Preparing to move and work abroad is overwhelming, exhilarating and scary! There is so much that needs to be done, I honestly had no clue what I was getting myself into. What no one tells you, is that moving abroad is not a one-size fits all plan. Everyone has different experiences and they vary based on so many factors. This is based on my personal needs and goals preparing to move to China and obtaining a ‘Z’ Work Visa.
10 Things Your Employer Will Require
Each employer requires different documentation to work abroad. I created a list of what I provided my employer to obtain my employment license and work invitation letter from the Chinese embassy.
- Resume (free)
- Bachelor’s Degree ($30,000-$120,000)
- TEFL Certification ($500-$2,000)
- Reference letter for a position with 2-Years’ experience (free)
- Health Report/Extensive Physical Exam ($0-$500)
- Criminal Background Record ($20-$30)
- Degree Authentication
- Public Notary (free)
- State Authentication ($15)
- Consulate Authentication ($120+)
- 3-4 Passport Photo’s ($5-10)
- Photocopy of Passport (free)
- Experience (free with TEFL practicum hours)
10 Things You Need Before Moving to China
Patience, and lots of it. I’m serious. Gather, store, steal, and save all the patience you can for this process because you will need it! This move is only a number one priority on your list; it’s not a priority for your friends and family, and definitely not for the embassy, government or your employer.
The 15-hour time difference makes a simple communication, 100 times more difficult, not to mention, many things will just be lost in translation. It’s frustrating gathering the documents your employer needs when they are not clear from the beginning. They will think you’re crazy when you bombard them with a million questions; yes, I need to know the dress code because I am packing my life for a year into a suitcase! You will wait on paperwork from across the world for weeks (or months and months). There will be days when you simply say to yourself, what the heck am I doing?
Have patience and enjoy the adventure of it all! One day you will laugh at how upside down your life was before you moved to China. (I’m still waiting for that day, I know it’s coming, though.)
2. A wardrobe based on the city and season you are arriving
I will not, I repeat, will not create a suggested packing list. The worst packer award goes to…JJ! You will either end up taking your entire house or nothing but workout clothes if you listen to me! (Those have been the two extremes in my practice packing!) I do however recommend a few things:
- Look up the average climate for the year in your new city. China’s climate varies based on what city you are in. I waited to figure out where I accepted a contract from before really assessing what I was packing.
- If you are moving to a city in China that you will need a raincoat (which is very likely) and/or a winter jacket, I suggest you pack it in a vacuum seal storage bag.
- Inquire about the dress code with your new employer. Dress codes range from jeans and a t-shirt to slacks and a dress shirt. This will likely also depend on what age you are teaching.
- Research what things you can and cannot buy that you might need. For example, in some cities in China, it’s very hard to find women’s shoes over size 7, tall or larger clothing sizes (anything over 5’5 or larger than small/medium), feminine products and deodorant are hard to find or can be very expensive, and certain beauty products contain bleach. Therefore, I would suggest bringing any of these products you may use, instead of purchasing them in China.
- Pack basics (this is also dependent on your lifestyle; I prefer yoga leggings over dresses nowadays)
- Practice pack! It’s a real thing if not, it is now. The worst possible thing you could do is wait until the last minute to pack for a move and realize you have to unexpectedly ship (not an option for me) or downsize (definitely happened to me every. single. time. I practice packed).
3. Virtual Private Network
A VPN is needed in China to bypass the Great Firewall. This censorship blocks many sites including Google, YouTube, and many social media and news sources on your laptop and phone. You MUST set up your VPN before arriving in China as it will be difficult to set up upon arriving.
A few things to keep in mind when considering a VPN service; make sure they offer multi-device compatibility, 30-day money back guarantee and read tons of reviews for the one that fits your situation.
After reading countless blogs, I selected WiTopia for $60/per year. WiTopia has been providing personal privacy and data security services for over a decade. Offering a large selection of servers across the world, 24/7 customer support, a 30-day money back guarantee, “crazy-low pricing” and a 15% off discount code easily found online here.
4. Download Apps
Decide what international messaging app you are going to use abroad. Set up your account on these apps and share your username with friends and family. One of the most popular messaging apps in China is WeChat, but WhatsApp is another messaging app I also use.
Set up a Skype account and share your username with family and friends. Skype will allow you to make free video calls to other Skype users and provides international calls to mobile and landlines for a small fee. Skype offers a subscription service for unlimited international calls that is only $15 per month.
5. Unlocked iPhone
If you are like me, and on an AT&T Next plan or similar, you will need to pay off your plan before submitting an online request through your cell phone provider to unlock your iPhone. They will not unlock it until you are out of contract. This will allow the use of your phone in other countries with international providers.
There are two options; the first option is to check with your carrier for an international roaming plan before arriving in China. Some carriers have decent data and messaging rates depending on your usage.
The second option, which is the option I opted for is to buy a SIM card from a local Chinese service provider upon arriving in China. If you choose this option, don’t buy your SIM card at the airport, they’re much more expensive, as is everything at the airport.
I highly recommend taking a Chinese friend/co-worker with you to the nearest China Mobile as this process is a little different than you may be used to in your home country, and you’re not guaranteed that there will be an English-speaking employee. You will select your phone number from a touchscreen machine that looks like an American ATM, a piece of paper is printed in which you take to a teller along with your passport where they will then type a bunch of stuff on their computer before handing you a new SIM card for 100RMB ($15USD). You will then be shuffled over to another teller, here you will be able to pick a plan and pay upfront as many months as you’d like. I paid 360RMB ($60USD) for 7 months of service.
In my personal opinion, this is the best option, I was spending twice as much as that per month on my cell phone in the United States, so I was more than willing to pay this price for 7 months. If your move is temporary and you’d like to continue service with the same plan in the United States upon returning (I was godfathered in with a lot of exclusive features that are not available for the same prices anymore so I didn’t want to give up my plan, plus I’m on a family plan with my mom) you can easily call AT&T (check with your service provider if other than AT&T) and suspend your account for $10 a month!
Likely, your apartment and place of employment will have Wi-Fi. This will allow you to use your apps (Skype, WhatsApp etc.) instead of data and minutes, which I find I hardly use much of.
6. Power Adapter
A power adapter is advised for most electronics. If you plan on taking a hair dryer, flat iron etc. that isn’t dual voltage, you’ll need to also buy a Converter. Personally, I opted out of this purchase as I have a dual voltage flat iron and made the decision to buy a new hair dryer in China for 80RMB ($15USD). I encourage you to buy a universal adapter that will work anywhere you travel. I purchased this power adapter for $20 that provides 2-outlets as well as 2 smart USB ports, so my Mac, iPod, iPad and iPhone can simultaneously charge anywhere in the world!
7. Copies of ALL important documents
Bring a copy of all your important documents in a secure folder. If you have someone in your home country you trust, leave a copy of these documents with them. I also created digital versions of all these documents on my external hard drive. You may have documents that aren’t necessary, but it’s good to keep just a digital version.
- Passport photocopy
- TEFL Certification photocopy
- Bachelor’s Degree photocopy
- Immunization Records
- Employer Contract
- Social Security (digitally is fine)
- Drivers License (digitally is fine; note the expiration date, it’s much harder to get a replacement once it’s expired)
I also suggest meeting with your attorney and writing up a Power of Attorney (POA) for banking, taxes, insurance, and medical.
8. Call your bank
This step is important. It will take awhile before you are able to set up a bank account in your new location. By notifying your bank prior to your move, whether it be permanent or temporary, you will alleviate the chances of your account being frozen. I notified my bank for a semi-permanent move to last 1 year and listed all Asian countries and surrounding that I would possibly visit just to be safe.
Bring cash in the local currency as many local street vendors don’t take plastic or you will incur large conversion charges from your bank. In China, $500USD goes a long way, at least until you receive your first paycheck.
9. American food
I hope when arriving in China you plan on partaking in everything that China has to offer as far as cuisine goes. However, there will be days you really miss American food! Treat yourself to your favorite restaurant(s) before you leave and pack non-perishable items to treat yourself when the homesickness kicks in. I hardly had any weight room left in my suitcases, in fact, I was overweight and had to shuffle things between bags at the airport, so I was not able to bring as many snacks as I would have liked. Who am I kidding? I would’ve brought a suitcase full of snacks if it didn’t cost so much! In all honesty, depending on what city you are moving to there will be western food at your disposal, it will likely cost more, though.
Sounds corny, right? I know. I was super excited to get the hell out of the United States, however, I knew how brutal homesickness could get. Having small pieces of home with you when it hits is essential if you’re going to get through it.
My personal homesickness essentials:
- A wealth of pictures (I’m old school and took hard copies, but with social media, it’s easy to have millions of pictures at your fingertips)
- Encouraging notes, cards, ‘why you’re my bestie’ books and ‘worry dolls’ from my best friends
- Letters from my family
- My trusty side-kick teddy bear that I’ve had since I was born (he literally goes everywhere with me)
- A few of my favorite American snacks (like I said, there wasn’t much weight room left in my suitcase)
- A handful of friends and family who won’t be sick of your calls, messages, and emails while you adjust in your new city
Are you planning on moving to China or even Asia? It’s a huge step into the unknown. Feel free to comment below with any and all random questions you may have. I’ll do my best to offer advice and answers! Lord knows I asked some pretty crazy questions before my departure.