How to Apply for a Chinese Work Visa (Z Visa, 2018)

PLEASE NOTE: If you are working in Fuzhou, you need to follow the instructions for the notarization process very carefully. I wrote a guide that you can use here. 

Apostille  

Phew! You made it. Now on to the third step.  

You need to contact an agency that can help you with the further steps in this process. An option for those in the Colorado area is the Teaching Nomads group, who are excellent for legalization services.  

Quiz time! What’s an apostille?  

That’s right, it’s like a mega-notarization stamp! An apostille is a diplomatic stamp that is used to show authenticity for documents required for immigration (It’s used for international adoptions, marriage visas, and other forms of immigration).  

Let’s go over the steps to obtain one:  

  1. Contact your HR Representative and confirm once more that all your notarizations are correct.  
  2. When you have approval, contact the agency of your choice and explain the situation. You will be applying for a Z Visa (work visa) and need to obtain the work permit.  
  3. They will guide you through the next steps. Follow their instructions exactly.  
  4. You will COURIER (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) your documents to their office.  
    1. NEVER, EVER, EVER USE THE US POST OFFICE TO SEND OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS UNLESS YOU REALLY LOVE CHASING DOWN POSTMEN AND HANGING OUT IN POST OFFICES FOR DAYS ON END. (Seriously. Five days is the current record for lost documents, and only five heart attacks for the teacher involved!)  
  5. They will take them to the state’s  Secretary of State for the application of the seal.  

After this, the agent should take the documents to the Chinese Embassy, or the Chinese Consulate with jurisdiction over your home state.  

 

PLEASE NOTE: If you went to university in a different state, or in a different country…this step MUST be done in that place and not in your home state. Apostilles can, by international law, ONLY be applied to documents over which the Secretary of State has jurisdiction.  

 

Example of Apostille  

 

 

 

Step #4 – Legalization By Chinese Officials  

Once your documents have the apostille affixed to them, the agency (or a new one that handles this part of the transaction) will take the documents to the Chinese Embassy or the Consulate.. There, the officials will apply a special legalization unique to the Chinese visa process.  

You need to make sure to send the documents to an agent, or go in person, to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over your state of residence. 

You should contact the Embassy or Consulate. All list an email on their websites, which is the best way to contact the officials.  

Generally, they do not take phone calls about visas and documents. Officials will most likely respond within 24 hours unless there is a US or Chinese national holiday. 

The legalization process is the fourth step, and the last one before you actually apply for the Work Permit and Z Visa. Here are the steps.  

  1. The agency takes the documents with full notarization and apostille to the Chinese officials at the Embassy or Consulate.  
  2. The officials place a stamp on the papers.  
  3. The agency COURIERS (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) the documents to you.  
  4. You scan and email the documents to Fuzhou.
  5. You COURIER (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) the documents to your company in Fuzhou. Confirm the address with your HR representative before sending.  

 

Work Permit  

At this point, the documents will be taken by an admin at your company to the local government in Fuzhou and you will be underway for the work permit. If all the previous steps were followed, you should receive the work permit via email within 10-14 days (unless there is a major Chinese or US holiday in between). Keep in close contact with the HR representative and make sure that you get back to them quickly with any questions you may have.  

At this point, it is not uncommon to have your documents’ wording rejected. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a matter of redoing the notarization process several times to get the wording correct. Stay calm. You’ll get through this.  

Work Permit Examples  

When your work permit arrives, you can fly/drive/walk to the Embassy or Consulate and apply for your visa in person. This is required by Chinese law, and you cannot have an agent do the application for you.  

To apply at the Consulate or Embassy: 

  1. Print both work permit letters.  
  2. Fill out the Visa Application form given to you by the HR representative. Follow the instructions EXACTLY. Use capital letters and black pen.  
  3. Get visa photos taken, using the EXACT specifications given to you by the HR representative. You may also be able to do this inside the Embassy/Consulate.  
  4. Bring  
    1. your passport 
    2. checkbook or checks from your bank 
    3. the documents 
    4. a black or dark coloured shirt 
    5. a lot of patience 
    6. any additional documents that are required for your visa application.  
  5. On the day you apply, arrive VERY EARLY. You will need to take a number and wait in line.  

When called forward, remain calm no matter what. I saw people freak out and swear at the officials in Chicago. This is unlikely to make them want to help you. 

Hand over your documents and passport. Take the fingerprints required.  KEEP YOUR RECEIPT FROM THE CHINESE OFFICIAL.

In 2-3 days, your passport will be ready to return to you with a Z visa inside. This is your ticket to China! 

In the case that you cannot wait around for three days in the city that you applied in, make arrangements with a local agent to do a passport pickup for you. They will retrieve the passport for a fee, and courier it back to you. This costs $15-$60. You will need to give them your receipt from the consulate/embassy.  

What’s Next?  

When you’ve jumped through all these hoops, you can come through the border into China. Bring extra copies of everything that you submitted to the Embassy/Consulate and emails from your employer confirming that you will be working for them, just in case.  

After arrival, you’ll need to complete a few further steps to obtain residency to legally remain in China. These steps may include:  

  • A full medical check with bloodwork and chest X-ray  
  • Registration at your local government office for your apartment  
  • Go to the Public Service Bureau and hand over your passport once more for the official work visa and permit to remain

If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to contact me using the contact form!

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.

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Immigration

Hey readers, this article got picked up by Economy, a website devoted to demystifying economics and making it personal. Check out the version that got published here. 

Being married doesn’t always help you to live in the same country

I’m from the States. My husband is English. This is a problem, in spite of the ‘special relationship’ between our countries, we are not allowed to live in either country at this time. We can visit under visa wavier programmes, but we cannot work in the same place without residency. We therefore choose to live in 3rd countries, where we are both subject to the same visa process.

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Sign here, dear…

I do not get tax breaks associated with marriage due to my husband’s non-citizen status. Both our immigration records include notes that we should be asked more questions at the border due to being married to a citizen. We are separated temporarily right now, me in the US and him in the UK. We chose to spend three weeks in Vietnam in part because we knew we could be together as spouses.

Money matters much more than it should

Did you know that one can purchase a passport in some countries? Yes, if you happen to have $3,000,000 lying about you can buy the right to vote in elections and pass freely through borders. Recently my own government (er, excuse me, the Kushner firm that happens to be tied directly to President Trump) was accused of selling access to the US Green Card programme for just $500,000 in China. 

The thing is, this is an official programme called the EB-5 visa.

The Kushners did not invent it. Those who apply need not worry like the plebs about a criminal history or health problems. Who knows how many Green Cards are being bought already?

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 20.16.02

Those who dare to fall in love with a foreigner face serious financial difficulties in the US and the UK. In the UK, one has to have £18,600 to bring a a spouse over. That might not sound like much, but according to some estimates it is more than 41% of the population could come up with, more than what 55% of women could. Every child that is part of the family ‘costs’ an extra £2,400 per year.

If you are disabled, unemployed, or even a war veteran you cannot use your public funds to prove you have enough money for the right to family life. Money matters, not family bonds.

Immigration can make you sick

Photo on 08-04-2015 at 12.45

Shingles. April 2015. I got so stressed out by the Chinese Visa process that the Varicella virus dormant in my spinal cord since preschool burst forth on my forehead, scorching scars and leaving a trail of nerve damage in its wake. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call shingles ‘hellfire’ in many Scandanavian languages.

Immigrants suffer under the stress, and own health is commonly affected. Anxiety and depression are more common among immigrants than the general population, and not being covered by healthcare available to local citizens can take a toll. Many suffer insomnia around their applications, too.

Health exams are still common (and invasive)

When I taught my students in China about Ellis Island, they were universally horrified that a health exam was required to enter the USA at the time. I sputtered. The next day I brought part of my immigration records for China, which was the clean result of my own health exam.

At Ellis Island, you had about six seconds to prove you were healthy and fit for work. In the suburbs of Shanghai, we spent two hours undergoing a full physical, an exhaustive questionnaire about mental and physical health, a blood workup, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound. Both health exams are awful, and most people who’ve never applied to work abroad don’t realise this remains a requirement.

It’s the same for each work permit I’ve obtained. The health exam cannot be skipped for many other visa categories, either. If I do decide to apply to live in England, I would have to do the same.

It’s not as simple as ‘Filing the Paperwork’

Paperwork should be straightforward. Immigration paperwork requires a lawyer. Or at least lawyer’s eyes. A single stray mark or the wrong coloured pen and your application could be rejected. I dream stress dreams about not checking a single box correctly in an application form and spending weeks or months separated from my husband.

On the upside, I am more organised than I have ever been in my life these days as a result of immigration. Some files that couples create for their spousal visas are more than 1000 pages long, with love letters (on paper, Facebook doesn’t count!), photographs, tax documents, and interview transcripts. It’s a huge undertaking, and is less like applying for a new Driver’s License and more like jumping into unknown, freezing waters.

jumping

Catch-22s pervade everything

‘So what’s your husband’s Social Security Number?’

‘He can’t have one yet, since he’s not a resident.’

‘Well, I can’t add him to the bank account without one.’

‘Ummm, but we can’t apply for residency until we have a shared bank account.’

‘Ummmmmmmmmmm.’

DCIM100MEDIA

You must have a job to work, but to get a job you must already be in country for the interview. You must have enough money to live in London, but you must not work more than 20 hours per week. You will be trained for a degree by a top university in country, but are required to leave before your graduation ceremony.

Elections have a direct effect, almost always

Trump. Brexit.

Enough said.

It takes years to immigrate

A fellow nomadic travel blogger, Runaway Juno, just received her immigrant visa to the USA recently. She posted herself happily with the page-sized sticker in her Korean Passport, the relief after 14 months of application and processing to join her spouse flowing out of the portrait itself. Once she passes her final border interview and moves to the US, she still has to fulfill many other requiresments before she can be secure in her status.

In many countries, one cannot even apply for residency until having lived there for 5-10 years.

We spoke to a lawyer in Boulder after we got engaged, and she said that although we could apply from outside the US it would take about 18 months on average to receive the Green Card. It is unpredictable and fluid, the length of time for a visa. A lot of hurry up and wait. Sometimes, a scramble for the right documents when the email comes down demanding them right fucking then or the whole thing is off. In the UK, the Home Office makes a call when one applies for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ about whether they require five years or ten of residency.

Months. Years.

Permanent Residency is not the same as citizenship and isn’t always permanent

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In both the UK and the USA this year, several groups of ‘permanent’ residents were told that they could not re-enter or leave the country, or that they should make plans to leave. Some, such as EU spouses who’ve lived in the UK for 20+ years, have no other place to go back to. A few such examples:

Even if one follows all the rules, permanent residents do not enjoy voting rights in most districts. They cannot leave the country of their residency for periods longer than six months or less. They are required to check in with immigration officials and any minor infractions may result in issues. They still have to go through separate immigration lines in many airports, away from family.

Immigrants also look like me

zhujiajiao 039

I tell my family who lean right to imagine my face, to pull it up before their eyes in the ballot box. I tell them to picture me every time someone uses the word ‘immigrant’ in a political rally. I do this because of the sneaking suspicion that they don’t know any immigrants, or that they don’t realise that my family (their family) is directly impacted by their choices in elections. Or that they think immigrants are some Other who looks nothing like them.

Yes, immigrants look like people from every place on Earth, and there are more than 300 million of us. That’s more than at any other time in human history.

To put that into nationalistic terms, we are almost as large as the whole United States’ population, scattered as we are around the world.

Humans are by nature adventurers. We left our species’ origins and spread around the globe long before immigration papers and passports had ever even been close to being imagined. There is evidence to suggest that we share a common vision of what a beautiful nature landscape looks like, and many of the descriptions put together by social scientists include a path arching off into the distance.

Immigrants have always been the ones to take that path.

This nation of immigrants is not going anywhere (strictly metaphorically speaking), and we will continue to grow. Talk to us. Seek us out. Connect with us. If necessary, defend us. You never know when you may have to join us. Don’t worry. There is a lot of space. Welcome, friends.

This is a nightmare

I have had this nightmare many times.

I get to immigration, and they tell me I am barred. I can see Russell waiting for me across the border. I can’t signal to him, but only make eye contact. I argue, I refuse to leave the area. I fight. They take my passport. They cancel my visa.

In one version of the dream, I am coming back into the USA from abroad. They rip into me for living abroad and for being Anti-American. They question me. They berate me, waving my passport in my face. In the dreams, the border agents sometimes wear Trump pins.

“Are you such a loser that you can’t get a job here?”

“What are your opinions of President Trump?”

“We understand that you have been expressing dissent online.”

In one version of the dream, they take my passport and say that I can choose right then whether I ever want to see my family again, enter the USA to never leave again, or become a stateless person.

In another dream, I am barred from getting into the UK to see my husband who is in hosptial. In another, I am horrified to see that one critical box remains unchecked on my entry application. In another, a border guard gets in my face about having lived in China. In another, I don’t pass the medical exam or refuse to have a chest x-ray while pregnant.

“You’ll have to start everything over, then.”

“But the safety of my baby is more important, surely!”


I want to interject here that the closest I’ve ever been to having these nightmares come true was in Denver International Airport.

My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I had to go through separate lines at the border, as always. It was a bad day at the border, and it took more than an hour and a half for me to get through. I stood in the baggage claim area, with all our bags. Russell waited another 90 minutes.

When he handed his passport over to the agent and told him he was there to visit my family and to travel a little bit. The border agent asked him an innocuous question. 

“Where did you meet your girlfriend?”

“We met in South Korea.”

This is where the agent went off the handle. I watched in horror from the doorway of the baggage claim area while he began yelling at Russell, telling him that he was lying, that it wasn’t possible that he met me in South Korea, and giving indications that he was about to ban him from the USA. I was paralysed with fear.

I didn’t know if I could run back into the stifling border room. I didn’t know where they would take Russell if the agent refused to let him through. I had no phone with which to call a lawyer and no money to pay one.

Luckily, my husband is a calm and measured person. He took the railing and abuse on the chin, calmly stated the truth, and calmed the border agent down.

He stamped his passport, shoved it at Russell, and spat, “We’re done here!”

Welcome to my country. 


Although my family is not directly impacted by the ban on immigration and entry that Trump signed into law, I feel it in my bones.

I am in a unique position to understand what absolute nightmares those now detained in airports are feeling. The anxieties of navigating how to live as a family in the same country this century are back-breaking. No matter where one tries to obtain legal residency and work permits, it is a fraught process.

Right now, more than 170 people are detained in airports around the USA, and thousands more are in limbo around the world. Couples are being separated. Some who worked for the USA as interpreters during the Iraq War are being handcuffed and led away. Scientists, engineers, students, and artists from the seven affected countries are being told to stay away.

The merits of whole swaths of good people trying their best to have a life in the USA are being thrown out with the stroke of a pen. Ostensibly, this is to do with national origin. Clearly, it doesn’t matter to the execution of the order on the border that this is wholly illegal as a basis for denying entry to the USA. Of course, it is a paltry cover for the real reasons behind Trump’s ban.

My heart breaks for the people whose tickets have been torn up en route to the USA. These people won the rights afforded them with a visa process that is invasive, demanding, and soul-crushing. They are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. 

And yet, the implications of this ban are far more concerning.

Trump has shown that with unilateral action he can throw the US into chaos. He can immediately and without checks and balances directly impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans, American Hopefuls, and those who don’t even really want much to do with the USA.

When immigration laws change for any one group, they tend to change for all groups. Often in unexpected ways.

This means that as I sit here in South Korea, trying to figure out what complicated dance we need to do to be able to live together in the coming year, that my husband and I stand to be affected by Trump’s pen, too. He already made it clear that his whole policy is supposedly “America First.” What will happen to my binational, nascent family? Where can we go? Will Trump somehow affect my passport as an American who lives abroad?

For the moment, all those questions of mine must be on hold. I need to help my fellows. I will be calling my representatives every day via Skype until such time as the ban is lifted. I will be donating to the ACLU and refugee groups. I will not be quiet.

This is a nightmare. It must end.

How to Get Your ARC in Korea

Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through in 2011-2012 and 2016. It is not legal advice. It is quite possibly not up to date. Visa regulations change all the time (as you will see later on in this article). Check with the Korean Embassy for the most up to date information.

2016 Updates in this chic purple colour!

It’s a rite of passage for almost all foreign teachers who decide to teach in Korea. Running the gauntlet to live legally inside Korea’s borders, also known as obtaining one’s Alien Registration Card (ARC). Keep in mind that this process is for an E-2 Visa, one for teaching English in a hagwon or public school when one is not ethnically Korean.

Before I begin with the steps to achieve this feat of bureaucratic maneuvering, let me give you a disclaimer. These instructions are subject to change at any time, for no reason, without warning, and are for guidance ONLY. Please don’t get on my case ten years from now when it isn’t the same.

It took me 118 days to get my visa and another 56 to obtain my ARC. It cost countless hours of legwork and over $800.  Prepare ye. 

First things first. You must obtain a teaching visa in order to live and work in Korea. Before you can apply to the Korean consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Visa Issuance Number (VIN).

To get your Visa Issuance Number (before departure), you will need:

  • A photocopy of the face page of your passport
  • Your signed contract with your school and/or all EPIK paperwork
  • A national criminal record check (FBI background check in the United States, website here)

2016 UPDATE: As of this year, the Korean Consulates in the US are accepting FBI checks obtained through channelers. This is a more expensive but totally worth-it option. Instead of taking five months (like my first ones), it took a week. Worth it. 

  • A copy of your actual university degree

You must send all of these documents to Korea, in order for your school to request a VIN from immigration. *Do not* send your original degree, because you may never see it again. Wait about ten days. Once you have the VIN, you need to apply ASAP to your local Korean consulate to get your visa. When I did this, I had less than a month left until departure.

To get your visa, you will need:

  • Your passport
  • The VIN
  • A completed visa application (see here)
  • The full address of your school in Korea
  • One sealed set of official university transcripts (2016 UPDATE: Maybe. Get them and be ready to send them if your consulate requests them)
  • One passport photo

All that for a damn sticker.

You need to make an appointment to visit your consulate immediately, or send the required documents to them via insured overnight mail. Enclose a self-addressed, paid return overnight envelope for them to return your passport.

Once you have the visa in your passport, you can leave for Korea.

2016 UPDATE: We had less than three weeks until departure when we sent everything off this time. My visa in the US came back from the San Francisco Consulate in about five days. Russell’s took a week in London. 

But wait, there’s more! You must register with immigration and obtain an ARC as soon as possible once you arrive. If the impetus of impending deportation isn’t enough to get you in gear, know that you can’t use the Korean National Health service until you get your ARC. If you’re like me and get sick easily, this could pose a problem.

2016 UPDATE: Speaking of health, you must complete a hospital health exam for the ARC once you arrive in Korea. The cost is 90,000-120,000 KRW, and it will be self-paid. You will need:

  • Your passport
  • The address of a hospital certified in giving foreigners health checks
  • Dolla Dolla Bills (I mean copious won), y’all
  • Good health 
  • Clean urine

Your health check includes a chest X-ray for tuberculosis, a drug test, STD/HIV testing via blood draw, an eye test, and  possibly a dental examination (in 2012-2013 this was the case in Suwon, but not in 2016 in Busan). 

No, there is no way around this. No, you should not fake your pee. Be ready to squat if you are a lady. Work it out! You live in Korea now! Squat toilets are cleaner and better for you, anyway. 

On the day of your health check, do not drink. Do not have too much caffeine. Do not take over-the-counter medications (even Advil or Tylenol). Be healthy!

To obtain your ARC, you will need:

  • Your passport with the E-2 visa inside
  • An official letter from your school
  • 10,000-30,000 KRW 2016 UPDATE: Apparently an ARC costs 3x as much these days. Maybe only in Busan. 
  • ARC Application form (get this from your school)
  • Two receipts for a clean health check from a recognized hospital in Korea (the health check costs 120,000 KRW and is often not covered by the school)
  • Yourself
  • A good book, or maybe just lots of soju to pass the time

You must go to the immigration office in your area with these documents and wait to be seen by an official. You cannot have someone from your school go in your place as in the past, as you must provide a digital scan of all five fingerprints on your right hand in person. I waited eight hours over the course of two separate days.

MAKE SURE YOU ASK FOR A RECEIPT from immigration that you have submitted your documents. You can request that the ARC be sent directly to your school and pay 4,000 KRW. Worth it. Do it. Don’t waste more of your life in the immigration office trying to pick it up. It should arrive about two weeks to one month after you submit all the forms.

Stupid piece of expensive plastic!

Once you have your VIN, your visa, and your ARC, you’re done! Just kidding.

You still have to register with the Education Office. You have to duplicate many documents because they aren’t friends with the Immigration Service.

To register with the Education Office, you will need:

  • Your physical, actual university degree (not a copy)
  • A **second** national criminal record check
  • Apostilles for both (they will copy your degree, but you still have to have the original)
  • Your passport with the E-2 visa
  • Your ARC
  • A letter from your school
  • Anything else your school requests

If you manage to make it through all four gauntlets, you should throw a legal residence party!

In all, I spent over $800 in fees and shipping in order to obtain all the necessary records. Your total costs will vary according to how much shipping and fee spending you must do.

These requirements are constantly shifting. I was all set with my VIN and visa when I suddenly had to obtain a second FBI background check and another degree apostille for the Education Office, and without the support of my family in the States I would not have been able to move to Korea.  The bureaucratic process is so complicated that one is almost required to break it somewhere in order to move here. Don’t be surprised if things get a little sketchy.

A couple of final tips:

  • DO have someone whom you could trust with documents inside your home country in case of sudden changes.
  • DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
  • DO ask questions of your school and recruiter.
  • DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
  • DON’T try to fake your drug test. It’s just not worth it.
  • DON’T get a national apostille from the State Department in the US. It will take over six weeks. A state one is just fine.
  • DON’T try to get a degree from another country apostilled in the USA. They will reject it if it is from England, Colombia, etc.
  • DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
  • DON’T freak out when the requirements change.

Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.