After three years in China, it was finally time to go back home to the states! I have a job lined up in Virginia and we headed back home in July! But preparing everything to come back was so difficult, I am glad we were able to accomplish everything. I thought I could write a quick post to tell you everything you need to do before leaving China!
1. Get those pets home!
The first thing that you will want to start with is getting those pets home! It was really tough to find flights that would get our dog all the way back to Phoenix, Arizona. We ended up having to drive her from Los Angeles to Phoenix because the flight through Canada was so long. I want to say the cost of flying her home was roughly $500. But it took far more time to get her customs paperwork through. It may not be a requirement by the time you take your pup out of China, but we started 6 months ahead of time. I am really glad we did because the CDC ended up sending our paperwork back to us with a question.
What we needed to get our dog through US customs: 1. Dogs vaccination booklet, rabies vaccine included. 2. Blood titer test through a CDC-approved lab. 3. Microchip number. 4. Pictures of her teeth from front and side views. 5. Passport 6. Passage booked on airline BEFORE we submit CDC customs application. 7. All vaccinations and veterinary info in English.
Keep in mind this is just a VERY short list of everything needed. Each point has a lot of specifics that need to be followed. I recommend paying for someone who knows what they are doing to help!! We paid someone 3700 rmb and she was worth every cent! She even had someone take my husband and dog to the customs check a week before their flight! My dog got home just fine! The requirements for cats were significantly less and I had plenty of friends have no trouble leaving with their cats.
2. Get those taxes done!!
I never filed my Chinese taxes whilst living in China because I did my US taxes. I didn’t know how much money I was missing out on because I never filed! Luckily, I had been there for 3 years and that is as far back as the government was willing to go to reimburse! A few things you should know before you try to submit for your tax refund:
1. The last day to submit is June 30th (in 2022). 2. The process is all in Chinese, so it will be best to hire some outside help. Costs can very, with some of the better ones taking 30% of your final tax refund. However, if you don’t get any refund then you don’t have to pay them either. 3. I have seen foreigners get anywhere from 10k-15k rmb PER YEAR. It is worth finding out! 4. The only times I have seen foreigners needing to pay into the system are those that switched jobs (changed tax brackets). 5. If you are a teacher you may not be able to get your first year’s taxes back. You must have been employed in China for a total of 183 days. If you start your employment in August, you won’t be eligible.
3. Get your Social Pension refunded!
For those who have been working legally, your company should have enrolled you in the Social Pension insurance. You would have received a card with your picture and passport number on it, as well as a little money book for a bank account. The government would take money out of your paycheck and put a small amount back into that bank account every month for medical issues. After a few years, you have paid a pretty hefty sum into that insurance pension. Luckily, foreigners get the full amount back once they leave China. You can see exactly how much you get back by looking at your pay stubs, but it can be as much as 3-4k USD per year.
Your company’s HR has to file the paperwork and submit it for final approval to have the social pension returned to you. The problem is, if you are a teacher then you will leave the country before the payout in November. To make sure there are no problems, be sure your HR has your foreign bank information and your contact information. Don’t forget to finally use that bank account they have you! It is roughly $1000 USD/per year. Get it before you leave.
4. Get your Criminal Background Check
When you leave China, it will be impossible for you to obtain a background check for your time in China. This can be a problem if you are heading on to another teaching position! This wasn’t terribly difficult to accomplish, but you will need to give yourself a few weeks before you leave. I would not suggest doing it months in advance because they put the specific date of when they “checked” up until, which will be the day you request the background check. If you go 4 months before you leave, then the remaining 4 months in China were unaccounted for and not included in the check.
For this step, you will need your passport, police registration (little yellow papers they give you every time you registered your address. You will need them all from the whole time you lived in that province), and a letter of employment from your school. The letter is the tricky bit because if you are leaving China, your next employer may not issue a letter requiring this. I had this issue because my next school was in the USA. All I did was ask my current school in China to write me a letter on official letterhead. They had no issue doing it.
Then you need to take it to a police station (where you are unlikely to be able to speak English) or go to the government building in your district. I went to Haidian Government Building and went up to the fourth floor for assistance. They had English-speaking staff and were able to help me fill out the request information for my background check. They told me they would call me in a week to let me know if I was approved. I received a call (in English) one week later and went back for my background check on a Saturday. I believe they will keep your passport during this time, so make sure you don’t need it for the weekend it is gone.
The final step is translating your criminal background check into your native language. I paid an expat company 149 rmb to translate, print, and deliver my translated copy for me. Now I can send my background check from the last 3 years to my future employers if they request it later.
5. Ship your belongings back home
If you are like my husband and I, you picked up a lot of Knick-knacks and cheap clothes off taobao. You will need a way to ship all your items home and at a reasonable price. There were many different companies recommended by the expats leaving, but I went with Seven Seas Worldwide. We had 4 large boxes able to hold 30 kg apiece. There would be 2 costs, one in China and one for customs in the USA. About 5100 rmb in China and $300 USD when it arrived in the states.
They delivered the empty boxes and bubble wrap and told me to contact them a few days before I wanted boxes to be picked up. I took my time putting my belongings in the boxes, but they responded immediately and picked up the boxes 2 days after I contacted them again. The paperwork that accompanies the boxes was extensive. They took me hours to get done because although in English, it was still confusing. Worse, I decided to fill it out the night before pickup. Definitely give yourself time to go slowly through the paperwork and ask questions when you have them!
The company was kind enough to bring the boxes from inside my apartment and down for me to the pickup. I got an email from Seven Seas a few days later about some paperwork I did not fill out properly. I am glad I still had access to my school’s scanner and printer. I had to redo several pages before I got the final “thumbs up” from my moving company. It will take about 10 weeks for my boxes to get from Beijing to my final destination, but I am traveling for the summer so it is all the better!
6. Get deposit back from landlord
You will want to set up the final walk-through with your landlord a few days before you leave. This will give you time to have the deposit exchanged to your proper currency, I will explain more about that later. The landlord will come to the house (or send the realtor) and do a final inspection. They will try to have it done the last day but push for it to be done before. After the inspection, the landlord will usually send you back your full deposit. If they are trying to keep an unreasonable amount of your apartment deposit, try to get your school involved.
7. Exchange your money
You may not be aware of this, but the Chinese airports will only allow $1000 to be exchanged per day/per person. This means that if you have more rmb than that, you will be bringing it home to the states. This is extremely inconvenient because you will not be able to use that currency immediately upon returning to your country. The general suggestion is to not leave large sums if your are leaving for a few years, so you need to take that money out!
There are a few different ways you can do it. I prefer the legal and more tedious way of doing it. The smart plan is to send most of your money home ahead of time via bank transfer. Their exchange rates are less and you don’t have to worry about losing it at the airport. I brought my employment contract, passport, tax documents, and foreign bank info to my Chinese bank a week or so before I was to leave China. I spent roughly 2 hours going through the strenuous process of converting rmb to USD and then sending to the USA. I prefer this way because I know it works and the fees aren’t incredibly high. I was VERY CAREFUL to leave enough money in my accounts for things like Didis and food for the week before we left. It all worked out fine! Other friends use a less legitimate way, like employing the help of a Chinese friend to send money OR using a website like Swapsy. It works but it comes with more potential risks.
Update: I had over 5000 rmb when I left China and I kept it in a drawer for MONTHS because I didn’t know what to do with it. Someone told me just to bring it to Wells Fargo and what do you know…they have no problem exchanging rmb right then and there!
8. Cancel internet/phone plans.
This one was surprisingly important towards the end when I realized I still needed access to my Chinese bank account. Suddenly, I needed to keep my phone number to text messages for online banking. I went into China Unicom about three days before we left to schedule the cancelation of the internet and to swap phone plans. It was a little odd because they basically sent me away saying to not come back until the day I want the internet turned off, bringing in the router to them that day (phone and internet plan was together, couldn’t cancel one without canceling the other).
We came back the day before we were leaving with the router. They ended our current plan and helped us sign up for the international plan. We decided on an option to keep the phones going for 60 rmb/month. I paid for the first 10 months in advance so that I could still get to my banking information. The sad part was that it was not going to change my phone plan until NEXT month. So, I was still relying on WiFi at the airports on the way home. I am not paying 25 rmb/per day in roaming charges.
9. Vaccination Records for Covid
For those of you that received your vaccination records in China, it would be a good idea to get an English certificate to prove it. This is by far the easiest chore. Most foreigners just have to go to their Health Kit and print out their vaccination record. This can be a chore once you get into the states, if for some reason your WeChat or HealthKit doesn’t always work in the USA. Also, some children’s vaccinations aren’t on the HealthKit. Parents should have received a vaccination booklet when their children got their Covid vaccinations. This book is in Chinese and you may need to go the hospital or vaccination center for a certificate that can be translated in English.
10. Collect Work Cancellation Letter
Before you leave your employer, be sure to get a work cancellation OR work release certificate from your current employer. This will help you prove to future employers of your past work experience. It also tells future Chinese employers that you completely your past school’s contract which is really important to secure another job/transfer visa to new school.
All in all, the preparations to leave China need to be done over a span of time. Do not expect to be able to get started a month before you leave and not have any difficulty. I would start speaking to your school’s HR about 3-4 months ahead of time and finding a tax expert at least two months ahead. Keep in mind that different provinces within China might be slightly different and not the same as Beijing. Definitely talk to other expats and join their WeChat groups on leaving China. There are a TON of them ever since Covid and they are constantly updating the expat group about leaving and new regulations.
China was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. After three years, it was really hard to pack up everything and leave. We had such amazing opportunities in China and we know it will be difficult going back to the USA. Hopefully we will be able to go back to China soon!
2 thoughts on “Things to do BEFORE you leave China!”
Holy moly! That’s a lot of stuff to have to do. Glad you are back with everything completed or on it’s way. I told Korey that going back to Virginia again is on my bucket list since so much of my family’s ancestry came through there. You can bet that when I do that I will be contacting you for a visit!
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Yes, it was quite a challenge! We are glad to be back and seeing friends and family, too. When we get settled in Virginia, we will be more than happy to show you around!