the saga of my Chinese Work Z Visa

Buckle up, guys. 

Word of warning: this post might read like a total whinge. I'm a privileged little American girl, re-hashing the story of how her passport {one of the best in the world} ran into bad luck and caused her a massive ordeal. I fully understand that people are starving and without access to clean water. My troubles are small and insignificant, I know. But I've gotten so many questions about my visa. "What exactly went so wrong?" And I promised I'd share it. All of it. I should also warn that this isn't a typical visa tale. Plenty of people work in China and run into 0 obstacles. 

This isn't that story.

This is the story of poor timing, people slacking, and so many hoops to jump through. 

This ordeal started in late March. I had switched strategies for job hunting. After applying, rejecting, getting rejected, and ultimately getting a lot of encouragement from the beautiful people in my tribe, I interviewed with EPIK, a company in South Korea. I landed the deal,  signed a contract, sent off my papers, and then... decided I didn't want to go that route. It feels like so many people go to South Korea to teach, whether teaching is their passion or not. Whether education is something they care about or not. Part of me understands. The benefits are fantastic and it opens doors to some amazing opportunities. The other, larger part of me, feels that if teaching isn't what you want to do, you shouldn't teach. Maybe you don't want to do it forever. Maybe you aren't sure. I guess let's meet half-way and say that if you don't understand the importance of an education, what value it brings to peoples' lives-- then maybe leave it to people who do. 

All of that, and I was craving was something totally new to me. Something that felt like being thrown in the deep end of the pool-- I tend to find my best self in those situations. So, I wanted something that felt more challenging to me, personally. 

A challenge is exactly what I got. And I haven't even made it to Nanjing yet.


I got approached by a company in China to work on curriculum and training at a school just being opened in Nanjing. They want to implement programs that benefit the community. And I thought to myself, "Why the hell not?!" It's not that China was ever someplace I wanted to live. It's not someplace that I was ever even interested in visiting {unless there is a helicopter that would drop me off on the Great Wall to walk it, then pick me up right after}. But it felt like the new adventure I was looking for. 

I took a hard look at what I want out of the next year. I want to set myself up somewhere where I can put my degrees and work experience to use. I want to make a livable working wage whilst doing so {none of this $200 quarterly for being a Project Manager in Fiji stuff, true story}. I want to help people. I want to be somewhere where travel was easy and I can adventure out-- see new things and such. The job in China meets these requirements. Bonus points for having cheap flights to New Zealand. 

I took the position and was immediately sent an outline of the steps that I needed to take to obtain my Work Z Visa and gain legally employed in China. The steps are simple, but I've learnedthat simple is not always straightforward.

The process is as follows: You get the required documents certified, notarized at the local level, then at the state level, then at the U.S. Department of State level, then at the Chinese Embassy that serves your state {for me, this was Washington D.C.}. Once your documents have been authenticated at all levels, you scan and email them to your employer. Your employer then has to get your Work Permit from the Chinese government from within China. This can take anywhere from 4-10 business days. Next, you are emailed your work permit to print. You fill out your Work Z Visa application and mail that along with your passport, 2 passport photos, and your work permit to the Chinese Embassy for them to issue you your Chinese Work Z Visa. 


The process only turns into a shit show when you live out of a suitcase and a storage unit and your Uni degree is sitting in a safe in said storage unit on the other side of the country from where you and your suitcase currently are. Or when your University drops the ball majorly on your documents. Or when you have no room left in the passport you were just issued a year ago and the Chinese government questions how many passports you've gone through in the last handful of years. Or when you get a new president who doesn't play nice with anybody, especially China. 

I immediately ordered the certified copies of my University degree, a federal background check, and my TEFL certificate. The background check came to me in just a few short days. My TEFL certificate took 10 business days. As I waited on my diploma, I went ahead and proceeded to the second step-- getting my certified documents notarized by a local notary. Since I was working at a University, where notaries are typically found in plenty, I went to a co-worker and got my papers notarized. 

The registrar's office at my college informed me that they would need to order my diploma from a third-party agency, who would then mail it to them. Once they received it they would certify and notarize it, then send it to me. That same day, I filled out the form, mailed my check, and emailed the office to confirm it was all on the way. I should also say that I paid handsomely for a new diploma, and extra for the office to expedite the process. 

The entire time I was waiting for my diploma, I was e-mailing {*cough*nagging*cough*} my alma mater. They were going through a massive re-branding. The name of my school changed and along with it campus offices were moved around. One of those offices was the mail room, where my diploma would have been mailed. Rather than call me like most offices would think to, those working in the registrar's office decided to just let it sit. While they let it sit, they also stopped responding to emails.

And months went by. 


I returned from a month in Europe. I flew in from Belfast to Washington D.C. and had a hell of a day, which you can read about here. Long story short, a new process from the government meant that I couldn't authenticate any of my documents without all of my documents. My diploma had stalled everything. 

The entire process.

I had already purchased a ticket to China by way of Laos so that I could visit and travel en route. I went from patient alumni to boss lady in five seconds. I called the registrar's office, confronted those who simply decided not to do their jobs, talked with the President of the University and reached out to as many contacts at the University that I had up my sleeve. I explained that though I had reached out in April, ordered the documents in May, and paid for rushed services, it was now August and I nothing to show for any of it except unanswered e-mails. 

Boss lady pants get shit done, guys. Demanding what I deserved worked like magic. I was promised my diploma would be FedEx-ed to me and I'd have it in time to make my flight to Laos. 

Two days passed and my diploma arrived...with my name spelled incorrectly. My University-- the one I attended for years, worked for, and ran for...they spelled my name incorrectly. By then, it was too late. Another diploma would have to be order and certified. When I called the office to ask for a new one, the response was {direct quote}, "Does the name spelling affect anything?" 1) Not the point, but yes it affects everything. The Chinese Embassy will not authenticate a document with a name on it that didn't match the one on my passport. 2) You had one job. 

I lost money on a ticket I had previously purchased. A lot of money. I had lost time, something none of us can ever get back, ya know? I had lost out on working sooner. So, I did something I never actually wanted to do: I wrote to the President of the University and cc'd everyone I knew at my former college. The response was insane. So many alumni reaching out to me sharing their stories of disappointment, saying they had seen what I had shared and had been through something similar with the school. Reaching out to remind me that while my {terrible, horrible, rotten} experience with the University was not uncommon, that's what made our schooling so interesting-- it's kind of like what everyone says about the military. "You suffer through all the bullshit together and it turns you into a family." So true. My college years were some of the best because relationships I formed there were family-bond-kind. We all have ridiculous stories like this. We all know so many of the admin still working there are unqualified. We all know the place to be part 'home' and part 'hot mess.' 

My former boss, having read the e-mail, fought for the University to pay me back what I lost. Right before I left for Laos on a different ticket, I received a corrected diploma and a massive check. I could not be more grateful. It's people like this who keep that institution a float. That and the kick ass professors that get paid too little, but I digress.

Unfortunately, even this generous repayment couldn't give me back the time wasted. After receiving the documents with the check, I had only one choice: to find someone to do the grunt work for me. I had a single day to find a visa agency {which I paid, once again handsomely} to do the document authentication so that I could keep the wheels turning as quickly as possible. 

Oasis Chinese Visa Services worked with me and made the document authentication process painless. I called them, e-mailed them, and they replied within the hour. They simplified the entire mess and made sure I knew exactly where all my paperwork was at every step in the process.

But, there was a hiccup with speed.

When I asked for an expedited service, the company apologized and told me there are an influx of Americans moving to China {where there is healthcare and wages well above the poverty line}. This fact combined with current international relations issues {i.e. the Chinese government taking their sweet time to process anything that came through their office, feeling no need to rush processing for Americans since the start of the new administration} meant that the Embassy was no longer authenticating documents with the rushed service for anyone who wasn't a diplomat any longer. They told me to sit back and they'd overnight me everything back in 3-4 weeks. I cannot recommend Oasis highly enough. If you need you need help with a Chinese visa, please seek them out! 

So, with 3-4 weeks left at my leisure to wait, I made a decision: to go to Laos. And then to Myanmar {where ethnic cleansing is taking place}. And then Indonesia {where a volcano is displacing people}. Despite all of the horrible things going on in the places I went, I came back to South Carolina oddly relaxed. 

Upon arrival into the U.S.A, American Immigration, who have a reputation for being super friendly {joking, obviously}, noticed that my passport, which is only just over a year old, only had 1 page left empty for visas. A Chinese Work Z Visa requires 3 blank pages. So, I quickly filed and paid for an expedited 'Frequent Flyer Passport Book.' This would take 1-2 weeks.

The day after I returned, my documents arrived. I cried a lot of happy tears. I scanned my documents and was told a Work Permit would take approximately 1-2 weeks. If the fates allowed and my stars aligned, my passport would arrive the same time as my Work Permit and I could file for my visa. 

I woke up the next morning to an e-mail from my employer saying the Chinese government was not happy with the number of passport books I had been through in the last 5 years, stating they were concerned I was a drug smuggler. I can't make this shit up. But, I suppose it makes sense, right? A little unsuspecting American girl traveling all over 5 continents, spending large portions of time in places where drugs are easily found after dark if you ask the right tuk-tuk driver. I had to conduct an interview that was recorded and sent into the Chinese government to convince them of my "good character." I was told after that, it should all be good and well. I just hoped that this bump didn't affect the timing of my permit and passport returning to my loving arms at the same time.  


Miracles are real. I know because my Work Permit arrived the same day as my passport. Hallelujah, amen. 

I gathered the necessary documents, passport pictures, and my new 52-page passport and sent it all off with a kiss. And I cried some more happy tears. 

What have we all learned from this massive yarn I hope never to spin again? 

1. Sometimes the timeline we have created for ourselves gets blown so that you can see other plans through. Bigger and better plans-- in my case, traveling to one old and two new countries, seeing my father for the first time in nearly a year, spending more time with my mother, and finally getting a haircut {who let my hair get that long, guys?!}.

2. Working hard for something makes it taste sweeter. This is applicable to literally everything from love to work visas. 

3. Boss lady pants don't always make you a fan favourite, but goddamn if they don't motivate people.  So, don't mess with my visa, k? Or I will go 'Gone Girl' and call the President of the University and tell him to never ask me for money for any alumni fundraiser. And I'll be my most delusional self. 

4.  Going through a 9-month visa ordeal will show you who your friends are-- the people who encourage and uplift you. Those who call you and ask about where you are in the process, who Skype you and talk you through whether you want to go forward and fight more or wave the flag.

5. Foreign policy is important. And those who don't grasp how a President acts affecting those trying to live in other countries will make you want to pull out your hair.

Mostly what I learned is the power of positive thinking, persistence, and that if a visa issue is my only major problem, I should actively practice gratitude. 


When I say this is all small and insignificant, I'm not trying to minimize the work I've put in and the stress I've felt. I've stayed awake night after night on my computer chatting back and forth with my employer in China trying untangle webs through broken English/Chinese messages. I've had such anxiousness over all of this that I had seriously lost my appetite. I would lie with my eyes wide open on my bed, wondering if it was all worth this. Should I have gone to Korea? I even contemplated working on an organic farm picking fruit in New Zealand just to be there while all of this was happening-- running away to avoid making decisions. 

But, I can see the light at the end of this lengthy tunnel. I'm almost there. 

I'm smiling and happy and I still feel like this hassle has been worth it.

And this was a reminder that you should fight for things.

Especially people you love and experiences you want.