We may already be well into summer, but we’d like to take you back to the beginning of May and panel discussion on the many aspects of location independent work (sorry, we’re legitimately very busy – see all the event pics here). The panel raised many interesting questions about what it’s like to be a location independent worker, solopreneur or remote professional based in Taiwan. With its flexible variables of work/life balance, location independent work has gained a lucrative edge over the past decade, particularly targeting those who long to break free of the nine to five office grind and base themselves elsewhere in the world.
Thank you to Red Room and Manav for the venue and organization, as well as to Jasmine for the great photos. Feel free to reach out to any of the panelists and connect with them if you’d like to know more.
A digital nomad, a location independent and a remote employee walk into a bar…
To jump-start your memory, our panelists were an ambitious, multi-cultural blend of Taiwanese, North American and European with varying professional and personal backgrounds. They were: Emily Wu (Founder of Ghost Island Media), Claudia Wild (Managing Partner at Lemoncube, Digital Marketing and E-Learning sectors), Tim Hillebran (Greenback Expat Tax Services), Heinz Henner (Henner & Partner, Digital Marketing).
Why location independence?
Location independence is a way of life shaped around freedom of movement as opposed to the conventional form of geographically stationary professions. Our discussion began with the reasons each panelist had for embarking on their location independent journey.
Claudia – Values the freedom that a location independent lifestyle affords, as well as the power to choose the clients and projects you want to devote your time to.
Tim – Aims to takes things a step further by further “futureproofing” his career. As a married man with kids, his decision to become location independent wasn’t influenced by the freedom to travel, but rather by future orientation. Tim works for an American company, which would allow him to relocate back to the U.S. if need be.
Heinz – After working full-time for a Taiwanese company and not enjoying the experience, he started doing client work on recommendations from his social circle. This resulted in Heinz starting his own company in Switzerland and opening a representative office in Taiwan. He loves choosing his clients and projects and location independence excites him with the prospect of working from all kinds of places.
Emily – Stumbled into remote work and location independence. Her past jobs involved work in media and film, then remote work for a company that spoiled her with travel for work. She then segwayed into freelancing and loved the freedom. Emily says she loves freelancing and now building her own company, but she could go back to full-time employment as she enjoys having a team atmosphere and having the resources of a company.
The panel discussed how, theoretically, Tim is kind of employed, in a sense that he is a remote worker tied to one company, whereas the rest of the panel are freelancers/entrepreneurs. Remote work as a salaried employee for one company affords you a dedicated team with the perks of brainstorming and collaborating. One of the reasons Claudia went from freelancing to being a managing partner is because it does get lonely and challenging not to have others to bounce creative ideas off of and channel motivation. Freelancing can be soul sucking.
You could be in Chiang Mai or Bali. Why Taiwan? Or why not? A critical rundown.
The first Google search hits on “digital nomad” tend to generate Insta feeds framing Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia as the trending spots to live the location independent life. Meanwhile, Taiwan lies off the beaten path where location independence is concerned. How does Taiwan compare? What are some important factors that people looking at this option in Taiwan should consider?
Taiwan isn’t as touristy and Thailand and Indonesia, especially Chiang Mai and Bali. These places tend to be overrun, overrated and the internet is not as great as many imagine. The speed and connectivity in Taiwan is superior, though Taiwan lacks a certain dedicated digital nomad community and vibe that is so prevalent there. Southeast Asian destinations also tend to offer more for your money in terms of living expenses, especially accommodation, when compared to Taipei. Leaving Taipei and venturing into other parts of Taiwan will open more (budget-oriented) doors, but can lack a community feeling, especially if one doesn’t speak Mandarin.
For Heinz and Tim, both have been in and out of the country multiple times over the past decade, always returning on holiday and for short stays. They eventually met their partners and decided to base themselves in Taiwan. Emily’s Taiwanese nationality and ancestry was definitely a deciding factor. She had been working in Asia for a while and when the opportunity to start her business in Taiwan manifested, she took it.
Claudia discovered Taiwan by fortuitous happenstance while visiting a friend in Taipei enroute to a business meeting in Beijing. She was pleasantly surprised (understatement!) to find that she could not only practice her Mandarin in a safe, friendly and welcoming environment, but also work from literally anywhere. Even on the MRT. And on the ferries. She enjoys the fact that Taiwan is virtually free of tourist mobs and likes having secluded beaches and mountain pavilions all to herself.
To co-work or not to co-work? When location does matter as a location independent worker
Claudia: Works from everywhere, mountains, beaches, trains, etc. Sometimes gravitates towards coworking spaces and offices if she has really important deadlines and wants motivational company.
Tim: Depends on his family. If his girls are at home, wants to get out of the house to work because he can’t concentrate. Needs time to get into the zone as opposed to having issues with his surroundings. Tim has KPIs to attain and goes over these in regular meetings with his boss and others in the company, which keeps him structured. He is the only Asia-based remote worker from his company and has a five day work week. Does he have subsidies for coworking spaces as a remote worker? Not yet, but he wants to work towards having that added as a perk in his contract moving forward.
Emily: Finds it hard to get started and motivated sometimes. Her go-to solution to this is using a Slack group where she and her team help keep each other motivated by organizing meetups. Knowing what her rhythm is and planning her schedule around that helps keep her on track.
Heinz: Wants to have his own routine, so he rents coworking space to give himself the structure he needs. He would like to avoid falling into a toxic cycle of waking up late, procrastinating by cleaning the house, getting coffee, then starting to work around 5 pm. Heinz says his “Swiss mentality” encourages structure in his daily schedule. A typical routine for him would be waking up at 6 am, exercising, going to the offic” (his coworking space), and trying not to leave too late. Of course, working with clients in different time zones can easily mess up your regular routine.
As a location-independent professional, it’s important to keep in mind that you are in control of your schedule and when your motivation dips, so does your productivity and results. Having motivators setup to encourage accountability and fostering schedule and structure reduces the risk of falling through the cracks.
Tools for combating the productivity blues
- Forest app planting trees for every productive 20 min interval
- Mainly uses Google Suite and local software/apps that her clients use
- Wave Apps for accounting, which is free
- Several different programs they need to log into every day as part of a remote team
- Emails, calendar
- Google – analytics, AdWords
- Social media managing software
- Wall with Post It’s
- Teamwork projects (online project management), one year trial with all features, time tracking, direct invoice creation, assign tasks, Slack functionality
- Makes life much easier, no Excel, no Gantt charts, everything in one tool and makes life much easier
- Google Business is your friend
- Tip: Get your own URL as a freelancer!
- People will see you put in the effort
- Wave Apps for invoicing
- Trello (project boards for management, with certain people)
- Clockify for time tracking
- Be Focused – long sittings with hours, track blocks of what you do during the day
- Selfcontrol app – kills social media URL’s
- Real notebooks
Do clients/companies require you to use specific tools?
- Time tracker doesn’t officially sync up with the company and is instead used to track how long projects take in general
- Trust based, not tied to salary – there’s a delicate balance between trust and micro-managing
- His clients trust him to get the job done without needing to micro-manage
- Projects are fixed price for completion and not hourly
- Takes away the hourly tracking scope
- Delivery against a specific milestone in time, clients are happy
- Tracks time only for himself to make sure his estimates are on point
- Went from hourly working for a company, to project based as a freelancer
- Tracks her time for herself to see how much time she spends on what
The “Taiwan Grey Zone” – On a scale from legal to not so much…
Between working holidays and rep offices, how do we traverse the great divide of legal grey zones when it comes to visas for Taiwan? We discussed options ranging from the best for those who are just passing through to those who plan to base themselves in Taiwan longer term:
- For those who plan on being in Taiwan short term – tourist visa exemption on arrival for 90 days. Many nomads passing through Taiwan will have already established tax residency where their business is registered. While this option does not legally encompass your business activities, the duration of your stay falls below 180 days and you are already paying taxes elsewhere. Theoretically, Taiwan taxes your worldwide income if you stay longer than 180 days, but if you earn under 1 million TWD it’s tax free, though technically you’d still need to file a tax return.
- Studying Chinese on a student visa and hustling on the side – This is likely one of the more time-consuming and pricey options, although it presents a relatively easy visa option. Pay for and sign up for a Mandarin course at one of the local universities and receive a student visa. But if you think you’ll get off easy by not attending classes, think again. Attendance is strictly enforced and not showing up for a minimum amount of classes as well as failing your courses will result in your visa being revoked.
- Working Holiday Visa (Claudia) – At the time of writing, Taiwan has working holiday agreements with 15 countries. Check their official website for the terms of these agreements, as they vary from country to country. If your country qualifies, this seems to prove the most legally (gray) sound option to stay in Taiwan longer than 90 days and be able to work and/or study. Check the websites of the Taiwanese international offices in your home country for more information.
- Opening a Representative Office (Heinz) – Can be done on your own or with an all inclusive package through an attorney.
- Opening a Branch Office
- Entrepreneur Visa – Case study
- Employment Gold Card
- Starting a business in Taiwan (Emily)
- Remote work (Tim): Getting hired by a company that lets you work remotely and takes care of all outstanding bureaucratic and legal issues for you
Amid the discussions of visas and gray zones, an interesting array of audience questions and feedback surfaced. People had varying, often mismatching information about opening a rep office, a branch office, what the difference between the two was, how hard/easy it was to get your hands on the elusive gold card and what the financial requirements were that needed to be met. The amount of current insight framed by the disparities and outdated information here was staggering.
Q&A Snippet: How do you find quality clients? What do you look for in a good client-freelancer relationship?
- You’ll know what the state of your client relationship will be based on the quality of the communication (or lack thereof)
- Depends on the industry and projects and how much guidance is required from your client
- Finding long-term, reliable people to collaborate with is based on balanced proportions of trust, communication, quality work and being able to recognize this as such
Panel takeaways: Our advice to aspiring location-independent professionals
- Do just enough research: Take the time to build your own opinion around location independence. For Taiwan as a longer term home base location, preliminary research is a must. Not knowing anything about Taiwan beforehand may cause you to miss out on everything it has to offer and on useful nomading hacks.
- Define your goals: Do I just want to escape? I am doing this because of temporary setbacks such as a broken heart or getting fired? Define why you’re doing it and what your (near) future next steps and goals will be.
- Fluff your financial cushion: Plenty of aspiring location independents rush at enticing opportunities to become location independent in a frenzy because of the idyllic and flexible lifestyle. But life as a business owner, freelancer or remote worker will by no means be all unicorns, rainbows and stunning Insta posts from Bali. Financial rough patches are all too real, and depending on your client situation, you may find yourself out of clients, projects or even out of a job at the blink of an eye. Being broke and homeless on Bali throws an entirely different filter on those Insta photos. Having your affairs in order and a steady rainy day fund set up before you embark on your journey will help cushion client/project downtime and get you through nasty unemployment dry spells.
- To err is human: Do a test run. There will be indicators that this type of lifestyle is or isn’t for you. Know your boundaries and roll with them. There’s no shame in deciding that you weren’t made for these working and living environments and calling it a day. If you’re not sure, try workationing first or plan for your first destination a bit closer to home.
- Take the leap: If you have things set up to make a location independent lifestyle happen, go for it! If you’d like to try it and are unhappy with the way your career and professional life is progressing, take on the challenge of location independence. It’s not a walk in the park and you’ll need to overcome the odd hundred challenges, but it’ll be worth it!
When all is said and done, location independent work is by no means a walk in the park. Locations like Taiwan help alleviate the perpetual hunt for adequate internet and showcases some of the best coffee shops, friendliest people and stunning scenery on the planet. In terms of convenience and access to amenities, Taiwan checks many boxes that are important to those living a location independent lifestyle.
As with any career path, ups and downs will always be present. You are your own boss, perhaps even as a remote worker, in the sense that you need to stay on task, motivated, be accountable and deliver results, regardless of the circumstances and usually regardless of whether you are alone or in a team. Any location independent work is a challenge and may not be for everybody, whether this be in Taiwan or elsewhere in the world. But as with most things in life, you’ll really never know until you take the leap!
This article was contributed by Claudia Wild. Claudia is a Canadian who’s lived in Germany, China, Taiwan and elsewhere. She’s become increasingly enamored with Taiwan and in addition to her own projects, she also contributes to All Hands and the Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan.