Relocating to Beijing

Posted by on January 30, 2011

This entry is an attempt to write up what its like to relocate to Beijing, at least the getting ready to go part.  The usual caveats apply : if your using this as a baseline for your own experiences, remember this is my experience at a particular given point in time; everything is subject to change and be completely different for you.

This might not end up being more than one big long list of the many details that I ended up trying to juggle, but here goes.

First of all relocating overseas on a relocation package with a company is a big complicated process.  I assume its also a big complicated process if you do it your self, but the one advantage of doing it yourself is the number of contacts to coordinate would be drastically reduced to one : you.  I will outline the principal parties that were involved and the different companies they worked for.  I won’t use people names or company names, but will try to give you an indication of the number of companies involved.

Amazon Global Mobility Specialist
The individual at my company who put together the relocation offer and answered all the overall policy questions.  They initiate the two major relocation processes : immigration and relocation company

Amazon Immigration Specialist
Responsible for writing my job reference letter and answering questions that come up with the immigration process.

Foreign Immigration Specialist – Company B
A law firm responsible for coordinating my immigration into the foreign country. In this case mine was located in China, where I was immigrating.  The ultimate goal for Beijing is to get you a work permit and a residence permit. Here is what the process is like for immigration, with the following steps :
  • Visa Application which includes the following documents :
    • Copy of your marriage certificate
    • Copies of the birth certificates of each of your children
    • Copy of your resume
    • Job Reference letter from your work on company letterhead
    • Medical Exam, your normal physical check up, except a passport photo is required and your doctor must stamp across the photo with his “chop”, which since no one in America has he used a rubber stamp with his address. In addition you need to have :
      • EKG (they had to shave my chest)
      • Chest X-ray to check for tuberculosis (they required me to send them physical x-ray)
      • Full Blood work to check for HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis, Cholera, Yellow Fever, Plague, Leprosy, Venereal Disease
    • Copy of Diploma (which of course I didn’t have so I had to order one from my University).  This one little step here was a minor detour of waiting like 5 days for the diploma to come.
  • China Employment License & Z-Visa Invitation Letter : This is obtained by the immigration lawyers from the government in China using the visa application and documentation to apply for a Employment License (a document that basically says you can get a Z-Visa) and a Invitation Letter to get a Z-Visa for you and your family.
  • Z-Visa :  Once they have the the Employment License and the Z-Visa Invitation Letter you work with another Visa Specialist – Company B, located in New York City.  You send him/her your passport, and each member of your families passports to them and they  go to the Chinese Embassy to obtain an actual Z-Visa to enter China.  This is a 30 day visa, which allows you to enter China and then apply for the actual Residency Permit for you and all family members, which allows you stay in China and a work permit which allows me to work in China.   We still have to through that process, but I’ll continue with the steps.
  • Temporary Residency Visa : Once we enter China we have to go to the Police Station within 24 hours and get a temporary residency visa which is for the location we are staying. (For us this will be temporary housing until we can get into our apartment)
  • Wife Health Check : for some reason I have to get my health check to even apply for the Z-Visa invitation letter but Stac only has to get her health check done after we arrive in China.
  • Apply for Work Permit (5 days) – Done by the immigration lawyers after arrive in Beijing.
  • Apply for Residency Permit (5-10 days)- Done by the immigration lawyers after arrive in Beijing.
  • Most of this process involves a lot of hurry up and wait. But a lot of it depends on steps that in and of themselves are a myriad of steps. For example you can start on the Z-Visa invitation process without your family having passports but you have to have all the passports ready in order to get the Z-Visa.  For us getting the passports was a little tricky because it involves sending off passport applications for our two youngest who are adopted and whose birth certificates are slightly messed up.  This is because at birth the birth certificate is in the name of the birth mother but after adoption the name is changed to the adopted parents and state agencies inevitably mess something up.  Like Sofi’s lists her birthday incorrectly and Miles lists Stac’s age as the birth mother’s age.  We also had to have the certified adoption decree.  And after all this we still have a bunch of more steps after we get to Beijing. And those immigration steps (as you’ll see) are required to be done before you can get your stuff that is shipped over out of customs.

Global Relocation Company Coordinator – Company C
Coordinates the overall relocation process with many many different parties.  For some reason mine was based in Singapore. Didn’t make it particularly easy with the difference in the timezone.  He coordinated the following people/activities:

  • In Country Relocation Help – Company D
    This involved another company (D) providing 3 days of relocation activities in China.  The particular company I worked with was fantastic. The first two days were spent on a pre-move house hunting trip in Beijing.  They had a driver who took us around on a house hunting trip to look at apartments, familiarize me with the schools and the hospital.  We were accompanied on the apartment hunting by a Real Estate Company – Company E, who would in turn contact Property Management – Company F, who would show us apartments all around Beijing.  By the time we actually saw an apartment there were 6 layers of people involved between me and the landlord.  They also coordinated getting the terms of the lease hammered out and signed. After we arrive in China they will spend another day with us helping us get a bank account set up and getting us the keys to the apartment.  They also took us around a couple of the international schools we selected.  Applying to the schools is another entire exercise in paper work, forms and processes. I won’t outline it here.
  • Moving Coordinator – Company C
    This individual was located in Colorado (again a few timezone mishaps).  Her job was to collect documents from me, coordinate the house inspection and survey and the actual movers.
  • Moving Survey Inspector – Company C
    Came out and visited the house, took pictures of every room, asked what was going in storage and asked what we wanted in our air shipments (we got two containers, LDN : 54 x 54 x 56 inches and a D : 58 x 41 x 45, inches).
  • MoversCompany C
    These guys came out 2 days before we flew out. They packed up the entire house.  One set of boxes for storage and one smaller set of boxes for the two containers for the air shipment.
In Country Moving Company Coordinator – Company G
Responsible for getting our air shipments through customs and delivered and unpacked at our apartment in China.  This process takes 5-10 days after we have our work and residency permits (see above).  So we’ll arrive in China on 2/5, we’ll probably get our permits around 2/28 and we’ll get our actually air shipments on March 10th.
US Tax Advisor – Company H
Because I am working in a foreign company taxes get complicated.  The US doesn’t relinquish its rights to tax me even though I am in China.  But they do give me a bunch of credit for all the tax I will pay in China.  Because its complicated my taxes will be done by a large accounting firm. I had a in person meeting were we discussed a whole bunch of stuff I’ve already forgotten.
China Tax Advisor  – Company H
Likewise there is a tax advisor from the same large accounting firm who will calculate and take care of my taxes on a monthly basis in China. (That is how the Chinese government collects taxes).

The Move Itself : Its worth mentioning in some detail that amidst all of this there are all the details of the move itself.  What do about your house?  What to do about your cars? And what about all the other stuff. We ended up letting Kiah take the Forrester to Idaho, we let a friend borrow the Honda while we are gone and we sold the Expedition to the dealer we bought it from the day before we left.  Getting the inside of the house ready was a chore. I rented a big huge garbage bin that sat in our driveway.  We went through everything in the house and sorted it into piles :

  • Give Away : stuff not worth selling that we gave to friends. For example we gave away all the food in our pantry.  And all the spices in our cupboard.
  • Sell : a few things that we ended up selling, like our washer and dryer.
  • Garbage : stuff that we just chucked into the big bin. There was lots and lots of this.  Yards and yards of electronic cords, boxes from appliances, VHS tapes, lots of clothes that we hadn’t worn in years and our mattress which we’d had for 11 years. etc etc.
  • Storage : stuff that was to be stored while we are gone, this wasn’t as much selecting what was to go into storage as it was the default category of what was left.
  • Air Shipment : This was probably the hardest.  Because its hard to visualize exactly how much big the containers were.  And your not quite sure what exactly to take.  In the end the amount of stuff quickly fills up.  We took a lot of our paintings and art work. And I did make sure we had a big huge bag of camping gear for the entire family so we can go camping in Mongolia while we are there.
  • Plane : Everything else that we wanted to take, but didn’t have room in the air shipment for. This mostly involved clothes, shoes and the like. I ended up using 6 duffel bags, 3 XXL and 3 XL and two large suit cases.  Over 400 lbs of luggage!  We ended up arranging for one person to take us to the airport and another just to transport our luggage.

That is a little bit of the few logistical details along the way to get to Beijing. It involved hundreds of emails, dozens of phone calls and lots and lots of time.  And we haven’t even got there yet.  Off we go!


13 Responses to Relocating to Beijing

  1. btezra

    wow, seriously, wow

    one of my oldest friends moved to London back in 92, she has lived abroad since then and I remember her telling me the tales of her momentous moves and the process involved
    she is now married to a Fin and lives in Budapest, she still loves living abroad and I raz her about being an ex-Pat all the time but when she makes her way back to W. PA and WV where she’s originally from she always remarks about what she missed most about being “home”
    I see you have managed to make the long process work for you rather than against you, the details and procedures seem a bit on teh ling side but I am sure it’s worth completing, the kids are going to enrich themselves beyond compare, I can only hope they experience of teh best of growing up abroad, it’s going to be an incredible experience for them

    • mbg

      It was/is stressful at times, but as long as you stay on top of it it all works out. 😉

  2. btezra

    *spell check

  3. christine

    Mind if i share this helpful info out on my fb profile?
    and i added you to my regular list of reads so i do hope you get to share often!
    totally wishing you the best… and the kids! i hope miles has a great time over the next couple years.

  4. Bill Kemp

    Whoa! You are so cool…really. You love Shoshone Lake, the Northern Cascades, Tunnels Beach, and Utah…all of my favorite places. And now, you’re throwing caution to the wind and moving to China. I am so envious. You, and mostly your kids, are going to grow in so many ways. Good on you and your family.


  5. Thomas Gotchy

    Mark you are prolific in your documentation of your family’s life, both in your photography and in your writings. One example is taking the time to write this blog amidst what must have been controlled chaos as you got ready to move, and doing it while being sick. Truly amazing! If I was picking out a team you would be one of my first picks for sure. Happy travels…

    • mbg

      Tom it’s cathartic for me. I do have a running dialog/composition going on in my head sometimes. And this was mostly written up after everything was done and we had a couple of hours of down time. Though I did leave selling the car until the last minute, the day before we flew to LA in fact. I didn’t even have the registration, luckily the I was able to obtain a copy and “dispose” of the car in a couple of hours. 🙂

  6. Holly F.

    Wow, I am getting a headache just reading about all the insane details you have to keep track of. You definitely deserve your little vacation before you fly out. We moved around the corner last summer and I thought THAT was a big deal! Good luck to your whole family! I’ll be checking in on your blog to see how you are all doing. Take care!

  7. Stacey griffith

    Thank you Mark for keeping up on this post. I will help you in Beijing with it. This is going to be an awesome adventure!

  8. Teresa Bragg

    Oh my! I sure hope you didn’t go through all that medical trouble only to have to do it again in Beijing! Word is….they’re gonna make you do it again anyway! ha I never bothered here in the States and just did it there…which was fast and easy! 🙂 Here’s hoping your medical checks will suffice! 🙂

    • mbg

      My understanding is I don’t have to go through it again…. I surely hope not.

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