It didn’t seem real. The brand-new Chinese green card, embossed with my name and photo, felt more like a figment of my imagination. I had dreamed of getting a card for years, and now was holding one in my hands.
Why do foreigners like me long for a Chinese green card (also known as the Chinese Foreign Permanent Residence ID card)? It replaces your visa and lasts for 10 years, liberating you from the annual bureaucratic hassle of visa renewals. It grants you the right to live and work freely in China, without depending on an employer for a visa and residence permit. You can enjoy the same rights as Chinese citizens in housing, education, investment and many more areas. And it clears the way for easier international travel, including when you enter and exit China.
If you’re married to a Chinese citizen, like me, you’re eligible to apply through the “Family” route, if you’ve been married and residing in China for at least five years (not leaving China more than 90 days per year during that period).
More and more WWAMs have joined the “green card club,” including Sara Jaaksola, who blogged about her experience. Want to apply? Here are some things you should know first:
#1: You must apply in your spouse’s hukou city — and every location is different
The saying “location is everything” doesn’t just apply to real estate. You must submit your application in the city attached to your spouse’s hukou, and your experience will vary, depending on where you go.
Take, for example, the amount of money you must deposit and freeze in the bank. Guangzhou requires at least 100,000 RMB. In Beijing, it jumps to 150,000 RMB, in Shanghai to 200,000 RMB, and in Hangzhou to 300,000 RMB.
Some require appointments, while others don’t. Some insist on specific wording in documents, while others don’t mind. Some demand notarized documentation for a Chinese name, while others let you write down whatever name you want on the application.
Before you dive into preparation, get familiar with the local requirements by contacting your local entry-exit bureau or visiting them in person.
#2: Beware of the six-month validity period for many application documents
I’ve read stories online of people who spent months and considerable money putting together all the documentation. But upon application, they get turned away — just because one document was more than six months old.
The six-month validity requirement applies to many documents — including criminal record checks, the health check, and bank certificates.
Don’t be like that person above. Find out how long it might take to get every document done, and use that to guide your priorities. And that reminds me…
#3: Do your overseas non-criminal record certification first
Two to three months of your preparation time can get tangled up in getting your overseas non-criminal record certification.
Every application requires one from your home country (and generally any other overseas country you’ve resided in for two or more years). The procedures differ from country to country, and if your country wants you to apply in person, you may need the help of a trusted agent.
In other words, it’s complicated and time-consuming. Get started on this ASAP.
#4: Choose your bank carefully before freezing your funds
Many months after submitting my application, I got a surprise call requesting additional documentation for the frozen deposit in the bank, all because the certificate didn’t include the specific characters for frozen (冻结).
We rectified the issue, after many phone calls to search for a friendly and flexible branch to help.
Save yourself this trouble by choosing a bank that issues certificates with the characters “冻结” — such as China Merchants Bank.
#5: Prepare every passport you’ve ever used in China
Early into my application, the officer called to ask for the very first passport I had ever used in China. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it and feared it was lost. The officer encouraged us to look and, in the event we couldn’t find it, make a notarized declaration that it was missing.
Fortunately, it turned up after a brief search.
Avoid this stress (and potential delay) by having every passport you’ve ever used in China in your possession before applying.
#6: Confirm paperwork prior to submission
Every person is unique, and so is the paperwork they need to apply for a green card. For example, Sara Jaaksola used a rural family home owned by her in-laws as her permanent domicile, and submitted a special set of documents.
To know if your unique solution (and related paperwork) fits requirements, check with your local bureau — and sometimes, check again.
We called, and later visited in person two times prior to submitting our application. Sara reported that she went to her local bureau “multiple times” ahead of submission. That way, you can ensure that you’ll make one — and only one — trip to turn in your application.
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