7 (Almost) Unattainable Holy Grails for Expats Living in China

7 (Almost) Unattainable Holy Grails for Expats Living in China
Nov 14, 2019 By Cian Dineen , eChinacities.com

Expats living in China don’t always have the easiest time when it comes to life admin. Whether it’s visas, social services or even just a bank account, we typically have to jump through a whole lot of hoops to get what we need to live. There are some things, however, that although difficult, make life a lot easier. Here are seven almost unattainable holy grails for expats living in China.

10-Year Visa

Difficulty: 2/5

Getting any kind of China visa is hard enough, but getting a long-term one, until recently, was almost unheard of. Many expats living in China are on long-term contracts with their companies but still only receive one-year visas that they need to renew annually. What’s more, you usually need to start the renewal process a month before expiration, meaning your visa only effectively lasts 11 months.

As of now, however, a 10-year visa is available for citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, and, randomly, Argentina. For citizens of other countries, you’re fresh out of luck for the moment.

Applying for this 10-year visa is actually pretty much the same as applying for a standard visa, but there’s a big caveat — you can’t work in China on this visa. Furthermore, you can’t stay in China indefinitely. Depending on the exact type you apply for, you will need to exit and re-enter China between every 30 to 120 days.

This visa is therefore only really useful for people coming to China regularly for tourism or business purposes. Note that a 10-year business visa would allow you to conduct some short-term business on the mainland but not allow you to be employed and paid by a China-based company.

Category A Work Permit

Difficulty: 5/5

All expats working legally in China have a work permit, and every work permit is categorized as either A, B, or C. Most foreigners will end up in category B or C, and while the benefits of being in a higher category are unclear, it will at least ensure bragging rights, if not a slightly easier ride in the visa application process. The most difficult category to get into is naturally category A, and when I say difficult, I mean it.

Here is a list of some of the ways you can get a category A work permit: be in a senior management position in a Fortune 500 company, hold a senior position in government, or win a prominent award. So, basically have you ever been the CTO of Facebook, run the Department of Education in your home country, or won a Pulitzer?

There are other ways to get a category A work permit, but the above exemplify the kind of level we’re talking about here. Chances are, if you qualify for a category A work permit, you’ve probably got more impressive things to brag about.

Airport E-Channel

Difficulty: 1/5

Applying for China airport e-channel access is one of the easiest and most useful of the holy grails, but still one that a lot of expats living in China don’t take advantage of. All you need to do to apply is fill in a simple form at the airport where you live and present a residence visa with at least six months validity at the correct immigration desk.

With it, you can swan through the e-channel just like the locals. There’s no need to queue up for passport inspection with the long line of foreigners, there’s no need to fill out the arrival/departure form or give your fingerprints, and there’s no need for them to stamp the precious pages of your passport.

This is especially useful for those living in Guangdong who regularly travel to Hong Kong. In fact, China expats in this position may also want to apply for the e-channel on the Hong Kong side of the border. To be eligible, you’ll need to have flown into Hong Kong at least three times in the last 12 months.

HSK6 Qualification

Difficulty: 5/5

“Can you speak Chinese?” It’s a question that many expats living in China dread. Not necessarily because they’re embarrassed by their ability, but because it’s often hard to give a short answer to this question. While a tourist or a newly-arrived expat might think you’re almost fluent, a local will probably think you’re terrible. It gets even more complicated when you factor in reading and writing.

One way to simplify the answer to that question is to study for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK). These Chinese proficiency tests have become the standard by which foreigners’ Chinese standards are judged. The levels range from HSK 1 to 6, with HSK 1 through to 3 considered relatively easy. It’s only at HSK 4 that companies will start to consider your level a work skill and other Chinese-speaking expats will start to respect you.

The ultimate holy grail when it comes to learning Chinese is, of course, HSK 6, but it’s very hard-earned. The vocabulary for HSK 6 involves 5,000 words and 2,663 characters, while the test consists of 100 questions and a long composition. To say it’s difficult is an understatement.

At 1,200 words and 1,064 characters, HSK 4 is a more realistic target for most expats. Plus, HSK 4 is often enough for most local employers looking for office-ready Chinese speaking foreigners.

Chinese Driving License

Difficulty: 2/5

Although some people might assume that it’s hard to get a Chinese drivers license, it’s in fact relatively straightforward as long as you already have a license in your home country. All you need is that license, a Chinese residence permit that’s valid for at least three months, and to pass a written exam. Fun fact: If you have a valid driver’s license from Belgium, you don’t need to take the theory test thanks to a random bilateral agreement between the two countries.

For everyone else, the exam consists of a 100 questions, 90 of which you need to get right. While dodgy translations and weird rules make some questions hard to comprehend, it’s generally easy enough to pass with the right amount of prep. Perhaps the biggest difficulty comes after having passed the examination. Actually driving on China’s roads is when the true test begins.

If you don’t have a foreign driving license already, this becomes a relatively less-attainable holy grail. You must take a minimum of 35 hours of lessons in one of the few driving schools that accept foreigners and pass both the theory and a practical test before you can legally drive.

Chinese Credit Card

Difficulty: 4/5

Getting a Chinese credit card is one of the more difficult holy grails for expats living in China. While foreigners can set up their own bank accounts and link them to WeChat Pay and Alipay, the path to owning a credit card is still largely blocked.

That’s not to say it is impossible. It’s just that most banks require you to be able to provide some guarantees, including having 2 million RMB in the bank, owning property in China, or owning a business that generates at least 60 million RMB a year. How many of us can say that?

Green Card

Difficulty: 4/5

The ultimate holy grail, the China green card, or permanent residence card, allows holders to stay in China long-term without having to leave or renew their visas. Other benefits include the same rights and access as locals when it comes to investment, property, education, and healthcare.

So who can get one of these coveted green cards? Skilled foreigners working in high-level positions in government departments or those involved in key national projects in China, foreigners investing between 500,000 USD and 2,000,000 USD, depending on the region of China, and foreigners that have made a “significant contribution” to China.

Perhaps the easiest way to get a Green card – at least, for some expats – is by being married to a Chinese citizen for at least five years. You will also need to have lived in China for a least nine months a year for all five consecutive years and have a stable job and a home. If you get to this stage, you’re basically considered Chinese.

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Keywords: expats living in China


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Lol nothing here was easy

Apr 17, 2020 20:31 Report Abuse


Avoid " Expert International Education" with jobs in Xiamen / Fuzhou.high schools and colleges. Innumerable problems my wife had with this company and I ended up having to spend a lot of time and money getting her out of there and back to UK. Avoid. China seems to be getting less and less hospitable but these guys are the worst offenders. If it wasn't months of waiting to go through the bureaucracy to file complaints we would have but it is never worth it. Lots of lost money, time and energy. Avoid.

Dec 29, 2019 19:19 Report Abuse


This article it's a stinky flatulent arrogance. A fart!

Nov 17, 2019 03:26 Report Abuse


dear ECC, can you PLEASE stop these blogs that are nothing more than lists of things? (many of the things posted are inaccurate anyway). you temporarily redeemed yourself with the article on 'No money, no honey', only to fall back into the lazy '7 things that (fill in the blank)' And if you insist on alisases posting these lists, can you be sure they are fact checked first? Many of the things listed above are probably not even wanted by your average foreign worker (certainly by none of those i know). I functioned perfectly fine without any of the above - you certainly DON'T need HSK 6 Chinese to function unless you are a diplomatic translator for your government. (and to be honest many Chinese i encountered did not like it when they realised that i could understand them and could communicate with them) - they got quite defensive especially when they realised i could understand the derogetory comments they are making about foreigners. These endless (and often inaccurate) lists are just tedious. And to be honest you do yourselves no favours when one writer - Degan Hill - promotes working illegally - "5 reasons why side hustles can be a boon for ex-pats.' For fup's sake ECC this site was so much better up until a few years ago, and if you bother to invest in it, it could be again.

Nov 15, 2019 16:44 Report Abuse


My thumbs up Sorrel on your comment.

Nov 17, 2019 03:25 Report Abuse


It's like those clickbait links on the bottom of sketchy websites that just want you to click on but have no substance at all. Like " 10 things bankers don't want you to know!!" or "5 superfoods that cure cancer!!" 7 things Angelina Jolie doesn't want you to know about her sex life!!" It's all just garbage, just like this site has become. Its a shame really, I really did use to like this site a lot, but find myself coming here less and less. And forget about the answer section, that's basically dead.

Nov 17, 2019 07:59 Report Abuse