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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in China

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

The number of overseas people living in China long-term is increasing. Most expats find that, though it has its difficulties, living in China long-term is a rewarding experience. In the current author’s experience, China gives you a new perspective on life, and makes you see things differently.

Regulations for settling in China are quite strict. If you are planning on staying in China for more than 180 days, you will need to apply for a residence permit at your local police station. You have 15 days to apply for the permit; it typically lasts for a year before it needs to be renewed. If you leave China, you may need to re-register at the same police station every time you return.

Furthermore, you will also be required to have your health checked every year. The health check comprises a full medical, including tests for AIDS, hepatitis B and syphilis. It is possible that you may need the health check to be carried out in your country as a condition of obtaining a long-term visa. You can check with your local Chinese embassy or consulate to determine this. Assuming you pass the health check, the hospital will issue you with a health permit.

Business in China is often conducted in English, especially in foreign-run businesses. There are also plenty of signs and notices with (rather iffy) English translations too. Nevertheless, few of the locals speak English or any other foreign language very well. Hence, learning a Chinese language is a good idea if you are serious on living in China long-term. Mandarin is preferable in most areas as it is used as a lingua franca throughout the PRC. Having some grasp of Mandarin is also likely to help your job prospects, and locals usually react more warmly to you if you attempt to speak their language. They sometimes laugh at you if you get it wrong, but don’t let that put you off!

It is important to note that, each time you withdraw money from a cashpoint from a bank based in your country, you will incur a heavy charge. Hence you should open an account with a Chinese bank as soon as is convenient. To do this, it is best to take your passport, residence permit and visa to the bank’s information desk. The assistant there should open your account without any delay.

Gaining permanent residence in China is becoming easier. Though the Government has only made 5,000 overseas people permanent residents since 2004, the number of ‘green cards’ it issues is rising. This is because the PRC has recognised that it needs to encourage foreign talent to stay in order to sustain its economic growth.

Living in China for a few years, settling in and assimilating to the culture to some degree is an enriching experience. On the other hand, if your aim is to be accepted as one of the locals, you may be out of luck. Xenophobia, historically quite mild, has unfortunately intensified due to the overt nationalism of the People’s Republic. Treatment as ‘other’ is the case for all non-Chinese, but if you are black, you may have an especially hard time. For example, during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, police ordered the local bar staff not to serve black people. Nevertheless, such attitudes may soften as higher numbers of expats from diverse backgrounds stay in China long-term.

If you do not have at least one parent from one of the 55 recognised Chinese nationalities, the chances of gaining Chinese citizenship are negligible. Naturalisation of non-ethnic Chinese exists as a theoretical possibility in law, but almost never happens in practice. Only those who have “made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social development or meet other permanent residence conditions in China” (Article 47, Exit-Entry Administration Law) have a chance of being naturalised. The going rate for an outstanding contribution is not specified.

 

 

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