Getting to China (American Version)
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Below is a guide specifically for American citizens that explains how to obtain the standard Work (Z) Visa to legally earn a salary while in China. Some of the information is helpful for citizens of other English speaking countries in the same situation, but from my understanding there are much less hoops that need to be jumped through (lucky you). While going through this process I spent hours searching over a hundred websites (easy) trying to understand the exact rules and regulations put out by the Chinese government at the time. I later found out that the rules and laws change frequently in China, with few announcements or warnings prior before they are enacted. Many Chinese companies (including mine) have trouble keeping up to date with the process. During my adventure through the bureaucratic dungeon that is China's Visa Regulations I realized the wealth of trivial knowledge I had accumulated and figured if I made it through the red tape I would help my fellow laowai brethren. This is for you.
Hello internet, my name is Jordan Pierce and I enjoy understanding the meticulous steps of bureaucratic processes; DMVs are like my Disney World.
Congratulations! You’re currently talking to recruiters who are either based in your home country or in China and are in the process of becoming a teacher of English as a foreign language. That’s great! Whether your goal was always to live abroad in a foreign country, take a break from your mundane life, or simply because you’re fresh out of university and you want to try something new, I believe you made the right choice. If you’ve never lived abroad, or even left the country, this part of the process might seem unfamiliar or even daunting at sometimes. There’s a lot of new vocabulary being thrown around: VISA, authentication, apostilled, criminal background checks? If you’re having trouble finding legitimate information on the web about this process, trust me, you’re not alone. Much of what you read online conflicts with other sources because rules and regulations are always changing. What worked for someone in 2013 might not work this year and what works in one country certainly doesn’t work in others. I had the same issue, and I vowed that if I made it to China in one piece, I would pass the information forward. So I made this guide to help anyone who wants all the necessary information without spending days or even weeks researching on the web!
DISCLAIMER: If you’re wondering why I said this guide is for Americans only… well, things are slightly different depending on what country you’re from. What is true for someone from Texas, might not be true for someone from London. You’re more than welcome to read it, but don’t be upset if you find out it’s not completely accurate for your situation.
VISA information – Why am I doing all this crap, seriously?
Which VISA are you supposed to have when entering China for the purpose of working? That’s right, a Z VISA, otherwise called a Work VISA. Not a J VISA, not a M VISA, and not a L VISA. The Z VISA is a big ol’ sticker in your passport that will allow you to cross into the country of China (once), if you intend on working. That’s it. The VISA only lasts for five (5) days, so that means, once you get it printed and placed in your passport, you have five (5) days to enter China. If you hang around Hong Kong for too long or miss your international flight and miss the valid time frame, you gotta get another one. But what it does is it allows you to legally stay and work in the country for a duration of one (1) month. So then what?...
Well once you legally enter China with your Z VISA, you are allowed to work and earn a salary. During this time, you have a month to complete what is necessary to obtain your Temporary Residence VISA. This is why you’re dealing with the hassle of obtaining all of these documents, this is the goal if you want to be able to leave and re-enter the country as many times as you well please during the year you work with CIPTC. After entering the country, it is necessary to “check-in” at the local police station; simply go to the nearest one with your passport and other documents and have them interview you. It’s quick and painless; the point is to let the government know who you are, and where you are after you entered their country. If you entered and are staying at a hotel, they will do this process for you. Afterwards, you will give all of your official documents you worked so hard to get, along with your passport, to your company, who will then send them off to the Foreign Expert Bureau. This process will take up to a month! Which means you will not have a passport for a month, realize this, let it sink in… Once the Foreign Expert Bureau has completed their assessment, you will be given back your passport and documents along with a Temporary Residence VISA (a nice little red book). If you choose to stay for another year of teaching, all you do it submit your passport (without documents) and it is renewed in about the same time.
Work VISA (Z) is a single-entry VISA that allows you to enter the country for work purposes. It lasts a month. In that month you must have it converted into a Temporary Residence VISA. When you first arrive in China, check-in at your local police station with your passport; if you’re staying at a hotel they do it for you. Afterwards, give all necessary documents to your company who will take your passport as well, and send it away for about a month. During this time, you cannot leave the country. Once it is returned with all your documents, you will be given a Temporary Residence VISA that will allow you to leave and re-enter the country however many times you want. Yay!
Official Documents – Yes, this is the hard part…
Before any of that is possible, you must have the appropriate documents! Below is the list of items that are required from you after you have accepted the position with your company:
High resolution passport sized photo
Foreign Medical Record Exam
Criminal background check
Below I will speak about each in depth, followed by a Q&A of most common misconceptions. So let’s begin!
This is the photo that will be used for your Z VISA, your Temporary Residence VISA, and for your company. It needs to be high resolution; I’m talking DSLR quality or something similar. Your iPhone or Android device is probably not going to cut it. They want such high resolution they’ll be able to see your pores; just kidding (but seriously). Make sure the photo is in good lighting, white background, proper angle, and try to look nice. If you’re wondering whether or not the photo has a high enough resolution, don’t worry, they’ll tell you to do it again... and again.
Now let’s guess and see which photo is the correct format for your VISA photo. Photo number one does not have a high enough resolution, it also has a shadow in the background. Photo three is the correct resolution however part of my hair was cropped which is not acceptable. If you have long hair have it pulled up in a pony-tail behind you! Photo three was (unfortunately) not acceptable leaving photo two to be your goal to work towards.
If you still have copies of your passport photo those of course will work!
Foreign Medical Record Exam – It’s not painful, just time consuming.
So you’re entering a new country for a year, you’ll be around the country’s children teaching; they want to make sure you are not deathly ill or containing diseases that could damage their population. Fair enough right? What country would want to accept someone who is horribly sick? So before you enter the country you must complete this exam.
The exam consists of a mental analysis, a blood test (to test for HIV and STDs), chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, urine analysis (drug test) and a basic physical. Because you’re from the USA, you can imagine that this exam could be costly if you do not have medical insurance; x-rays are never cheap. Fortunately, there are private practices that do what are called, “immigration exams”, and will do the entire exam for a set price, and don’t require insurance. Now, these exams are actually for people who currently live in the USA, but are in the process of becoming nationalized and must go through basically the same procedure you’re doing, but for America. Make it clear to your doctor that you are going to China and need this completed for a Work VISA. If they’re not familiar with the process have them look at the forms and read through it to make sure that have all the equipment needed to complete it. Once you have undergone all of the tests make sure the doctor has stamped the back with their approval and signature. If this is a stressful process because of the costs, just know you have to do the exact same thing when you get to China, but with their doctors. And it is so much easier…
New vocabulary – Apostilled, notarized, and authenticated documents
Before we get to the background checks and university diplomas, let’s talk about what these terms mean, and why they are necessary for this process. So, apostille, pronounced, “App-o-steal”, is simply a stamp of approval from someone with authority. Authentication, is the same exact thing, but with a different name. What differs between the two are mainly the countries or bureaucratic entities that recognizes them. So, say you looked into teaching in South Korea, you probably saw that you needed to get your documents apostilled; that’s incorrect for China. The reason being is that the Apostille Convention is an agreement between certain countries and how they recognize each other’s official documents. China is not a part of that convention, so they have their own procedure. While to notarize something is also very similar to the other two terms, however, usually occurs at a lower level, like by your postal worker, or someone at the bank. Apostilled and authenticated documents on the other hand are approved by state and country representatives.
Recap if you have documents apostilled, you’re going to have to redo something, sorry. L
1. Notarization at the Local level
Okay so how this works: you have a document, it’s real, but no one believes you. You take that document to your local notary to get it notarized by someone at your bank, FedEx, the post office, sometimes even people you know are notaries of the public, just ask nicely.
Note that I typed this message, printed it on the back of the photocopied version of my diploma, and had it notarized by my office friend Maria. You’re awesome Maria.
2. Authentication at the State Level
Next you bring this same document, which has been notarized, to the Secretary of State of your state. For example, I live in Texas so my Secretary of State is currently Rolando B. Pablos who is located in Austin, our capital. I brought my documents to his office and had his secretary, the secretary of the secretary of state (hah) authenticate my documents.
Fun fact: I was the first person ever to have the new Texas SoS Rolando B. Pablos to authenticate their documents; dreams do come true.
3. Authentication at the National Level
Now the last step: you must get your documents authenticated, again, but by the Chinese Consulate of your residing region. Take a look below:
This chart tells you where your consulate is located depending on where you live in the US. The Chinese Consulate is where you need to send your documents to be authenticated before the Chinese government will look at them.
Now, here’s a curve ball for some of you and I really do apologize for the inconvenience but if I didn't tell you here, then you'd be cursing my name later down the road. If you reside in the green region:
(*Washington DC, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, N. Carolina, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, S. Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
you must do an extra step. You must send your documents to the US Department of State to obtain an extra authentication before it is sent to the Chinese Consulate. Luckily the two facilities are both in Washington DC so I’m sure you can find a service that will tackle both authentications at the same time. To clarify, below is the order in which you need to get your documents authenticated:
Photocopied document -> Notary -> Secretary of State -> *US State Department -> Chinese consulate
After you have received those documents back from the Chinese Consulate you are able to submit them to the Chinese government (in China) to obtain your work VISA, and then later your Temporary Residence VISA.
There are three levels (unless you live in green region) of authentication: Notary of the public, authentication by the Secretary of the State, *US Department of State, followed by the Chinese Consulate of your residing region. Each will cost you to have your documents authenticated, check with your Secretary of State and Chinese Consulate’s website to find out how much. Only two documents need to go through this process: your background check, and your diploma.
Criminal background check – Can’t let criminals into China can we?
This should be obvious why it is necessary: you’ll be working with children in a foreign country but also obtaining a new job. Now, what kind of criminal background check will you need? You might assume that the more extensive the background check is the better. However, it is only necessary to obtain a background check at the County level. I would recommend sticking to the County level and not trying to get a State or Federal level background check because you might run into issues somewhere down the line.
This is my background check, it was ran at the County level by my local Sheriff’s office which they also notarized (two birds, one stone). This cost me $5 dollars and took 24 hours.
Diploma – Finally being used for something other than a wall hanging
As you might have read from other sources when researching TEFL/TESOL in other countries (hopefully), a diploma is necessary to pass the VISA requirements and legally work in the country. The diploma does not need to be in English or something related to teaching, you do however need to have a credentials showing you attended higher education. If you do have a degree in a subject somehow connected to TEFL/TESOL, definitely mention it, that’s a good bargaining chip when going through the interview process.
More than likely you have your diploma on your wall, in your desk, or in a box somewhere; well, it needs to be photocopied so bust it out. I recommend taking it to your nearest FedEx or UPS store and have them scan it at the highest DPI/resolution, and then save it to your thumb drive. Also, while you’re there print a copy of it in color on normal paper, in fact, print a couple just in case (it’s good to have backups). Now, this part of the guide might confuse some because prior knowledge of notarization implies that to get something notarized, is simply obtaining a signature. Why then would you get a notary signature on a photocopy of a diploma? Great question; answer: that's China.
This is a picture of the back of my photocopied diploma; I personally typed this message for my notary to sign. When she signs this, what is actually happening is she is acknowledging that this piece of paper is in fact an authentic copy of my genuine diploma, that she herself has seen with her own eyes. Now we go to the next level of authentication, the Secretary of State. When they see this note and her seal they are acknowledging that Marie (my notary) is in fact a real notary with a valid license and therefore are trusting her judgement in that this is a real genuine copy of a document that she has seen. Then, on to the Chinese Consulate who sees the Secretary of State’s seal and signature and acknowledges that he is a legitimate political figure, and therefore trusts his judgement or something and that this is a genuine copy of a document. It’s the chain of command for authentication!
Photocopied document -> Notary -> Secretary of State -> *US State Department -> Chinese consulate
These two documents (background check and diploma) are the only documents needing to go through this process. I suggest sending them together as it will save time and money. Always confirm with your contact at your company that this information is current otherwise you may waste time and money for things that are unnecessary. It is also very important that you bring your original diploma with you to China. Although you went through this entire process with a copy of your diploma, you need to bring the original with you to China.
TEFL/TESOL certificate – Time to teach!
As you know there are many Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Teaching English as a Second Language jobs all around the world. You’ve probably seen advertisements about it online or perhaps a friend mentioned it to you or maybe this is something you’ve wanted to do all your life. Either way you cannot start teaching until you are certified which means obtaining a license or certificate from an accredited institution. There are many online and also in person, ranging in varying hours and grade levels; it shouldn’t be hard to find one if you haven’t already started the process. Each has their own style of teaching and therefore might be seen more favorably than others, it really it depends on the individual and what works best for them.
In order to work in China, it is necessary to have at least 100+ hours of TEFL/TESOL under your belt. That is the minimum, however I recommend getting more if possible. But what is most important is to obtain real life classroom experience. Many TEFL/TESOL courses offer at least two weeks training in a school as a way of honing in on your teaching abilities and getting a feel for running a classroom. In my opinion, the more classroom time you have, the more prepared you’re going to be.
After you obtain your 100+ hours, make sure to obtain you certificate and send a copy with the other documents when obtaining your visa. You do not need to send your original certificate with your documents, however do bring the original with you to China!
Questions and Answers –
Q: How much time should I give myself to get everything in order?
A: Honestly the more time the better, so start as soon as possible. Hopefully you knew some of these things before you were offered a job and already started the process. The authentication process can take 1-3 months depending on holidays and freak accidents. If you can’t get everything done in time CIPTC will work with you; they may have you come over during the semester or just have you start the next one.
Q: Why can’t I come on another VISA besides a Z visa?
A: You definitely can, many people do, but it’s illegal. So unless you’re okay with getting arrested and deported (which does happen), try to stick to the legal procedure. If you give yourself enough time then you don’t need to resort to entering on something other than a Z VISA.
Q: Can I enter on another VISA besides a Z VISA
A: Yes, plenty of people of do it, especially if they are at private language centers. The reason why they do that is because a Z VISA is a special VISA that not all business can obtain for their employees. If they can’t obtain these legal VISAs, but need teachers to work at their private language schools, then they’ll do whatever they can to get you over here. If who you are being recruited by cannot provide evidence that you will be given a valid VISA then see that as a red flag. If in doubt, ask to talk to some of their current employees and get their perspective on the process.
Q: What’s the difference between CIPTC and other recruiting companies in Shenzhen?
A: The biggest difference is that CIPTC isn’t a privately owned company, therefore they do not receive profit when they bring in new teachers or when they obtain contracts with public schools. It is government owned, but operates like how a business would. This is a foreign concept to most Americans because we have an (almost) purely capitalist society. What this means for you is that CIPTC is not gaining any profit from hiring new teachers, they just get new teachers to fill the positions of schools they have contracts with.
Q: Do we get paid on time?
A: YES! Because CIPTC is a government owned company, everyone gets paid on the 8th of every month, no exceptions. It’s automated and out of anyone’s control so you will for sure get your paycheck.
Q: Can I get my Z VISA at the border from Hong Kong?
A: Yes you actually can. In some situations, if you’re running behind schedule to obtain your Z VISA it is possible to fly to Hong Kong, metro to the border and obtain your VISA there. However, if you have ample amount of time, it might make you feel better to send everything via mail, and obtain your VISA before you even step foot out of the country. Ask CIPTC if this is an option for you.
Q: I heard some people can still get jobs in TEFL/TESOL even if they don’t have a degree?
A: This is true (sadly), but it is also changing rather rapidly. China is following suit with Japan and South Korea to start cracking down on “teachers” who do not have the proper qualifications to work in the country. Although you might be able to find someone to employ you without a diploma, chances are you won’t get the right VISA, you won’t get the Temporary Residence VISA, and you might not like your situation once you get to China considering you’re here illegally and are viable to be deported at any time. Imagine if you don’t like your boss and he holds that over your head. There are many horror stories of people who aren't really meant to be teachers, cut corner to get here, and regretted their choice dearly.
Q: How is the pollution in Shenzhen, I’ve seen videos of China having bad smog because of coal factories.
A: Right you are! Parts of China do in fact have some pretty wicked pollution. This is caused by coal operated power plants to create energy for a variety of uses. Most of these factories are located in the northern regions of China and do not effect Shenzhen (that much). I recommend looking at AQIs (Air Quality Index) to determine which region of China you would be happy with concerning air pollution.
Q: What is Shenzhen like, it’s hard for me to find information about it online.
A: It really is! I noticed that as well. Shenzhen is the 4th Tier 1 city (largest cities), and located right on the boarder of mainland China and Hong Kong. Conveniently it has a metro that goes back and forth between the two in less than an hour! Shenzhen is one (1) of China’s Special Economic Zones which operates as a pseudo-capitalistic economy. What this means is that it’s more like western countries like the USA than it is China with regards to the economy. It is also home to one of the world’s largest technological markets in the world giving it the name, “the Silicon Valley of China”.
Q: My parents and grandparents are afraid that because China is a communist country, something bad might happen to me as an American.
A: China is in fact NOT a communist country, contrary to what our families (including mine) believe. China is actually more of a Socialist Democracy, however only containing one (1) political party, named the Communist party (makes sense why there’s confusion). While the USA is a Democratic Republic, with two (real) parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. In Shenzhen things are different than any other place in China; the economy is more capitalistic, however the government is behind the scenes mostly with a hands-off approach. This is potentially one of the reasons why Shenzhen is a thriving city, along with its proximity to Hong Kong.
Q: Do I need to bring copies of all my documents with me to China?
A: Yes! Bring copies of everything, the more the better. It never hurts to have backups. More importantly, bring the originals!
Q: Will my cell phone work while I am in China?
A: Your cellular device will work in China, however if you use your home country carrier (ex. AT&T) you will be charged roaming and international fees. It Is much better to get a new SIM card once you get to China and use it in your phone. To do this, you usually must “unlock” your phone, which requires you to make a trip to your local cell phone store and have them enter a code to allow you to use it in other countries. Once you arrive you can choose between the three (3) major cell phone providers (China Unicom, Telecom, and Mobile).
Q: I need to scan a page that I already got authenticated, can I remove the staple, scan the document, and re-staple it?
A: NO! If you remove the staple you void the entire authentication and must have it redone. Don't make the same mistake I did.