Beyond Brexit: global opportunities in China and Southeast Asia

Article 50 has been triggered and the UK is now on the long road to Brexit nirvana, whatever that looks like.

The path ahead is more likely to be one of those twisty-turny, gut-wrenching mountain roads than the fast lane of a motorway, with no clear vision of where the final post-Brexit destination will be, when this fabled destination will be reached, or even if the Brexit bus will arrive in one piece. It might lose a wing mirror – or worse.

As familiar pastures recede into the distance, the Brexit bus will climb higher through the mist, and the air temperature will drop a little. There will be signs of ice. Mountain goats from the past will clatter down the rocks from their lofty perch to butt in the conversation, though unlikely to topple the Brexit bus altogether.

Bus on a mountain road

Despite the uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, old symbols from the past will be revived. There is talk of the navy British passport coming back (though a passport cover is just as effective; mine is black – which is neither blue nor burgundy, and frankly no one in the world cares what colour the British passport is). Bizarrely and worryingly, there are growing tensions over Gibraltar.

But we can’t go back to 1982. Looking past the cranks and the hotheads on both sides of the Brexitian fence, there are intriguing global opportunities to explore for UK-based Brits and EU citizens alike – and where better to begin than in today’s most exciting “emerging” markets in East Asia.


Relations between Britain and China have come a long way in recent years, which is just as well, as good terms will likely come in handy. There is much talk of a “golden era”, symbolised by President Xi and then British PM David Cameron enjoying a bilateral pint down the pub in late 2015 before the cameras (Green King IPA sales later went through the roof in China and the pub was bought by the Chinese).

The Chinese premier later participated in a photo op with Cameron and Man City’s star striker Sergio Aguero in what was arguably the most surreal selfie in modern times. It’s fair to say that he is still going strong, while Cameron and Aguero have been sidelined, with more than one goal missed…

China and Britain have since made a fresh commitment to promote free trade as both countries speed up efforts to start the golden era for real, according to Xinhua, and there are indications that things are taking off.

Taking off literally in the case of the new flights announced in March from London to Guangzhou and Manchester to Beijing. Meanwhile a delegation of 60 high-net-worth entrepreneurs from China will be visiting London in June to seek opportunities for investment and partnerships with British SMEs.

But let’s focus on everyday people.

Young Brits are already doing incredible things in China. Leading the way in telling their story is the British Council, who interviewed Christopher Colman, a young British animator who moved to China upon graduation, and published a piece by British fashion designer Stephanie Lawson on launching a brand in China and “surviving”.

An earlier article tells of an English language assistant in China who had come up with a sustainable bamboo clothing and accessories brand, Mabboo, in between classes and plans to take it global.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia, the most eclectic of regions, has traditionally offered something for everyone over the decades, from bankers to beachgoers. In global terms, it’s growing in influence: Asean is now the UK’s 8th biggest export market worth $17.4 billion in 2015, more than twice the value of UK shipments to India.

With a rapidly evolving landscape, Southeast Asia looks same same, but different. Hubs like Singapore no longer have such a commanding appeal in the region, though the resilient Lion City will continue to roar as always.


Take Indonesia, for example, one of the “BRICS” when the term was still popular. A strategic partner of the UK, the sprawling archipelago is the world’s fourth most populous country and expected by PwC to jump from 8th to 4th biggest global economy by 2050.

With 80 million social media users, the nation is among the biggest users of Facebook and Twitter in the world. Jakarta itself is said to be the Twitter capital of the world – take that, London.

Jakarta and Bali have thriving coworking scenes. and In Jakarta, for example, a coworking space called Jakarta Smart City Hive (JSCHive) was built by the city administration and EV Hive to support digital startups. Bali in particular is a big draw for digital nomads, attracted to its spiritual vibe and charm. Hubud and Coworkation are just two among several coworking options that have surfaced in recent years.


Hopping now across the Straits of Malacca (mind the container ship), where Malaysia is also of special interest to the UK. In recent days both countries affirmed their commitment to enhancing ties post-Brexit.

One of Southeast Asia’s more alluring countries (I have my own special relationship with their culture), Malaysia has compelling tech opportunities in Kuala Lumpur and vibrant northern neighbour Penang. Jobbatical frequently advertises opportunities with Malaysian startups.

If you are still studying, good news – KL is the most affordable city in the world for students, according to the annual QS Best Student Cities 2017.

Another hop, though technically two – one across the mountains and another across the sea – will take you to mystical Borneo. Kuching, a tranquil city not far from Singapore, has been described as “the next Chiang Mai“, Asia’s digital nomad hotspot, and the famous laksa isn’t bad either.


Which must make Chiang Mai the next Bangkok. Possibly. Thailand’s cultural capital is a magnet for location independent workers, and it’s not difficult to see why, with its food scene, quality of life and affordability. Nomad List ranks Chiang Mai top worldwide for remote workers.

Koh Lanta, near Krabi in Thailand’s south, takes the idyll a step further – unlike Bali and Chiang Mai, KoHub remote workers can enjoy mile after mile of golden sand.

But Thailand appeals even if you’re not a digital nomad. In recent days it was announced that the Thai government is offering British expats a 20 year residency permit. The package, which costs £481 pounds a year on top of a £48,138 one-off fee, will include a VIP fast track on matters relating to driving licence, work permit and immigration.

Two decades might be excessive for some, A 10 year permit is also available for £24,066, in addition to an annual fee, and a 5 year permit is available for £12,033.

The Thai government agency, speaking to the Press Association, explains:

I think that Brexit will give us an opportunity to even open more, or to introduce Thailand even on a broader scale … you can live in Thailand for up to 20 years if you’d like to, therefore it would be a good opportunity for both countries, in terms of UK people and the Thai people.

What have I missed?

“We don’t need Brexit to do this. Germany exports more to China than we do. EU not holding us back.” Agree?

From Bali to Barcelona, how the coworkation is redefining remote work

Coworkation in Bali

Way back in March, I travelled to Bangkok for the Digital Nomad Conference and heard a chap called Stuart Jones speak about Coworkation, a project focused on “inspiring people in inspiring places doing inspiring things”. Curiosity piqued, I sought to find out more from Stuart.

Can you tell us a little about Coworkation, and what led you to start it?

SJ: I have been location independent for the past 15 years and am constantly inspired as an entrepreneur by new places and cultures I experience. Working whilst you travel hasn’t always been an easy endeavour, so I was super excited when I discovered coworking spaces popping up all over the world, some of them even in exotic remote locations. I saw immediately the value of coworking and experiencing unique locations with people from different skill sets and backgrounds, and I thought “why not take this concept to the next level?”

How would you define a “coworkation”, and how is this different from ordinary “coworking”?

SJ: A “coworkation” is a combination of three major factors. You have a retreat from your day to day life or working environment, in rural, exotic and unique locations around the world, made all the more accessible because we take care of all the details.

There’s the experiential learning, through facilitated, in-depth, actionable workshops and activities, that send you home inspired, upskilled, connected, and able to inhabit the potential of a location independent lifestyle.

And lastly you have the community. This is probably my #1 value of a Coworkation. The people who attend a Coworkation are an awesome blend of established entrepreneurs, those who love to travel with purpose and with their tribe, and those wanting a taste of location independence.
Ordinary “coworking” is amazing – we just upped the ante!

Where are the exciting coworkation hotspots to look out for (existing and emerging)?

SJ: Bali is number one on my list, as it draws an amazing array of startup founders, digital nomads, spiritual seekers and small business owners to a gorgeous tropical island buzzing with vibrancy.

Thailand is taking off. Whether you’re in Chiang Mai, the digital nomad hub in SE Asia, or on the islands as we will be next year.

And in Europe, Spain is having a real moment as location independence is offering people the ability to work remotely and thrive despite the economic downturn they’ve experienced the last few years. Well, that, and the fact that the weather’s amazing, the food is phenomenal and the people are gorgeous!

How environmentally sustainable are coworkations?

SJ: That’s a really good question, and something we are working on constantly. Because there are different types of coworkations in different parts of the world, there is a wide variety of sustainability factors we try and take into account, and it’s an ongoing concern for us.

We have local retreats in the countryside of Spain, where people travel together (we always organise joint travel to limit unnecessary car trips) to the locations that we choose based on their attitudes and actions towards sustainability in their areas.

We have the further afield coworkations where people may attend from overseas and have to fly. Essentially, any form of air travel can be considered non-environmentally friendly. But we are encouraging people to experience the world and truly engage with it, and believe that most people, when they’re faced with the real environmental issues being dealt with in developing nations like Bali and Thailand, become more environmentally conscious and active.

Specifically, in Bali, we are engaged with an organisation called the Bali Children’s Project, which we chose after much searching for people who are providing tangible assistance to those who need it most. Our participants have the opportunity to physically help as well as donating. So the focus for us is on practical engagement in areas where we can actually see the impact we have.

We are working with Coboat on a couple of sea-retreats, and these are much more environmentally focused as we all actively clean the oceans when we’re out at sea.

What we are supporting is the ability to be able to work remotely, and that includes a decrease in people commuting for work to offices in cities, it encourages seeing the world as your home, and being more connected to it, which we believe will have a far-reaching positive impact on the environment.

What tips would you give to aspiring “coworkation-ers”?

SJ: Get out there! See the world! Be challenged, be scared, be inspired! You are not the person you think you are, and you never know who you will become until you expose yourself and your preconceived notions about the world, to the world! Through travel you actually become part of this beautiful global community that is breaking down barriers and taking us into a world of increased understanding and collaboration across borders. It’s not always easy to get out there though, so my tip would be come on a Coworkation and hang out with us! We’ll show you the ropes!

How do you see remote work – and attitudes to remote work – evolving over the next 10 years?

SJ: I love this question, this is something I’m really excited about. Basically, what we see occurring now is not only a shift amongst freelancers or entrepreneurs into location independent lifestyles, but we see employees becoming more empowered and employers becoming more flexible as they see how much value there is in remote work. Companies save money on office space, employees quality of life increases with a reduction in time commuting, reduced stress and anxiety, more family and home time, and above all this, people are feel in charge of their own productivity!

We all have different rhythms and work styles, and remote working allows people to work when they want, from where they want, however they want. This new management attitude is having a hugely positive impact employee satisfaction and job retention. Sorry, that was long-winded, but essentially, the next 10 years is going to see an exponential growth in remote work in many sectors.

Finally, it appears you have travelled a lot in your life. What and where would be your ideal coworkation?

SJ: That I have! But, tough question! I guess, if I was going on a coworkation myself, I would want to go somewhere I’ve never been before, somewhere that was really going to open me up to new ways of seeing the world.

Somewhere that the natural beauty of the land takes my breath away and clears my mind. It’s all about inspiration for me, and nature inspires me, it’s where I find tranquillity and clarity, so where-ever I go has to have this. But on the other hand, I’m a sucker for a gin and tonic on a deck at the end of a long day, so if I can combine my days of adventure with a soft bed and rainforest shower-head, so be it! And to be honest, wherever I can connect with like-minded people that stimulate me, my tribe I guess, that’s where I’d ideally be.