Towards the end of our second year living in Poland my husband and I both needed a change. We wanted to travel, to see more, and our working lifestyles made this difficult. Teaching English in Poland, it’s difficult to make enough to get by.
We started researching places to go. Korea was out since I couldn’t get a working visa to teach English as a non-native speaker.
Instead, we decided to start looking for jobs in China. And here was our first mistake: we thought it better if my husband Chris found a job first. Chris got a job in Fu’an, a small city in China’s Fujian province.
But when the supervisor heard Chris was bringing his wife-to-be, she suggested going to a school in Putian instead. This is a bigger city, and the school had much more suitable apartments for a couple.
Chris was scheduled to start work in September 2014. My plan was to travel to China on a marriage visa, look for a job there, and then get a working visa.
Unfortunately, many Chinese visa problems would stand in my way.
Why I couldn’t get a marriage visa in England
We got all Chris’ papers together and sent them off. Chris had to arrive a few days before term started, so we booked the tickets for 26th August. It was a crazy summer, since we were getting married on 9th August.
Our papers arrived just after our wedding. I went to the Registry Office in Poland to get an international marriage certificate, which I thought I would need to apply for a marriage visa.
Our Chinese visa problems started when Chris got his work permit. Turned out he was working at a different school than we’d been told. But we decided this was probably just a clerical error.
We ended up using an agency in London to help process our visas. It turned out that our international marriage certificate was useless, as it hadn’t been verified by the Chinese embassy in Poland. So, the agency advised me to get a three-month tourist visa, and sort the rest out in China.
But I had no way of knowing what Chinese visa problems were to come.
How I almost got a working visa
We arrived in China and started to settle down there. We found out that Chris had been officially hired in a different school to the one he was working. This seemed a bit strange, but while in Rome…
I started looking for a job, without much luck. Other non-native speakers worked in Putian illegally. But I wanted to work legally on a work visa.
After a bit over a month, Chris’ school offered to get me working visa in exchange for me doing some private tutoring for them. Of course, I agreed.
And then the problems started.
Chris got his work permit within a few weeks. We thought I would too, but the bureau that deals with work permits made a big deal out of every little thing.
Our supervisor suspected this was because of my nationality. Putian is a small city by Chinese standards and so the officers had probably never dealt with a Polish national before.
For example, they said the stamped numbers on my reference letter weren’t clear enough. And my teaching English CELTA certificate, like every other CELTA certificate, didn’t state how many classroom hours I had taught as part of the course.
They told me this would cause at least a few days’ delay. Meanwhile, my visa would soon expire.
Our supervisor tried to help me get a marriage visa in China. But again, I couldn’t unless the Chinese Embassy in Poland apostilled my certificate. We found out that we also needed to verify my degree in England.
Fortunately, I could do this remotely. But it would take some time.
So, I went to Hong Kong to get another tourist visa without much problem. But I knew I couldn’t extend my visa indefinitely. I just hoped that everything would go as planned.
A government audit ruins everything
But then boom…
At the beginning of December, I got a message from my supervisor saying I needed to verify our marriage certificate. Remember how Chris was employed by a different school than which he worked. This turned out to be against Chinese law.
The other school got audited and it was discovered they hired more people than they actually employed.
So, the government banned that school from issuing any more work permits.
To make things worse, Chris’ school didn’t have the license to issue work permits in the first place.
Which meant, they could no longer get me a working visa. It also meant that Chris and all the teachers at their school were employed illegally.
I decided that there was no more point waiting. With all these problems I wouldn’t find a job in Putian that solved my Chinese visa problems. So, I started to look for something in nearby cities.
Within a week I had a few job offers. But none would issue a visa. I had only a couple of weeks until my second tourist visa expired.
Also, through a friend I got offered a job in an IELTS training centre in Putian. They promised me a business visa, which would help. But it turned out that they couldn’t provide that…
I knew that working on a marriage visa meant working illegally, but I no longer cared. I’d learnt a lot of people were doing that and that Chinese authorities were turning a blind eye.
I went to Hong Kong again and applied for a 60-day tourist visa. They looked at my application and gave me visa for 14 days…
How I finally managed to get a marriage visa
We really weren’t sure what to do. I had only 14 days, not enough to get my marriage certificate certified and get papers back.
We could see only one solution – I had to fly to Poland and get a marriage visa there. We booked the tickets and I went home for two weeks.
Of course, having to fly short notice meant expensive flights. But the situation left me without a choice.
In Poland I got a marriage visa for 6-months without any problems.
After getting back to China I managed to get some odd jobs in training centres, but it was never really anything sustainable. But, as we had a free apartment from Chris’s school and the living costs in China are low, we were able to make ends meet.
Being a little out of pocket from the flights, did make things a little difficult however.
Later in the year, Chris’s school offered me a position in Chris’s school and I decided to accept it. They said that next year they’d be able to get me a working visa.
Of course, there were more complications to come. But this post is already getting a bit long, so I’ll tell you about them in the next post.
How to avoid Chinese visa problems in your first year working in China
China is great place but also has heavy bureaucracy. When I was living in China, I found very little information on dealing with the issues I encountered. Particularly for non-native speakers teaching English there.
But I think these tips will help for those who are dealing with China’s complicated visa process for the first time and avoid Chinese visa problems:
- Before going to work in China verify all documents you might need in the Chinese embassy in a country that issued the document. Our marriage certificate had to be verified in Poland, but my degree in England.
- Double check what kind of visa a school can offer you. Be careful of schools that offer business visas or ask you to teach on a tourist visa… Unless you only intend to stay for a few months.
- Paperwork for a working visa can take months, so be sure to accommodate plenty of time for this
- China has also recently introduced a point system that grades expats on certain criteria for different positions.
- Remember, the Chinese Embassy have the right to deny you a visa or issue one for a shorter period
Thank you for reading. I’ll write more next week about my visa problems in China. Meanwhile, please let us know in the comments below if you’ve had any problems with visas in China.
Where I can, I’ll be happy to help.
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