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Living and Working in China

Here is a brief introduction to what you can expect if you are going to work in China.

The Chinese have a strong sense of belonging to a long and often intense history. Relationships of all kinds take time to develop. Families are close knit and relationships between and within families and institutions go back for generations. Nevertheless, the Chinese have learned through their long history that some flexibility is required to survive.

Through the many dynastic and political upheavals in Chinese society, the tenets of Confucianism have provided a constant underlying value system. Although some aspects of its influence on people’s behaviour have at times been forcibly suppressed, most recently under the oppressive dictates of Chairman Mao, today it appears that Confucian values are paramount. These include the importance of education, family loyalty, morality, group harmony, respect for elders, and trusting relationships among people. Of utmost importance to them is filial piety – meaning respect for one’s elders and for their wisdom. Hospitality, which includes offering food, is also a very important value.

Another important element of Confucianism is the ethic of proper social behaviour and relationships. The main concern is with ‘saving face’; people strive to avoid embarrassment and shame and to allow others to avoid embarrassing situations and to recover from them with their dignity intact.

The spirits of the dead are a force to be reckoned with as well as taken care of, and the feng shui man must not be ignored. Feng shui – literally ‘wind, water’ – is a powerful force based on a belief that the combined forces of heaven and earth – including the yin and yang – have an influence on everything. Feng shui masters are consulted on matters ranging from how to arrange your furniture to what to name a new baby. Failure to do so would bring bad luck.

China is the world’s most populous country. With over half of its population under age 25, there is a huge burden on its housing, education, and labour sectors. Since the late 1970s, the government has used coercion, economic penalties, and incentives to limit families to one child.

With some segments of society enjoying improved economic circumstances, a social phenomenon known as the ‘little emperor’ has emerged. This is the doted-on only son of usually middle class families. The child is protected and provided for in ways that to western eyes may exceed rationality.

The Chinese can seem excessively polite and reserved, and relationships will take some time to build. At one time, it was impossible to develop a friendship with a Chinese person. Rules have been relaxed, and relationships are no longer forbidden between foreigners and Chinese nationals – even romantic relationships are now tolerated. However, there is a law against any romantic liaison between unmarried persons regardless of nationality. If an unmarried couple is found sharing a room, a jail sentence could be imposed; usually however, a fine is assessed.

Residential compound gates are still routinely guarded, but more for security purposes. Continue to be circumspect in social relations, not only for your own safety, but also for that of your Chinese acquaintance.

There are many newly ‘opened’ cities which until recently seldom if ever saw a non-Chinese face. If you or your family members happen to be blond and blue-eyed, you may be subjected to much staring and pointing when visiting these areas. The very audacious may even try to touch you or your children. While your more sophisticated Chinese colleagues may be embarrassed on your behalf, this behaviour should not be taken personally. If you find it too intrusive, firmly but smilingly indicate that you do not wish to be touched.


Passports and Visas

Passport and visa requirements are subject to change. Use the following information only as general guidelines. The embassy or consulate of your destination country is the best source for current, detailed requirements.

Allow plenty of lead time to obtain detailed information and prepare the requisite credentials. Passport and visa applications must be accompanied by documents – such as passport-size photos, birth certificates, and fees – which vary by country.


Entering China

All foreign nationals require a valid passport and visa for entry. Depending on the status of your arrival (single entry or multiple entry), your passport must be valid for different lengths of time. For a single-entry, the passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry.

Exit visas are issued automatically with entry visas, and both visas are valid only for the stated gateways. If you are holding your return or onward travel tickets, be sure to reconfirm your reservation to ensure that your departure date coincides with the date on your exit visa.


Travel to Hong Kong

Travellers accustomed to arranging their China visas through agencies in Hong Kong should be reminded that Hong Kong is now officially part of China. The old arrangements for obtaining China visas through Hong Kong no longer apply. Hong Kong’s visa requirements differ from those for mainland China.


Travel restrictions

Travellers from certain countries are not permitted entry; consult the nearest Chinese Consulate or Embassy for a complete list.

Although many more towns, especially near China’s borders, have been opened to foreign travellers over the past few years, travel is still prohibited or restricted in and to certain other areas of China. Contact your country’s embassy in China for information on areas to which foreigners are prohibited from travelling.


Dual nationality

China does not recognise dual nationality. Dual nationals may be subject to Chinese laws that impose special obligations. Some individuals with dual nationality travelling into China on a foreign passport have reported difficulty in entering and departing.

Consult a Chinese Embassy or Consulate for details on requirements for children born in China. Entry or exit restrictions may apply if one parent is a PRC national.



Three types of visas are most often required of expatriates entering China. These are the visitor’s – or business – visa, the tourist visa, and the work visa. Citizens of Brunei, Japan and Singapore do not require visas if they are staying for 15 days or less.


Visitors/business F visa

This visa is used for short-term business visits. Business travel in China is largely by invitation and sponsorship.

An official invitation from related Chinese government departments – or companies or organizations authorized by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue visas – is required. Based on the official invitation with a company letter from your company, you can apply for a single, a double entry, or a multiple-entry visa.

Once official permission has been granted and an invitation has been issued, the PRC host organisation will notify you and supply all instructions.


Tourist visa

Tourist visas (type L) are issued by the PRC Embassy and consulates. They are normally arranged by a sponsoring organisation, such as the China International Travel Service (CITS), or your company’s preferred travel service. Although processing time normally runs one to seven days, allow about one month before the departure date.

Requirements generally include a passport, passport photo, application fee, proof of sufficient funds to sustain your stay in China, and future (return) travel information.

Check with the embassy or consulate for current requirements. They will include the date of departure from your home country, the date of arrival in China, and the places you plan to visit in China.

It has become easier to travel to China on business using a tourist visa. Tourists have been able to get appointments with Chinese Foreign Trade Corporations, FTC, and with other commercial organisations. Appointments are, however, difficult to arrange, and usually are only an opportunity to make an introductory call on Chinese officials.


Work visa

Foreign nationals entering China for an extended work period require a work visa (type Z). The work visa – or employment visa, as it may be called – is typically valid for one year, and allows the foreigner to apply for residency. The work visa can be renewed.

Applicants for a work visa are required to produce an employment permit issued by China’s Ministry of Labour, or by the State Bureau of Foreign Experts. Contact the embassy or consulate for a complete list of requirements.

Work visa applicants need to go to a Health Quarantine Station to get health certificates in order to apply for the Z visa (working visa). Getting the certificate requires a physical examination for all applicants over 16 years of age before the certificate can be issued.

Applicants should not eat breakfast or lunch before the examination, and should bring their passports and one passport photo. The health certificate is valid for six months from the date of issue.

The station’s address in Beijing is:

The Beijing Health Quarantine Station No. 2, Hepinglie Beijie Chaoyang District, Beijing 100013 Tel: 010 6427 4240.


Other visas

Visas are also required for students and travellers in transit. Separate permission is also needed if you intend to travel to Tibet; application for advance approval must be made to the Tourist Bureau of Tibet.


Renewing your visa

If you need to renew your visa, be sure to do so at the local police station or Public Security Bureau (PSB) before the expiration date; expect fines and complications if your visa expires before you have renewed it. Chinese authorities have requested the departure of certain individuals whom they claimed exceeded the terms of their visitors’ visas.

For important, detailed information on entry requirements in China, the appropriate embassies, consulates, and online visa information databases are essential resources.


Top Nine Tips For Expats In China

  1. China is growing in popularity as an expat destination, despite fears over air pollution over 38,000 British expats and at least 70,000 Americans.
  2. As the world’s third largest country, China has a varied climate; however the whole country is fairly temperate. Temperatures drop in the north during winter and strong monsoon rains hit the south throughout the rainy season.
  3. Many of China’s larger cities have activity parks and zoos, which the Chinese love to visit on the weekends. They are not as popular with expatriates used to a more sophisticated entertainment in the West. The Chinese are also enthusiastic fans of soccer, ping pong, gymnastics, and basketball.
  4. Mandarin is the official spoken language of China, however there are over 50 regional dialects and languages that are often completely unintelligible from one to the next. There is also a wide range of immigrant languages representing the wide range of immigrants and expats that live in China.
  5. China has experience a property boom over the past decade, this is now slowing considerably as China starts to experience much more normal levels of economic growth and housing stock begins to outstretch demand.
  6. China’s 1.3 billion population makes up one-fifth of the world population.
  7. China’s currency is the Yuan Renminbi.
  8. Even though China is such a large country geographically, covering several time zones, all of China operates on a single Standard Time (GMT+8) all year round.
  9. As the world’s most populous country China has become a dominant economic force in recent years, second only to the USA in terms of GDP, many economists predict that China will be the largest economy by 2018.


This article is an extract from a much more detailed guide to Living and Working in China. You can access the full guide in the Destinations section of www.worldofexpats.com.