, get a job – at least you can get out of that at the end of a contract!
Q. Should I live in Bangkok, Hanoi, or Jakarta? Where do you recommend?
A.It really depends on what you’re looking for. I don’t know you individually so I can’t exactly say. Instead, let me give you my perceptions of some of the most popular places to live in Asia, and you can see which one jumps out at you.
Jakarta – My favourite city in Asia. I lived in Jakarta for 8 years. Massive, fast-paced, somewhat scary at first, crowded and full of ‘hustle bustle’. This is somewhere you’ll likely hate when you first land and end up loving. Huge party scene, beautiful and super friendly girls, very busy, plenty of teaching jobs, not much to see in terms of tourist sites, but so unpredictable and interesting you’ll be bored of everywhere else when you leave.
Bangkok – Again this is a huge city and the hustle never stops. Bangkok is an international city and you can find virtually everything from everywhere in the world here. It’s a little rough around the edges and can be a little more expensive than other cities in the region, but some of the temples, architecture and are stunning. There’s something interesting around every corner. Definitely got a ‘underworld’ vibe from parts of the city. Huge party scene with some of the most beautiful women to be found anywhere on earth. Lots of jobs for English teachers.
Singapore – Clean, modern, high tech and with a price tag to match it. Singapore is like one big shopping mall full of trendy cafes, international eateries and everything you could ever want to buy. If you plan on living here, you better have a seriously stacked wallet or a job that will allow you to enjoy the finer things living in Singapore has to offer. There’s virtually no crime rate and I got the feeling I was safe at all times.
Kuala Lumpur – If Singapore and Jakarta banged and had a kid, KL would be it. It’s somewhere in between the two. Much more developed and organized than Jakarta, but still has an edge to it. This is truly a mix of all of Asia in one place. Some of the most stunning women you could ever find live in KL and single guys will be ridiculously happy here. I didn’t see much in the way of jobs for foreigners, but I did notice the internet is great so running an online business would be quite easy.
I could go on and on about the smaller cities, but there are too many to even consider covering. If you have any questions about a more specific place, ask in the comments section and I’ll see if I can answer you.
Q. If I marry my Asia girlfriend, can I bring her home?
A.Yes, but I’m warning you in advance it will be endless hassle and you don’t know how bad it can get until you are in it.
Immigration departments in the Western world are highly suspicious and tend to think everyone coming in is going to stay illegally. They will make you jump through endless hoops to get visas, and if you want to stay permanently, you’ll likely have to prove your income for a period of time before they give you a spouse visa.
Ultimately, being married to an Asian woman, I don’t think coming back home is worth the hassle. It’s much better to spend half your time there and half your time here, if that’s practically possible.
If you do intend to marry an Asian girl, I recommend you do some serious research about this if you plan to return home. You wouldn’t be the first guy to find he can’t get back into his country with the girl he has married.
I personally think that’s criminal, but it is the law in most places and my disliking it isn’t going to change it.
Q. How much money do I need to live in Asia comfortably?
A. This one gets asked again and again, and really it depends on where you live.
If you live in a condo in Jakarta centre and go to clubs and bars every night, you need at least $3000 a month to roll that way. If, on the other hand, you decide to live in a mountain village in North Thailand while you write a novel, you could easily get by on $1000 as a single man, and sometimes a lot less.
It always depends on your lifestyle and where you are. Living in London or New York will always be more expensive than Leicester or Kansas City, and the same rules apply in Asia.
Q. OK, overall, G, would you recommend that I live in Asia?
A.If you are looking for an Asian girlfriend, ant to start an online business and have some savings, want to take a time out from life and travel or are just looking to get some perspective on life, I recommend living in Asia for a little while and seeing where it goes from there.
A year out here is something virtually nobody regrets. Yes it’s corrupt to the core, yes it’s chaotic and yes it’s the 3rd world, but it is also amazing and you’ll experience unforgettable things that will change you forever.
I highly recommend Asia. It’s fun. Just be ready to roll with the punches and make sure you have a way to earn a living, and preferably an open ticket back, at least until you’re ready to make the move more permanent.
Desire. Decide. Persist.