If there was ever a process that really reminded me of how wonderfully free a life we lived in NZ and Australia, it would be the process(es) you need to go through here in China to get your Residence Permit. Which, I would like to add, we don’t actually have yet. Ha!
So the process begins, in theory, when you first arrive in China. According to official looking websites like http://www.travelchinaguide.com and http://www.cn-visa.com, within 24 hours of landing on Chinese soil, as a foreigner you are required to report to the local police station with the following documents:
- your passport and a photocopy of your passport
- a photocopy of the lease for the apartment you are staying at
- a photocopy of the passport(s) of the person(s) listed on the lease, as well as a photocopy of their ID card (if a local) or Residence Permit (if a foreigner)
It’s a relatively painless process, especially if you take a friend who speaks Chinese like we did! They filled in the Temporary Residence form for us while we waited, and we were away laughing. This part of the process didn’t cost us anything!
Note: if you stay in a hotel when you first arrive in China, they will do this for you. Be sure to ask for the completed Temporary Residence form if you require it to accompany your Residence Permit application.
I have come to China on a student visa and Nick’s family visa is piggybacking on my visa, so I needed to take both mine and Nick’s completed Temporary Residence forms into my University Administrator, Jessica. Jessica then filled out two JW202 forms. One for me and one for the blonde husband of mine. These were stamped forms showing that the information about me being enrolled to study was true and verified, and that the educational institution is real and has the right kind of official stamp! It was so important that we didn’t lose these documents, as they were required documents for our Residence Permits.
Our next stop was the medical place. I have no idea what the official name of this place is. All I know is that we apparently needed a Chinese medical certificate (Certificate of Physical Examination Verification if you please!) for the Residency Permit, and this was the place where everyone gets their Chinese medicals. Dad recommended we get up early to get there first thing and we arrived only half an hour after the centre opened. There were people EVERYWHERE of all nationalities. And queues left right and centre. As we are fast learning is normal for China, there was no guidance or direction as to where to start. We asked about what forms we needed to fill in, and then we played a guessing game to see which queue we needed to be in. We picked the longest queue, and thank goodness we were right, because after over an hour of waiting in that queue, I would have killed someone if we had’ve been wrong and had to start all over again!
For our visit to the medical centre, we needed the following documents:
- our NZ medicals (which cost us an arm and a leg so Nick was well glad that they actually got used for something!)
- our passports
- two passport photo’s. Everything I could find online said one, but they wanted TWO. I was so glad Mum prepared me for this! ALWAYS have spare passport photos handy when doing ANYTHING in China!
- ¥123 per person. Even though the website said ¥20 for verification and ¥380 for physical examination. This is another scenario where you always bring more than you need. And hope you don’t need as much as you thought!
Now I do not think that our medical experience was a typical one. When my parents first arrived in Nanjing in 2012 and went through this process, after the paperwork stage, they went upstairs and proceeded to have a series of medical tests. As Mum so aptly put it, it was a case of match the numbers on the form to the doors. They had blood tests, blood pressure tests, x-rays, weight and height measured, dentist check, ultra sound… They got THE WORKS! And yet we only had to have a blood test. We watched everyone around us doing exactly what Mum and Dad had described to us, only the nurse doing the blood pressure tests told us, “No more. Finished. Go level 1 now.” It was certainly a lot less than we were expecting!
Back down on level 1, they took our forms, ripped off the perforated bottom bit and told us to come back next week to pick up the certificates. Easy peasy!
Now, as foreigners wanting to live in Nanjing, we need to obtain a Foreign Residence Permit in order to legally live in China. This permit is applied for at the Entry-Exit Administration Division, also known amongst foreigners as the visa office. Here is what we needed to apply for this permit:
- our completed Temporary Residence forms from the police station
- our passports
- more passport photos, one each for Nick an I
- the completed JW202 forms that we got from the University Administrator Jessica
- our Chinese Certificate of Physical Examination Verification
- more money. The information I had told me that this stage could cost anywhere between ¥400 to ¥1,000 so I had a purse full of ¥100 notes all ready. Only to arrive and find out they wouldn’t accept cash, only Chinese debit card…
It took us a couple of go’s (not having the right forms, needing our passports to book train tickets, blah blah blah!) and we finally got our applications for our Foreign Residence Permits submitted! It’s more than a wee bit scary not having our passports, while we wait for the permits to be processed. And thats just one of the things we have to learn to live with here in Nanjing, China!
For anyone planning on going through a similar process, here are a few tips that we have put together. Things we wished we knew before we started this process!
- If you can, get to the medical place EARLY. And when I say early, I mean before the doors open. Sitting outside waiting for the doors to open and being one of the first people in sure beats waiting in queues any day! Be smart! Get in first!
- PHOTOCOPY EVERYTHING! Twice! Photocopy your passports. Photocopy every single paper and form you end up with. Scan everything and keep a soft copy of everything on your computer just in case your originals get lost/spilled on/damaged. And when submitting documents, always submit the photocopies first. If they need the originals, they will ask. If they don’t, then you didn’t waste the original on them!
- Take everything! Don’t just take the papers you think you need. Chances are, you will need other papers. So take everything. I carried around the authenticated originals and copies of our marriage certificate and birth certificates. Neither documents were listed anywhere for any of these processes, and yet at the visa office, they asked to see our marriage certificate. I was so glad I had it on us!
- Best tactic when waiting in queues and not being sure which queue is the right one to be waiting in: Divide and conquer! This only works if there is more than one person. Dad came with us to the medical centre. We were all waiting in a different queue for a while, until we figured out which one was the one we wanted to be in. We watched the people at the front to see where they went next. Two pairs of eyes are better than one pair, and three pairs of eyes are awesome!
- Take way more money than you think you will need. Take it in as many forms as you can think of. Take cash, take a foreign credit card and take a local bank card. You never know what you will need and no matter how much you research the costs, the information you find will rarely be correct. Asking someone is great, but policy’s and costs in China change on a daily basis, so what it cost last week or yesterday isn’t necessarily what it will cost today. And I couldn’t find anything that told me what payment method was preferred. For any of the offices! Some places only took cash, while other places, like the visa office, only took local debit card. Information that we only found out when we were standing in front of the person who wanted payment!
It has sure been an experience! And learning all about how local people have to register their residence just like we do. They are actually more restricted than we are in where they can travel, how they can travel and where they can live. Did you know, every time someone moves to a new address in China, they have to register their new address at the local police station?!?! And yet, as Kiwi’s, we can fly across the ditch and live in Australia without having to notify anyone! It still blows my mind how easy we have it back home. These simple freedoms that we take very much for granted mean that we find all of these processes very drawn out and complicated when we come to countries like China! And locals look at me weird when I talk about how complex it is, because they are so used to it they find these processes so normal!
A huge thank you goes out to Mum and Dad for all of their insider knowledge and recommendations, making this process a helluva lot easier than they had it when they first arrived. And to Victoria, Mum’s PA who has been our interpreter extraordinaire!