Why I Chose to Move to China

Why China?

It’s a question I hear weekly from locals and foreigners alike.

There are lots of places you can move in the world if you’re a native English speaker with a Bachelors degree. I did a lot of research and decided to begin my TEFL career in China because it seemed like the perfect marriage of my interests.

  • I wanted to be in a country that was going to be a challenge. I don’t like things to be  easy.
  • I wanted to learn Mandarin. I think it’s an important language to learn as a global citizen.
  • I was interested in the fact that China is a communist country, and I wanted to know what it feels like to live in such a place.
  • The pay was relatively high and the cost of living, relatively low, compared to other ESL jobs in Asia.
  • I had, and still have this sense that China is on the rise. They’ve been on the rise, and American exceptionalism has allowed me to discount this. Things are happening here. Mark my words.

Is it Challenging?

I came here with pretty low expectations… or you might say… no expectations. I did my research, don’t get me wrong, but I know that expectations often lead to disappointment, and I figured this move was going to be hard enough already.

I was right. China isn’t easy to live in as a foreigner. I’m not in one of the major cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. I’m in the largest city in the poorest province in China. A lot of people here aren’t used to seeing foreigners, and they act accordingly.

I get charged more at the produce markets, corner shops, and when using unofficial e-bike taxis… which at first I was bitter about… then I realized that I have a whole lot more money than most of the people here. Fair is fair. I was allowed into this country, issued a permit to work, and I’ll pay the white people tax happily. The overall warmth I’ve been met with is worth it.

I get a lot of “HELLO/HOW ARE YOU/LAOWAI/WAI GOU REN/MEI GOU” yelled in my general direction. Often Chinese are shy about it, so I’ll hear the word, turn a bit, instinctively, and be met with a person staring at their shoes. People take pictures, sometimes with my consent, sometimes without. Once I was lost deep in thought at the park, fervently working out a thought in my journal, when I got tapped on the shoulder and asked for a picture. It was hard to restrain myself that day. I declined, but I usually try to see these words and photo requests as an attempt to connect. It’s human, I’m an alien, and I can control my reactions to these things that sometimes… frankly… really piss me off.

It’s awkward living here. You get used to it, you adjust, then things change. You lock yourself out of your apartment, you eat bad food and even your toilet regrets it, or you break your leg rollerblading, and you have to figure out how to deal with it.

Learning Mandarin

Mandarin isn’t easy, and I don’t have a lot of time to study because I work really hard. For some reason I thought it would come more naturally than it has. I’m good at learning language, but it turns out that some classroom instruction is necessary, especially considering the fact that most people in Yunnan don’t actually speak Mandarin, but one of many regional dialects. I have a great Chinese teacher, but one hour of instruction per week can only go so far. If I were to stay in China longer than this year, I would love to devote a much larger percentage of my time to learning the language. Having a decent grasp of the language would make me a better immigrant and allow me to connect more with my neighbors and friends.

Communism in China

I think the thing that’s surprised me the most is that China doesn’t FEEL communist. I don’t know what communism is supposed to feel like, and I didn’t live through the cultural revolution… I suspect it felt a lot different back then. China has an enormous population, and despite what Western media leads us to believe, the government has a huge motivation to keep its citizens happy. Can you imagine the power of 1.4 billion pissed off people?

Lots of people in China are rich. There is a massive and constantly growing middle class. While there are a LOT of poor people here, and problems with inequality, like most places, there’s a lot of room for growth and financial improvement, too. Not every family has a path to abundance here, but a lot do. Frankly, China feels like the most capitalist place I’ve ever been. Opulent gestures from people illustrating their fortune are commonplace. There are a massive amount of shopping malls, luxury imported cars, beautiful homes.

Overall, as a privileged Westerner living my day to day life in China, I don’t feel the effects of Communism like I expected. In fact, I genuinely feel more individual freedom and a better sense of personal safety than I did when I lived in the US. I can go where I want, do what I want, and say, more or less, what I want. People here have opinions about the government, and while they may not express them as openly as Westerners, there are strong undercurrents. China’s still figuring things out for themselves, but they’re doing something right.

Cost of Living

I know that cost of living can be pretty high in some areas of China. In Kunming, it’s low, and I can save more money, less deliberately, and still maintain a very comfortable standard of living. China just sort of hit a sweet spot for me when I was doing my cost/benefit analyses. I earn a good wage, have a good quality of life, and I’m happy with my financial arrangement.

The Rise of China

I went into this a little in the section about Communism. This is one of those things that’s sort of vague and hard to explain. Economists won’t disagree with me, but it’s not even necessarily the rising per capita GDP or the fact that China tops the world’s economy in GDP when Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) scales are used. I feel a sense within me that there are real opportunities here, for Chinese and foreigners alike. That’s sort of all I can say about it. I’m not able to use words that I know to describe this sense, so I’ll call it intangible. I find Westerners here, often of the toxic variety, who disagree with this sense that I have. Either way, I’m happy to be able to experience a rapidly developing country and to witness the effects that its prosperity has on its citizens.

phew.

That was long. I guess I can just refer people here the next time they ask, because I have a hard time organizing my thoughts on the spot. If you’re a foreigner in China, or a Chinese citizen who has thoughts on what I’ve written, feel free to give me feedback! I welcome comments and emails. I hope you enjoyed this post.

How I Obtained My Tourist Visa to China

This post is about my personal experience. I don’t officially advocate lying on a visa form, but I’ll tell you that I had a long conversation with a nice man who works at a visa broker, and he gave me some tips I used and some I didn’t. I’ve listed them all for you below.

I hand delivered my documents to the Chinese Consulate so I recommend this option. Locate your Chinese Consulate first, then make the decision based on your personal circumstances. I like doing things myself and I like doing them cheaply. You can pay a visa service to take care of this for you, but you will still find the following helpful.

As a US citizen, you will likely receive a ten year tourist visa with 60 days stay allowed at a time. Plan accordingly. Also note that any other Chinese visa (Work, Student, Business) that you subsequently obtain will require the cancellation of your tourist visa. You can’t have more than one valid visa at a time.

I made four trips to the Chinese Consulate. I’m not a tourist, nor do I enjoy standing in long lines. I just needed to do a few things related to obtaining a work visa.  The journey for me was a 16 hour round-trip drive each time. I had a lot of podcasts to listen to and I planned to take care of other errands around the great state of Texas on my trips. I thought it was worth my time to make sure everything was taken care of, and also… Houston is a delightful city. It’s a personal decision. If you follow my instructions, you’ll only need to make one trip. You’re welcome in advance.

Things you’ll need for a Chinese Tourist Visa. This list is expanded from the normal checklist you’ll find on other sites to include extra details and things I was personally asked to provide.

  1. Your passport, with 6 months of validity beyond your stay in China, and at least two blank passport pages available for Chinese visa and entry stamps,
  2. At least two passport photos,
  3. A photocopy of your passport and your visas in other countries,
  4. A Chinese Visa Application, typed in ALL CAPS and printed single side,
  5. A Digital and printed copy of your Visa Application for your records and easy editing,
  6. A printout of your pre-purchased round-trip flight details,
  7. A printout of your hotel reservation(s) and travel plans in China,
  8. A $140 money order plus or minus rush fees. Wait to get this until you know your total. I left the ‘for’ section blank.

You can arrive early in the morning and request/pay for same day processing. Your consular website will tell you that this service isn’t offered and to allow 4 working days turnaround time. My luck with same day processing has varied. One time I didn’t ask for it, one time I was declined it, and one time, they gave it to me with no hesitations. If your consular official won’t provide same day processing or you’ve arrived too late in the day,  ask about having them mail it to you. Your consular website will tell you that this service isn’t offered as well. As of June 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Houston mailed my friend’s visa to her. Just ask.

The time I didn’t ask for same day processing, I actually made friends with a woman in line who got her friend to pick up our passports and mail them to us. Risky move, I know, but she was really nice, and I got my passport a week later.

Now, I struggled with numbers 6 and 7 on the list above because I knew I was moving to China, not staying there for a couple weeks.

Issues with Number 6: Flight Reservations

a) You don’t know your exact dates of travel in China yet.
b) You are actually taking a one-way flight into China and you’re not sure of how you’re leaving or when.
c) You’re taking a train or other method of transport in or out of the country and you can’t book it online too far in advance.
d) You  want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re able to obtain the visa before you drop over a thousand dollars on airfare.
e) Any other issue that you feel is valid and has you balking or doing frantic fruitless Google searches about how to combat it. I’m not one to exclude.

It doesn’t really matter why, but here are two to three workarounds that involve being less than 100% truthful. These workarounds were unofficially advocated to me the aforementioned visa broker, who employs them and/or endorses their employment regularly.

  • Use an image editing software like Photoshop to doctor up a reservation of a flight that you know exists. Do your research and make it happen. You just need the email confirmation with the dates and times.
  • Use a website that specializes in making realistic looking phony airline reservations. Again, do your research on this and use an actual airline, actual flight number, and its real time. I don’t know how hard the Chinese Consulate checks these, but it’s best to put in the time necessary to do it right.
  • Purchase actual round-trip airfare, preferably on a credit card, and cancel the reservation immediately after you receive the email with your flight details (don’t wait more than 24 hours).

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t personally like the idea of forgery. That’s why I’m not advocating it, I’m just relaying the information I was told. I went with the third option, which definitely made me nervous, but I felt like it was the least dishonest choice I had available. I researched to make sure the airline allowed cancellation of the reservation within 24 hours (most do), and bit the bullet. I received my confirmation email, printed it, then cancelled the reservation within five minutes of purchasing it. I then proceeded to compulsively check my online credit card explanation of charges until I saw that I was refunded.

Issues with Number 7: Hotel Reservation

a) You’re staying with a friend that you’re visiting.
b) You don’t know where you’re staying yet.
c) You are traveling around multiple cities in China and you don’t feel like booking everything in advance.
d) Any other issue that you feel is valid and has you balking or doing frantic fruitless Google searches about how to combat it. Again, I’m not one to exclude.

This is an easy issue to circumvent. Again, it requires you to be less than 100% truthful, but I didn’t feel as nervous or morally conflicted about this one.

Just make a reservation with the Holiday Inn in whatever Chinese city you have booked your real or fake flight to, ensuring that the dates line up. The Holiday Inn of China allows reservations to be made without providing a credit card or method of payment, and they can be cancelled at any time.

 

That’s all I know. I hope it was helpful to you. Are you encountering other issues with obtaining your Chinese Tourist Visa? Do you have questions or feedback about what I’ve written? Leave a comment or send me an email. Sharing your experience may help a peer.

 

Tips for Crushing Your Visit to the Chinese Consulate

I made four trips to the Chinese Consulate in Houston when I was preparing to move to China. I would like to impart to you the wisdom I gained through trial and error. Employ it or learn from your own mistakes, like I did.

  • Arrive first thing in the morning. Lines form very quickly. If you get your documents in early, you can plead your case and pay a little extra money for same day processing. Even if visa or courier services and the Chinese Consulate website tell you that your Consulate doesn’t do this… as of January 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Houston did it for me. Tell them you live far and you can’t come to pick up in person.*
  • Forms submitted to the Chinese consulate should be TYPED in ALL CAPS, and printed single sided. Have a copy for them and a copy for you. A digitally saved version is always nice as well.
  • Payment is typically done with a money order. I recommend leaving the payment for section blank because they want specific wording.
  • Visa or courier services can be helpful but they will likely tell you a few things that aren’t accurate. I was quoted much higher prices than the Consulate charged; I was also told that same day processing isn’t possible. I wouldn’t know these things were inaccurate had I not gone in person to handle my own documents.
  • If you are applying for a tourist visa as well as getting your documents certified, you should probably make separate trips to the Chinese Consulate. Actually, you will most definitely have to make more than one trip because the information you’re using to get the tourist visa is not going to be accurate**, and applying for document verification for working in China at the same time as you’re swearing that you’re just visiting will raise some Chinese Consular Official eyebrows.

There. That’s all I’ve got. I hope it’s helps you. I’ll update you if and when I get more information. I promise. Tell me about your Chinese Consular experience in a comment. Your experience may help a peer.

*I gave a friend this same advice when she applied for her L visa to come visit me in June 2017 and she was refused same day service. Just try. Smile a lot and if you’re frustrated and feel your eyes getting extra shiny from extended pathetic eye contact, let the tears fall and crash around you. I didn’t try it but it might work. Their website also says they don’t do mail service, but they mailed my friend’s visa to her.

**note that I would never officially endorse using inaccurate information on a visa application but I’ll tell you how I did it and why.

 

 

Chinese Consulate Document Verification

So you’ve found a teaching job in China! Congratulations! Now it’s time to get your documents together AND the best part: get them verified by the Chinese Consulate!

This is… umm… this probably won’t be fun but if you follow my instructions, you’ll  save money and time. I didn’t have a post to follow. You lucky dog.

This was the most stressful part of my move to China. I hope the details I have provided below are helpful. Please note that this information is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of January 2017. It is based on my personal experience. Your individual experience may vary. Feel free to let me know how your process worked in a comment or email. The description of your struggle, or lack thereof could help a peer.

If you don’t have the time to deal with all of this… and it DOES take time… and money… I’ll link a site to a company who offers Chinese Embassy legalization in the US. You should still read my post, though. If for no other reason than my comedic sense.

There are two main documents that the Chinese consulate will need to verify as a part of your Z visa application: your university diploma and your criminal background check. For the background check, there are two steps. For the diploma, there are three steps. I’ve also included a short section of anecdotal tips about the Chinese Consulate.

Leave yourself as much time as possible to complete the following to save yourself stress and money.

Background Check:

Don’t get a Federal FBI background check. You don’t need it! Most people get a state or even a local one and it’s just fine. If you do end up getting an FBI background check, it’s ok. I got one. It’s going to be annoying and potentially expensive because you will need it to be certified at BOTH the US Secretary of State in DC* AND the Chinese Embassy in DC. Unless you live in Washington DC, you will probably have to pay a company $100 or more to drop off and pick up your documents.

*I will note here that evidently there is a box you can check on the FBI background check which will automatically get you an apostille from the US Secretary of State. This could save you some money and time.

Step 1: Apostille
If you got an FBI check, you can only get an apostille from the US State Department. If you got a state or local check, an apostille can be obtained from the Secretary of State in your State’s Capital, or anywhere the Secretary of your State has an office that issues apostilles. For Texas, it’s only Austin. Call ahead to made sure they have jurisdiction over your document. If they don’t they’ll be able to tell you who does have jurisdiction. An apostille can be obtained via mail as well if you don’t want to go in person.

Step 2: Chinese Consulate
Take your

  • original document with the apostille,
  • the TYPED and printed form for Chinese Document
    Verification,
  • a printed and digital copy for your records and easy editing if necessary,
  • your passport,
  • copies of your passport and any visas in it,
  • be prepared to get a money order to pay for the authentication process, which you’ll provide when you pickup your documents.

Stand in line and nod appreciatively when it feels appropriate.

Diploma:
Note that I was told different things regarding whether or not I had to get my original diploma folded, marked up, stamped, stapled, and stickered. I happen to accidentally have two original copies of my university diploma, so I was alright with having all of the above done.

Step 1: Notarization
Take your original diploma to your university and have them notarize it, stating that it’s
real and you earned it. You can complete this step by mail as well.

Step 2: Apostille
Take your notarized diploma to the Secretary of your State. See Background Check>
Apostille section for more information.

Step 3: Chinese Consulate
Take the original document with the apostille to the Consulate. See Background Check>
Chinese Consulate section for more information.

Stand in line and nod appreciatively when it feels appropriate.

That’s it!
Only a Kori could complicate that process. I mean.. only a Kori could explain that complicated process.

You’re one step further on your journey. Please check out my other posts for more information about the visa process, finding a job, life in China, why I chose China, learning Chinese, and… other stuff.