On this site, we have written many articles on how to move to live and work in China but, what happens when you decide to go back to your country or go to another place? Today’s article is dedicated to all of the people that have decided to move away after living for a time in China.
In this article, I will cover the following subjects (you can click on them to jump directly to the section that interests you):
- Things that you should prepare before your move (plane ticket, money, graduation, documentation, rent contract, pets and guanxi).
- What documents and procedures do I need to prepare (unregister at your consulate, translations, legalizations and recognition of degrees).
- How to send your belongings from China (take them with you, air transport, sea transport and sending by weight or by volume).
Things that you should prepare before your move
Preparing to leave China can be quite stressful if you don’t plan it beforehand. Even though this is China and everything is possible, I recommend that you start to prepare things at least two months in advance.
To get plane tickets for the best price, a part from the general suggestions such as “book your ticket at least two month sin advance”, you should keep in mind that on some airlines (mostly European ones), buying just a one-way ticket is more expensive than buying a round trip ticket, so, I recommend that you also consult round-trip prices even if you don’t have any intention of coming back to China in the near future.
While getting money into China is relatively easy, getting it out of the country isn’t so simple.
If you have been working in China and you have saved up some money in Yuan, you will have to exchange it into an international currency, whether to make international transfers or to take it with you in cash. The problem is how foreigners have a daily limit on the amount of money they can exchange from Yuan into other currencies (around 400 EUR or 500 USD). So, either prepare to go to the bank daily or find a trustworthy Chinese person to exchange it for you (there are no restrictions on them).
I recommend closing all of your bank accounts in China before leaving (it will take you less than an hour and hundreds of papers). If, for whatever reason, you want to leave an account open with some money in it, keep in mind that the UnionPay system is not very widespread outside of China, though in the past years many international banks have started to accept these cards in their ATMs.
If you have been studying in China and you are going to obtain a degree, keep in mind that the process may take at least a week.
The university will give you a piece of paper on which you will have to place the seals of various departments that most likely you have never stepped foot in. Only when you have finished your “stamp collection” can you get your degree. The process is slow and draining, most of all because finding the professors or officials able to place the seals is at times an impossible task.
Remember that in the process, you will have to return all of your cards (student, cafeteria, library, gym, etc.) and more importantly, if you are living on campus, you will have to vacate your room. So, make sure you find a place to stay during your last days or book a hotel close to the university, as once you’ve vacated your room, you will still have things to do.
As I will discuss in the next section, you will often have to translate and legalize certain documents before leaving the country. This process can take a minimum of three weeks.
As you know well, in China, rent contracts are normally for a period of one year. Making the end of the contract coincide with your move is normally difficult and breaking the contract can make you lose your deposit and in the worst case may include monetary penalties.
Even though you can come to an agreement with many owners to extend or shorten a contract by a few months so that it coincides with your move, the majority of times you will have to deal with real estate agencies that will do everything possible to keep your deposit.
Don’t trust them when the real estate agency assures you that they will find you someone who will take over your contract. It’s best if you find them yourself. I recommend taking a look at classified websites for expats, such as SmartShanghai or thebeijinger. I would also avoid putting ads in Chinese (most of all on Chinese classified sites), as they only thing you will get out of it is that hundreds of agencies that don’t have available apartments will call you.
If during your stay in China you haven’t been able to resist the urge to have a pet and you don’t want to abandon it to its luck, keep in mind that the process will take you between four and six months depending on the country.
To sum things up, this is the process that you should follow for the majority of countries:
- Find an international hospital for animals: For example, the Beijing Guanshang Animal Hospital or the Doctors Beck & Stone in Shanghai.
- Update vaccines (especially anti-rabies) and tag your pet with an ID chip.
- Once their vaccines are updated, do a blood analysis at least three months before leaving (6 months in some countries such as the United Kingdom). This analysis is to confirm that the pet is vaccinated against rabies.
- A maximum of 10 days before your departure, get a medical check for the pet to prove that it is not sick. Keep in mind that to process the “certificate of good health” it takes two business days. Therefore, the time frame in which the medical exam can be carried out is very small.
One last important detail: if you want to take your pet, avoid flying with Chinese airlines (or flights on other companies operated by Chinese companies). The reason is very simple: for many Chinese, the idea of spending money on a pet is barbarous (even though this mentality is changing in the big cities), so, don’t expect the airline to pay much attention to your pet’s well being. One thing that happens frequently is that the cargo hold temperature isn’t properly regulated and your pet gets hypothermia.
After having been here for a while, you have surely realized the importance of personal connections in China. Even though you have no intention of coming back, you never know what will happen in the future. So, do yourself a favor and leave things on good terms with the few or many contacts that you have made during your stay. Many of your co-workers and/or Chinese friends will be waiting for you to say goodbye to them by inviting them out to eat or at least saying sorry because you don’t have time to invite them.
What documents and procedures do I need to prepare?
Unregister at your consulate
If you have lived for some time in China, I imagine that you have registered with the consulate/embassy from your country. You haven’t? Well, I think that it’s a little late to tell you why you should have done it, no? ; )
One very common error among expats is to leave the country without unregistereing at their consulate. Even though sometimes it’s possible to process your unregistration through email, I think that it’s very important for you to do it before leaving, as this “document” will very likely be necessary for many future procedures.
Translations and legalizations
China has not signed the Apostille Convention, which means that Chinese legal documents aren’t valid internationally.
The only way to legalize them is:
- Translate them (to the official language of the country where they must take effect) and legalize the translation through the Chinese Foreign Ministry (公证). In general, the process takes a week.
- Authentication by the consulate or embassy of the country in which you have to use the document (认证). This process can take around two weeks.
Take note that this process can only be carried out in China (the Chinese consulate in your destination country can’t help you with this) and if you forget to legalize any documents, I don’t think you’ll enjoy returning to China just for this. So, think very carefully about which documents you are going to need to legalize.
An example? Your work contract.
If you have been working in China, it’s possible that you may need a legal document demonstrating it to access, for example, state benefits for returned emigrants, tax exemptions or public positions that require you demonstrate your experience.
Recognition of degrees
Given the interest many countries have in attracting Chinese students (and the money they bring with them), in the past years, China has signed bilateral agreements with many countries so that university degrees are easily considered equivalent.
However, as I have emphasized in the previous section, China has not signed the Apostille Convention and therefore if you have obtained a degree in China and you want it to be accepted in your destination country, you will have to go through the legalization and authentication procedure described in the previous point.
Keep in mind that this may take you around three weeks and as I have said before, to get the degree, you will likely have to vacate your room at the university. In addition, be careful with the validity period of your student visa, because it’s possible that it will expire at the end of the school period and that you will need to request a visa extension.
How to send your belongings from China
Before getting to it, are you looking for a company that will help you send your belongings and you don’t know which one to choose? Fill in this form and get a free quote from several agencies.
As far as I know, there are three ways to bring your things from China. Choosing one system or another will depend on various factors, mainly on what you want to bring, the price, the volume, the weight and the time.
Except for when you bring things on the plane with you, your belongings will have to clear customs, which is free in the majority of countries for changes in residency. For this, they will require that you have lived in China for a certain amount of time (normally more than a year) and they will ask you for the following documents as a minimum:
- Consular unregistration document.
- Record of your new residence and if you are moving to a country different from your own, a residency permit for more than 6 months.
- Sworn declaration that you are not planning to sell the imported articles.
Bringing them with you on the plane
If you have not succumbed to the human nature to accumulate things that are hard to get rid of, this is probably the best option for you.
- Price: For small and light volumes, this is without a doubt the cheapest way. If you opt for this option, check your baggage limits (normally a maximum of 25kg per bag). Keep in mind that some airlines will allow you to bring two pieces of luggage on transcontinental trips (right now Air China and KLM are coming to my mind) and others allow you to add extra pieces of luggage for a reasonable price (around 60 USD). So, pick your company wisely when you book your tickets!
- Time: Obviously, this is the fastest way.
- Restrictions: Even though this depends greatly on how rigorous the regulations at your destination are, this is the only way to bring certain products such as food or other products which aren’t permitted via the other means of transport.
- Documentation: In theory, you won’t have to make a customs declaration.
- Quantity: This is the biggest disadvantage, as you will have a bag limit (2 or 3 depending on the company) and weight limit (normally 25kg per suitcase).
- Airport inspections: It’s possible that when you arrive at your destination they will inspect your luggage looking for unauthorized products. Depending on your destination, they can be more or less frequent. The problem is that many products bought in China can be confiscated because they don’t comply with safety standards, copyright laws or because they are considered counterfeit. In my experience, these inspections are more frequent for flights coming directly from China. Therefore, I suggest you chose a flight with a layover. In addition, people with more luggage are more likely to be stopped than people with only one bag.
In China, there are many companies that can help you send relatively large volumes via air transport. This is the best option for people who don’t mind paying more to get their things quickly.
- Time: You can receive your things in the airport of your destination in three days to one week.
- Quantity: You can send large volumes even though there will normally be weight and volume restrictions.
- Price: This is without a doubt the most expensive way.
- Restrictions: This is also the most restrictive way as for what you can bring. Generally, you can’t send food or electronic devices of any type.
This is the most frequently used way due to its lower cost and is recommended for large volumes or special items such as vehicles.
- The price: This is the cheapest way.
- Quantity: There are no weight or volume limits. You can send what you want.
- Restrictions: Even though they will go over the contents of the boxes, in general the inspection won’t be even close to as exhaustive as what they may do in the airport. Some of the products you can’t bring are food, CDs and magnets.
- Time: This is the slowest way and it can take between one and three months to arrive.
- Be careful with your belongings: Your belongings will suffer from the effects of weather and gravity, as they won’t be treated with much care. Be sure that they are well protected against humidity and blows.
Sending by volume or by weight
Even though I am going to focus on sea transport (the most used), the majority of this advice also can be applied to air transport.
As a general rule, for volumes less than three cubic meters (around 12 large boxes), it would be better to send by weight.
Sending by weight
This is without a doubt the easiest way but also the slowest (around two to three months). Even though the cheapest way is through ordinary mail, personally I recommend hiring a company to do it. The price won’t be much different and this has the advantage that they will come and pick up the packages at your house, they will help you with the packaging so that it doesn’t break during the trip (very common in ordinary mail) and they will take care of the exit and entry procedures at the country of destination.
Normally, when you send by weight, the company will provide you with the boxes and will tell you the weight limit of each one (normally around 20-30 Kg). The price per box varies greatly depending on the company and destination but will normally range between 400 and 800 Yuan each.
Sending by volume
I recommend this options for people who have lived in China for a long time, especially families or couples, as it’s likely that you have rented an apartment and that you have accumulated many things that you may need in your future home. The sending time is less than the previous way, generally between one and two months.
If you choose this option, keep in mind that the increase in price isn’t linear: the more you send, the cheaper it will cost you per cubic meter. The main problem with sending things this way is the unloading fee in the destination port, where they will charge you a minimum for unloading, whether you send two boxes or thirty.
So that you get an idea, sending three cubic meters from Beijing to the port of Barcelona costs a little less than 6,000 Yuan, whereas unloading the packages in the post costs between 400 and 600 Euros (depending on the company). If you add two more cubic meters to what you send, the unloading fee will stay the same while the delivery cost will go up a little less than 1,000 Yuan.
Just remember that if you decide to buy things to send, take them out of the packaging so that they are considered used.
Well, I think that’s all for today. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to write in the comments section below.
Photo Credits: 福 Traditional by kenji ケンジ
Abandoned KTV and Nightclub Longgang Shenzhen China by Chris