Making Money Online In China Is Harder Than I Thought

One of the reasons I came to China was to demonstrate that you can make money online from anywhere in the world. After spending two weeks in China I have came to the conclusion that while it is indeed possible to make money online in China, it’s probably better to make money online from someplace else.

The Great Firewall of China

China is “protected” by a great firewall that filters out a lot sites that I use on a daily basis. The strange thing is I can’t find a valid reason why some of these sites would be blocked. For example, China blocks the FeedBurner chicklet but not FeedBurner itself. This makes the loading of any blogs that run the chicklet extremely slow. And for any blogs that are hosted by, you guys don’t load at all!

This makes it very difficult for me to check out new sites that apply to TTZ Media. A lot of them don’t load and I have to check them out with a proxy, which doesn’t always works because China is always working on blocking them.

Searching for information can be a pretty funny exercise. I did a Google search for “most polluted city in the world” and none of result pages would load. There were results and I can see the Google summary. However, when I clicked on the link, they all timed out.

YouTube videos are also very slow. The video would play for 20 seconds, then pause while it buffers. Then it would play for a few more seconds, then buffer again. It’s a real pain. Luckily, uploading YouTube videos is a lot less painful than playing it.

The Time Zone Difference

Thanks to the WordPress Timestamp, the 15 hour time zone difference between Vancouver and Shanghai isn’t a big deal. As a matter of fact, I find the difference more conducive to work. When I’m working on a post, North America is asleep. That gives me plenty of time to get a new post up so you guys have something to read when you wake up.

No Visa Exempted Entry

China does not offer visa exempted entry for Canadian or US citizens. An entry visa cost $50 and is good for only 30 days. You can apply for a one year multi-entry visa but you’ll need a good reason in order to get it. Even if you get one, you have to leave the country every 30 days and the closest visa exempted place to layover is Hong Kong. That’s a two hour flight.

Crazy High Income Tax

If I wish to avoid the 30 day visa problems, I can apply for a work visa that will allow me to stay for as long as the company employs me. However, I’ll be subject to China income tax on my world income, not just income made in China. The top income tax rate is 45% and it kicks in at 100,000RMB. While that is a very good income for a Chinese citizen (the average factory worker makes 12,000RMB per year), it’s barely half month income for the blog. The thought of giving 45% of the money to the Chinese government doesn’t appeal to me.

Sky High Cost of Living

This one may sound contradictory since I’ve been talking about how inexpensive it is to eat and shop here. However, were I to live here, I would want my accommodations to be comparable to what I have back in Vancouver. Real estate is extremely expensive in Shanghai. It would cost me about $4,000US per month to rent a place that is similar to what I have back home. I would also want a car to drive around in. I’ve already shown how much more expensive that is.

On the plus side, the cost of hiring help is pretty low. I would be able to employ a full time nanny, house keeper and personal assistant. I could even include a driver if I don’t feel like driving.

School would become a major expense once Sally is old enough to attend. I would want her to attend an international school so her grades would be recognized by western universities. Because of the high number of expats here, Shanghai has a lot of International schools so getting a proper Canadian, American or British education wouldn’t be a problem. However, the cost is crazy. The British International School, Shanghai (BISS) charges 150,000RMB per year for tuition. That’s $260,000US to send one kid (God help you if you have two or more) from grade 1 to 12. And that’s assuming they don’t raise tuition over the next 12 years. The high cost isn’t the only problem. There’s the waiting list as well. You need to apply years in advance to make sure your child can get in.

Add all these factors together and the answer is clear. You can make money online in China or anywhere else in the world. However, the best place to make money online is at home.

79 thoughts on “Making Money Online In China Is Harder Than I Thought”

  1. Joi says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing – that gives all of us something to think about when we’re blogging. I certainly want my readers in China to have a good experience online. I had no idea they would these types of delays, etc.

    You lead such an exotic life! I’ve always, always, always wanted to see that part of the world. I look forward to “visiting” it more in your posts. Less expensive (for me, anyway!) to do it that way.

  2. Mike says:

    Whoa, and I thought the cost of living in the Chicago area was getting out of control. This has been an interesting education, thanks John.

  3. Asela says:

    A very fascinating piece you have here… I did a similar comparison when I went to Dubai for about 6 months. Dubai is also a great city to live in and work.

    1. link? jk, seems like you guys would go places where the economy is in our favor (AKA south), but that is just me.

  4. Paul B says:

    I guess there’s no point in going to live in China if you want it to be just like back home? I’m sure if you adapted your lifestyle to fit then it wouldn’t be so bad.

    1. John Chow says:

      I don’t want it to be like back home. However, I would like to keep my current level of lifestyle. Yes, it is possible to live in Shanghai for a few thousand RMB per month but I wouldn’t want to do it!

      1. Paul B says:

        I hear you John, there is no point in earning it if you’re not going to spend it. How about Thailand then? Similar currency advantages, lovely people, but without the firewall? I’ve even found you some nice property ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Hi,

    the best way to get (free) internet access in china is to establish a VPN connection to a server back home and route the internet through it. The speed is not exactly good but acceptable – at least you can open all pages.

    The visa situation currently really sucks. But until march 2008 it was possible to get one-year business visas very easy in hong kong (and you could spend the whole 12 months in china – no need to exit every 30 days). Now due to the olympics the visa situation got crazy though… (see

    As for accomodation – I live in a huge modern 200 sqm appartment in Chengdu which costs me US$250 per month. Shanghai is very different indeed though…


    1. Sha says:

      The VPN connection would seriously work there?

      1. I have never been to a place in china where I could not establish an OpenVPN connection.

    2. seems it would add a layer of security as well…

  6. VeRonda says:

    Thanks for sharing your research information. I mean, yes, we do journey to other places ’cause they are other places. But, as bloggers, you have to consider readers when venturing to new places. Dorothy had it right, there’s no place like home.

  7. Zak Show says:

    Yeah, Great review of the life lever in China. Great post as others John.

  8. Lenin Nair says:

    Hi John, thanks for your great content and website offering methods to earn online. I am your new reader here. I also downloaded your free ebook on making money and just now signed up on Kontera in your partnership for the blog in my comment URI. Good work you are doing with all these articles. Keep the nice work forward.


  9. Wow, thats crazy how much things cost there. Makes you wander why people even live there eh! I have always found it funny what some people consider there way of life we consider unreal. And yet as the years pass and I get older I am growing tired of the BS and the costs of living in canada too, verses what we get in return. I am not sure about BC but Manitoba is not a great place to live anymore in my opionion. Its ok I guess we just don’t have nothing anymore.

  10. I probably agree that China isn’t the best place to make money online…

    Perhaps you should try Hong Kong?

    1. Terry Tay says:

      Or just sticking to Vancouver would be a good idea since John’s doing pretty well there already ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. Sha says:

        Yeah, it looks like he should stick to Canada…for now. I wonder if they have some sort of firewall that’s not as extreme as China’s though.

        1. Well, John does speak Cantonese so I assume he’s connected with Hong Kong in some form or another.

  11. Great to visit China via ๐Ÿ˜›

  12. chessmaster says:

    Very nice piece of information here John.
    It’s incredible to realize how different the internet experience can be depending in which country you live in. I wonder for how long the Chinese government will be able to hold this internet censure.

  13. That filtering looks like real problem! ๐Ÿ˜•

  14. bcxs says:

    To be able to make money online, you need to be able to actually access the internet… the VPN idea is good if you have somewhere here to connect to. Seems like it would be alot more work to get things done!

  15. Apoorv says:

    Earning money is hard, wherever you live

    Money making was/is/will never be easy

  16. bcxs says:

    To be able to make money online, you need to be able to actually access the internet properly… I think it would be possible, just alot more work. ๐Ÿ˜

  17. Forex Blog says:

    You have to be hard-working, productive and lucky to make money. Specially when you want to make money online.

  18. Joy Smith says:

    Wow. Very expensive! Actually rent sounds very similar to West Coast.

  19. Vlad says:

    I think there are a lot of opportunities of making money online in China by targeting the local users.
    Trying to make money by targeting other countries is not impossible but much harder.

  20. China is definitely only good for a short vacation lol…..If I moved to China I would be screwed.

  21. Dean Saliba says:

    Wow! And I thought living in London was expensive!

  22. Apoorv says:

    India is also an expensive place people ๐Ÿ˜ณ

  23. Ed Healy says:

    I started my current consulting biz while in Iraq. While I am living proof that you can make money on the ‘net from anywhere on Earth – I did it from a warzone – I agree with your statements whole heartedly. Now, living in Eastern Europe, I would still agree. This time, it’s the time zone differences that play havoc with me.

  24. wisdom says:

    Thats for sharing that information with us. Gives me a more global perspective.

  25. Kaizen says:

    Glad you came to that conclusion John, we’d hate to lose you in Vancouver. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. dutch says:

    Note to self:
    – Open K-12 school in Shanghai
    – Employ Canadian/US teachers at $100k/yr
    – Charge $250k/student/yr
    – Profit!

    1. Terry Tay says:

      The $260,000 John posted was what it would cost for 12 years of education (Grades 1 to 12), but approx. $22,000 a year is still alot for China.

    2. John Chow says:

      I wouldn’t be shocked if BISS pays their teachers $100K per year. They have to offer a top pay in order to attract the best teachers from around the world. The school employs 347 people and has 1,950 students. 150,000RMB times 1,950 students = bloody rich school!

  27. Binary Ant says:

    Very detailed review. Living in China wasn’t one of my short term objetives…nor long term… but it is always useful to be informed about economical situation of future countries to visit.

    Cheers John! ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Terry Tay says:

    Smart idea to leave the negative post about blocking until after you leave. You did get out before this was posted right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜†
    I wonder if will still be available in China now.

    1. John Chow says:

      I’m still in China. If you don’t hear from me again, call the Canadian government and tell them to send in the troops!

      1. Terry Tay says:

        They have troops? ๐Ÿ˜†
        Can the horses swim across the ocean? ๐Ÿ˜†

  29. Thiago Prado says:

    What a good explanation about China. After this explanation I’d never move to China even if I get a big salary.
    I don’t understand why China and other communist countries try to wash the people mind only show the stuff government think its good for the population.

  30. Noobpreneur says:


    Thanks for sharing your insight! I always thought that China is THE place to make money – including online, but I was wrong.

  31. rollenc says:

    China blocks the FeedBurner chicklet because of the content of the feed.
    But FeedBurner itself has nothing content.

  32. Bob says:

    hello people don’t u know that China is on the stage of Development & at a faster rate than any other country, so it doesn’t matter that you don’t get some services at this time, but don’t forget to have a look at the same county some years late

  33. Sha says:

    It’s funny you mentioned the firewall, because a few days ago, I was wondering if you were going to be able to access the sites you always visit. That’s definitely a major disadvantage.

    I’m going to admit it – I couldn’t live in China for the reasons you put down, minus the sky high cost of living.

  34. Hungzai says:

    I wonder why John Chow is talking the opposite now? When he first arrives at Shanghai he wrote an entry about how great shanghai is and how cheap it is. And how he is singing a completely opposite tune, which makes us wonder does he knows what he’s blogging about at times LOL

    1. Kaizen says:

      A blog is a live entity where one can voice their opinions.. opinions change. I see no harm in Mr. Chow redefining his view on something like living in Shanghai. It usually takes time to find flaws in something, and I bet an online business in Shanghai seemed a lot more appealing until he discovered the “great firewall of China”. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your findings John.

    2. John Chow says:

      I don’t think I’m talking opposite. I’ve been showing both sides of China from the beginning. If you recall, right after showing how cheap shopping was, I showed how expensive my hotel was. I still think Shanghai is a great city. Most housing don’t cost $4000 per month. It’ll be impossible for the population of Shanghai to afford. Most place are very inexpensive. However, for the people who can afford it, Shanghai can give them very expensive as well.

  35. Pradeep says:

    and i was thinking china is cheaper then India but in realty it is costlier then UK ๐Ÿ˜•

    i never heard about school as costly as BISS $260,000US per annum for one kid damn u can build your own school with cost of 2 students annual education fees here in India

  36. The low wages and the high cost of housing shows the need for supplemental income. I have read many articles on the low wage work force of china and how hard they are willing to work. The economy for china and the large population of China makes for a ripe market.

  37. Ryan Hughes says:

    I had similar problems as this when I was in China two months ago. I didn’t try to do as much as you did, but whatever I tried was sporadic. I wouldn’t recommend blogging in China also because Free Speech isn’t one of the country’s strengths either.

  38. Flimjo says:

    I would say even giving up 20% of my income would hurt. But 45%??? Geez.

  39. geomark says:

    And then think about what brutal, repressive actions that 45% is supporting. A thinking person with any ethics wouldn’t even be spending their vacation money in China.

  40. Nishadha says:

    Obviously you haven’t tried making money online in Sri Lanka , Even Pay Pal is send only in Sri Lanka ๐Ÿ™

  41. Thiago Prado says:

    I think China government is doing the right thing not letting tourists to stay there over a month. Imagine a country that has over a billion people having a lot of tourists packing the country even more.
    the other day I heard that China has pure water for less then 30 years. Imagine a war that the issue is potable water !?! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

  42. Chris says:

    ๐Ÿ˜ China sounds like a rough place to live. I hope you enjoy what you are doing over there and hopefully you can find maybe other ways to make lots of money online. I look forward to learning what else you find over there.

  43. Really interesting post. I’d prefer to work at home too.

  44. john says:

    Sounds like opening up an international school in China is very profitable, anyone interested a joint venture? I have got contacts and relationships in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, Guilin… seriously

  45. Mike Huang says:

    China does have its own restrictions, but I think it’s still a great place to live in if you move from the states over there ๐Ÿ™‚


  46. tao xiao says:

    yes, I am now in china and can’t open the blogspot, so it bothers me a lot. I have to login into my account in and post my articles without seeing the published posts! What’s depressed!

  47. Adrian says:

    Interesting for me to read this post. I’ve been living and working in my own business for the past seven years in Bangkok Thailand.

    Although the apartment rental does seem cheaper than Shanghai, many of the same factors are present-

    high income taxes (higher for foreigners)
    rising cost of living
    cheap (but unqualified) labor
    A government that likes to obfuscate and make things increasingly more difficult for visas and business

    Where to live? I haven’t found where yet!

  48. sunduvan says:

    What John wrote is the cost of living in Shanghai or in any major big city in China. I believe the cost of living is not that bad in the interior of China. Otherwise there will be news about many chinese died because of malnutritions. ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

  49. Sorry you’re having so many problems with the firewall surrounding China, but thanks for pointing it out. The Chinese deserve a decent chance at checking out what the Internet is all about, but given that present leadership has little or no respect for democratic values such changes will take MANY YEARS, if ever…
    Carpe diem. ๐Ÿ™‚

  50. Hey JC Can you convert 100,000RMB in Dollars$$

  51. dezza says:

    no offense, but shouldn’t you have known these things BEFORE you came? they’d be easy to figure out with a little research…

    1. John Chow says:

      No offense taken. I’m not here for work. I’m here for fun. And the best research is to just see it first hand. :mrgreen:

  52. Tom Chuong says:

    Very insightful article, John! Now I really wished I booked that flight to Shanghai the week that you were there. My other plans delayed my opportunity to meet you in person. I hope to catch up with you in Canada one day when I’m free.

  53. I thought UK tax was bad ar 22% + 8% but I guess if you are in the top tax bracket (which I think John Chow would be) it would be 30% + 8% although the 8% does get capped. I cannot wait to be in this high tax bracket as it means that I am earning shedloads!

  54. dezza says:

    ah ok..i’m new to this blog..thought you relocated to shanghai to work. glad you’re not stuck behind the great wall of china then;) nice of you warn others.

  55. This is probably the most interesting article I have read here at! Thanks

    I am working on my website from Europe while the people reading it are mostly from the states – so I am doing exactly the same as you in China – I work on the posts while people in the US are still asleep and post them have them automatically posted in the morning and throughout the day in the US.

  56. Theres no place like home ๐Ÿ™‚
    I visited Malaysia a couple months ago and I really liked it, maybe you should pay it a little visit

  57. steverindy says:

    Ummm 150,000 RMB is only $26,000 US not $260,000. No wonder you think China is expensive ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. John Chow says:

      You read it wrong. It’s 150,000RMB per year. $260,000USD to send a child from grade 1 to 12. ๐Ÿ™‚

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