In the past few years I became fascinated with Asian countries and cultures. It started with a Japanese movie and it expanded to the wider Asian cinematography, music, philosophies, (martial) arts and of course food. The curiosity and appreciation for this world only grew stronger in time, so I did what I do best—research. It’s important to mention that each of these elements can differ depending on the type of person you are, your values or conditions (safety over costs), your current financial situation, your nationality (passport), which destination country you choose, and so on.
I realized that I would like to live for a while in Asia (East or Southeast) and therefore I started to analyze what that would entail for me. Which country should I choose (or start with)? What language(s) should I learn? What type of visa may be the easiest to get? What is the safest country or area for women? Because reviews are at least as important as the statistics, the information I put together so far was gathered mainly from data-based websites and YouTube channels of foreigners who lived or are living in some of these countries.
If you are a woman, chances are safety may be at the top of your priority list. According to a crowd-sourced database, some of the safest countries in East and Southeast Asia (by crime index) are Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Taiwan also happened to be one of the happiest in 2020. Because Taiwan seemed to be one of the champions, I also searched for the opinions of a few expats living there and all of them had mostly positive things to say about the country and their overall experience. Not everything is perfect, but that’s true everywhere you go.
Beyond numbers and other people’s opinions, the truth is we all want to feel safe. Who wouldn’t prefer to walk or use their phone on the street at 2 a.m. and feel calm instead of afraid and anxious? Seeing as in 2021 the top three safest cities in the world were in East and Southeast Asia, I would venture to say that this area is truly worth considering if you decide you need a change of scenery for a few years.
Cost of living
Regardless of financial status, I guess everyone would prefer a lower cost of living for the same or an even better quality of life. There are a few tax-free countries, but they are not easily available or affordable for most people. Considering the day-to-day cost of living, a one-bedroom apartment in London city center is around £1,700, whereas in Taipei it’s about £500. Eating out is cheaper in Taiwan but fruits and vegetables are more expensive. Transportation is more expensive in London, but salaries are higher.
The reality is that it’s a give-and-take anywhere you go, including when it comes to economic freedom. The key is to figure out what matters most to you and if, on balance, it represents what you want and need. Also, fellow vegans don’t need to worry about vegan restaurants—there are about 103 in Tokyo, 57 in Seoul, 76 in Taipei, 19 in Kuala Lumpur, just to count a few.
Language is probably another element at the top of the priority list. Learning a new language may not be an easy task, but there are so many advantages and it can be so useful, that I don’t really perceive it as a troublesome process. I think it all comes down to your “why.” And if you have a good study plan, clear learning goals, and you keep it fun, then it can be a delightfully challenging experience.
The advantage of Mandarin Chinese for example is that it’s used in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, parts of Malaysia and a few more areas. Therefore, it opens more borders, to put it geographically. While in many countries you can get by with English for extensive periods of time, most of Asia may not be the best fit if you’re not willing to learn the language. You would also miss out on the extra knowledge, understanding and connection that are waiting on the other side of the barrier.
Visa and access options
There are too many variables here to dive deep into the subject, although it is perhaps one of the most objectively essential information. The access into different countries is conditional on considerations such as your passport, intended length of stay, study or employment status, and so on. For Taiwan, the main types of visa you could get are: visitor, student, work, join family, working holiday and entrepreneur.
Each type of visa comes with its own requirements and eligibility criteria, like specific professions that foreigners are allowed to practice in a certain country. Besides the documents you need to prepare, legalize or translate, you may also need to obtain a residence permit in order to keep living there. Even though in Asia there are not as many visa options for digital nomads (or freelancers) as in Europe, you can still find a few extension or paid options, or special types of visas.
The enriching contrast-inspired experience
Culture shock may be the biggest agent of change. That’s because a lot of shifts happen when we immerse ourselves into the unknown—our comfort zone expands, our world view broadens, our existing empathy amplifies. I noticed myself that, wherever I went, people are fundamentally the same yet so very different. That wide variety of cultures, customs, languages, lifestyles, philosophies, and even their history, is what gives people their uniqueness, beyond their shared human form. I find this aspect to be one of the most enriching life experiences, fascinating and vast enough to nourish our minds and souls for at least a lifetime.
The more personal side of my interest in this part of the world is male actors (kidding…). I discovered that I resonate quite deeply with the Buddhist and Taoist ideologies. I feel drawn to learn more about them at their source and to witness how these people embody and practice this wisdom. It somehow became a part of my growth process, so I could say that I feel there is something there for me. I also respect and admire Asian martial arts (slight fascination with Wing Chun). I recognize the philosophy behind them, the discipline, the effort and strength they require and build. So in a nutshell, I aim to be a calm and balanced well-traveled vegan who can kick ass, use chopsticks (like a pro) and read Lao Tzu in Chinese.
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