This article is a modified transcript of the Opportunity in China Podcast – Ep 16
Whether you are working full-time, studying, or living as a dependent with a spouse or parent in China, there are many ways to supplement your income or to earn extra cash. The following is a list of what this author thinks of as the best side jobs available to foreigners in China.
The ranking of these side jobs was done bearing in mind a few factors, which to the author’s mind render some better prospects than others. Those factors are as follows:
- Experience and skill required: not that our audience here should not seek employment which utilizes their skills and experience, but these are mainly side jobs. Therefore, the less experience and skill necessary, the better.
- Capital investment: some of these side jobs will require some upfront capital for web-hosting, travel, product ordering and shipping, and supplies. Obviously, to hedge against risking our money, most of us want side jobs that require little or no expense.
- Location independence: side jobs should be convenient ways to make money, and are best when they can be practiced nearly anywhere.
- Availability of opportunity: some side jobs are harder to come by than others. The easier they come, the more likely we will invest time in seeking them out.
- Schedule flexibility: a side job should not be the focal point of one’s life. Therefore, the more flexible the schedule can be, the more one can control when to start and finish work, the less the side job will interfere with more primary occupations.
- Income potential: self-explanatory
10 – Drop Shipping and E-Commerce
Drop shipping from China to your home country made only the earliest spot on this list due to the fact that it likely requires the greatest time and effort to see to success. In fact, in most cases it is more like a small business than a side job. However, with that being said, there are some who pull down very impressive annual revenue from one or multiple, usually multiple, income streams from e-commerce projects. Additionally, once an e-commerce, especially a drop shipping enterprise, is established there is usually minimal effort to maintain it. While you are living in China, studying or working, during your free time you could definitely check out this passive income strategy. This is especially true if you live in the south of China where most of the light and consumer electronic manufacturing occurs. Access to the source of production will be a key to success; you can cut out costly middle men and ship back to your home country directly from the factory, or even create your own private label products. China has been referred to as the “factory of the world” for good reason. It has for years boasted some of the highest if not the highest export numbers among other economies. This trend has only cooled in recent years, but the market is not overly-crowded for the enterprising among you.
How to start a drop shipping or e-commerce business from China?
While both our blog and podcast will likely address this multifaceted issue in greater depth later, mostly because this author does not have the experience to write more than what could be gleaned from a Wikipedia page, I will attempt to break down the general means of obtaining leads. First, you have to establish a niche in the market; there is some product that people want which is either being under-provided, overpriced, or under-marketed. If you can solve any or all of these problems through a relationship with a Chinese supplier and some internet marketing know-how, then you are golden. Visit factory expositions in China to meet suppliers, especially those in Guangdong Province, learn what is available, and discover what product you should export piecemeal-style to your home country through Amazon.com, Ebay.com, your own Shopify page, or whatever individual platform or combination of platforms you choose.
9 – Daigou (代购 dàigòu)
What is Daigou?
We separated Daigou from the previously-mentioned means of income, although it can be lumped in with drop shipping and e-commerce. Daigou is the Chinese word for ordering for clients or purchasing for online listing products from a foreign country for consumption in China in small quantities or for one-off transactions. It literally means to, “buy on the behalf of someone”. For more clarification, Dai Gou includes the following two scenarios:
- Someone in China wants something purchased from abroad, they tell their friends, or they visit a Daigou chat group on WeChat or elsewhere to ask a Daigou agent in America, Australia, or elsewhere to purchase a product like an LV handbag, probably from an outlet mall, to be shipped back to China.
- The Daigou market is also more formal than just random one-off transactions. Many of the products one can find on Taoboa.com or Jindong.com, two major e-commerce stores in China similar to Amazon.com, are actually listed by or with help of a Chinese person living abroad. Once the order is fulfilled, the overseas individual will ship to China. Each major city in the west, especially near Chinese enclaves (e.g. the San Gabriel Valley near Los Angeles or Flushing, New York), there will be several Chinese equivalents to FedEx or DHL for which a majority of their business comes from Chinese shipping products back to China for resale.
Why does this industry exist?
Basically, as we are all probably aware of now due to the so-called trade war between the US and the PRChina, the Chinese government has been placing fairly hefty tariffs on imported goods, and this is especially true for those goods which are perceived to be luxury goods (e.g. wine, fashion industry products, and vitamin supplements), all of which are popular items moved by Daigou agents. Additionally, Chinese are highly skeptical of the quality and authenticity of products purchased in China, even if they carry the label of a foreign company. Therefore, to ensure quality, particularly of vitamins, supplements, and the like, buying abroad is perceived to be the best means.
How can I become a Daigou agent?
Unless you are fluent in Chinese, you cannot become a Daigou agent by yourself. Also, since this article refers to earning a side-income while in Chinese territory, here are a couple of scenarios by which you can get involved in the Daigou industry:
- If you have friends or family in a major western city (e.g. Los Angeles, New York City, Sydney, London, etc.) where there will be cheap Chinese shipping companies, as mentioned above, then you can find a both a local Chinese interested in working as your partner to list and promote products as well as someone back in your home country to purchase and ship.
- If you have to go home for the holidays, to make a visa run, or for any reason, you can ask every Chinese you know if they want you to bring anything back with you. Surely, someone will take you up on the offer.
- Retail arbitrage. Retail arbitrage is a strategy often employed by domestic drop shippers. Retail arbitrage usually refers to finding things online or for sale somewhere cheaper than where they are normally sold, and then selling them on the typical platform. For example, one might find a popular watch sold on the company’s retail website or on Amazon.com for $100 dollars. However, you saw an advertisement through your Google Chrome plugin, Honey, for example, that the product can be purchased for $85 on XYZ website. So, you would then purchase it for $85 then resale for $98. There are creative ways in which you can find products cheaper than an overseas Chinese could simply due to your better understanding of the many facets of the retail market, or simply due to your better language ability. Many Chinese Daigou have very minimal English language ability. Simple online retail arbitrage through plugins or discount websites is getting tighter, as more and more Chinese Daigou agents are becoming savvy to this approach. However, where there is a will there is a way.
The means by which you get involved depends solely on your resources and the extent to which and amount of hours that you want to work. This is purely a means for side income, and I have thus never met a Daigou agent who is pulling in a million-dollar annual revenue stream. In my personal opinion, it is probably best just to treat it like a hobby. Good luck.
8 – Food Service
How to find work in food service in China?
Finding a job as a bartender, a cook, a caterer, a barista, or waitstaff in China is as simple as finding such work in your home country. Find a WeChat group, jobs board (e.g. theBeijinger.com, a recruiter (Opportunity in China can help), or go to the establishments themselves with a resume and a relevant skill set. In the major cities, such as Shenzhen, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, etc., there are many establishments that tend to serve mostly foreign clientele, and therefore require at least some foreign staff. Also, some foreign cuisine restaurants primarily serving domestic clients might still like to hire a foreigner in the kitchen to add authenticity to the cuisine or one at the host stand to create the appearance of authenticity.
How to start a food service business in China?
Of course, if you have the know how and the ambition, you can either use your own or find capital. Then again, that would not be a side job, but if you could manage your role within a partnership with minimal time invested, then this could be an opportunity for you. With tightening restrictions on foreign investment imposed on the Chinese population by authorities in Beijing, many wealthy Chinese are looking for a way to diversify their holdings. If you have an excellent food service idea, and you have money or are willing to seek funding, there is definitely room for more great foreign restaurants in China. If you have been to China before, you know that most Chinese-owned and operated so-called foreign cuisine restaurants churn out plates about as unappetizing as Americanized Chinese food. For details about the legal and capital requirements for wholly-foreign-owned enterprises or joint ventures, seek expert advice.
By the way, James, if you are reading this: I want a chorizo burrito the next time I am in China. Please do not let me down.
7 – Editing and Writing
Actually, this was one of my very first means of earning income in my interaction with Chinese people. When I first sought out language partners with whom I could improve my Chinese language skills, the majority of them were university students in my hometown. As students, they were definitely aiming for my help in editing their homework. After helping a handful of friends, they referred me to their friends, and latent demand snowballed in my direction. Eventually, I found myself editing dozens of pages weekly during the semester. Many years later to today, my company actually has a fairly robust set of services in the English language editing sphere, from essay and article editing to website content and ad copy editing. This is a huge market. Even someone only slightly acquainted with Chinese people has some familiarity with Chinglish. You can earn considerable side income by polishing Chinglish into something more desirable.
The most common type of editing and writing service opportunities one might encounter are:
- College application essay and personal statements
- Academic journal entries
- Ad copy and advertising editing
How do I get involved in editing English language content for Chinese people?
Unfortunately, this is not a service you can easily market online. There are far too many Chinese students who are currently or have just returned from studying overseas, and there English writing ability, while not nearly as good as that of a native speaker, is passable and their price will be lower than yours. Therefore, the online industry tends to be too crowded out for the solo free-lancer. The answer is to network. Get to know people who are studying English, applying for university, etc. The more people you know, the more you will be discovered. Essentially, networking is the key. Be available, show you skills, and the word will get out. That is what I did and now Beringia Consulting employs one writer full time who handles a few hundred thousand words of English text annually, and we have independent contractors who pick up the slack during the busy season.
6 – Referring Teachers
Referring teachers to a recruiter or a school obviously works best when you are already employed by the institution to which you are referring. While being an active recruiter is hard work (believe us here at Opportunity in China know), passively referring teachers can be a means of increasing your income 10% or more annually just be introducing a couple friends annually to your school or another in your network.
How to recruit ESL and subject teachers for the Chinese market?
For a passive side job, all one need do is to be themselves, post photos of on their social media, and folks back home who are already predisposed to the idea of expatriation or spending a year in China will realize you are a secure path to realizing that goal. If you are a teacher in China already, simply have this conversation with your human resources manager to develop an understanding of whatever commission they are willing to offer you for the referral.
This sort of arrangement is a win-win for all three parties involved. If your employer likes you, then they will probably like your friends, and you would not invite a friend to work for a school or any employer if you did not feel it was a good opportunity. Lastly, your friend will have a chance to work for a good employer and will have a more secure transition from his home country to China.
What commissions can I expect for referring something to a school?
Generally speaking, if you are not working as a professional recruiter, who has many more responsibilities than just referring someone, then you will not receive the types of commissions some people may claim. You can expect 2-8,000RMB per referral, likely 4-5,000.
5 – Online English Teaching
English language instruction is a multi-billion dollar industry in China, and foreign teacher salaries are not an insignificant portion of that sum. While most of those teachers are teaching their classes in person, the online education industry, especially in China, is growing rapidly. I hear of a new company at least once each week in the online English education space. Whether your already teaching in class, working in another sector, studying at a Chinese university, or even if you are living in your home country, teaching online can be an easy way to earn extra income.
How can I teach English online?
There are some trusted companies like, VIP Kids, which you can search out and apply for. There are others with less strict requirements and higher compensation. Do your own due diligence as there are hundreds of options. Of course, Opportunity in China recruits for online English teaching jobs.
4 – Affiliate Marketing & Ad-revenue
Earning ad revenue is possible with YouTube and blog writing. There are multiple video bloggers on YouTube with tens of thousands of followers who could definitely pull in revenue from ads if they allow them to appear on their videos. Some examples are: China Non-Stop, Laowhy86, and Serpentza. They create both informative video blogs that provide valuable information to those living in or interested in China, and they add a personal twist by including their own story into the videos, like a video diary. While this strategy is not easy – these three have spent years building a loyal following by creating quality and engaging content – the potential reward for their efforts is pay-per-view (PPV) advertising revenue, given to them by the tech giant Google, now known as Alphabet.
If you are aiming for a content creating side job that does not require years to generate income, consider affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is a marketing technique by which an independent third party creates content, be that a blog, video, or physical advertisement, and uses that content to drive traffic to online stores or direct sales for a company.
What affiliate partners can I find within the Chinese context?
- Consumer electronics
- Travel agencies
- Amazon products
- Language Schools
- Foreign talent recruiters, such as Opportunity in China (contact us, eh)
How do I find these companies that offer affiliate opportunities?
It is easy to find opportunities on Amazon.com, Clickbank.com, or other websites offering affiliate partnership opportunities through an automated and formalized process. For other opportunities, most companies looking for marketing assistance will not be interested in working with you until you have demonstrated that your content is drawing in many viewers. Essentially, build it and they will come. In the early stages, see it as a hobby. If you enjoy the process and build a following as a consequence, then you can consider monetizing your previous efforts.
3 – Entertainment Gigs
The entertainment industry in China has been heavily influenced by foreign culture and media since it really came into being in the 1980s. Hollywood movies, music, etc., are staples of everyday life. Additionally, there is a perception that foreign live entertainment is of particular quality, or at least that foreigners know how to have a good time. Therefore, if you have any talent or if you suit a role physically in the entertainment industry, there may be many chances for you to work evenings and weekends performing live in a number of roles including, but not limited to:
- Working as a DJ
- Performing live music
- Dancing professionally at clubs (Gogo-Girls)
- KTV hostessing (a.k.a KTV girls)
The best way to find work in these areas is to locate yourself in a major city, network and ask friends for access to entertainment job WeChat groups, or like our Facebook page and join our jobs board, a group offering all variety of jobs in China.
2 – Acting, Modeling, & Promoting
PHOTO CREDIT: China Daily/Asia News Network
As mentioned before, foreigners have a huge influence over Chinese media and entertainment. Just by virtue of being a foreigner, especially if you are from the western world, you have the opportunity to find side work in the areas of acting, promoting, and modeling. These three categories of side jobs are similar in the skill-set required, and similar in the network of recruiters and agents you will need to know to consistently find opportunities. They overlap to such an extent that if you enter one industry initially, you will likely find yourself being offered opportunities in the others. They are jobs for which your most superficial attributes will be utilized. Live in a major city, have the right look, then show up with the right attitude, and you will be rehired for multiple projects. The types of opportunities for each category are as follows:
- Film and commercial extras
- Film and TV roles
- Roles in video commercials
- Clothing modeling
- Make-up modeling
- Brand promotions (e.g. retail store’s special events)
- Guests to events and meetings (providing the appearance that foreigners are interested in something or are part of an organization when they are really not)
Again, just like with the entertaining industry in China, the best way to find work in acting and modeling in China is to locate yourself in a major city (especially Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), network and ask friends for access to acting or modeling job WeChat groups, or like our Facebook page and join our jobs board, a group offering all variety of jobs in China.
You can also listen to the third episode of the Opportunity in China Podcast to hear an interview of an American with half a decade of experience acting in China.
1 – One-on-One Tutoring & Private Classes
While it is possible to find jobs tutoring in all variety of subjects ranging from mathematics to chemistry, the elephant in the room in the one-on-one tutoring market is language tutoring, specifically English language tutoring. The education market in China is highly competitive; therefore, many parents and adult individuals are willing to pay a high sum for extra assistance with their language studies. This tutoring is normally paid by the hour, and in most markets a quality English, or even French, German, Japanese, or Spanish language tutor can expect to earn no less than 150RMB per hour. If you market yourself well, demonstrate your value, and are shrewd with your pricing, you could earn up to 500RMB per hour. The ease of finding such opportunities, the ease of performing the job, the flexibility of scheduling, coupled with the awesome income boost that this side job will provide is why it should be considered the best side job in China for foreigners.
How do I find one-on-one tutoring opportunities in China?
Well, as with most social affairs in China, it is all about who you know, what relationships you have built, and how you have made yourself stand out. If you are a teacher already, then you may find students will ask you after class for additional private lessons. Be careful with this as it may violate your contract. Simply being a westerner will allow you to garner attention from the local population; some will target you out on the street and point-blank ask you for language assistance. Other potential clients will come with some marketing and networking efforts. English language learning WeChat groups are a good start.