Part [part not set] of 3 in the "My Chinese Visa Problems" series
My Chinese Visa Problems

In the previous post I described my second year in China and how I had to go back to Poland for the operation.

After that, we went to Europe for the summer holidays. We knew by then that we were going to need to apply for Z visas (i.e. Chinese working visas) again. But, at the beginning of September, Lily (the HR worker from our university) sent us a message that she still didn’t receive the documents from our old school, so the only way for us to get in was to apply for a tourist visa. We did that, and Chris managed to get visa for two years (although he could only stay 90 days each time), but I got it only for 60 days.

This is the story of our final year in China, how we almost got thrown out of the country and why we finally decided to leave.

Note: the names of all Chinese people mentioned in this post have been changed to protect identities. Since Chinese people often like to use English names when talking to foreigners, I’ve also not used their Chinese names.

China is a great place to live but it's also rife with bureaucracy. During 3 years of living there, I encountered a lot of problems that could have been avoided. This is part 1 of a blog series that explains what they were and how to avoid them happening to you. #chinaexpat #chinesevisa #liveinchina #movetochina

Beginnings in Xiamen and more visa problems

We arrived in Xiamen at the beginning of September. Before we started work, we lived through the devastating Typhoon Meranti. In the middle of October my visa was getting close to expiring, but I found out that I could extend it in Xiamen. Unfortunately, I only managed to get an extension for 14 days.

Then, Cathy (the FAO from our old school) told us that she had already provided us with all the documents we needed, which wasn’t true. We still needed from her the Statement of Cancellation of our Foreign Expert Certificates. Lily decided to complain to SAFEA (State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs). However, as Cathy lied to them by giving them the wrong start date of our contracts, SAFEA decided that we should pay compensation to the school. This was for 10,000 RMB (1500$) – a ridiculous amount.

A lot of people actually suggested that we pay the money, as we would earn it back in a couple of months, but we refused to submit to the unjust system. We started getting ready to leave for Vietnam. We had our apartment paid till the end of November, so we decided to book plane tickets and then have friends send our stuff to us. We booked them for 10th of October, which was the day my visa was to expire.

Sunset from our apartment on 26th floor in Jimei, Xiamen.
Sunset from our apartment in Xiamen.

An unexpected turn of events

However, as our last resort, we also decided to send a message to Sophie, who was the head of the Foreign English department in our old school. We explained that Cathy didn’t want to give us our documents unless we pay 10,000RMB and highlighted this might damage the school’s reputation if we decided to go public about all this (Cathy didn’t seem to care). Sophie replied within hours saying that this must be a misunderstanding, because from what she knew Cathy just wanted us to pay for the insurance (we’d already offered to pay for the insurance at the end of the previous year).

Within one hour we received photos of the documents we needed from Cathy with a note (word-for-word) “There are what you want. Get them and don’t disturb us any more”. She also said that the government only required digital copies. We double checked that, and it turned out not to be true. We needed physical documents, and we also still needed our reference letters.

As Cathy didn’t want to see us (she said it herself), we asked a friend to get all the documents from her and give them to us. We managed this all before leaving for Vietnam. We still had to go there, because my visa was about to expire, but we found out that I could apply for a new visa in Vietnam. We talked to our university and they agreed to give us two weeks of unpaid leave.

Chinese Embassy in Vietnam

We found the Chinese embassy in Hanoi without many problems. However, Chinese embassies in different countries have their own different rules. So, apart from our normal documents we also had to provide a proof of insurance and a bank statement that showed that we had $100 available for each day we intended to stay in China. We discovered this, unfortunately, after we’d arrived in Vietnam.

An old hut in Ethnographic Museum in Hanoi.
One of our favourite places in Hanoi: The Ethnographic Museum

At first, we hoped that they would accept my application without these documents as I had an invitation letter to China from a friend. But they told us they needed everything. So, we went to a nearby internet café, where we printed everything we needed. They took my Vietnamese phone number and said that they’d call if there were any problems. They also said that the day I’m meant to pick up the visa I should pay the money from the visa at our bank, which fortunately was very close to our accommodation. I got a visa for 60 days again, but we hoped that this would be enough time to sort out all the paperwork.

We absolutely loved Vietnam and Hanoi, and we promised ourselves that we would be back.

Back in China

We got back to China and everything looked okay for a couple of weeks. But then we got a message from Lily that they couldn’t get me a work permit, because according to the new rules only non-native speakers who had majored in English Language or Education were able to teach in China.

They proposed to get my husband Chris a working visa and I could stay on a marriage visa. We agreed. We had to wait a bit longer for Chris’s document. We also had to verify our marriage certificate, but we knew we had enough time to do that.

A small pond with pagoda and a small tower in Jimei, Xiamen.
One of the many beautiful parks in Jimei, Xiamen.

But when we got all the papers, it turned out that Chris had to apply for his visa from England. Lily explained that it was because she applied originally for the work permit in the summer, when we still thought we would apply for the visa in England. Honestly, if we’d had got the papers from Cathy in time, we would have done.

Apparently, it was impossible to change any of this.

We had long winter holidays, so we agreed to go to England, although reluctantly as flights were expensive and we’d already spent quite a bit on a trip to Vietnam.

A mandatory trip to Europe

We had more surprises in wait for us, as when we went to Chinese Visa Office in Manchester, we were told that we need to go to London, because Chris’ work permit had the words “Chinese Embassy” on it and the only embassy in the UK is in London. We didn’t have enough time to go to London, so we had to use an agency, which ended up costing us extra £200.

Christmas pudding aflame.
We missed Christmas in England, but Chris’s parents saved Christmas pudding for us.

As soon as Chris got his Z visa, I took a copy of it and applied for my marriage visa. I applied for a half-year visa, but I ended up getting it for a year. Ironically, Chris had had to surrender a two-year tourist visa (reluctantly) for his work visa, so now I could stay in China longer than him.

Looking ahead…

In the spring we started thinking about what to do next. We could stay in China, go to Vietnam, or somewhere else. We changed our minds quite a few times. In the end, in April, we booked our accommodation in Granada, Spain, where we lived a few months.

A boat shaped like a dragon.
A dragon boat, just before Dragon Boat Festival.

The whole three years in China didn’t turn out to be very lucrative. Because of all the problems we spent more money than we earned. But we still had amazing time.

Lessons learned (from all three years plus a few more from our friends):

  • Before going to work in China verify all documents you might need via the Chinese embassy in the country that issued the document. For example our marriage certificate had to be verified in Poland, but my degree was in England and needed to be apostilled there.
  • 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 points system that grades expats on certain criteria for different job types.
  • Remember, the Chinese Embassy have the right to deny you a visa or issue one for a shorter period
  • Make sure the work contract is both in English and Chinese and ask somebody who knows the language to check through the Chinese version for you to make sure there are no differences.
  • Before leaving a job in any place in China make sure you get all documents including a reference letter.
  • Always do some research online about the school before you take the job, it’s best if you manage to get in touch with people who used to work there.

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China is a great place to live but it's also rife with bureaucracy. During 3 years of living there, I encountered a lot of problems that could have been avoided. This is part 3 of a blog series that explains what they were and how to avoid them happening to you. #chinaexpat #chinesevisa #liveinchina #movetochina
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About Ola Jagielska

Ola Jagielska is an ESL teacher, language enthusiast and co-author of this blog. She speaks seven languages and is striving for more. She loves travelling, reading and drinking good coffee.

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