How to change jobs in China

First of all, a disclaimer that is a long post and may be out of date already (things change quickly), and may also be specific to Shanghai – but I thought it might be useful to document the process of changing jobs in China, and to let you all know what I’ve been dealing with, work-wise.

  • Hand in notice (8th July)

Almost four months into working at EF I’d had enough. It was a terrible place to work, and I was fortunate to be offered an interview at a much better company. I jumped at the chance, they offered me the job and I resigned from EF. Chinese labour law stipulates a one-month notice period, but EF wanted me to work for two months, claiming that they have an agreement with the police here. I have no doubt that this is a lie.

  • Get documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the UK (July/August)

When I applied for my work permit for EF, I needed a police background check and scanned copies of my degrees. The rules have now changed and I needed to get all these documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the country that issued these certificates – which meant applying for a new police background check (they’re only valid for six months) and FedExing all the documents to an agency in Coventry, who could deal with the whole process for a hefty fee. They then said that the Chinese embassy wouldn’t be able to notarise my degrees as they don’t state my middle name – a new rule, another hurdle to jump through. Eventually this got sorted out by a solicitor writing a statement to say that I am me, middle name or no. Finally, the documents were sent back to China, notarised and ready to be used in the application for the new work permit.

  • On final day at your old company, get a release letter (5 September)

One thing to remember is that foreigners can only work in China with a work permit, which is for a specific employer only. Your employer basically owns you.

If you leave a company, they have to cancel your work permit so that your new company can apply for a new work permit for you, armed with an official ‘release letter’ from the old company. What your old company DOESN’T have to do is cancel your residence permit – the page in your passport that allows you to stay in the country – but my previous employer did this. My residence permit was replaced with a 30 day ‘humanitarian stay visa’, which was backdated to a date in August, giving me 14 working days from when I picked it up (oh yeah and I had to pay for this new visa). This was the most stressful thing, and totally unnecessary – your old company doesn’t need to do this! However mine wouldn’t give me the release letter without handing over my passport to get my residence permit cancelled.

  • New company can apply for a new work permit (5 September)

Your new company needs to already be registered on the system to start this process, which apparently takes a week or so, so ought to be done beforehand. The work permit application process takes minimum 15 working days – five for the online check and then ten for an in-person check. Remember how I said I had 14 working days…

Two weeks after applying for the work permit, the HR guy at my new company called me to say the application had been rejected. It was still at the online stage and had taken this long as the whole computer system had crashed. My application was rejected because one of the forms had printed over two pages and they wanted it one page. I was in a hotpot restaurant with a good friend and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The next day, 21 September, we submitted a revised application. My visa was due to expire on 24 September, so I flew to Hong Kong that weekend. It was lovely to be in HK and great to see my uncle, but quite stressful to leave my home and not know if I would be allowed back in the country. I applied for a new visa while in Hong Kong, and picked it up a few days later, flying back to Shanghai later that week, and feeling extremely relieved.

The following week was an 8 day national holiday so nothing could happen with the work permit application – leaving me worried that I’d run out of time on this visa too.

  • Physical health check (18 September)

This is necessary to get a residence permit, and involves going to a health centre out near Shanghai Zoo and doing a whole bunch of checks: height, weight, chest x-ray, ultrasound, ECG, blood tests, blood pressure, eye test. Basically they’re trying to make sure you won’t die while in China and that you don’t have HIV.

My results were sent directly to my new company and HR sent me a message to say they had the certificate. I was intrigued to see what the notes said – I’d passed the test but it said I had a heart abnormality, which freaked me out a little bit (I’m fine! I checked with people who know more about this kind of stuff and it’s okay!).

  • Apply for new residence permit (25 October)

Finally, on 24 October, my work permit was ready. I went to the Entry-Exit Bureau in the depths of Pudong with my HR colleague to apply for the residence permit. This allows you to live in the country, and it takes seven working days to process. I finally got my passport back last week and am so happy to feel settled once again in this crazy old country.

I’ve actually left out a couple of things from this long-winded tale, because they’re specific to my application. Happy to answer any questions about it.


Changing jobs in China is hard. There are a lot of hurdles to jump through. Even though I’m highly skilled and experienced, there’s so much paperwork and confusion, and changing rules and regulations. It had to be done, however, as I couldn’t have stayed at my old job. And now – nearly four months after resigning from my old job – I’m happily working at my new company. Long may it last!


Document notarisation: £500

FedEx documents to the UK for notarisation: 300 RMB (£35)

Humanitarian visa: 160 RMB (£18)

Health check: 461 RMB (plus 15 RMB for posting results) (£54)

Flights to Hong Kong: 1500 RMB (£173)

Visa in Hong Kong: 750 HKD (£73)

(most of these costs I can claim back from my new company, but it’s certainly caused some temporary cashflow issues!)



Adventures at the nuclear facility

My colleague went on holiday for 3 weeks so I was asked to cover his classes. Sure, I said. Then I remembered that one day a week he goes to a town outside Shanghai to teach, setting off from our school just after 7am, but by then it was too late to say no.

On my first week I woke up at 6, showered and dressed and left by 6.30am. Matt had bought me an iced coffee so I grabbed this from the fridge on the way out and took the metro to work.

Outside the school was a grey KIA, and I got in. One of my colleagues was inside and the other turned up a few minutes later. We sat in silence and the driver set off. Both my colleagues were soon asleep but I was full of coffee and rage at driving almost directly past our flat.

An hour and a half later, we arrived in the town of Haiyan. According to the font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, 300,000 people live in Haiyan. That makes it basically a village.

We pulled into a complex and drove to a large, empty building. This is the community centre and is where things like English language lessons, pensions and sterilisations are carried out. 

We had two classrooms on the 2nd floor. The whole place reminded me of the Huntingdon Regional College, where I had music lessons on a Saturday morning as a child. Just like here, classrooms were requisitioned at the weekend for teaching children, pretty child-unfriendly places really. I remember being fascinated by the endless corridors with darkened classrooms housing strange machines. As a child with a vivid but unhappy imagination, I saw death and danger behind every door as I wandered up and down, frequently lost and often in the dark. And now here I was in a bone fide nuclear facility.

Haiyan is (again, thank you Wikipedia) known as “nuclear city” thanks to the nuclear plant. The company knows that it needs to entice people to work out here, miles from Shanghai, so English classes have been arranged for the kids – so they have the same opportunities as the kids in Shanghai – and so here we were.

Except it wasn’t the same as Shanghai. In my classes in Shanghai I use a touchscreen to access all the online resources for my lessons. Here: no internet and no touchscreen. I had a whiteboard! How retro!

That first day I taught three two-hour classes. 5 year olds, 13 year olds and 10 year olds. The kids were nice, not as confident as their Shanghai peers but I had a good time with the teens especially.

At the end of the day we got back in the car and drove for two hours back to Shanghai, the traffic slowing is down a little. We arrived back at my school at 7.30pm, and then it was half an hour to get home.By lunchtime I was hungry, and we got back in the car and drove 200 metres to the nuclear plant’s restaurant. A table of food was laid out for us – Chinese dishes, three veg and three meat, plus soup and tea and rice, of course. The food was actually pretty good but it was totally surreal as I was the only foreigner in the place and we were the only people who didn’t work for the nuclear plant. We ate in silence, if Chinese food can ever be silent (slurp).

The final journey back was the most eventful, clearly the driver was in a rush to get back but we came far too close to many moving and inanimate objects. At one point I messaged Matt and told him how to contact my insurers in case of an accident. Then, because it’s China, I went to sleep.The second and third weeks were similar except I woke up later, didn’t shower and took taxis to school. On the third week some of the youngest students followed me to the bathroom and I heard them shouting in Chinese “the foreign teacher is having a wee!”.

I’m so glad I don’t have to go again.