Living and working in China in 2024: Must-knows for business expatriates

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 12 March 2024 at 06:17

China’s Ministry of Commerce recently released the 2024 Edition of the Guide to Working and Living in China for Business Expatriates. The 22-page guide aims to simplify the experience for foreign business expatriates living and working in China, with four key sections: Notes, Daily Life Services, Services for Stay and Residence in China, and Relevant Services for Work in China.

Covering crucial matters like residence registration, SIM card and bank card acquisition, permits, social insurance, mobile payment, transportation, and individual income tax, the guide is a comprehensive resource.

These guidelines are updated annually to stay current with relevant policies.

As per issued guide, immediate residence registration upon entry is crucial. Hotels can handle registration for guests, while others must register at the local police station within 24 hours, presenting necessary documents.

Foreigners with a visa intending to work and live in China must apply for a residence permit within 30 days of entry.

Extensions or changes require timely submissions.

Among others, adherence to Chinese laws on social media and pet ownership is vital and photography of military installations is strictly prohibited.

For emergencies, expatriates can contact local authorities: 110 for personal assault or property crimes, 119 for fires, and 120 for first aid. In case of passport loss, individuals are advised to report it promptly to the local police station.

Below is a comprehensive guide to make your time in China as smooth as possible:

Daily life services

Navigating daily life services in China can be an exciting and seamless experience for foreign travelers. From staying connected with a local SIM card to handling finances with ease,

Buying local SIM Card

Foreigners can acquire a local SIM card by visiting service offices of major telecom operators like China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Broadnet.

The process is simple – just bring your passport or Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card and get ready to activate mobile communication services in China.

With various plans tailored to different needs, users can choose the one that suits them best. It’s worth noting that some plans may have limited data, so adjusting internet usage accordingly or consulting the telecom operator for a suitable plan is advisable.

Bank card

Ensuring your financial transactions run smoothly is essential, and China provides convenient solutions for foreigners.

Obtaining a bank card is a breeze – just visit the business offices of commercial banks with your passport or Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card, and mobile phone numbers.

The account opening application form is a small step, and once you receive your bank card, verifying or modifying the password on an ATM is recommended.

Downloading the mobile banking app of the corresponding bank further enhances one’s banking experience.

When it comes to mobile payments, the world of possibilities opens up with WeChat or Alipay apps.

By following simple instructions and inputting foreign or Chinese mobile phone numbers, users can enjoy the flexibility of binding their app with international bank cards.

However, it’s crucial to note that binding may require authorization from the foreign issuing bank.

Users are advised to be mindful of transaction limits and potential service fees.

Alipay and WeChat have set transaction limits for bound international bank cards, with an annual limit of USD50,000 and a single transaction limit of USD5,000.

It is recommended that users who have bound international bank cards to the Apps consider their specific use cases before using mobile payment.

Users of AlipayHK, Wechatpay HK (HKSAR), mPay (Macao SAR), Kakao Pay (Republic of Korea), Touch’n Go eWallet (Malaysia), HiPay (Mongolia), Changi Pay (Singapore), OCBC (Singapore), Naver Pay (Republic of Korea), Toss Pay (Republic of Korea), and TrueMoney (Thailand) can make QR code payments through these e-wallets in the Chinese mainland.

Foreign currency exchange

Exploring China is an adventure, and having Chinese Yuan (RMB) in hand can be of great help.

Foreign visitors can exchange foreign currencies for RMB cash in advance in their home countries or at relevant locations upon arrival in China. Each visitor is allowed to take up to RMB20,000 in cash in or out of the country.

Whether at commercial bank branches, money changers, or self-service currency exchange machines at entry ports, acquiring RMB is a straightforward process.

Alternatively, international bank cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw RMB cash.

Seamless transportation

China’s vast and efficient transportation network makes moving around the country a breeze.

Train travel offers a convenient experience, with various ticket purchase options.

Real-name ticketing ensures safety, and identity verification is required before purchasing tickets. Online platforms like the 12306 website or app facilitate easy ticket purchases and changes, with various payment options.

Foreign travelers can also use your Foreign Permanent Resident ID Cards to purchase tickets at the self service machines.

To ensure safe and orderly passenger transport, China’s railway operator implements real-name ticketing according to relevant regulations.

Foreign travelers must complete identity verification before purchasing tickets.

For air travel, booking tickets online through the airline’s official app, WeChat mini program, or other platforms is the norm. Payment can be made through digital platforms, and ticket changes or refunds are conveniently handled through the airline’s regulations.

Metro systems, buses, online ride-hailing services, and car leasing further contribute to a comprehensive transportation experience.

Exploring China’s cities becomes effortless with metro passes, bus cards, and the convenience of ride-hailing services accessible through Alipay or WeChat.

Car leasing, whether at international airports or through dedicated apps, provides flexibility for those wanting to venture off the beaten path.

Booking accommodation

Finding the perfect place to stay is a crucial aspect of any journey. Foreign travelers can conveniently reserve hotels through platforms like the Trip.com app or other means.

Checking in is a straightforward process – just present your passport, Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card, and other valid identification documents at the hotel reception. Payment options usually include cash (RMB), bank cards, Alipay, and WeChat, ensuring flexibility and convenience.

Services for stay and residence in China

Navigating the realms of stay and residence in China, expatriates encounter a spectrum of services designed to facilitate their journey. Whether you’re extending your visa or obtaining a residence permit, the process is tailored to make your stay seamless.

Visa extension

For those who entered China with a visa and find themselves in need of an extension, the process is designed to be straightforward.

Equipped with valid passports or international travel documents, a completed Foreigner Visa Application Form, and a recent bareheaded color ID photo against a white background, expatriates can explore extending their stay.

The documentation required includes supporting materials explaining the reason for the extension.

For a more detailed understanding of the application process, fee structures, and guidelines for travel document photographs, the official website of China’s National Immigration Administration is a valuable resource.

Additionally, local exit-entry reception halls can provide on-the-ground assistance, and a quick dial to 12367 opens doors to further information.

Residence permit

For those seeking a more prolonged stay within China’s borders, the residence permit process is the key.

This applies to foreigners who need to reside in the country for reasons other than diplomatic or official matters.

The process involves an in-person visit to the exit and entry administration authority of China’s public security organs.

High-level talents, urgently-needed professionals, individuals under 16 or over 60, or those with disabilities, have the option of having the inviting entity, individual, family, relatives, or a specialized service agency apply on their behalf.

The necessary documents include valid passports or international travel documents, a completed Foreigner Visa Application Form, a recent bareheaded color ID photo against a white background, and supporting documents outlining the reason for the residence permit application.

In the digital age, information is at your fingertips, and the website of the National Immigration Administration is a hub for all the specifics you might need.

From application materials to the guidelines for travel document photographs, the online resources offer clarity.

Relevant services for work in China

Embarking on your work journey in China involves more than just professional endeavors; it’s about navigating the relevant services that make your work-life experience seamless and enriching.

Work permit

As you step into the realm of work in China, securing a work permit is paramount.

The process involves a careful compilation of documents, including a completed Application Form for Foreigner’s Work Permit, supporting documents showcasing your work qualifications, academic degrees, certificates of no criminal record, and more.

The application is facilitated through online submissions by employers or local service centers catering to foreigners working in China.

Social insurance

Ensuring the well-being of those contributing to the Chinese workforce, social insurance is a crucial aspect of work-related services.

Eligible individuals include those legally employed in China, holding valid Foreigner’s Work Permits, residence permits, and Foreign Permanent Resident ID Cards.

The scope extends to individuals under labor contracts with domestic employers or dispatched by foreign companies.

Payment of premiums aligns with local standards, ensuring equitable treatment for foreign and Chinese employees.

Special provisions and exemptions exist for countries with social security agreements, making the system globally inclusive.

Payment of individual income tax

Navigating the intricacies of individual income tax is a fundamental part of the work experience in China.

Residency status determines tax obligations, and the annual reconciliation process ensures comprehensive income is appropriately accounted for.

For foreign nationals enjoying preferential treatment under tax treaties, the process involves self-filing or collaborating with withholding agents.

With 114 countries having signed agreements on the avoidance of double taxation, there’s a broad framework in place, allowing individuals to judge and choose the treatment that aligns with their circumstances.

Embarking on a journey in China involves more than just the physical exploration of its landscapes; it involves understanding and navigating the administrative landscapes as well.

With a focus on user-friendly services, the country ensures one’s stay is not just a visit but a harmonious experience.

A view of skyscrapers in Beijing, the capital of China.