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Green Card Club

Any expat in China will attest that nothing is more agonizing than switching jobs – the visa headaches, the months-long wait for your new company to sort out documentation

By Sam Duckett Updated May.1

With the recent unveiling of the new “5-star green card,” the issue of Chinese permanent residence permits has been a hot topic among expat communities. As a holder of the traditional green card – sans the fancy star on the front – it feels like a good time to discuss the perks of permanent residency and the quirks involved in obtaining one.  

First off, the 5-star card, the upgraded version of the traditional Chinese green card, not only looks prettier but also boasts new technology used for online functionality and security. The ID number has the same number of digits as a Chinese ID, making it easier to make online applications.  

Furthermore, speaking with expats flaunting their fancy “5-star” cards, I almost want to upgrade mine just to avoid some cheeky comments from my peers. It does kind of feel like I am standing in an exclusive club without access to the VIP room.  

But what does permanent residence actually offer? The most crucial and obvious benefit is the elimination of the need for a visa. Any expat in China will attest that nothing is more agonizing than switching jobs – the visa headaches, the months-long wait for your new company to sort out documentation, and the painstaking criminal background checks in your home country.  

On a side note, as a British citizen, obtaining a criminal background check and getting it notarized while abroad is a complete nightmare. I won’t miss having to dig up my Skype account, making sure Skype is still a thing, and the endless calls back home.  

Other notable benefits include free compulsory education for your children, local social insurance policies, and the ability to purchase commercial property. One perk that almost trumps all is having your Chinese ID card. Well, sort of. It looks just like a Chinese ID card and for the most part works in similar fashion when traveling.  

This means no more watching staff fumble with your passport at hotels or holding up train lines while staff scrutinize your documents. Train stations have always been particularly uncomfortable because I can almost feel the rage emanating of everyone else waiting in line behind me. For someone like me who wants to live in China but not stick out, I can now finally have my cake and eat it too.  

There are a few caveats. I saw one foreign social influencer in China try to use it as ID to enter an internet cafe. Needless to say he was rejected like an underage student trying to get into a bar.  

Are there any drawbacks? Two come to mind, one unique to me. Obtaining my green card came after five years of marriage to my wife, who is from Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The catch is that all documentation must be processed in her hometown, while we reside in Beijing. The rigorous checks required multiple visits for slight changes, consuming so much of my holiday time that my boss probably thought I lacked the mental capacity to fill out a simple form.  

The other is the requirement to spend at least three months in China annually to maintain permanent residency status. I adore living in China and have been enamored with the country since I started learning Chinese as a teenager. And while I would like to spend a good long while here, this will undoubtedly weigh on my decision about whether to relocate.  

If you are considering applying for permanent residence, you might wonder if there are any tips to keep in mind. The most valuable advice I can offer is to practice patience. Be prepared for the possibility of having to make multiple visits to the immigration office before successfully submitting your application.  

I recall nearly losing my composure, until my wife gently reminded me that displaying frustration, angrily voicing my complaints, or speaking in my admittedly condescending tone would not speed up my application process. It is crucial to remember that your application is also significant to the people signing your documents. With this in mind, it’s only natural that they would want to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb.  

As I reflect on this journey, I feel like this process has given my life direction. I came to China purely out of interest and I remember my father remarking that I will likely want to make my return home by this point in my life. While things may not have panned out that way, I find myself at peace with the trajectory of my destiny.