Moving to another country involves a lot of preparation ahead of time! It involves a lot more than just getting a job and buying a plane ticket. From my experiences, I compiled a list of things you should check before heading to China!
China’s visa process is very tough, especially for those looking to work here legally. Getting a proper Z Visa in China includes a LOT of paperwork and traveling to/from the Chinese consulate. This is not something that can be left to the last minute! There are a ton of documents needed like degrees, medical check, background check, etc. Almost all need to be notarized or stamped by the state. It took me and my husband roughly 2 months just to check everything off the list. You will also need to go to the consulate that covers your area and there is no consulate in our state. We lived in Phoenix, Arizona and had to fly back and forth twice to LA to complete the process. We did everything right too, that is the absolute minimum amount of trips you will have to make to the consulate for the visa. Those who are not prepared for the extensive paperwork may be making even more trips, which is expensive and annoying. Also, it will take well over a month for your original paperwork to be processed, so give yourself time. I understand that it is similar with student visas for those studying abroad here. My suggestion is to know exactly what you need and contact the consulate beforehand with any questions. If you don’t have the time to go yourself, then hire a company to do it for you. They can ensure all your paperwork is settled ahead of time and it will save you money on travel. If you insist on doing it yourself, check out my other blog on the Chinese Visa Process to ensure you have all your paperwork together before you go!
I know a few people that work illegally in China on a tourist visa to get out of this necessity, but I would suggest against it. China is really cracking down on working illegally and working without a contract can leave you open to losing money or benefits. Schools may hire you, but they won’t protect you if you are caught by the authorities. It is also significantly more difficult to get money back to your home country without the proper tax documents.
Credit and Debit Cards
Before you head to China, you need to get your financials sorted. You will not be paid for your first month in China, you will need to be able to access your money! Before you leave, you will need to call these banks/credit companies and inform them you will be moving. It would be awful to travel around the world and then find out the hard way that your accounts were frozen due to ‘suspicious activity’. My bank Wells Fargo even asked which countries I might travel to during that time! I just picked all of the countries in Asia to prevent any awkward situations. Also, be aware of fees that your bank may charge once you don’t have automatic deposits going in every month. Our first month here, my husband and I discovered we were being charged $45 in fees because we didn’t have automatic deposits going in! I ended up on a 45-minute international phone call trying to cancel his account to reduce our monthly fees.
-Also, it is a bad idea to leave too many bank accounts open if you can’t access your cash overseas. Smaller credit unions may have issues with this, bigger banks will have more success. Just to be sure that any unpaid bills or costs could be taken care of, I brought my mom to my bank and got her a debit card for my account. This way, she could pay any unforeseeable costs (which there have been) or purchase my sister’s birthday gifts without needing to contact me. This has helped us out more than once, so if you have a family member you trust to do this, you may want to consider giving them access. Plus, transferring money through Zelle/Venmo accounts is not easy either. Many accounts need text message confirmations and I don’t have a US phone number. I have asked for them to make it email confirmations and they can’t do it. I ended up having to put in my mom’s number and coordinate with her when I am sending money to friends or family.
-If you intend on transferring money from your paychecks to your bank accounts at home, get the bank’s information beforehand. There are usually swift codes or bank codes (sometimes both) that you will need to transfer money over. I had to call my banks from China a few times to ensure that I had the correct information, which wasn’t convenient. Meet with your bank and write down ALL of these codes, addresses, etc. If you want to really be ahead of the game, ask your job what information will you need to send money back home (not all Chinese banks have the availability to do this, so check ahead with your employer).
-Get a card with no foreign transaction fees! About 7 months before we left, I got an American Airlines MasterCard. There were three benefits that I was trying to cash in on! #1 (the biggest benefit) was no foreign transaction fees. I have to pay $5 every time I use my Wells Fargo atm card, so using my credit card is significantly less expensive. #2 was that I got 50,000 free airline miles when I got the card. We were actually able to use those miles to get my husband’s ticket to Beijing free (only mine and my son’s was covered by my employer). I also get a mile for every dollar spent, which means that if I get reimbursed for plane tickets, I can double dip! I could also transfer those miles to a friend or family member if I wanted to! #3, is that I was able to use that card on Chinese apps like Didi before I got a Chinese bank account.
-CHECK EXPIRATION DATES! If you have cards ready to go, make sure that they will be good for the next few years! Most credit card companies won’t ship a card around the world. I had a few that were going to expire in 1-2 years, so I just played it safe and requested new ones. Now they are up-to-date until 2024 and I know I will be back home by then.
As I mentioned above, you need to be aware that you will have to work in China a whole month before you get paid. This is not your employer trying to cheat you, this is typical in China. This means you will need to consider a LOT when thinking about how much money you should bring with you. For instance, are you going to be responsible for paying your own renter’s fee and security deposit? Will there be tuition and uniform fees that need to be paid upfront? Are you responsible for accommodation, meals, and transportation when you get there? If you answer yes to even half of these, then you should consider bringing some cash with you. There are many options on how to get Renminbi in the states, but I went with my bank! I ordered about 800 dollars in rmb before we left and it took about a week for them to get that much in at once. There will be a fee anywhere you go, but it doing it at home in the states made it easier to just go out right away and explore the area once we got here. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask any of the questions that I mentioned before and it went really fast. I was forced to use credit cards for the rest of the time until I got paid, so plan ahead!
For a few months before we moved, I was paying attention to who was sending me mail! I was calling magazine companies and cancelling subscriptions, changing accounts to email only, calling schools, etc. The last thing I needed was the the next occupant to end up with my mail! I was going to have all my mail for the next year forwarded to my mom, so it was important that I reduced the amount of clutter that would be sent to her. Then I needed to coordinate with the post office directly. They have an online system, but suggested I use the paper version instead which was good for 6 months. I was told to fill out both paper cards, dating one 6 months in the future, and remind my mom to send it in later. It has worked like a charm and has been 100% necessary. A lot of important information has been sent to her since we left and we would be in serious trouble if we didn’t have her there to check our mail.
Many of the expats I have talked to have told me that they haven’t paid their taxes since they left the USA…..not good! My mother-in-law is a tax professional and heavily cautioned me against it. Sure, if you get married abroad and never plan on returning then you can get away with it. But most of us are going back some time. As soon as you do, you will have a nice large bill to pay. The best piece of advice I can give you is to do your research or talk to a tax expert. Be sure to make you sure your current employers know where to send your W-2s so that you still get them! Your first year abroad, you may need to file as a part-time resident depending on how long you lived and earned money in the states. After that, you can file as a Foreign Exclusion if you are out of the states 330 days of the year. You will be paying taxes in China and will have to file taxes there too. Be sure to keep that paperwork in case you need it in the states later.
Since none of my family had ever been to Asia before, we went to Passport Health to get some suggestions on vaccinations we should get. As it turns out, my husband and I both had normal vaccinations that we needed to redo anyway! Our son was at that age where our state was requiring additional vaccinations, so it was perfect timing all around. After Passport Health gave us a few recommendations, we decided which ones were right for us. We ended up getting quite a few including typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, etc. Please keep in mind, China does not require any vaccinations to move there. However, because we are traveling as a family, safety was important and worth the money spent. I would say we each got a minimum of 4 vaccinations. I would check and see if you are up-to-date at the very least. Less to worry about!
When I was about to move, everyone was talking about needing to get your drivers license “federally-compliant”. This is called a Travel ID and includes a yellow star in the corner of your ID. Apparently it only affects domestic travel, but the requirements regarding paperwork would have been tough after we had moved. One of those requirements included proof of residence with two bills/bank statements. Although it wasn’t supposed to go into effect until a year after we were leaving, we knew we wouldn’t have an accurate address to receive it that would match our passport. Since AZ drivers licenses are good until we are 65 anyway (I know it is amazing), we just went ahead and did it! Now there is no concern regarding having or receiving the proper identification.
We also had to get our passports in order BEFORE we got our visa paperwork situated. My husband had never had a passport before, mine was going to expire in 2 years, and my son’s passport was expired. The boys had to get their passports done so I just went ahead and did it too. Now my husbands and I expire the same year and Calvin can go the next 5 years without needing a new one. Plus we have plenty of pages for all of our new stamps 🙂
Voting is an American right that I take very seriously. Even though I would be far away, that didn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to vote in my local, state, and federal elections. I discovered that I could actually vote abroad with an absentee ballot. The requirements differ per state, but my home state allowed me to fill-out my information in China and scan it over! They needed an address for their records, despite me getting my ballots by email. If you know where you are going to live before you head over, you may be able to send over your information before you go! Keep in mind you will need a VPN to check this website abroad, their security prevents you from logging in without one. Check the details if you are interested in voting abroad! https://www.usvotefoundation.org
Rent and Utilities
We knew we were moving internationally even before I got a job offer (yes I was confident)! So we took a significant risk and swapped to a month-to-month lease 8.5 months before we moved. Our landlord didn’t offer 6 month leases I didn’t want to risk having to break a lease ahead of time. After calculating how much extra I paid a month during that time and how much it would have cost to break a lease, I found that I saved about $400. It all worked out in the end!
As far as utilities go, you will need to ensure that they are all turned off the day you are leaving! I am talking water, electric, car insurance (if you are driving around until then), gas, internet (don’t forget to return the modem), etc. These calls each took a good 20-40 minutes on hold and should be planned out ahead of time. I even called the internet company twice because they mistakenly turned it off early. Almost all of these I gave a credit card number to charge my last months’s bill because I was unsure about how easily I could log in and pay them abroad. Hell, I didn’t even know if I would remember once I faced the excitement and stress of international travel.
Student loans, debt, and other items like that should also be planned out ahead of time. Many expats find it impossible to send any money home within the first few months, not all Chinese banks can send money to a foreign account. Keep that in mind so you have a few payments set up beforehand. If that isn’t possible, there are a few websites that can exchange currency online and I have had friends use them. Look into it before you make any decisions!
Sell Your Stuff!
In our 5-year relationship, I never realized how much crap we owned until it was time to get rid of it. It took a lot of time and planning to figure out what stuff could go right away and what stuff we needed to hold onto until the end. This included several yard sales, Craigslist ads, selling cars to friends, etc. I was all about getting rid of everything! We had our last yard sale three days before we moved! We got any extra cash we could get and then took all the leftovers to Goodwill. It was so therapeutic to purge years of knick knacks and stuff we barely used, Calvin’s room especially. One word of warning, be sure to take care of car paperwork ahead of time. We thought it was simply getting the car title notarized and be done. That wasn’t quite correct and it was a costly mistake. We ended up having to go to the US consulate in Beijing to get car paperwork notarized and then SHIPPING it to the states. Save yourself hundreds of dollars and ensure that title gets transferred properly before you leave.
But as we went though our stuff, I realized that there were momentos that I couldn’t just throw away. My family was unable to hold those items and so I began the search for a storage locker. It was actually a little bit of a pain in the butt because storage is expensive! Also, the only way they won’t increase the rates while you are gone is if you sign a year contract and pay up front. It was painful, but I ended up shelling out over $500 2 weeks before moving internationally for a tiny storage locker. If you can reduce your personal affects to nothing, do it!
Phone and Password List
Before I left, I made a list of all the important information I might need while abroad. Most of this list was devoted to usernames and passwords for all of my social media, credit card, and bank accounts. I also included the phone numbers and contact information for my banks and credit card companies. This list also included the phone numbers and addresses of all my family members. It has come in handy dozens of times, especially when sending presents or flowers. I am very thankful I created this list ahead of time because I have so many different passwords and usernames!
Moving to China will be difficult if you do not get yourself a VPN beforehand. A Virtual Private Network is one of the many apps you will need whilst in China if you want to get on to Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Youtube, Google, Gmail, etc. You know, pretty much anything you are used to! You will need to download a VPN to your computer and phone before you get here if you want any chance of accessing these platforms. There are free ones, but they don’t work as consistently as the ones you can buy. My suggestion is Astrill or ExpressVPN. They are expensive, but absolutely necessary. Check out my post on Apps/Technology you will need in China! Technically they are illegal in China, but every foreigner has it.
Decide What to Bring
This one takes the most research and planning by far! Figuring out what you will need to last six months to a year in China will take a lot of foresight. You will need to consider clothing, medicine, personal items, etc. My suggestion is to ask people that live there about what incidentals you should bring. This can be very eye-opening and more specific based on city! Schools will usually give you other employee’s emails to ask those kind of questions, so don’t be shy about it. It can save you money or heartache, which is worth it in my mind! If you need a place to start, you can check on another one of my blogs ‘Moving to China! Can I buy my necessities there?’ That will help answer the most basic questions about living in a top tier city in China.
STUDY THE CULTURE!
This one I saved for last because I think it is the most important. If you have never lived abroad before like me, then you need to take the time to learn about what to expect. This is so important because it will make the difference between a good and bad international experience. I studied Youtube vlogs about Chinese food, culture, and even apartments. I read blogs just like the one I am writing now and it helped me so much. There are also a few books that are pretty accurate like Moon’s Living Abroad in China. My China experience has been nothing but positive, even amidst a global pandemic. I am 100% confident it is because I understood that China would be unlike anything I had ever experienced and I was prepared for that. Do yourself a favor and do the research!