How to Get Notarized Documents for Fuzhou, China (Working as an English Teacher)

If you’ve been hired by a company in Fuzhou, China you need to read this article carefully! 

Welcome! You’ve entered the fray just at the time that the requirements for documents became somewhat more stringent. Lucky you.  

Don’t worry, there are several teachers who have been through this process already and we’ve put our heads together to help you out. This guide will:  

  • Help you juggle terminology like “legalization” and “true original”  
  • Prevent you from freaking out when something goes wrong 
  • Provide useful strategies for negotiating with your local authorities in the US  
  • Act as a checklist for what you may need for your visa for China  

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Documentation requirements are completely up to the Chinese government and the local authorities in Fuzhou. Their rules may change at any time, without warning. If you have any questions about this process, please consult your HR contact for more information.  

In addition, your personal circumstances may be different to other US teachers who’ve gone before you. Pay close attention to the rules and adapt as you go.  

Before You Start

Just a tiny bit of preaching. This is a complex process with a lot of stressful and expensive steps. Keep in mind these important points:

  • Nobody is specifically out to get you. Bureaucracy just crushes everyone beneath its wheels.
  • Immigrants are required to do all this (and MORE) to come to the USA for a visa. Keep this in mind when politicians spout bullshit about “open borders” and how “easy” it is to get into another country for work.
  • You need to have extra money set aside. This whole process can cost upwards of $1000, especially when you consider that you will have to go in person to the Embassy or a Consulate when you actually apply for the visa.
  • Use good Bureaucratic ninja skills! I wrote about this here. 

Terms that you need to know  

Notarization: the process of going to a State-appointed person who can place a stamp onto a document for you  

Legalization: the full process for each required document, which includes at least four steps  

  1. Obtain the documents needed  
  1. Have a local notary certify the document is true and original 
  1. Obtain a state-level apostille stamp from the secretary of state from your home state   
  1. Send the documents to the Chinese Consulate with jurisdiction over your hometown  

Apostille: official documentation stamp that is used for international immigration  

Consulate: official document and services center in a country that is subject to the government of the embassy of another country  

Embassy: official center for diplomatic relations and services within another country, which is technically a part of the nation that has jurisdiction over it  

First Steps  

There are several ways to obtain a work permit and residency card for Fuzhou. You will most likely follow one of the following two paths, although your circumstances may change what documents you will need and how to process them.  

Inexperienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • A 120-Hour TEFL at minimum (or the equivalent certificate), preferably from a US-based company for authentication purposes  

Experienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • One or more letters of recommendation from previous employers (THESE DO NOT NEED TO BE LEGALIZED, but you do need to send them to the HR department in Fuzhou to obtain your work permit)  

Obtain these documents, and follow the specific steps below for the background checks.  

State Background Check  

Every state has an equivalent of the FBI that does investigations within the state. You may want to call them before asking for your background check to ensure that they are able to help you with all the following steps. (Please note that some states refer to this as an arrest record, or by other terms).  

Degree Notarization  

I sincerely hope that you went to school in-state. If not, I apologize to inform you that you may have to drive/fly to your university to obtain the necessary signatures in this case.  

TEFL Certificate  

This is why it’s important to obtain your TEFL in your home country. This document will need to be put through the same treatment as the others. If it is from another country, it may be very difficult indeed to get the legalization done.  

The Problem(?)

The local government of Fuzhou is very strict about the requirements for these documents. You must be very careful with the wording of the documents in order to get through and make it to the plane and to your new life in China.  

The government will reject any document that has the wrong wording on it.  

The government will reject your documents if they are not signed for properly.  

You may have to pay up front for multiple rounds of legalization in the case that things go wrong (Companies should compensate you for the cost of the documents).  

They only recently made these changes, and the wording is most likely based on a misunderstanding about how notarization works in the United States. The wording that is required is most likely based on the wording for UK, Canadian, or other English speaking countries’ practices. In these countries, the role of a notary public is much more like a lawyer in the USA. They cannot affix their seal to a document without first authenticating its veracity.  

However, in the US, the notary public CANNOT typically verify that a document is authentic. They simply witness a signature, or administer a legally-binding oath, and then affix their stamp. Typically, US notary public procedures are done on “True Copies” which certify that the original was present and that the notary saw the person who signed it give their oath.  

Unfortunately, this is not adequate for the local government’s requirements. Even if you’ve done a visa for China before, or even a visa for Fuzhou before, the requirements are likely to be different from the previous times.  

In Fuzhou, the documents must have the following wording:  

I have verified that the original document is genuine and I have no reason to doubt that the facts set out therein are true and correct.  

For Fuzhou, the documents MUST NOT have the following wording:  

‘Swearing’ wording can’t appear on the notarization documents  

This is where we get to the possible problem. Your notary public may tell you that they cannot put the correct wording on the documents.

Rejected Examples  

wording1wording2

Approved Examples 

wording3wording4

It may feel like a catch-22, but we’ll get you through it. Follow the steps below for examples of how the wording must be done, and how to finesse your way to success in this epic documentation journey. Let’s start with the criminal record check. 

Criminal History Check (Background Check) Notarization  

You need to obtain a record of your arrests in your state of residence. Please do NOT obtain a national FBI Background Check. If you do, it may be impossible to get the wording required for the notarization. The FBI is notoriously difficult to contact and they are not very flexible about their documentation.  

Here are the steps to obtain a state or local criminal history record:  

  1. Contact the local Bureau of Investigations Identifications Unit. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL background check BEFORE they return it to you.  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from your HR Department.  
  5. Confirm what you must do to obtain the check (fill out application forms, possibly obtain fingerprints from a police station).  
  6. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  7. Wait about one week.  
  8. When your background check arrives, CHECK it very carefully. Scan the document and send it to your HR Department.  

You should be prepared to obtain a new background check and pay once more if your first one does not have the correct wording. In some cases, teachers have been the very first in their home state to request Fuzhou’s required wording.

Be polite, but firm about the wording. Without it, you won’t be able to stay in Fuzhou.  

University Degree Notarization  

  1. Contact Office of the Registrar at your alma mater. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL DEGREE (either on the front or the back).  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement. Some universities may not have processed this type of notarization before. You can mention that the United Arab Emirates and South Korea require this type of notarization for teachers in addition to the local Fuzhou government.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  5. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  6. Most likely, you will have to appear IN PERSON to obtain this notarization.  
  7. Before the notary and registrar official apply their signatures, CHECK the wording one more time against the exact wording sent to you from your company.  
  8. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original degree you need to scan the degree and send the file to your HR representative.  

Keep in mind once more that you may be the very first person in the history of your university to request this form of notarization! Trailblazing is often fun, but can easily get a little bogged down in the weeds. Stay polite, but be firm about the wording.  

TEFL Certificate Notarization 

  1. Contact the TEFL Certificate issuing authority. Calling by phone is best.  
  1. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL CERTIFICATE (either on the front or the back).  
  1. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  1. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  1. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  1. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original TEFL Certificate you need to scan the document and send the file to the HR representative.  

NOTE: Many TEFL Certificate companies are not based in the United States. If you need to go through the legalization process with a TEFL Certificate from a different country, please note that this ENTIRE process must be completed in that nation. This includes the official stamp from the Chinese Embassy/Consulate. This is likely to be very expensive and a real pain in the mass. Talk closely with the HR Representative from your company about this situation.  

Troubleshooting  

It’s possible that a notary public will tell you that this wording is not possible. There are a few things that you can do to try to work around this problem.  

  • Ask if the word “sworn” can simply be omitted. Check with the HR Department first, but in some cases a “signature witnessing” statement may be a workaround.  
    • In this case, the person who made/issued the document signs a statement about its true and genuine nature in front of the notary public, and the notary witnesses that the signature was done by the person who signed the statement on the date they did so.  
    • Make sure that the person whose signature is witnessed does NOT include any “sworn” language! 
  • Ask if the wording could be changed to “I certify that this is the original” on the notary public statement. “I affirm that this is the true original” may also work. Think of synonyms for the word “swear.”  
  • Appear in person at the office whenever possible. Negotiation in person is often more effective than over email or on the phone.  
  • Everyone hates to be “that guy,” but you may have to ask to speak to a manager. Go up the chain of command at your local Bureau of Investigations if necessary.  
  • Contact your local State and Congressional representatives’ offices and ask them for assistance. This may take a long time, but in dire need it might be worth a shot.

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