The Long March to a China Work Visa

China has recently tightened the rules for China work visa, indeed.

What used to be a little uncomfortable more because it meant dealing with “scary” Chinese bureaucracy (but wasn’t), has become a lengthy and strange process…

If I’ve been absent from this blog for so long, it has mainly been because some work that needs finishing and all the work that went into this visa process caused big headaches.

And they lasted for much longer than anyone thought.

We – the World Chilli Alliance and I – started talking about the possibility of my working for them, to research and write a book about the chilli in China, back around February/March of this year.

The expectation was that I could move to China sometime later in the spring, probably April/May.

Documents for a China Work Visa

First step, get all the necessary documents together.

Or actually, less the necessary documents than the translations and certifications of them. After all, you would have documents like your passport and university degree certificates in your possession.

In total, what was needed was a bit more, though:

  • Passport (and that turned out harder than expected; wait for it)
  • University diplomas
  • Statement of (no) criminal record
  • Health certificate
  • CV
  • Certification of work experience

The last two of those needed translations into Chinese, but just homebrew ones.

Work Experience

The work experience needed to amount to two years, which shouldn’t ordinarily be too much of a problem.

Given all my independent (hardly-)work and irregular employment, it was not the easiest.

No, self-employment doesn’t count for anything. Unless, maybe, if you have a seal for your company and stamp and sign it (not to look like it was done by) yourself, make it sound like a big-enough enterprise.

Yes, signatures and official company seals/stamps were necessary for proving your work experience.

(This two years-requirement has always been there in some way; it has been introduced or at least strengthened to avoid having all those inexperienced fresh university graduates come as foreign teachers.)

Health Certificate

The health certificate – “Foreigner Physical Examination Form,” actually – can be downloaded online, to be filled in by you and your physician, signed and stamped.

It requires a chest X-ray scan and bloodwork… and of course, it would finally prove insufficient for the China work visa for the most stupid of reasons.

Legalizations Galore

What delayed the mere submission of the documents was the requirement that the university diplomas and criminal record are certified. And translated. And that the translations and first certifications are certified again.

Criminal Record

In Austria, that meant that I had to go to a police office at our Department of the Interior with the (statement of my not having a) criminal record.

Mainly because I had been overeager to get everything, I had it produced online – and forgot that it needed a rubber stamp and signature to be okay for China.

Then it took a visit to the small office at the Exterior Ministry (Ministry for Europe, Integration, and Exterior Affairs) which certifies that the previous signature and seal are authentic.

After a trip to the translator to get a Chinese translation, an office at the “Palace of Justice” (part of the Vienna Court system) had to also authenticate the signature and thus valid translation of the translator… which also needed to be certified again by the office at the Exterior Ministry.

University Diplomas

For the university diplomas, it first took an office of the education ministry which certifies that the diplomas are authentic.

Here, I had official translations already from my earlier application/work in China (where nothing but copies of the diplomas + translation were needed).

Now, I needed to finally get the translations permanently attached. I had not wanted that done before, stupidly (it is a requirement, at least by now, certainly for this legalization).

At least I used the same translator again, so he had no issues just getting that done at not too high a price.

And again, these documents also went to the office of the Vienna court that certifies the translator’s certification/signature.

Then on to the Exterior Ministry’s office that certified the signature that certified the translator’s signature and the signatory for the authenticity of the documents.

You think that’s enough?

No, no, as a final step with these documents, I also needed to head to the Chinese consulate, for them to certify the documents and the translations.

This is actually the criminal record certificate’s page of legalizations (for the translation only); the diplomas needed even more space for that…

The Whole Legalization Process for a China Work Visa in Short

So, basically, this would have ordinarily been the process. Things were a little different with me, given what I did and didn’t already have:

  • First authentication of the documents: seal and signature.
    For the criminal record, this would be how you get it if you get it printed out and signed/stamped immediately rather than doing it online.
    For the university diplomas, there is a place that certifies the authenticity.
  • Translation into Chinese.
  • Certification of the previous signatures confirming the authenticity/translations, at state court.
  • Next, the responsible office of the exterior ministry certifies the previous certifications.
  • Finally, certification of authenticity/validity from the Chinese consulate.

In the end, I should still get somewhat tripped up by what it meant that all the documents were needed in the original (and that Austria does not make copies of the university diplomas unless you’ve lost yours).

Getting the Work Visa to Enter China

Digital copies of all these documents went to my contacts / prospective employer in China.

Of course – how could I forget? – we also had my employment contract go back and forth a bit; they needed it to have my signature, had to stamp and sign it themselves.

Everything was finally done around beginning/end of May… or so I thought.

Read That!

What eventually held up the process: The copy/scan of my passport’s personal details page was not clear enough.

The scanning/OCR system of the relevant authorities could not decipher some of the letters.

Our passports have a new covering across that first page that seems designed to prevent forgeries – and that is so strangely reflective and not entirely clear that it is almost impossible to copy/scan/photograph that details page.

Plus, the text they wanted to be readable is just the (German/English) “Given Name,” “Surname” etc. These labels are written in minuscule blue letters; they are hard to read even if you have the actual passport in front of you.

A 10 MB-large macro shot of that page was finally deemed sufficient.

Invitation Letter

So, I received the official invitation letter with which (plus the form to apply for a visa, of course) I could go to the Chinese… uhm, no longer consulate.

Austria has also made the switch to a China Visa Service.

Applications for China visas (all of them, not only China work visa) now need to be made there, after first applying online and getting an appointment for when to hand in the (printed-out) application, relevant documents, and passport.

And they charge their own fee on top of the visa fee.

But no, not so fast!

Originals, Please!

Actually, once I got the all-clear about my documents, I had had to send the originals of all the documents with their translations and certifications to China!

Another 50+ euros right here…

Then, there were some inevitable delays because the person who was handling everything concerning my visa didn’t have the time, and the authorities took a while.

In the end, I received that letter of invitation and was able to apply for the China work visa.

China Work Visa in Hand

As usual, getting the work visa into my passport was the one thing that went without a hitch.

Even without exact dates, an already-booked flight, or anything like that, I received my passport with my work visa, for the date of entry I had suggested on the application (to enter within three months of that date), the week after.

This is a fascinating visa allowing for zero entries – because one needs to enter the country, then apply for a residence permit within 30 days. And that’s really all it does; it hardly qualifies as a visa.

Plans and What Happens

We had had quite some discussions on whether I should get a flight soon after and come, or wait for the not-quite-four weeks it would be until the flight I had already booked, for my wife’s and my summer visit to China.

With the necessity to apply for a residence permit within 30 days, the impossibility to leave the country until that was issued, the delays we had already had, nothing was working anymore.

The original plan had been to come long before the summer.

This should have made me able to come back and accompany my wife on our trip already planned at the beginning of the year (when it still looked like I would just continue working as a teacher in Austria).

That way, I could have visited the first edition of the OutDoor fair in Munich, go to a trail running race in the Alps before the trip to China and another after.

And get to work in China before and after, of course…

I had had enough of the wait and the delays, booked a flight that was somewhat affordable (even if it meant losing the whole ticket cost for the trip planned before, probably), and went out to China.

Finally, in China – and Nothing’s Done Yet

Getting into China was easy enough.

Direct flight to Shenzhen, thanks to Hainan Airlines. Customs was no issue, though I had some things which went from my wife to relatives of hers.

Immigration (passport control) took its sweet time.

Immigration Control

First off, my passport data is not what they expect.

The double name already throws people off a little… and then, following Austrian conventions, it states at least one of my doctorates as part of my last name. (That’s an “at least” because I had to keep them from putting both, in their abbreviated but still long, form right on there).

Now, there are also fingerprints being taken, with a machine that was not so easy to understand.

Everyone who’d waited behind me was at the next, newly opened, counter by the time I got finished.

Flight Troubles

The flight onwards to Chongqing, already much later that day, was promptly canceled because of bad weather. The new flight I was changed to was to leave even later that day.

As one of very few flights that left that night – hey, at least it wasn’t canceled again – it eventually didn’t leave at 10 pm, it left at 3 in the morning.

Finally I was here.

Registration, and … Waiting Time

My residence registration went easily: The company knows someone at the local police station who just got a copy of my passport and got it done.

Now to apply for the residence permit within 30 days? You wish.

Health Certificate

End of the first week, I was told to go see if the local travel health service was okay with my health certificate.

They were not, because it only had a stamp and signature at the end of the document.

You know, where it says “Signature” and all that.

Health Check

No, no, that isn’t valid like that. So many foreigners don’t have that, but you need a stamp and signature also at the section which declares that you don’t have any communicable diseases. Or at every section?

Can you use my X-rays, which I carried with me just for that purpose, at least? No, of course not…

At least they were nice, but I would have been relatively lost without a young Chinese there to get his certificate for studying abroad, who graciously helped me.

The process was not too hard to understand; the form one needs also details all the places to go to, but still:

Blood sample, urine sample, basic lung/thorax check, eyesight…

Funny thing: I’d taken my contact lenses that morning. Tried to tell the doc who checked my sight. Nah, no glasses, I see perfectly. Okay, fine.

Same day, in the afternoon, I could pick up that certificate.

Work Permit

My company-authority contact person did all the rest that needed doing for the work permit. I.e., the card that would state that I am qualified to work in China.

This is the process that results in a person who wants to work in China being qualified as an A candidate, if coming from a Fortune 500 company after an Ivy League graduation, or something like that. Or a B, for pretty much everyone else who isn’t just a C… who would be rejected.

Was there another form to fill in for that? I can’t even remember anymore, but I’m quite sure there was.

That help/contact/organizer of mine had had some time away, it all just took longer anyways, so it just took longer and longer.

Oh, and in the meanwhile, we found out that I couldn’t even open a bank account without the residence permit. Or get the (company) insurance for me.

Residence Permit Application

It took until my wife had arrived in China, in late mid-July, until I could finally apply for my residence permit. (Meaning, the work permit card was done.)

At least, she was nice enough to decide to visit me in Chongqing since I couldn’t come to pick her up in Beijing.

We almost didn’t make it within the 30 days limit… which I had naively assumed meant that I would get the residence permit within that time. Silly me.

At the Application Desk

The application was hair-raising again.

An American at the desk while I was filling in the application forms (another complete statement of one’s life, including  a space of less than one-inch tall for one’s complete resume since high school graduation) was rejected.

Silly him had apparently thought that entering China with a work visa in one’s passport (and still having one’s passport) meant that one could also travel and work in China.


We finally handed in my application, and the policeman promptly had to complain a bit why exactly a foreigner was needed to write a book about chilli in China. Aren’t there enough Chinese who could do that?

The application was accepted though…

Good news, it meant that I could, with the confirmation of the application, travel in China with my wife.

I would still only be able (by now, have been able) to accompany her to Hong Kong after I had the final residence permit – and the pick-up date they gave me for it was only after the flight back from there.

Another three weeks after the application.

In the end, I would have received the residence permit after two weeks, just in time to have re-joined my wife in Shenzhen.

That only worked so “quickly” because a higher-up here asked a friend at the police for that favor. And it was still useless for my wife’s travels; we’d already decided that joining her would have meant expenses we better spared.

Happy End… or Something

Six weeks after my arrival in China, now I’m finally set to open a bank account, get my salary, travel – not to forget, be in the country truly legally for work, and able to leave and re-enter as well.

Or not entirely, because the process of opening a bank account has apparently become complicated, again.

What Is an “Original,” Anyways?

A little part of the story still needs adding:

I had expected to get my documents – you know, those documents which were needed in the original, legalized every-which-way – back some time during this process.

When I asked for them, it turned out that the Chinese understanding of “original” was apparently something along the lines of “notarized copy” rather than “the one unique original.”

My go-between had to work some magic because those documents were supposed to stay with the relevant authorities, not be returned to me.

How I was dreading the thought of being back in Austria, having to get copies of my university diplomas, needing to get a confirmation of their loss so that copies could be produced.

“Reason for loss: Chinese bureaucracy.” Or my dumbness to not know that Austria saying that no copies of these documents would be produced, China asking for originals, was all supposed to mean that I should make copies and get those notarized and certified?

Anyways, I did get those diplomas back. Even with the translations and certifications. Phew!


Quick shout-out nobody is going to see (Congratulations if you read this far; you must be desperate like I was!):

Julie’s post(s) about their experience getting China work visa was helpful for me. At least psychologically; a little bit practically because it made me aware – and accept – that there really were two steps remaining while in China (the work permit card and the residence permit).

How one has to jump through so many hoops to get the China work visa in the passport, only for that to basically mean nothing, I still don’t understand, logically.

Trying to understand bureaucracy logically is never a good approach, though. Austria often does the same; we prove Kafka to have been a documentarion, not a fantasist…


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    I am Trang. I find your post very useful for me as I am also preparing China z visa application from Austria. Thank you so much. I wonder if I can ask you a little question? About the Physical examination, did you simply fill the document by you and your GP? Or did he actually conduct X-ray and ECG and blood test?
    Thank you so much. Best.

    • We did all the tests (for the most part, not specifically for this but as the normal annual checkup). Wasn’t of any use, anyways, but that’s a different story.

      (Remember, doctor’s seals on all sections of the form, at the very least the one about communicable diseases, not only at the end…!

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