After accepting my position in Beijing in January, I began the visa process for my family and I to move. I had NO IDEA that China had amongst the strictest rules and requirements for obtaining a visa in the entire world! With the help of my Chinese school and teachers that had already begun the process of getting a Z-Visa (ability to work and live in China), I was fairly prepared. Now, I was the only one able to get a Z-Visa. My son and husband would need S-Visas to live there. Technically, the process is still not over for us. But I thought some might be interested to know what goes into getting a Chinese visa.
Before I start off, I want to let everyone know this is only for obtaining the Z and S visas for my family. Tourist visas are different and I will talk about that towards the bottom so friends and family that plan on visiting understand their requirements.
Before my husband and I could even get started, there were a bunch of papers that we were required to find and then have authenticated by the state just to obtain my Chinese work visa. This was what we needed to get a work visa in 2019:
1- Background checks for both myself and my husband. There is no ‘statewide’ background check and you can only get them from the city you currently reside in. Both of us paid $10 and the process took less than ten minutes. We had a minor heart attack because my husband had a 17-year old charge for “Consuming alcohol in public”. Luckily, it wasn’t a problem for us. I have been told it has been a hurdle for more serious offenses especially violent crimes. This document had to be authenticated by the state of Arizona ($3 a document) and notarized by the police department.
2-Medical checks for both myself and husband. There was a two page form with various diseases and tests that a doctor would need to perform and check for. Even blood type was a requirement, which insurance doesn’t cover. Fortunately I had donated to the blood bank before and it only took a phone call to find out my blood type. Our passport photos were supposed to be on this form and then signed and stamped by our doctor.
3-Highest Diploma. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but depending on your situation it can be. This is another document that MUST be authenticated by the state you received the degree in. I was fortunate to go to school in the state that I resided in. However, other teachers would have to fly to their collegial state solely for the purpose of getting their degree authenticated. This can be costly and typically must be done in person, but call that state’s authentication office to learn all the details. For this form you will need a copy made and signed by a public notary (I paid UPS $2) and the same copy authenticated by the state the diploma was received in.
4-Working Reference Letter obtained from your current employer. There is some information that must be present, like passport number and length of time of employment. However, this was one of the simplest documents to get and only needed to be stamped by the employer.
5-Passport Photos had to be taken for each family member for visas and medical check paperwork, applications, etc. Not a big deal, but important nonetheless. Be sure to get 4-5 so you have enough for the application documents and residency forms once you get there.
PRO TIP: BRING ANY/ALL DOCUMENTS AND COPIES! COPY PASSPORTS, BIRTH CERTIFICATES, MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES, ETC. They do provide a copy machine but it is time consuming if there is a line. If you think there is a chance you will need anything, bring it.
If you think that was easy, I haven’t even finished. BEFORE I send any of these documents to Beijing, I now have to get documents 1 and 3 authenticated by the Chinese Consulate in PERSON. After looking on the website, I needed to head to Los Angeles and get the documents authenticated. This was a bit of a wrench in the plan because OF COURSE you can’t go on weekends. The consulate is only open 9am-2pm weekdays and it costs an extra $25 a document to get it expedited for the next day. Yay teacher life!
So, my mom and I flew to LA over my spring break and headed to the consulate. All was running smoothly at first, until the consulate wouldn’t accept the paperwork for my step-son. I was not his legal guardian and therefore I couldn’t fill out his form (form MUST be typed), even thought they told me all I would need is his state-authenticated birth certificate (only needed if the child doesn’t belong to the Z-visa holder). I had to panically call my husband, have him fill out and sign the form, scan it to me, and then print with only 3 hours before they close. Talk about stressful.
The next morning, we stood in line for over an hour as we waited to pick up my authenticated documents. We were packaged in this line like sardines, but might as well get used to that culture, right? After we had our precious authentications, we flew back to Phoenix. Later that week, I paid $100 to send all of my items to Beijing.
Once my contact in Beijing received the paperwork, it took the entire month of April for her to get my authorization for a work visa. But we got it! Even more fun news, I have to now go back to LA to turn in those documents as well as another application for the actual visas! GROAN. However, this time I will be taking my husband so if we have to have him sign things he is right there. Look forward to my post in 3 weeks when we go to stay in Koreatown near the consulate!
UPDATE: It turned out I needed more than just my work permit letter and passport on that second trip. I also needed my marriage certificate and stepson’s birth certificate. Luckily, I am the nervous type and brought them already. Otherwise, it would have had an expensive and pointless trip to LA.
Tourist Visa Process
For all my friends and family that plan on visiting me, I want to make your life as easy as possible. The documents necessary for a tourist visa are not as numerous as someone planning to move there. However, you still need a tourist visa unless you plan on taking advantage of Shanghai’s 144 hour transit-policy. Which means you can land in Shanghai without a visa and stay as long as it is within the time limit.
However, I will be living in Beijing and although I have heard there is a similar policy there, I don’t want you to get arrested!! Also, the prices of tourist visas seem to be the same cost for different lengths of time, so just get a ten year visa if you are feeling adventurous. You WILL either need to go to the Chinese consulate yourself to do this or pay a service to do this for you. The Chinese consulate allows expedited services for $20-30 a day, so check up on that. Otherwise, their website says four days normally. If you decide to pay someone to do it for you, that is ok. I saw some of these services whilst at the consulate and saw the consulate management close a whole line to allow these people to do their job. These services often make you pay upwards of $200, but for those that can’t get there or don’t want to pay for a hotel and flight, it might be the way to go. Please be aware, you have to hand your passport over to these services for the visa process. If you don’t feel comfortable with that then you will have to go yourself!
You will need a passport with more than six months before it expires and a Chinese tourist application form (can only be filled out on computer). Depending on whether you are traveling for fun or to visit a friend, the requirements differ. People just going to do tourist activities must already have their itinerary for the trip already printed out and ready to go. This means round-trip flights and hotel bookings. If you are visiting a friend that lives there and will stay at their residence, you must have an invitation letter from your friend in China that has an official stamp and signature.
If you are denied a visa, do not give up. Most times this denial is for some trivial paperwork problem. You can ask and they will tell you what you need to do to fix the application. COME PREPARED. Check out the Chinese Consulate website itself or some simpler sites that lay it out for you. The visa process is long and complicated, but will be well worth the money. Please also be aware that if you are staying with a friend, you will need to register your location with the local police department once you get to China. Fancy hotels seem to do this for you, which can sometimes account for the long check-in process.
Here is a web address to help you get started and I can’t wait to meet up in China!