Frequently Asked Questions
I’m worried about getting scammed as a foreigner. How can I protect myself in China?
Scams are just a part of life. There are a few opportunist people in life that are willing to pilfer money off of others. While you might brush up against these individuals, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself, especially in a law-abiding country like China.
The first step to avoiding scams is simply your bearing. Scam artists prefer people who look confused or uncertain. Walking with purpose, staying aware of your surrounds and not loitering in an area with a selfie-stick waving above your head will go a long way in making yourself appear too competent to be an easy scam target. Don’t flaunt your wealth when you go out, taking measures to appear classy but not audacious.
While not a scam, pickpocketing does unfortunately occur in China and other countries. You can avoid pickpockets by keeping valuables in inner pockets on your person, or placing your phone and wallet in your front pockets, which are slightly better for your special awareness. Beyond this, a person should also stay in well-lit areas. I personally carry a fake wallet filled with expired library cards and a few dollar bills to throw to muggers if the occasion arises while traveling. Never carry all of your money in one place if you are moving around with a large amount of cash and keep your phone password or fingerprint protected.
Scams, however, are another matter. Scams specifically revolve around tricking a person during an interaction to separate them from resources.
The most common scam in China is known as the “Tea Scam.” This scam involves a cute or handsome local approaching a foreigner and, after striking up a conversation, inviting them for a quick tea, coffee or KTV visit. Once at the location, the person will order off an unseen menu, and when the bill arrives, it is generally a staggering sum. Once the victim has paid and departed, the money is usually split between the con artist and the venue.
The easiest way to avoid this involves insisting that you select the place to try out or ordering only for yourself. People in China are generally quite friendly, so a lot of these offers are genuine. Just be sure to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t accept offers to “hang out” if you’re specifically in a tourist saturated area.
The other big scam found around the world is rooted in taxi services. Especially around airports, drivers will offer rides that are at gouging prices. There are many techniques taxi scammers may use.
Feather-wheel: The taxi driver has a button on the back of the wheel that jacks up the meter every time it’s pressed, rising prices for unsuspecting foreigners while keeping it steady for locals.
Trunk-locking: This essentially means someone puts their luggage in the trunk of a vehicle and the driver peels away before a person can retrieve their goods.
Extortion: This is more like mugging than anything. The driver locks the vehicle and demands money for a person to be released.
Wide-Loop: The most common taxi con, and not really a con at all, this involves a driver taking an enormous detour to rise the price of the ride.
All of these scams can be avoided by using the ride-sharing app in China called “Didi.” It’s a lot like Uber and Lyft, and company oversight prevents scams and provides a fixed price when getting into the vehicle. Public transportation, such as busses and trains are also trustworthy and standardized. If you absolutely must take a taxi, keep your luggage with you, agree on a price prior to getting into the vehicle (or at least ask for a ballpark estimate) and keep a set number of bills in your wallet while keeping the majority of your cash hidden elsewhere on your person.
Another scam occurs strictly among teaching professionals visiting Asia. This scam involves inviting a person over to work on a tourist visa. This is extremely illegal in China, and the person, if caught by the Public Safety Bureau (PSB) will be deported immediately and put on a black list preventing re-entry.
If a person is working in China without a visa, this puts them in an uncomfortable position. They will be unable to make many demands if their job is treating them unfairly, and they are vulnerable to the whims of the hiring company. A few companies don’t care if a foreigner remains with them very long. The idea is to just have an English-native speaker present in a company to provide legitimacy, photo opportunities and a boost in advertising. If a person is deported after a few months, some companies don’t truly mind.
Be sure to always arrive in China with a valid work visa and spend some effort looking over your contract carefully. If you’re not fluent in Chinese, demand an English copy and use a translation-scanning app to make sure the gist of the two contracts is the same.
The only other scam that occurs in China comes in the form of a price-jack. This means if a local person buys something, it may cost x amount, while a foreigner buying it must pay double or triple the value.
The method for avoiding this is easy: Learn the Chinese number system as it’s very intuitive and easy to understand. You can hear what other people in line are paying for goods or keep a list of the prices of things you buy in price-tag stores, such as supermarkets.
None of this should really worry you. I’ve never been scammed during three years in China. Your bearing, confidence and ability to keep yourself in a good context and situation will take you further than anything else. The scams listed above are not meant to scare others away, but to keep people on their toes regarding the rare unsavory individuals across the world.
I’m getting my work visa to China. What paperwork do I need?
Getting your paperwork in order to get situated in a new country is a pain and a slow process. In China, this is doubly true, as the government is very careful about authenticating documents.
Generally, when getting a work visa (or Z visa) in China, you’ll need the following documents initially.
- A passport with at least twelve months of validity remaining and two blank pages.
- (If you have a valid Chinese visa in a different passport, you must submit that as well)
- A photocopy of your passport’s name page
- A bachelor degree or higher from an accredited institution.
- A non-criminal background check.
- Credential documents pertinent to your job (For example, in ESL you need a CELTA, TEFL or TESOL)
- Notification of Work Permit (This should be supplied by your company). This is also sometimes called a letter of invitation.
- A Visa application form which should include a passport photo (33mm width by 48mm tall). The form itself should be a hard copy, printed and signed, all typed and no handwritten forms. Put N/A if there is something on the form you don’t need. Don’t leave it blank. The form should be single sided and held together with paperclips. Don’t use a staple.
- Payment for processing and shipping
- Other documents your company may require (such as a medical background check).
These documents are just general. Other documents will need to be supplied depending on your reason for moving to China, the type of visa you’re applying for and a person’s country of residency.
Once you have all of your documents, you’ll need to receive a letter of invitation from your Chinese company. This will allow you access into the country and help you validate your application process.
The most expensive part about getting a Chinese visa is the authentication process. China does not assume you have valid documents at face value. To enter the country, one must send the documents listed above (non-criminal background check, credential document and degree) to be authenticated by the Chinese consulate.
Once the documents are returned, you’ll need to either personally go to or hire someone to go to the Chinese Consulate or Embassy in person to complete the process. This will cost a lump sum of money, potentially more if the place you’re ordering a rush job.
However, when this is complete, you’re good to go.
Overall, the process can take one or two months, depending on how fast documents are authenticated or verified.
Please make sure to keep receipts of all transactions and bring them to China with you. Many Chinese companies will pay for your flight over along with the costs of getting your visa, provided you have proof of cost and spending.
Work closely with the company that hired you, as most Chinese companies work hard to ensure their employees arrive with minimal hassle. Keep in mind, the Visa you receive to head to China is not your final Visa. You’ll need to go to other locations to verify your address and permanence in China before you’re completely set.
I know it’s a hassle, but good luck.
Why should I choose to live in China, rather than a different country?
China is a compelling target for living abroad. Aside from having one of the most pertinent and varied ancient and modern cultures in the world, China has done wonders economically in the last three decades. As a result, many foreigners moving to China make a solid living which allows for a very comfortable lifestyle for many.
The standard of living has skyrocketed, especially in urban areas and the wealth that China generates makes it the second most economically vital country in the world. Mandarin, China’s official language, is rapidly making its way across Asia as a trade language and Chinese culture has seen more popularity than ever before. Being immersed in the Chinese language to obtain fluency allows for a person to speak to nearly 15 percent of the entire world.
Aside from unique opportunities for foreigners, China also offers one of the world’s largest biodiversity settings and extremely diverse environments. Mountains, deserts, marshes, plains, tundra, forests, canyons, cave systems, sub-tropics and varying beaches exist within the country’s expansive boarders. Once in China, many sights and experiences can be found here that don’t exist anywhere else.
Jiuzhaigou offers crystal blue waters built into miles of waterfalls from calcium carbonate deposits in the mountains. The harsh, rugged dunes of China’s Gobi territory sing when sands rub across one another. Panjin Shi boasts acres of vividly red Martian grass. Mega cities, such as Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing exist in completely different climates with various cultural subtleties and numerous opportunities.
Additionally, traditional Chinese food is one of the most prominent culinary pillars in the world. With the world becoming more globalized and China receiving more influences from the west alongside their rising middle-class, the food available in China is more varied, interesting and delicious than ever before.
China is a splendid option to see the world, due to its sheer size, diversity and prominence on the world stage. When considering what countries interest you the most, be sure to look at all the features that make China worth visiting.
Can foreigners drive scooters and cars legally?
Yes, a foreigner can drive both scooters and cars in China. However, there are some important distinctions to consider.
Firstly, a driving license from another country does not transfer to China. You’ll need to undergo the tests and earn your license to be qualified to drive any roads in China. This is true for both cars and motorcycles.
However, scooters, especially those at 250 cc and below, are perfectly available. A foreigner can purchase one and use it around a city with no trouble at all. You’ll still have to obey Chinese traffic laws and, since Chinese cars often swerve or veer, scooter riders should be cautious.
Keep in mind, some cities have stricter riding and driving laws than others. For example, in Beijing, free scooter riding is not readily available. However, in smaller areas such as Hohhot or Chengdu, a foreigner will likely have more luck.
Be sure to research your city before purchasing a scooter or car. Remember, if you can’t drive, China has a very well-developed infrastructure for public transportation or ride-sharing applications.
Can I have multiple jobs in China?
Officially, no. Chinese contracts often include clauses that prevent a person for working for another company. Particularly if that secondary job works in the same field as companies will be upset that you’re aiding a competitor. Chinese culture generally frowns on a person taking on additional responsibility outside of their regular job. Most Chinese people are accustomed to being able rely on their staff to complete all tasks within the realm of their role, without complaint and regardless of the time. Role-fulfillment is an important aspect of Chinese culture.
Unofficially, absolutely. The vast majority of foreign ESL teachers in China work several jobs, from web design, to private teaching lessons to translation to modeling. However, wise foreigners never let the other job know about the other.
If you’re not making enough money or you have online work that you prefer to focus on, feel free to peruse that. But take care not to flaunt it.
I just got hired and my company wants me to start working on a tourist visa. Can I work on a tourist visa?
Yes, you can work in China on a tourist visa but you absolutely shouldn’t.
China takes their visa and labor laws extremely seriously and if the PSB finds out about a person working without a proper visa, they’ll be deported and placed on a no-reentry blacklist for several years.
China is desperate for foreigners, especially in the ESL market. New laws has made the visa process much slower and more problematic, incentivizing many agencies to bring in ESL teachers on a tourist visa.
Sometimes these offers are legitimate and a teacher can work for a period of time with no issues while the company does their best to upgrade a tourist visa to a work visa.
But other times, this is a long-con. Having a foreigner, even briefly, can legitimize a business practice. Getting the foreigner deported afterwards might not be in the businesses best interests, but it’s not a huge issue either.
Additionally, working on a tourist visa puts the employee in a disadvantaged negotiating position. If payments arrive late, or hours are increased or working conditions are unsavory, an employee doesn’t have a lot of options. They can’t switch jobs too easily and leaving the company may result in retaliation in the form of contacting the PSB.
Also keep in mind that working on a tourist visa requires you to exit and re-enter the country multiple times in order for the visa to stay valid. This is usually every thirty to ninety days, depending on your country of residency and your visa. While this might sound like a mini-vacation, Chinese companies usually don’t pay for the flight in and out and you’ll likely be deducted salary for not working the days that you’re gone.
You will hear horror stories and success stories about working in China on a tourist visa, with opposite sides of the spectrum citing personal experience and scoffing at the other. But the argument should tell you, clearly, that working on a tourist visa is an unnecessary gamble.
In short, yes, you can come in and work on a tourist visa. But, even though it’s a long process, please come over on a legitimate work or business visa instead.