China Visa Story from L-Z

by Owen Daniel

My First Chinese Visas – L & Z

Arriving in China on a one month tourist (or L) visa, I soon had to jump on a plane and head for Hong Kong to get my Z visa (authorised to work).

I was told before I arrived this was the easiest way to get my Z visa, especially considering the fact I do not have a university degree.  Technically, this is an essential part of securing your Z visa in China but – especially with teaching in the smaller cities – it is possible to find a workaround enabling you to legally work in China without.

For teachers specifically, the law states the applicant should have a degree – and not must have – therefore certain schools with certain government connections can get your application through this loop hole.

After a brief trip to Hong Kong – an incredible city and, for me, one of the highlights Asia has to offer – I managed to get the much sought after golden Z visa.  It all seemed a lot smoother than expected, but the process wasn’t quite completed yet.  Landing back in Shanghai, then on to Changzhou, I learnt I then had to go to apply for a residents’ permit.

Managing to pass the fairly horrendous medical test, I took a trip to the local police station to apply for the resident permit. Luckily the school had a HR officer so she came with me to ‘get everything sorted’. Despite my borderline paranoia about something going horrendously wrong, it seems it all worked out A OK – for now at least.  So then I was the proud owner of my very first Z working visa.

The Extension

Within what seemed like no time at all, my year’s English teaching contract was coming to an end and, I found myself looking to the big cities of Shanghai and Beijing to get a more career-focused role.

Despite having many years of relevant experience in a variety of fields, many employers simply wouldn’t touch me without the degree. They all stipulated getting work in Shanghai or Beijing would be impossible without this – seemingly vital – piece of paper.

I had many interviews and right at the last minute I got an opportunity to work for fledgling start-up company with some ambitious plans and a positive attitude. Logistically neither I nor my new employer knew how the visa thing would work out, but we were both happy to give it our best.

To give my school ample notice before I left, I had to extend my visa to give me the breathing space I needed to get up to Beijing and get things prepared for the new company.  In Changzhou at the local police station I again submitted my passport (for one week!) in order to secure the month’s extension – granted for humanitarian reasons (i.e. I couldn’t book flights in time and needed more time to leave the country safely).

Changing Visa from Z to M (the plan)

I was advised in Changzhou to head to Beijing ASAP to apply for the new visa as it was important it didn’t expire.  When I arrived, we confirmed – for reasons way beyond my control or understanding – it would indeed (allegedly) be impossible for me to get a Z (working) visa in Beijing without a piece of paper from a university with a subject and name written on it.

Next stop would be back to Hong Kong for a new visa. Feeling rather nervous about the whole thing, I decided to take everything I owned in case they refused to let me back into China.

I applied for a business (M) visa, which I understood would allow you to stay in China for 90 days maximum as either a consultant or trainer as long as you are not ‘earning/receiving’ salary from a Chinese company – I think.  So the master plan was I’d do a spot of consulting for a foreign company but base myself in Beijing. Ideal, hell no. Practical, I was hoping so.

Changing Visa from Z to M (logistics)

Flying from Beijing to Shenzen before crossing to Hong Kong by coach seemed to be a cheaper option, so I opted for that. I left Beijing around 4.30 am to catch a ridiculously early flight.

As soon as I landed and grabbed my bags, there was barely enough time to grab a coffee before our coach was departing.  After a 30-40 minute drive, we arrived at the border crossing. Getting a ticket and sticker for the coach, everyone must get their bags off the coach and walk them through to two sets of check points.

First you leave the Chinese side, where they check your passport and stamps etc – then there’s a short walk before entering Hong Kong’s territory. After this it’s time to find the coach, or another coach run by the same company, to continue your journey to the heart of Hong Kong.

Arriving around 2 pm, I dumped my bags in the hostel and headed straight for the visa office.  After submitting my application with around 15 pages of supporting documents it was almost 4 pm and I’d been on the move constantly for 12 straight hours, the last ten of those without any food.  Note to self, bring sandwiches if you’re following this route.

When I went back the following working day to collect the passport, I was pleased that I had been granted an M visa – however, it stipulated I must leave the country every 30 days and not the 90 days I had anticipated. It would also only be valid for two entries (one of which I would use in the coming few days). I was told that this was the only visa I could apply for because of either my extension (on humanitarian reasons) or because I was changing from Z to M. Any other visa I would have to apply from the UK to secure it.


My Forced Monthly Vacation

The cheapest way to leave the country from Beijing is to take a trip to Mongolia.  Not usually a place at the top of people’s lists of must-visit countries, but then - these were not usual circumstances. I flew up to the Inner Mongolian border-town of Erlian, where I had a hotel room booked, and as soon as I landed I made a dash for the border by ex-issue soviet jeep.

As I was leaving China’s Inner Mongolia the only blank page I had left in my passport got stamped and thus my visa saga continues. Regardless I plodded on driving for five minutes to reach the Mongolian customs stop, getting their stamp walking out of the building through one door – then turning around and walking back into the building by another door to head back to China.  I was physically in Mongolia for around 10-15 minutes maximum. 

My next stop now on the never-ending journey of Chinese visa madness will be a return trip to the UK to collect a new passport and hopefully qualify for a much better visa. They sure don’t make it easy but it’s certainly worth all the effort.


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