Bit of a boring one this week, but no blog is complete without the ins-and-outs of paperwork. If you’re looking to move to China yourself, it may be useful, otherwise I’d give this post a miss.
First things first, getting a visa.
I’ve actually had to get two different visas due to the internship I took over the summer. For the internship I was here on an X2 visa, which is a student visa for someone studying less than 180 days. This was fairly straight forward and they needed a lot less documents. I needed to hand over photos, fill in the visa form and get a letter of recommendation from the ‘institution’ I believe. Not the best person to ask about this as I didn’t actually have to submit it myself! I did get stopped at customs who asked for a letter that I didn’t have, because I was told I didn’t need, but my advice is just keep repeating “I don’t need one. I was told that I didn’t need to show you any other paperwork.” I was the only intern asked about this, so I’m pretty positive I was in the right, there.
I can go into a lot more depth with the Z-visa. They’ve recently changed the rules so any information before April 2017 turned out to be irrelevant and if the BritCham YP Wechat is anything to go off, has completely flummoxed those that already live in China.
Firstly, I needed to send my employer 8 documents.
- Copy of passport
- Copy of passport photos
- A notarised copy of my degree
- A notarised police check
- An in-depth medical
- 2 references
- A copy of my CV
- A copy of my signed and dated contract
Most of this was easy to get, but the medical required a lot of back and forth. You have to use a specific form available on the Chinese embassy’s website with some really obscure tests that aren’t typically carried out in the UK. Because of this, I had to give bloods two times, because the nurse couldn’t figure out which ones were actually blood tests. I also had to give a urine sample and a stool sample. The stool was used for a malarial smear test, I believe. I had to have a chest x-ray (which is not paid for by the NHS and seems ridiculous considering you then have to get another one in China anyway) and because I have a heart murmur that has never been checked out, I had to get an echo as well, though that’s not typical.
The one that will most likely causes problems is notarising – numbers 3 and 4. First step, it’s required for a special solicitor to notorise the document to prove that it is a genuine copy. I phoned up all the notaries within a 20km radius and the going rate for a document to be notarised is between £100-150. This requires you to take the original and the copy to their office in person, for a full total of 10 minutes whilst they use a special stamp and make a little note. Boom, jobs a good one. Next, it has to go to the FCO, who will add a certificate to say that the notary who said your document is genuine is a genuine notary. For me this took 10 days (calendar, not business) as they were going through a busy period. This will cost £30 per document. After this, you must take the documents to the Chinese embassy or consulate in person. This costs £15 all in, I think. It also has to be collected in person, which is a pain in the a** when you live 300 miles from your nearest consulate and it’s exam season. I drove to Manchester to give them a piece of paper, then drove straight back. A six hour journey for a five minute interaction.
– The police check doesn’t *necessarily* need to be notarised. Mine didn’t need to be notarised by a notary because it had a signature on it. The ACRO certificate is accepted as an official governing body so can go straight to the FCO. I had to double check this with the embassy and notaries, but they all had my back and it went to the FCO and all was well.
– According to expats, there is a service where someone in the UK can do all of this for you. It costs around £350 from what I’ve heard.
Once you’ve gathered all these documents, the responsibility is with the employer, who must ask the Chinese government for permission to hire you. They’ve introduced a new system that depends on the type of work you do, in order to limit number of lower tier immigrants. I’m ‘tier B’ as a teacher, which is like “yeah, we’ll have you, you’re skilled and we could do with more of you, but we’re putting a limit on it.” As such, my paperwork took about 4 weeks. Tier A can take two weeks, I believe and is for ‘special talent’.
Once you’ve got the sign off, you’ll get two pieces of A4 paper (one English, one Chinese) with a stamp and you’re ready to go to the visa office.
Again, I deviate a little here, as I was already in China for the application. As such, I hightailed it to Hong Kong, where you use an agency. I know that in the UK you have to go to a visa service centre and the cost is around £150-200, but in Hong Kong it only cost 910HKD (about £90). I handed over my passport, a form that they helped me fill in, a couple of pictures of myself that had to be taken there because my ears weren’t on show, both copies of the notification of foreign worker’s permit, and that was it. I worried all weekend that there was something missing, but it turned out alright.
The Foreign Residency Permit
Okay, so you’ve got your visa nicely glued into your passport, you’ve signed up with the local police, but that’s not it. You’re not in the clear until you’ve got the foreign residency permit. From entry, you’ve got 30 days to apply and receive it, but depending on where you are and how competent your government is, this can actually be a tight window.
I arrived to a town with very few foreigners (I was foreigner number 5 on their excel sheet) right as a big UN conference started, so all the usual day-to-day work got put on hold for the best part of two weeks. The initial sign-up with the police is done by all foreigners in China within the first 48 hours, even if they’re just tourists (hotels usually do it on your behalf). I think it’s pretty good actually to know how many people there should be at any one time.
From here, I had to go to Baotou (2 hours away) to get a health check. My colleague didn’t have to travel so far for her F-visa, but apparently Z-visa needs to be done in the prefectural capital. I think that’s what Baotou is… either way, it couldn’t be done in Dongsheng. It wasn’t that different from the one back in the UK, except it was a lot more efficient. It involved going from room to room getting ECGs, x-rays, urine samples, blood tests, measured, weighed, blood pressure… the usual stuff. I was in and out within an hour, which amazed me considering how much they did. The results were quick too – couriered to my employer within 2 days.
Then a few days after that, with the all clear from the health clinic, I had to go to the government offices. A colleague helped with this (by which I mean did all the work whilst I stood there and smiled like the ignorant foreigner I am) but it involved a copy of my contract, my passport, the company’s license and a few other pieces of paper too. They gave me a little card similar to my Japanese residency card and I thought it was done, but they sent us to another building, with more paperwork.
Although I’ve got the plastic card in my purse, there’s still paperwork to be done and I’m not technically allowed to teach until it’s complete. The government still need to file our company details, despite having the details for several months now. I don’t know what this involves, but I have to go back to the office next week for a photo, and should expect a home inspection and work inspection before then. At no point so far have I had to hand in my passport. One curious thing is that I had to practice my old signature, because it had to look exactly like it did in my passport. My passport is 6 years old and my signature hadn’t really developed back then, so it was a bit weird.
The Z-visa is valid for 12 months (the length of my contract) and once everything’s sorted I can leave the country within that time frame without reapplying for a visa. The F and M visas are different and require you to leave the country every 90 days. I don’t really know anything about that.
Setting up a bank account
Bank accounts are important for so many things – not just to get paid, but to open a Wechat wallet too. You can set it up with a foreign card if someone gifts you a red packet, but you may not be able to top-up. Wechat is used to pay for so many things and it’s definitely worth it. Plus, I can now rent bikes around town and use Taobao!
Again, I had help, which is good because wow, lots of paperwork. I’m part of CITIC bank which is actually Hong Kong based. I get a text every time a transaction takes place, allowing me to keep on top of my balance and if they want to confirm an online payment they send me a text with a 6-digit code. It’s possible to do most your banking form self-service machines, but transferring money abroad is a challenge and it looks like I have to go into a branch for that.
You’ll need your passport, and your name might flummox them. Make sure to note how they write your name down, because if you get a capital letter in the wrong place, the names in the wrong order, or include spaces it can affect your payments. For example, my name reads BELLAMYTONIMARIE and if I write it any different my transaction will fail. It’s also fun to watch them wade through the paperwork as there are about 10 sheets. Something that kept happening to me, was that they’d flick through my passport and use the wrong visa – sometimes they’d start scanning my X2 visa and I’d have to explain that it’s the wrong one, but some of them even tried to use my old Japanese one and it’s like…. What? But yeah, take someone who speaks the language and expect to sign your name a LOT.
All in all, it’s not a bad experience depending on what you expect. If you are willing to do the same thing over and over, send the same documents to different people in the same building over and over, spend a long time waiting only to then act within a very small window, it’ll be okay. But I would highly recommend having a native speaker help you.