Thinking About Moving to China? At What Cost?

Matt | Living in China,Working in China | Friday, May 20th, 2011

A reader recently sent me some questions about relocating to China with a family.  I will try to answer his questions and add any other information that I can over the next few posts.

What necessities should we pack, that would be hard to find or too expensive in China?
As for what to bring, I would recommend packing as light as possible.  This would make your future travel/relocation plans easier.  I’m guessing you would like to move overseas for a couple of years.  If so, again I wouldn’t take too much on my first trip over.  Some things that were vital for me were photographs and mementos from home.  These also come in handy in class.  Also if you have things that are unique to your culture or where you live this you may want to bring as it could add great context to your class setting.  My situation was different because I went over to China alone, whereas you will be travelling with your family, but still things that remind you of home can come in handy during the homesick stage of culture shock.
The things that I found difficult to find in China were minor things and or very specific.  For example, I found it difficult to find antiperspirant in China so I would bring an ample supply.  Also, I originally brought over some of my favourite English books.  The selection of books at the English book stores was okay, but I recently discovered that Amazon.com delivered to China and that solved my book issues.  Another specific thing that I brought over was my hockey gear.  This was something that I didn’t bring over until my third year in China.  Most things that you need you can get in China.  Remember they have Wal-Mart and Carrefour where you can buy most things you need. Depending on your size and fashion level, you may want to bring more clothing with you.  I am about 6 ft, 200lbs and I found it challenging to find clothes that fit.  Again, this is a minor thing. Overall, I found life in China refreshing, having less possessions to worry about.
What is the cost of living in China? For a family, I want to be able to travel and sightsee. How much to live comfortably?
This is a tricky question, because it depends.  The cost of living in China depends on how you like to live.  I like to hear that you want to travel and sight see through China, as it has so many beautiful and amazing sights to see.  Plus if you are teaching in China you will likely have some nice holidays off as well.  For cost of living, I will tell you how much I spent monthly, give you some background on this and you can adjust according to your situation.
Matt’s Situation
  • Living in a small bachelor apartment about 40 square meters/ approx 400 square feet (you will need a larger space, but for me it was clean, new and large enough for my needs; plus my goal was a commute that I could walk to my work).
  • Living in Beijing,
  • Monthly Averages
  • Near Central Business District (CBD), one stop south of Guo Mao,
  • CASH IN $2,250 CAD (13,500 RMB) working at Wall Street English as as Foreign Trainer
    CASH OUT $1,750 CAD
    • RENT $500 (3000 RMB) – but you could easily pay double this now depending on the size of your apartment and the recent inflation.  In China you pay rent 3 months at a time.  So first time you pay rent you pay for 4 months, because you have a 1 month deposit.  Then 3 months later you pay again.  So I have evened out the cost above, but you need to plan it out a bit when you are earning it because paying 3 months is a hefty amount at one time.
    • FOOD $650 (4000 RMB) – This is almost embarrassing to admit to spending such a large amount on food.  I ate out a lot and ate  a lot of Western meals.  Western meals will cost the same or more in China as in Canada/ the US.  For example a burger at Grandma’s Kitchen (Beijing) will cost about 65 RMB or $10.  A coffee at Starbucks, which I frequented a bit too often, cost 15 RMB or $2.50 CAD.  Whereas, if you like the Chinese do, eating at home mostly and eating Chinese food when you eat out you could spend a lot less than I did.  A large meal for 4 people in an average Chinese restaurant would cost about 100-200 RMB or $15-$30 CAD.
    • TRAVEL $100 (600 RMB) – I travelled about one weekend trip every month or so.  Travel in China is fairly cheap.  Decent hotels, like Home Inn, cost about 300 RMB ($50) per night.  Flights cost about 1000 RMB ($150 CAD) per person one way.  Travelling by overnight trains is the cheaper way to go where you’d spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that cost.  Overall, travel in China is cheap and highly recommended.
    • BACK TO CANADA $200 (1200 RMB) – I went home each year.  The flight home cost me about $1500 CAD, plus spending cash back home.  That is one negative about earning RMB is that when you go back to Canada/the US you burn through it quickly.  If you stay in China you can live quite comfortably on 10,000 – 15,000 RMB per month income ($1,500 to 2,500 CAD).
    • TAXIS/SUBWAYS $50 – Taxis are relatively cheap in China and I ended up taking them often.
    • SPORTS/HOCKEY $50 – Hockey is expensive, but great fun.
    • HOME PHONE/INTERNET/CELL PHONE/SKYPE $50 – Telephone and unlimited Net access was about $20 per month.  For my cell I used prepaid cards and that cost about $20 per month.  Skype was about $10.  This was all money well spent to stay in touch with family back home.
    • OTHER $150 -Books $40/mo (I was a book-a-holic); massages $30/mo (used to rehab my back and shoulder, but well worth the money).

    SAVINGS $500 CAD (3000 RMB) per month

    Could you breakdown the costs of typical food and services like: Utilities, Internet, Cell Phone, Groceries, transportation?
    Utilities are pretty cheap in China.  It is more of a challenge figuring out how and where to pay it.  For example, hot water I paid at my apartment complex and cost about $6 CAD per month.  You fill up on a card an insert it into the reader under the sink.  Electricity cost me about $11 CAD per month.  This one I could fill up at the bank (and some McDonalds actually!).  After I filled up the card, I would insert it into a reader outside my apartment.  Groceries are very cheap if you eat Chinese food or cook a lot from scratch.  For example chicken breasts cost about 7 RMB per which is just over $1 per breast.  If you are like me and buy imported coffee and cereal it will be similar to western prices.
    That is enough money for one night.
    I’m spent.

    Violence Against Teachers

    Matt | Teach English in China,Working in China | Friday, April 25th, 2008

    Attached is an email I received about a teacher who was attacked in the Southern Chinese province of Hunan because he shopped at Carrefour. Now, it hasn’t been verified yet to my knowledge, but it is still a frightening thought. He was supposedly attacked because he had chosen to shop at a Carrefour during the boycott and was mistaken for being French.

    During my 3 years in China I have seen and heard some Chinese people get worked up, QUICKLY, against certain things. But usually, white foreigners were exempt to these herd movements or stampedes. A lot of the hatred and boycotts were focused against Japan or other countries or movements. Unfortunately, it seems like this may no longer be the case and that western foreigners in China may now have to be more cautious. This is a thought that is honestly frightening me. Now, I live in Beijing and I’m not worried for my sake, but I do worry about what could happen here very quickly. You read on and you decide.

    Anti-Carrefour mob attacks American in Hunan

    http://www.thebeijinger.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=22763

    http://shanghaiist.com/2008/04/22/attack_on_an_american_volunteer.php

    Attack on an American volunteer by anti-Carrefour mob in Zhuzhou, Hunan
    Here’s an email we received from a volunteer teacher from an Ivy
    League university volunteer programme in Hunan Province (who shall
    remain unnamed to protect the identities of everyone involved) ~{!*~}
    a chilling account of an attack on his colleague by an anti-Carrefour
    mob in Zhuzhou. The matter has been brought to the attention of the US
    Embassy in Beijing and should serve as a warning to all Caucasian
    readers, particularly those living in second-tier cities, to avoid
    large crowd gatherings at all costs during these crazy, crazy times.
    Our foreign correspondent friends in Shanghai and Beijing have been
    receiving death threats on their mobile phones and through their
    faxes, but clearly, this is something else:
    Last night [Editor’s note: Sunday, Apr 20] around 7pm my friend was
    attacked by a mob of about 150 people outside the Carrefour in
    Zhuzhou, Hunan (near his placement site). When leaving Carrefour some
    of the crowd started shouting at him and he tried to say he didn’t
    have anything to do with the Olympics, but 3 men started to push him
    and then he was hit in the back of the head at least 3 times. He
    started to run, and the mob chased him. He jumped into a cab, but the
    mob surrounded the car and started shaking and rocking it. The cab
    driver was shouting at him to get out. Then they started hitting the
    car. The crowd was shouting “kill him! kill the Frenchman.” He called
    the Field Director while in the back of the car. The cab driver
    abandon the car when he saw police coming. Two police made there way
    though the mob and managed to drive the cab away. The Field Director
    alerted the Director Shu of the Hunan Department of Education. The
    police got him another cab and he took it from Zhuzhou to the field
    director’s home in Changsha. He spending the night here in Changsha
    and is likely leaving China as soon as possible.

    [My colleague] is only 22, an American (not French), and a volunteer
    teacher. He graduated from Boston Collage less than 10 months ago. If
    he can be attacked anyone can be. The situation in central china is
    becoming much worse very quickly. James has been cut up pretty badly
    by the glass and the people trying to grab him.

    I didn’t think the situation and protests were anything to worry about
    before now, but if the mob had gotten him outside of the cab he could
    have easily been killed.

    Foreigners need to be more aware that this is a real danger and MUCH
    more careful around the protests here in central china.

    Im also sending this letter to the embassy.
    People need to be more much careful.

    The following letter was sent by the Field Director of the programme,
    to all their volunteers in China:
    Dear Volunteers,
    It goes without saying that right now is a very sensitive time in
    China. I wrote to you last week to avoid talking about the three ‘T’s’
    and other controversial topics in China now.
    By now, you’ve probably all heard about what happened last night, but
    before I go into details, I’m going to tell you TO AVOID PROTESTS AND
    PLACES WHERE PROTESTS ARE BEING HELD. This is extremely important for
    your own personal safety. I spoke with the US Embassy in Beijing this
    morning, and the officer that I spoke with told me that there have
    been cases in the past of protesters in China targeting innocent
    foreign bystanders. Despite what you may or may not think, just by
    going to Carrefour, you’re making a statement to say that you don’t
    agree with the protesters, and they can very well take that to mean
    that you don’t agree with China. From here on out, there is no need to
    put yourself into this situation. Also, if you feel that you want to
    go ahead and become involved in protests of a political nature, keep
    in mind that you’re directly violating the Conditions of Participation
    that you signed at the beginning of the year, specifically by getting
    involved in political events. We’ll call you all individually, so if
    you have any more questions, please feel free to ask. We’re just
    trying to make sure that everyone is and feels safe and that people
    are not put into avoidable situations.

    Last night, a Zhuzhou volunteer walked into Carrefour despite the fact
    that there was a sizable protest going on outside. This volunteer
    chose not to become verbally or physically involved in the protest,
    but like I said before, choosing to shop at Carrefour while protests
    are going on is making a statement in and of itself. When the
    volunteer finished shopping and tried to leave the store, the
    protesters did not let him leave at first and a mob mentality quickly
    ensued. The volunteer was forced to run through the crowd to safety
    while a couple people threw punches at him and others were chanting
    and verbally threatening him. The volunteer managed to jump into a
    taxi and close the door, but the mob surrounded the taxi, trying to
    break in, tip the taxi over, and smash the windows. The police were
    finally able to get the volunteer to a safe place and the situation
    was settled, for the time being.

    This situation is no joke at all. The volunteer told me that he felt
    extremely unsafe, and he even feared for his life at points. When I
    spoke with the US Embassy about this (which I suggest everyone sign up
    for, http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/ipr.html), they said that
    this incident was the first violent one in recent news involving an
    American citizen. However, they said that they didn’t know if it would
    be the last and that they urged me to talk with you all about how
    important it is to avoid Carrefour and protests. [Another colleague]
    also gave the same advice. From here on out, there is no reason that
    any of you should be going to Carrefour or be involved in any sort of
    protests. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, or if
    you see a large group of protesters and mobs of people, avoid the
    situation entirely. Also, please keep close communication with your
    fellow volunteers, so that in case you come across a place that you
    feel is not safe, let others know about it so they can avoid it.

    Once again, [we] will call every one of you individually and talk
    about this more. Please be respectful of our advice, and try not to
    put yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.

    Take care

    Finding Yourself (in China)

    Matt | Finding Yourself,Working in China | Monday, April 14th, 2008

    One of my main reasons to come to China was to find myself.

    I clearly remember when I first came to China, a few weeks into teaching and I was standing outside the school gates thinking. I was thinking, “What the f#$k was I doing?” Why had I given up a 5 year career in the world of business to come to China to try teaching? I had remembered being in Toronto, lost as well, and hoping that this experience would help me to gain some traction, to figure out what I was doing and why I was here.

    Then it hit me.

    I realized that even though I changed almost everything – my career, my job, and even my country – it did not matter.

    The problem was still with me. The problem was still me.

    I remember standing in that intersection, in Beijing, China, staring at the cars, looking at the McDonalds behind me and realizing that even though I changed almost everything, I didn’t change myself. I was still the Ottawa kid, who used to live in Toronto and now was lost in Beijing. Actually, I may even have made matters worse, in the process of finding myself, by coming to China. Now, I don’t regret coming to China, but I have learned a few things about finding oneself during my stay here.

    One problem with leaving to go to another country to find yourself is that you bring the biggest problem with you: and that’s you! The problem usually isn’t your job, your family, your friends, your country, but instead the problem is probably something within you. And actually, by separating yourself from your friends and family, your safety net, you may even exaggerate the problem. It is lonely, difficult and awkward when you move to a new country. Then all of a sudden you are lost, with the problem you, and you have nowhere and no one to turn to!

    If you are in this situation, you’ll probably have to build up a network of friends and “family” here quickly for support. I recommend a club like Toastmasters, the public speaking club. It’s a great way to meet amazing people and to improve your leadership and communication skills. You could also join any other club or organization. Living overseas you depend on your friends to act as your family too.

    To find oneself and ones meaning in life, I don’t think you have to travel halfway around the world, but itself you need to do something more frightful: turn off the TV and open a book. You can do this anywhere. Now, you may need to take a holiday from your regular schedule; to find a quiet place like a cabin in the woods or even your own home, and simply relax, rest and read. I find that when doing this, the right books you need will come to you; the right messages will come to you; by taking the time away from your busy schedule and truly getting away you’ll be able to listen to the inner voice inside yourself (usually just above your belly) that always tells you the right thing to do.

    Now, I do realize that going away for a year offers a person a better opportunity to do this. Because being alone, overseas, I do have more time to think and to read. I do believe it can be done anywhere and I’m positive the first step is turning off the TV and picking up a book.

    Books will find you when you are ready for them. Here are some that I found at the right time that often are telling me a similar message.

    Now, I know some of these you’ve read and some of the others you aren’t interested it. If that’s the case, just pick up some books that you like and start reading. Lately, I’ve been focusing on some classics as there’s a reason why they are classics. Also, I’m working through a top 10 list from TheSimpleDollar. If I get a book recommendation from a friend and I like the first book, then I’ll want to read everything that person has recommended.  You may want to read some religious books, which are also high on my list, or some philosophy books, but I think the solution is the same: sit, read, and think.

    I think just finding a quiet place, opening a book and thinking are the first steps to figuring out what you want and who  you are.

    Banking in China – Stay connected to home

    Matt | Banking in China,Working in China | Monday, April 14th, 2008

    Banking in China can be a challenge to say the least. Most employees speak limited English and customer service is a very new concept here in China. But, I have recently discovered a relatively easy way to stay connected and pay bills in another country.

    At first, I was worried about paying some of my bills back in Canada, like my accounting designation, or minor things. And when I asked around I heard some scary ideas of how to transfer money, “Go to the guy outside the bank give him 20,000RMB and he’ll exchange it for USD.” That thought wasn’t very appealing to me.

    So I was quite excited when I was looking online at my bank Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and found out that I could transfer money out of China to Canada.

    You can transfer up to $500 USD per day to an overseas bank. (the website say $50,000, but I don’t know how you can do that. As a teacher you’ll probably never have that much anyways!) You’ll need your passport (which you need to do any banking in China). You will also need your account number you want to transfer to:

    Institution number-Branch number-Account number

    000-12345-8888888

    If you aren’t sure your numbers you can call your bank back home (over Skype). If you already do bank transfers through ING you will be familiar with these numbers.

    Plus you need the address of your bank in Canada or home country.

    So, what I normally do is as follows.

    1. I get a ticket for the non-RMB business.
    2. Then get an Application for Funds Transfers (Overseas) and fill in all the above information.  Usually then the girls at the help desk send me to a table where a women helps me fill in the form and checks that I do it right.
    3. Then I go to the window and a teller fills in many forms and stamps, 30 minutes to 1 hour later I’m done.

    The result?

    Now that the Canadian dollar is higher than the USD I can send out $495.00

    My Canadian bank charges me a fee for this remittance $25.00

    My net amount that I can transfer at one time is $470.00

    On the Chinese side my last transaction also cost RMB 61 (about $8.00)

    So, while this may not be the cheapest option it is one option to send money back to Canada. When I learned I was able to this it put my personal financial situation more at ease. Now my challenge is earning and saving more money and sending more back to Canada.

    Go with the Flow in China, End in a Better Place

    Matt | Culture Shock,Teach English in China,Working in China | Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

    My first year in China was an adventure.

    First year Summary

    Schools taught in = 4

    Number of times moved = 5

    Number of times left stranded at the airport = 1

    Largest class taught = 35 (Beijing summer program)

    Smallest class taught = 1 (Johnny)

    Cities visited = too many to count

    In China things change and they change often. And usually they change at the last minute. This is a place where the air tickets are cheaper the longer you wait and the later you decide to buy tickets.  You cannot buy your train tickets until 4 days before you want to go on holiday. Planning does not seem to be very popular here.  People seem a lot more comfortable and relaxed with simply going with the flow of things.

    As a guy who likes to plan things out in advance, I was not comfortable with concept of flow. I’d stress out about the lack of planning, and couldn’t understand why they don’t plan better. I was having a tough time with things, but fortunately I got some great advice early in my adventure in China that helped me put things in perspective.

    Go with the flow of things. Change happens.

    Don’t worry too much and you’ll probably end up in a better place.

    I think this is very true about China and probably with most things in our lives.  Here is an summary of my adventures of flowing through my first year in China. Looking back at the summary it was anything, but an ordinary year. And I guess that’s why I came to China for the adventure.

    August Intro to China

    Arrived a month early. Travelled around. Visited about 15 Chinese cities in 30 days. Great intro to China and realization that my Mandarin sucks.

    September Left at the boarding gate with nothing but a business card…

    Went to the airport ready to catch my flight to Yantai (small city on Eastern coast) to find out from recruiter, “sorry Matt, I’m not kidding, but you aren’t getting on this plane. Here is the phone number of the president. Call him. (Though it was 9pm and the number was to the office!). He’ll explain.”

    Spent night figuring out options:

    1. Get on a plane return to Canada
    2. Keep travelling and teach wherever end up
    3. Send biting email to the president of the school about how unprofessional the last minute change was, have a few beers and wait to talk to him in the morning. Then decide. (Chose this option)

    The president gave me some BS, but it was enough. I started teaching English at a university in China.

    First day of work. Was nervous. Spoke so fast during first class, that the admin girl after asked me quietly later if I could speak slower during the next class as the students didn’t understand a word I said.

    October Travel/ Chance meeting on a train/ “kept teacher”

    Went on holiday finally to Yantai and Qingdao during the national holiday. Met girlfriend on the train back from Qingdao to Beijing.

    After the holiday, the “Snake” president called to tell me I needed to move again to the other campus a 2 hour commute across town due to scheduling problems at the school (not enough students). I wasn’t looking forward to the move.

    Then, an opportunity knocked. One of my rich students wasn’t happy about losing a teacher, so he made me an offer, an offer I couldn’t refuse. Same teaching, but one-to-one for double the money. Everything else was the same (annual flight bonus, holidays, work schedule). I went with the flow and decided to quit my job and teach Johnny full-time.

    Moved to Fragrant Hills, in the western hills part of town. Was put up in a hotel which also was my classroom. Johhny had his own room next door. I was being paid 8,000 RMB per month plus a free hotel. Fortunately, I had negotiated for a salary per month and not an hourly rate, which turned out better in the end, especially when Johnny started playing hookey. Now I was my own school and was a “kept teacher” for Johnny.

    Started studying Chinese through a tutor. Realized I was a lazy student and didn’t do homework.

    November School of Matt

    Was flowing with the girlfriend and with Johnny. Was developing my classes with Johnny, a beginner-beginner. Thinking how unprepared and unexperienced I was to be creating my own program for Johnny, but we went with it. Picture Dictionary Class (aka vocabulary building) was interesting. ‘Friends’ Class not so interesting for Johnny. Mostly used New Interchange book for 2 hrs per day. Added to this with grammar, reading, vocabulary as we could. We’d have 4 hours of class a day M-F. 9-11am, 2-4pm. Then we’d climb Fragrant Hills together and with the hope of having some deep conversation or at least any conversation in English. Instead, he’d usually bring out a new girl to walk and talk with. Or his driver would climb with us.

    One day his driver brought out a taser gun during our walk. I asked why. Johnny said his brother was kidnapped, so he needed protection. I tried to adjust our programs because of this. How do you go on teaching something so insignificant like English grammar, when something horrible like that happens? I tried to be compassionate, and then moved on to learning English. I figured he was here having class as a distraction and wanted to learn English. So working hard would be our solution.

    December – Culture shock depression/ went postal

    First Christmas in China. All the pretty lights, no religion or meaning to the holiday. Dreadfully homesick. Fought with the post office as they didn’t want to allow me to send a fake calligraphy writing through the mail as they thought it was a Chinese valuable masterpiece. I just stayed persistent and they sent it. Hit the depths of my culture shock depression. Almost burst into tears when I couldn’t call home from my hotel. Eventually, relaxed, opened my eyes and found a Net Bar in Fragrant Hills that I could use to email home.

    Jan & Feb Travelling during Chinese New Year

    Travelling again. Got a month off for the Chinese New year. Visited my aunty down in Bali for 2 weeks. Met up with friends in Thailand for 3 weeks. Much needed holiday.

    March – Johnny skipped class/ No progress/ Might as well travel

    Start studying Chinese in a school. Great progress. Great school.

    Still teaching Johnny, but his schedule was very busy. He studied English with me all day, then went off to work all night. He usually had business meetings over dinner. Often he went out for drinks and karoeke at night. Also missed a lot of classes due to business trips. Then once a month he’d have take a 4 day weekend to study his Executive MBA at a leading Chinese university. So my 5 days of work often was much less, but the pay was the same. His progress also had it’s ups and downs: 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. It was quite frustrating teaching one (busy) student. We flowed and did our best.

    Went on mini holiday to visit the Shaolin temple on one week when Johnny went last minute to Europe or to America.

    AprilMore travel, if you can afford it.

    Work teach and travel again. Planned trip to Yunnan and Sichuan for May holiday. Negotiated with Johnny to have an extra week on in April. Johnny was travelling again, got it. Spent loads of money and time travelling during my first year. All my extra salary, and some of my Canadian savings, went out for travelling.

    MayUnemployed in the Middle Kingdom

    Travel during May holiday with my girlfriend. Johnny’s assistant called to talk about Johnny’s future studies. Our contract was to run until the end of June, but Johnny had a lot of travelling to do in June. He wanted to end the teaching contract early as he was going to be busy the next two months. I decided to go with the flow and agreed (foolishly). Was now unemployed in China. I was moved into another hotel for a month and looked for work.

    Ran into “the Snake” again and he needed someone to teach for him in Qingdao for a summer program. I decided to go with the flow. I knew Qingdao was a beautiful city. Thought it’d be a nice place to work for a month.

    June – A (one) teacher in Qingdao

    Teaching for a month in Qingdao. When “the Snake” mentioned that I’d have to do a demo class with 3 other teachers the month started, I thought this would be the crew I would be teaching with. I was wrong. The other teachers came up only to do the demo class and were returning to a neighbouring city (Yantai) that afternoon. I was to be alone for the first month of operation of this school.

    I was quite upset. Called “the Snake”. We talked about it. He gave me some BS. I had to decide my options: would I stay or would I go? How would I like being the only teacher in a small new school for their first month of operation?

    I stayed and it worked out great. I had freedom. My students were great people. Being the only teacher I was able to bond more with the students and staff. Drank lots of Qingdao beer. Unfortunately, had split shifts (9-11am and 7-9pm) which made it tough to travel and enjoy my time off. Had to be forceful and tell the school that I would NOT stay at the school during my off time, even though they really wanted a foreign face to help sell the program. Had a friend from Canada come and visit. Visited the Qingdao brewery. Great times. But, one day I got food poisoning and thought I was going to die. I survived with a lot of help from the school staff who went with me to the hospital. At the school, I was forceful in what I would do and not do, but I really enjoyed being the only teacher in this school. It worked out well.

    July – Back in Beijing

    Back to Beijing for another one month summer program with “the Snake”. This month was pretty good. I knew what to expect and there were 3 other teachers this time. It was M-F about 4 hours a day of teaching, but lesson prep time was extra. We taught a total of 20 hours teaching per week. This was a heavy teaching work load for China as the Fall program was 16 hours per week. The American teachers who came just for the summer program with the plan to teach and travel around China were a bit disappointed. They didn’t expect to work so hard and I don’t blame them. Also, the location of the school, way out in the East end, didn’t make it any easier.

    The American teachers figured out ways to make it worthwhile. We covered off classes for one another, so they could take long weekend trips. They did a lot of travelling when they could. The seemed to go with the flow and it worked out well for them.

    The hot and sweaty month ended up well. I survived my first year teaching in China. But I was ready to go home to Canada for a rest.

    My first year in China was an unforgettable one. I’m glad that I decided to stay in China and teach instead of getting back on the plane and returning to Canada when I was first stranded at the airport. This year was a crazy one, but I had some truly amazing experiences and met some unbelievable students. In China, things change and they often do it at the last minute. As a Canadian, initially, I wasn’t used to all these last minute changes. Now, it’s no problem. I’ve learned that in China if you go with the flow of things you’ll usually end up in a better place.

    Getting a Work Visa (type Z) to work in China legally

    Matt | Teach English in China,Visas,Working in China | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

    A lot of foreigners who come to China do so without planning it out well. They buy a ticket, jump on a plane, get a 30 day travel visa (type L) and come to China. Once here, they hope to change their visa into a work visa (type Z) and then work by teaching English. In an earlier post, talking about how to find a good teaching job in China, I mentioned that the schools should provide you a proper working visa and they should. Here is some background on the visas. Again, I highly recommend that you do not come over to China unless the school:1) can get you a proper working visa (Z) and 2) will handle all of the paper work in China (you may have to go to the Chinese consulate in your city, but should be reimbursed by the school).

    Types of visas in China

    Type L = tourist visa. One month or two month. If you are travelling to China, this is the one you’ll get.

    Type F = business visa. Can get 6 months or a year. If you use a visa service company, you may change you L visa into an F visa. You have to think about the amount of entries and exits (travelling outside the country) that you’ll want to take.

    Type Z = work visa. One year. This is the best one. You have unlimited entries and exits for this. In order to get it, you need: an invitation letter from the school; have a university degree; a TESOL/CELTA/TEFL certificate (this is needed to get your Foreign Experts book); and be in decent health. When you arrive in China you WILL need to go to the hospital and get a health test.

    In Beijing there is only one hospital, near Andingmen, that deals with foreigners getting their health test. Here you will do some tests blood work HIV test, heart rate, etc. They are pretty good. If you arrive. It does not matter if you get a medical in Canada, you will still need to get one in China. They love their paperwork here, and official medical forms need to be done and written in Chinese. If you go for your medical, arrive early during the week, say 9:30 and you’ll get in and out in less than an hour. You need to fast the night before to do the tests, so they are only open in the mornings.

    Every year, you will need to get a new work visa. If you stay with the same company, they can renew it easily. If you change companies, be careful and try to leave on good status (i.e. give them one month’s notice if you will leave). As the old company has to “release” some forms to your new company, so your new school get apply for a Z visa for you. Otherwise you may need to leave the mainland, go to Hong Kong, with your new company’s forms (letter of invitation, letter of employment, health check form) and get a new Z visa. This will add a lot of hassle and expense to you.

    It can take a few months to get all the paperwork done for the work visa. So if you school is taking a while that might be normal. Imagine the school talking to a 2 or 3 different government bureaus and filling in all this paperwork. Again, get the school to do this. Legitimate schools will do it. Illegal schools will leave you to try and do it.

    When you finally get your work visa, you will receive a visa sticker in your passport that says, type Z visa, and you will also get a Foreign Expert’s Book. Usually, the schools keep that book to make sure you don’t skip out on the school. I’ve never needed the Foreign Expert’s book for anything. Just the work visa (Z) in you passport allows you to unlimited travel in and outside of China and more importantly to work legally in China.

    Here is a link from the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. This is the bureau that will issue some of the documents to the schools. There is some good FAQs and answers you may want to read.

    One comment on visa service companies

    There are lots of visa service companies that can help you get a visa for a price. They can usually get, or change your tourist visa into a business or work visa for a fee (sometimes between 3000 and 7000 RMB). I’m not sure on how legal this is and I’ve heard the government was/is making it a lot more difficult to get a F visa (business) leading up to the Olympics. I recommend first time teachers to China to get their visas through their schools initially and to not use a visa service company at least to start. You will have enough things to think about and prepare for and worrying about the proper documentation for a work visa is a headache you don’t need. Go to a school that will get you a proper visa.

    Again, a legitimate school should do all the administrative work to get you a legal visa in China. If the school will not, be cautious. That may not be a great school. For your first teaching assignment in China, you do not want additional hassles or headaches if you can avoid them. Good luck.

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