In between visas, diploma authentication and booking flights, it can be difficult to remember why you decided to accept a job in China in the first place. Luckily, you can rest assured you’re not the only person who has experienced the stress of this process. Moving to China can be both exciting and daunting, but I hope this essential checklist will make it a little easier on your nerves.
For those moving to China for work, a Z-visa is a legal requirement and should be the first thing on your checklist (different categories exist for those going to study or travel). Visa scams have been known to happen in China, as was the case with a group of South African would-be teachers who were detained in Jilin province earlier this year after being tricked into coming to China without the proper visas.
There are a number of ways to do due diligence on a potential employer before setting foot in the Middle Kingdom. If you’re coming to China for a teaching job, for example, ESL websites and forums often contain information from past and current employees of a particular school or learning centre. Jobseekers can use these resources to determine if the employer is genuine about getting them a Z-visa or not. If it looks doubtful, find another job offer.
In order to process a work visa, new employees are now required to get their original university certificates and criminal background checks notarised in their home countries. This ensures that the documents provided are genuine. The process is different for each country, but check out this article for a general overview of current work visa and resident permit requirements.
And, of course, as those who have worked abroad before will know, you should refrain from booking flights until you have obtained your visa (and by obtained, I mean printed in your passport). If your visa is delayed or rejected for whatever reason, you risk wasting a whole lot of time and money. Even if it’s not “delayed”, a work visa for China will likely take months to process.
Second on your checklist when moving to China for work should be finding somewhere to live. Employers may or may not be willing to help with this. Let me give some examples from my own experience:
During my first year in China with Education First (EF), I received a two-week stay in a hotel in central Guangzhou, paid for by the company. I was put in touch with some English-speaking agents who managed to find an apartment for me within the allotted period. You could say the responsibility was shared half and half. The company paid for a temporary hotel stay, but I was expected to find my own place after the first fortnight.
During my second year with EF in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, I was offered either free accommodation or a housing allowance which I could use to pay for my own place. I took the first option for the sake of convenience. In a second-tier city like Urumqi, finding an English-speaking agent, let alone a suitable apartment, is not so easy.
For my latest job in Shenzhen, I was expected to find my own place. I found a reasonably-priced apartment via an agent who asked for one month’s rent as commission. He appeared to have a good reputation among foreigners in the city and advertised his services on a Shenzhen expat website. It goes without saying that those moving to China who choose this option should be wary of hidden charges.
If all else fails, Air BnB operates in China and can offer reasonably-priced accommodation while you find your feet. Air BnB digs are available in all first and many second-tier cities of China.
Read this for more info on finding a great apartment in China.
General life in China will probably be very different from that in your home country and, as such, it’s important to know how to get by from day to day.
Internet restrictions mean that certain social media, news and other online platforms cannot be accessed without a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Whether you want to keep in touch with your family and friends back home via Facebook messenger or do a Google search, a VPN should be downloaded to your phone/laptop before moving to China. VPNs are not available in Chinese app stores.
As I moved to China four years ago and have been here ever since, my family and I now mostly use WeChat to keep in touch. WeChat serves as the main messaging and payment app within mainland China and can be used freely without a VPN. If you’re moving to China, WeChat is pretty much essential.
You’ll also want to download a couple of transport apps, such as Didi’s ride hailing service and Mobike and Ofo biking sharing apps. Besides that, there may be apps specific to your city that will make life a whole lot easier when you’re first settling in.
China life for most expats involves working in an English-speaking job in an English-speaking workplace. During daily life, however, a basic knowledge of Mandarin is very useful if you want to get by more easily. This is true even in first-tier cities, whether you want to open a bank account or eat at a restaurant with no English menu.
Sign up at a language school, get a private tutor or arm yourself with the many apps and online tools available for Mandarin learners. Here’s some extra tips for quick progression.
Stockpile essential goods
A selection of imported goods tends to be available in big or specialised supermarkets, especially in China’s first-tier cities. If there are specific brands you can’t live without, however, you may want to consider bringing them from home. Just make sure you’re aware of which items are prohibited or need to be declared at customs.
Failing that, you can order most things on TaoBao these days. Here’s our guide for beginners.
Research your city
Considering that you will most likely be settling in China for at least a year, depending on your contract, it’s a good idea to take some time to research the area where you’ll be living. Check out local lifestyle websites and expat forums to determine what kind of scene there is in your chosen city and make the all-important first connections with potential friends and people in the know.
For novices and experts alike
Whether setting off for your first time or returning for you 10th, it never does any harm to go over your essential moving to China for work checklist. Constant changes to visa requirements, even within the last two years, mean even the most experienced sinofiles come across bumps in the road occasionally.
At the risk of stating the obvious (and perhaps sounding like your mother), it’s simply better to be organised and prepared. It’ll make the process of moving less stressful and give you more time to explore and experience your new life, which is ultimately why most people come here in the first place.
Anything to add to this list? Comment below.
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