It’s annoying, crazy and truly astonishing how high the level of bureaucracy is in China. It took us weeks and weeks to get things sorted here – and we’re still not done!
Luckily our employer helps us with most things and sends a Chinese speaker to go with us to the authorities. Before we even set foot in Asia, we had to apply for visas for which various documents were required (employment certificates, proof of residency in the UK etc.) and we were lucky to have a Chinese Visa Application Center close by, as we had to go there not only to apply, but also to collect the visa a week later. The whole process of our employer applying for our work visas beforehand in China took so long, that first we had to wait for weeks to hear back if our work visas will actually be issued by the Chinese government, then it took another week or two until they have issued an introduction letter for our employer to send us to the visa center and then we had to wait for these documents to arrive in the post. Needless to say, we just about collected our visas a couple of days prior to our flight!
And then, having arrived in China the hassle continued – getting a sim card (passport required), getting a bank account (passport and various employment and residency documents required) and getting the residence visa (an application process and passport and another trip to the immigration office required). For this whole process, you need really good timing as you need your passport for everything, so you can’t hand in your passport to the immigration office before you have dealt with all the other things but at the same time you need to get your residence visa within 30 days.
For our sim cards we decided to go with China Mobile, which was a big mistake, because unless you have a Chinese mobile phone, you will not get anything stronger than an E internet connection if you’re on the go. We will probably change to China Unicom soon, as they seem to work well on foreign phones – it will just be yet another hassle to then having to change our mobile numbers everywhere we registered an account (bank, Alipay, Taobao, work,…). Speaking of Internet connection – I’ve never had such a slow and unreliable Internet connection before. Don’t even try streaming anything on the weekend.
The bank was chosen by our employer, as they have a commercial contract with the Standard Chartered Bank of China. I was impressed at how professional the staff seemed as some of them spoke fluent English, we got an introduction presentation before we opened our bank accounts and the facilities looked very modern. They also give us the possibility to open up foreign currency accounts to transfer our money into different currencies easily and send it home if necessary.
As I love technology and all its new trends, the first thing I did after having opened that bank account, was to download Alipay and connect it to my bank account. (Note for all who are still looking to set up an account on Alipay: setting the name is tricky – it worked for me when I entered my name without a space between the first and last name.) Now I always use it to pay with a QR code in the supermarket and restaurants and to buy things on Taobao. Setting up an account on Taobao was much more hassle than setting up an account on Alipay, as everything is only in Chinese and my Chinese colleagues needed to help me with all the translations and it took quite a long time until I had finally set up an account and succeeded with my first order. But now it’s all set and I have to stop myself from daily purchases at Taobao, where you can buy cheap stuff and almost everything. (They say it’s the Chinese eBay, but for me it’s like the Chinese Amazon, because all the stuff you can buy there is brand new, just from different sellers.) I can’t use the Taobao app though, as it’s only in Chinese and on my web browser I can at least translate every page with the automatic Google Translate function. Unfortunately, we can’t use our bank account to set up a WeChat Pay account, which would have come in handy to easily send money to friends if you go for a meal together, for example, but oh well! Can’t have everything.