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Moving to China from the UK

Moving to China from the UK

Are you considering moving to China from the UK? Moving to China is a big step, but our immigration lawyers can support you by offering advice and assistance.

Find out more about what our solicitors can do for you by calling 0333 305 9375.

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Moving to China

China has a large population of British expats, with an estimated 30,000 UK citizens currently living in the country. Although making the move to China can be a culture shock, it is also what draws so many Brits in. The rich culture makes Chinese life exciting and interesting. The country is full of big cities, with major cities like Shanghai and Beijing having a lively expat community. As well as this, China also hosts millions of square miles of stunning landscape.

The complicated Chinese language and cultural differences can cause concern for people thinking about making the move, but immersing yourself in a new culture can be incredibly rewarding. Moving to China as an expat may seem complex, but with the assistance of an immigration lawyer, and reliable emigration advice, the process can be simplified.

So, whether you want to move to embark on a new career in one of the bustling business cities of Beijing or Shanghai, or simply want to enjoy a different way of life, there are immigration options available to you.

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Chinese visas

All UK citizens who plan to go to mainland China will need to apply for a visa to do so. When applying for a Chinese visa, British citizens must go to a visa application centre in either London, Manchester or Edinburgh.

There are many different types of Chinese visas available for British citizens, including visas for studying, working or joining family. Each visa is categorised using different letters and numbers. The visas currently available are as follows:

  • C – Issued to foreign crew members of means of international transportation
  • D – Issued to those who intend to reside in the region permanently.
  • F – Issued to those who intend to go for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities.
  • G – Issued to those who intend to transit through the country.
  • J1 – Issued to resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations whose duration of stay exceeds 180 days.
  • J2 – Issued to foreign journalists who intend to go for short-term news coverage for no more than 180 days.
  • L- Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.
  • M – Issued to those who intend to go for commercial and trade activities.
  • Q1 – Issued to those who are family members of Chinese citizens or foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go for a family reunion
  • Q2 – Issued to those who intend to visit their relatives who are Chinese citizens residing in China or foreigners with permanent residence, intending to stay no more than 180 days.
  • R – Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.
  • S1 – Issued to those who intend to go to visit family members who are foreigners working or studying in China, who’s duration of stay exceeds 180 days.
  • S2 – Issued to those who intend to visit their family members who are foreigners working or studying in China, with a duration of stay of no more than 180 days.
  • X1 – Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period exceeding 180 days.
  • X2 – Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.
  • Z – Issued to those who intend to work in China.

How to apply for a Chinese visa

To apply for any of the Chinese visas you will first need to fill out the application form on the application centre’s website. The application form is the same for all types of visas, you will be asked about your reason for going to China and this will determine the type of visa that you are granted. Once you have filled in the application form you will then need print it out and sign it.

You must then book an appointment to visit your chosen visa application centre, this can also be done on the website. At the appointment you will need to:

  • Show a printout of the appointment information, your application form, passport and other documents.
  • Have your passport scanned and obtain a queue number for submitting your application
  • Submit your application at the counter after your number is called
  • Receive a payment notice
  • Read the statement on the back of the payment notice, sign it and give it back to a staff member, make the payment, and you will receive a pick-up form and a payment credential.

Make sure to keep hold of your pick-up form as you will need to show it when you return to collect your passport.

You may be required to have an interview before obtaining a visa, if this is the case the visa centre will inform you about this and arrange an interview time for you.

The supporting documents required for your visa will vary depending on the reason that you are going to China, you can find out more information about what you will need on the Chinese Embassy website.

Registering your residence

When you move, you must register your temporary residence with the Public Security Bureau (PBA). You need to do this within 24 hours of your arrival in China and it is mandatory for any length of stay, even if you are just visiting as a tourist. If you are staying at a hotel then they may be able to register you. Otherwise, you will need to register at the nearest police station and get a ‘Registration Form of Temporary Residence for Visitors’.

If you will be living in China for longer than 180 days you will need to get a Residence Permit. something you should also note that with a this permit you will need to re-register each time you return to China from a trip abroad.

Working in China

The work life balance in China is very different to the United Kingdom, but the country has one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world. This means that there are many opportunities when it comes to career progression, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. If you would like to work in China, then you will need to apply for the Chinese work visa, also known as the Z Visa.

The Z visa is only valid for an initial duration of 30 days from when you arrive. During this time you and your employer will need to obtain a Temporary Residence Permit that will be valid for the duration of your contract. This can be for a minimum of 90 days and a maximum of 5 years.

Usually the work visa is only for a single entry and the duration of stay is usually 000, this means that the duration won’t be determined until you get your Temporary Residence Permit after entering China.

To be eligible for this visa the applicant must meet the visa requirements which include being between the ages of 18-60 and holding a valid work permit from your company in China. The documents required for this visa include:

  • Your valid passport with at least 6 months validity and one blank page
  • A completed application form
  • A recent passport sized photo
  • Your work permit
  • Supporting documents, this may be necessary in some cases and could include documents such as a medical form or criminal history check

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Teaching in China

For British citizens looking to work in China, teaching is one of the most popular career choices. This is because there are plenty of opportunities for Brits to teach in China, particularly to teach English.

To teach English in China you will need to have a Z Visa, the visa requirements for those who wish to use this visa to teach are as follows:

  • You should be within the age range of 18-60 years old, sometimes other ages can be considered.
  • You will need a valid passport from the UK with at least 6 months validity and a blank page for your visa.
  • You must have filled out and truthfully verified a completed China Work Visa Application Form.
  • You must have a Bachelors Degree or more which is verified by the Chinese Embassy or Consulate.
  • you will need a criminal History Check
  • You must have a 120-hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate.
  • You must be healthy and have recent medical check documentation

If you are TEFL certified or a licensed teacher in the United Kingdom, then you do not need any teaching experience to teach in China, you also don’t need experience if your degree is in education or teaching English. If you do not have either of these things then you will need at least two-years experience related to teaching.

As well as the above requirements, you will need to apply for a residency permit during your first 30 days in China.

The Foreign Teacher Resident Permit is also known as the ‘Green Book’ and is received from the PBA. To be able to get this permit you will need:

  • Your UK passport and Z Visa.
  • An original health certificate/medical certification, this will be handed into the Beijing Exit and Entry Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.
  • Two passport or passport standard photos.
  • A completed application form for a Visa Residence Permit that has the official seal of the employer unit, this is also known as the ‘danwei’

When teaching in China it is recommended that you avoid switching employers, as this is a very complex process.

Studying in China

Over the past few years the Chinese government has been investing a lot in education, hoping to attract more international students. As well as this, they have created ties with universities across the United Kingdom. This means that China is becoming an increasingly popular destination for British students who wish to study abroad.

If you want to become a student in China then you will need to apply for a Chinese student visa, which are one of the X visas. The X1 visa is for long-term study of more than 180 days whilst the X2 visa is for short-term study under 180 days. Both visas are valid for an initial period of 90 days.

After entry, X1 visa holders must apply for a Temporary Residence Permit that can be granted for a period of up to five years. X2 visa holders can also extend their visa up to a period of 180 days if necessary.

To apply for a student visa, you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A completed application form
  • A passport style photo
  • An original copy of an Admission Notice from your Chinese university of school

X1 visa applicants will also need to provide an original copy of an approved Foreign Student Visa Application Form.

Permanent residency

To live in China permanently you will need to obtain a green card, which is a permanent residency permit. Permanent residency is notoriously difficult to obtain, even if you have lived as an expat in China for many years. However, over the past few years the Chinese government has been making it easier. In Feburary 2020 they set out new requirements for permanent residency. Now, British nationals could be eligible for permanent residency if they can meet a requirement from the following list:

  • Have made significant contributions to China’s science and technology, education, health, culture or any other field of importance
  • Live in China and have made contributions to China’s development of public welfare
  • Have outstandingly contributed to promoting cooperation and friendly exchanges with China and foreign countries
  • Have contributed significantly to China’s economic and social development.

You could also be eligible for permanent residency if you are the spouse of a Chinese citizen, or person in China who has already obtained permanent residence and you have been married for at least 5 years as well as having lived in mainland China for at least 5 years in a row. To be eligible for permanent residency my marriage you must also have a stable and secured living status and a place to live.

Permanent residency will allow you to live in China for an unlimited amount of time, but Certificates of Permanent Residence are only valid for 5 or 10 years, so you must renew them if you plan to stay in the country.

How can IAS help?

Here at IAS, our lawyers offer a number of services to assist you with your move to China. They can inform you about everything you need to know before you move.

The Chinese immigration system is known for its excessive bureaucracy and red tape, this means that moving to China can be very complex, so it’s a good idea to seek the help of a professional immigration lawyer to guide you through the process.

Our lawyers can act as your guide and will help you on your journey to living in China. We know that every immigration journey is different, this is why we will tailor our services to suit your specific needs. A few of the ways that they can assist you include, practical application assistance and document checks.

Our lawyers have assisted clients in places all over the world, so no matter where you are they can help. If you required the help of an immigration lawyer, look no further than our team of highly qualified experts. For more information about the process of moving to China, speak to our team today on 0333 305 9375.

Our lawyers can also assist you if you are considering leaving China to live in the UK. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Life in China is very different to here in the United Kingdom, some of the most notable differences include things like:

  • Language – the official Chinese language is Mandarin, which is spoken by about 70% of the population, but some other dialects are also spoken, including Cantonese and Hunanese, all are very complex languages.
  • Social media – social media is very different in China, most western social media sites like Facebook and WhatsApp aren’t available in the country. The most popular way of communicating is with the messaging app WeChat, which has over 1 billion users.
  • The way of life – this is also very different in China, the country has a rich culture that greatly values family and they practice many traditions unheard of in the United Kingdom.
  • Size – China is 39 times bigger than the UK, the massive size of the country means that it differs greatly to the UK. The climate varies across the country, and it has the highest population in the world, which is why there are many large cities.

But although it might be different, there are many benefits to living in China, including the low crime rates, large community of expats and the new experiences and opportunities available to expats. The life of an expat in China can be very exciting, with new places and cities to explore and the chance to experience a new part of the world.

If you are planning to move to China, you will need a Chinese visa. There are many different types of visas available that range from work, to student, to business permits, but the application form is the same. The visa you are granted will depend on your reasons for going to the country.

Once you have your visa you will be able to enter China, but you must apply for temporary residence as soon as you get to the country. If you plan on living in China for more than 180 days, then you will need a permit for residence.

The Chinese immigration system is very complex and can be difficult to navigate. There are many companies who offer tips about how you can move, and even services to apply for your visa for you, but you should be wary about using any company offering this and should make sure you have plenty of information about the company before you go ahead.

Our immigration lawyers can guide you through your move and will make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Part of the appeal of China to expats is the cost of living in the country. However, this does greatly vary depending on where you will live. For example, the cost of living for some expats in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai can be very high. But for an expat in one of the smaller cities, the cost of living can be very low.

Whilst rent prices vary, food prices are generally very low across the whole country as well as public transport prices.

No, Chinese visas are only valid for the mainland.

Hong Kong is now part of the People’s Republic of China but it remains a Special Administrative Region with its own immigration controls. This means that the immigration roles for British citizens are different in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was a British colony up until it’s handover to China in 1997, despite this it is still a popular place for British expats, and is home to many Overseas British Nationals.

You can visit Hong Kong for up to 6 months without a visa. If you plan to work, study or stay for longer than 6 months then you will need to apply for a visa.

Our immigration lawyers can guide you through the application process, get in touch now to find out more.