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First of all, a disclaimer that is a long post and may be out of date already (things change quickly), and may also be specific to Shanghai – but I thought it might be useful to document the process of changing jobs in China, and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.

Conclusion

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!

Costs

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!)

 

 

Slugs and snails and puppydogs’ tails

Little boys are horrible. Six year olds, specifically. Snot, fighting and being awful to each other.

Little Raphael is a case in point. When he’s not paying attention, or when he’s paying too much attention, he blows spit bubbles. It’s my least favourite thing of anything my students do, which is impressive as they’re often quite repulsive. Every time he does it I tell him to stop and tell him I won’t give him a sticker at the end of class. Sometimes this goes in and sometimes he just stares at me, spit bubbles ballooning out of his chubby face. Then I say “goodbye sticker!” and out of his unfortunately slightly gormless face comes a confused and slightly wronged face – what did i do? He reminds me of a small drunk, a miniature McNulty, barrelling about agape at the injustice in the world.

Raphael would love, more than anything, to be one of the cool kids in class. He tries so hard to be part of their gang but never quite manages it. Recently we were discussing dinosaurs and we all agreed that dinosaurs are very cool.

“When I grow up I want to be a scientist!” announced Raphael, proudly. “I want to discover things about dinosaurs!”

One of his classmates started laughing. “As if you could ever be a scientist!”

And all the other boys laughed.

This class are off to primary school this week. Chinese children start school at 6 years old and are often extraordinarily ill-equipped for it. A nation of only children brought up by their grandparents, these children are fitted on from a young age. The parents work and the grandparents (sometimes 4 to 1 child) give their little precious everything they never had. I see children being fed like birds, opening their mouths and waiting for grandma to stuff more food in. I see grandfathers trailing their grandchild, praising every tiny thing. “You’re the best! You’re number one! You’re better than all the other children!” (about being number one… I’ve had fights break out in my classroom over it, and every child I’ve taught would rather rush their work and finish first than do it all correctly). I very frequently see 4 or 5 year olds being carried like babies. 

Chinese children spend six years being told how amazing and special they are, allowed to rule the roost (bar the occasional violent beating), running around causing havoc in restaurants almost as bad as in middle class parts of London, unable to feed or dress themselves. And then… primary school.

40 or 50 students per class, intense competition and years of rote learning lie ahead.

Raphael, of course, doesn’t know quite what his future holds. He’s always seemed slightly carefree, either impervious or (more likely) oblivious, confident that he is NUMBER ONE despite any evidence to back this up. He looked puzzled when my Teaching Assistant stopped the other boys laughing at him by saying that everyone is allowed to have a dream, like he’d suggested he wanted to grow up to be a panda instead of the number one scientist…

At the end of class I gave all the students lollipops and wished them well at primary school. They rampaged about one final time while I led them out of class to find their parents. All the children scampered off until I was left with just Raphael. His grandma hurried forward and checked he wasn’t cold (grandparents fight an endless battle against their grandchildren being cold, even in the Shanghai summer) and asked him how class was. He showed her the lollipop, clasped in his sweaty little hand. 

Then the smile fell from his face. He stood completely still. Grandma asked him what was wrong. He appeared to get smaller by the second, then turned to me, his face hardened by resolve and sadness. “I’m not allowed sweets anymore,” he told me. “Mum says I’m fat.” He handed back the lollipop and, downcast, walked off, ignoring Grandma’s pleas that he was just perfect.

Welcome to the end of your childhood, Raphael.

Weekday weekends

I work in a school, but not a regular school – a school for after school. My students go to their regular schools Monday to Friday, 7am until 4pm, and when they’re done there (though not done with the mountains of homework, of course) they have additional classes. Not just in English, but in maths, music, anything, everything. China is an extremely populous country (stating the obvious, much?) and getting an edge, any edge, in the extremely competitive world that is Chinese childhood and teenage years is important. 

It’s incredibly stressful for the students. Ask a group of 10 year olds what they did at the weekend and they’ll say “study”. Maybe they’ll a have violin lesson in the mix too. But it’s a tough life for these kids. I’ve (anecdotally) heard of parents beating their child for reading a book that isn’t a school book. The pressure to do well in the Gaokao, the end of high school exam, is enormous (and you’ll do better in the Gaokao if you go to a good high school, which means you’d better do well in your middle school exam, which means you need to go to a good primary school exam, which means going to a good kindergarten… it basically starts at birth). I’ve not seen any reports about student suicide (this is China, after all…) but across the way in Hong Kong there’s a fairly well documented  student suicide epidemic – so I’d say the chances of it not happening here are slim…

Of course, I also teach children who are too young to attend normal school but are not too young to start learning English. These children can be as young as 3 and although it seems super young (and some of them really do look like little dolls!), their capacity for learning is immense and as long as it’s kept fun, I think it’s a good thing to nourish a love for learning at an early age.

This all means that my busy times are when the kids are not at their normal school. I teach classes from around 16.30 on weekdays and all day on weekends. Some of the students want to learn English (this tends to be the younger ones), some of them like chatting in English and don’t care if they make mistakes. Some students are there before they go to extra maths, extra Chinese, extra science lessons. Some are there because it’s daycare, the parents are busy and can’t spend any time with their child.

At parent’s evening, parents tell us teachers things like “you should be more strict”, “I don’t mind if you hit my child, I can write you a letter saying so” and “my child needs to study harder”. But you also get parents who tell us that they help their child study for an hour every day, they are so committed to their child’s education (and guess what: you can spot these kids easily in the classroom!). You get grandparents who don’t speak any English but who bring their grandchild to class twice a week, sitting outside the class with snacks and drinks.

I’m immensely sympathetic towards my poor overworked students, but am also aware that they’re not angels. A lot of them lack basic social skills (snatching, hitting, baring their teeth) along with the disgusting things that kids everywhere excel at (snotty faces, hands down pants, etc). Some of them are just too young, physically and mentally, to be at school. The youngest ones cry for their parents or cry because their bags are too heavy or just because.

Sometimes I look around at my students and I feel like I’m looking directly the future. These children will be the leaders of the future, possibly world leaders (these are the children of the elite, after all). They’re overflowing with potential and I want to do the best I can for them. 

But am I part of a problem? Will a generation of Chinese children end up scarred because of the incredible pressure they’ve been under, the extra classes they’ve been sent to, the weight of expectation from everyone around them. 

Time will tell.