Archive for visas

more visa changes

3 days ago I saw this article on Shanghaiist about expected changes to work permits for foreigners. City Weekend posted a similar article the next day, and Guide in China posted their version of the news yesterday.

You can read the articles linked above for details but in general there’s a plan to change the current system for work permits to have “grades” or “classes” or foreigners depending on a number of possible factors such as length of time in China, ability to speak Chinese, where one lives/works, the prestige of the industry/entity one works for, and others. The program will be tried in a few places first then implemented elsewhere.

As you may have guessed, Inner Mongolia isn’t one of the trial locations.

After you’ve read the articles, leave us a comment about your guesses as to what your “grade” will be. 🙂

document authentication

This post is written to help any US citizen navigate the process of getting documents authenticated if that need arises. I’m sure the process is similar for other countries, I just have no personal first hand experience with other countries.

When does one need documents authenticated?

When you apply for a S1 visa for your spouse or children, when you register a business, and, as with everything else in this country…whenever they say 🙂

What is document authentication, anyway?

This is a process by which China can certify that the document is legitimate, and legitimately yours.

Here’s a picture of what the offices here need to see:


a document authenticated at the Chinese Embassy will have this stamped on it


What is the process for getting a document authenticated?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just getting this stamp. First, you have to go to the issuing authority of the document. For a marriage license or birth certificate in the US, that would be the state. You need to get the document notarized or get an apostille (different states have different names for this process). Basically, the state will certify that the document is true. In the state of Oklahoma, it looks like the photo below, where they attach another full piece of paper to the document itself. I’m sure every state is different.


Once you have this step done, you can send that document to the Chinese Embassy to get their stamp. You bring that document with you to China to present at the employment bureau, gong an ju, or whichever office it is that needs it.


Reading the above, you may think this process is easy. And it can be. It you are still in America and all your documents were issued by the same state. It gets more complicated when you are dealing with multiple states. (or multiple countries, or countries at war with no process to validate anything).

It gets even more complicated if the document you have to authenticate is your passport. This is a federally issued document so instead of going to the state, you have to get it notarized by the US Secretary of State. (that’s right, a copy of our passport is signed by John Kerry).

It’s even more complicated if you are in China when you need any of these documents authenticated. It means first, you’ll be emptying your pockets for lots of postage and without your documents for the better part of a month. I think most states allow someone else to notarize it for you, but you should confirm.

If it’s your passport you need authenticated (this is rare), it requires an additional step whether here or in your home country. Because they can’t affix something to your passport or stamp random things in it, you first need a certified copy of your passport. If you’re in China, this means a trip to the US Embassy or Consulate for get an official copy made and notarized that it really belongs to you. If you’re in the US you still have to get a certified copy made and have it notarized as a true copy.

Then you send that document to the Secretary of State, then that document to the Chinese Embassy, then present the final stamped document to the office here. (Let’s say this another way: instead of just accepting my passport which already has multiple visas and other trackable date, the gong shang ju and shang wu ju both preferred us to mail a copy of our passport around the world and then accept that copy instead of just using the actual document itself).

Using an agency or service company

Yes. They can generally get it done more quickly and efficiently than you. Normally the same companies that help get Chinese visas can do authentications as well.


Here’s the link to the information about the process from the Chinese Embassy website. You’ll notice that they no longer accept mail-in applications with means unless you plan on hand delivering it yourself, you have to use a service company.


Have you had to go through this process before? Was it smooth or a headache? What tips do you have for someone else doing it?

Health Screening

If you’re a foreigner here with a residence card as a student or employee, you’ve been to the ONE location in Hohhot where you have to get your annual health screening in order to renew your permit.
I had to go today and quite a bit was different than before. I got there just before 8:30 (opening time) and the front gate is still closed and the front entrance looks like this:

There guard motions me to a small door to the right. There’s  a sign on the door that said to go to Room 401. It’s just a few minutes before 8:30 and there are exactly 0 employees in the building. 4 of us are waiting outside the room but no staff or doctors or anyone was there. And then at 8:30 or a few minutes after, they showed up.

And sure enough, they are giving physicals, they just don’t show up to work one minute before start time.
And, the check in window area is boarded up, so you check in at room 401.





passport information for US passport holders

Hey Americans, if your passport is getting full of China visas and entry/exit stamps and you need new pages added, I recommend doing it soon!

There’s an announcement from a visa service in the US below, but no new pages will be added beginning in 2016, you’ll just have to renew your passport.

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false information

It’s happened to us all, right? You ask where the office to do X is, someone gives you directions, you get there, and the office isn’t for doing X at all. They tell you where to go. You get there and it’s not right either. Or, someone at some window gives you completely false information about some step (or all the steps) to complete whatever process it is you want to do.

There are many variations of this story, but the commonality is being given misinformation, even by people who should know, and it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of life as a foreigner in Hohhot. (Or am I the only one?)

Today’s post is dedicated to the craziest things (WRONG, FALSE) we’ve heard from people who should know.

  1.  There’s a US Consulate in Hohhot.

    When my husband was studying at Nei Da, we had to submit all kinds of documents for our family to be dependents on his visa. Some such documents were authenticated copies of our marriage license and our children’s birth certificates. We didn’t have our documents authenticated when we arrived and it was a hassle to do from China (it’s not as difficult from your country of residence). Anyway, in the course of asking about the process he told us we could just stop in and ask at the consulate. As we talked further, we realized that he thought there was a US Consulate in Hohhot. The guy whose job it is to process student visas for foreign students on a daily basis thought there was a US Consulate in Hohhot. My best guess is that his office deals so much with Mongolian students, and there is a Mongolian Consulate here, that they just forget that no other country has a consular presence here.

  2. Getting your passport authenticated is easy and free.We are in the final steps of our WOFE registration. At two of the steps, the offices required our passports to be authenticated. It was a crazy request anyway, but what was even more crazy was that the boss of the bureau told my husband, “I don’t know why you’re complaining about having to do it. It’s an easy process and free.” It’s neither. It requires going in person the Embassy in Beijing, sending documents to a processing service in the States who then take them to the US Department of State to be signed by the Secretary of State, then taken to the Chinese Consulate/Embassy in the US for authentication. Each step has a fee, plus shipping and the agency fee. Altogether it took a few weeks and about 3000 RMB each time.
  3. Your kids don’t have to exit/enter.We recently got (what we thought) was our newest daughter’s visa. Turns out, it was not actually a visa, just a document that allowed her to stay until the time of our next exit/entry requirement. In the process of asking all the questions about how to get her an actual visa, the worker at the counter who processes visas daily told us our kids don’t need to exit/re-enter, just the adults do. I suppose this could technically be true since we’ve never actually tried not bringing them when we cross an international border, but since they each have a passport and a visa that says they have to exit every 120 days, I’m guessing they do actually need to. Also, since we have to provide copies of our entry/exit stamps all the time, I’m guessing that someone is actually checking to make sure they do exit/re-enter.
  4. You can’t buy train tickets here.There’s a small window to buy train tickets near the gate of Gong Da. It’s near our house so we’ve bought our tickets there before. The last time we went the same worker who had helped my husband before told him he couldn’t buy them there with a passport. (instead of Chinese ID card). He asked her, “Didn’t I just buy the here recently? Weren’t you the one who helped me?” Just a little pushing and she agreed to help us, and we did indeed get our tickets….at the very window she said we couldn’t. I don’t advocate being polite, but sometimes a “no” here isn’t a “no” and in this case the worker probably just initially didn’t want to go to the hassle of entering foreign names into the computer. However, our desire to not be hassled into going to the train station and waiting in a long line won. (this time).
  5. You can’t be here.This wasn’t a false request, it was true, but it’s still crazy. As I said, we are in the final stages of our business registration. This week we’ve been busy preparing the 200 or so pages of documents to change our visas to be employment visas issued by our company. These documents have to be submitted to the employment bureau. But here’s the crazy thing…..the guy at the counter refused to speak to my husband, asked him to leave, and required someone else submit the documents on our behalf. It’s a good thing we’ve hired our first employees, otherwise we’d have to trouble a friend to do it. It just seems weird to me that it’s our business which has been properly registered, and they are our documents which we have painstakingly prepared and we (foreigners) can’t go into the office that processes our visa to present them ourselves???


How about you? What’s the craziest bit of misinformation you’ve ever been given?

Hohhot’s Gong An Ju

We have a new daughter, which is a joy…getting all her documents (passports, foreign birth abroad, visa, etc) is not exactly a joy.
But, when we had to go to the PSB this week to apply for her visa, I realized I hadn’t posted the information about Hohhot’s Gong An Ju. Here it is.

The Gong An Ju or PSB is where all foreigners have to go to apply for visas or residence permits.

It’s located on the corner of Chi Le Chuan Da Jie and Tong Fei Lu. Here’s a map:
gong an ju

Here are three phone numbers you can try to ask questions related to your visa. Out attempts to get answers to questions usually result in an answer of “I don’t know” but we were at least able to call ahead and ask if our daughter’s visa was ready to be picked up.


A few random thoughts from our experiences there:
This time our paperwork was almost rejected because we used a ball point pen. We’ve actually had to re-do paperwork at the bank for the same reason so we should have known, but just a heads up that they prefer gel pens or other non-ball point types. Also, always use black ink.

You can’t bring your own photo, you have to get one taken there.

For the photos, you have to pay cash. For the visa or residence card fee, only a card is allowed: no cash.

And there’s this situation that cracks me up:
IMG_20150917_102119This photo is terrible, but this is the street in front of the station. It has about six lanes, but 3 of them, plus the bike lane and the sidewalk were being used as parking. The station itself has a giant parking lot, but the gate is closed and their are some serious guards whose job it is not to let cars in. So, three lanes of traffic become the parking lot. I’m not sure what you do if you’re the car in the middle. Oh, Hohhot traffic!