Swapping the Alps for the Yangtze: Paperwork 1

In November 2017 my partner and I made the decision to relocate our family from Switzerland to China. I explained the reasons for this in this post.

I thought the Swiss were bureaucratic but the paperwork required and the subsequent cost and effort to obtain a visa to work in China is quite mind-boggling. A process that began at Christmas continues in April, still with no visa in sight!

People keep asking me, how the preparation for the move is going and I still don’t have an asnwer for them because I am still dealing with paperwork. Different paperwork from the stuff in January admittedly, but its still paperwork.

So what is it we have had to do and continue to do to secure that working visa? I hope that the narrative below offers some pointers for anyone heading down this road in the future.

Passport

Firstly I had to get a new passport because my old one was due to expire eight months after we arrived. This wasn’t too much of an issue. I was able to order it online when I was back in the UK at Christmas and pick it up within the space of a week before I headed back to CH.

ePhotos

On the list of required documents our new school sent us was an ePhoto. I erroneously assumed that this was just a scan of a passport photo. On no! An ePhoto is a special digital passport photo, and, guess what? The Chinese specifications for passport photos are different to European ones. The only place we could find that could do this locally was a local photographer. He charged 100CHF for the four of us to have ePhotos. China 1 – Vincents 0

UK Degree & Teaching Certificates

Next, we had to have our UK degree certificates and teaching certificates authenticated/legalized by the Chinese Embassy in London. This involved sending all the documents to a UK solicitor who was able to stamp and sign them off as genuine before that could be sent to the UK Government’s Legalisation office who legalised the solicitors signature (effectively to say, that this solicitor was a real solicitor).

Once that was done the papers could be taken to the Chinese embassy in London who added a sticker to them that says it is an authentic document. This takes a few days and the documents have to be left at the embassy during this time.

The two visits (one to apply and another to collect) to the Chinese embassy had to be done in person and thankfully our family was able to help us here.

The UK embassy doesn’t seem to require any of the documents to be translated.

Swiss Birth Certificates

We had to undertake a similar process with our daughters birth certificates but this time in Switzerland as both of them were born here and have Swiss birth certificates. We had to take these certificates to the Cantonal Legalisation office in Lausanne to have them stamped before sending them to the Federal Legalisation office in Bern to be certified.

Once certified we were had to have the birth certificates and their certifications translated. We had a friend do this for us.

Once translated we were able to take the birth certificates to the Chinese Embassy in Bern, to have them authenticated and again we were able to collect them a few days later.

Criminal Record Checks

Thankfully, as we have lived in Switzerland for six years we aren’t required to submit UK record checks. I say thankfully because all the steps so far have required a large volume of posting, signing and filling in forms and when you are living in one country and having to get paperwork of another country sorted…well, it isn’t the easiest thing to do.

The Swiss system seems to be particularly well set up for these procedures. When applying for a Swiss criminal record check you can select an option to have it legalised at the federal office for an extra 20CHF. This means that your form arrives in the post already stamped.

Once certified by the federal office these documents also needed to be translated before they can be taken to the Chinese embassy in Bern to be authenticated.

Medical Checks

The medical is relatively straightforward. You have the usual stuff like blood pressure, height, weight as well as a chest x-ray, HIV and Syphilis blood test, and ECG. Except that our doctor forgot to also get my blood type, meaning I needed to have two blood tests with a 10-day delay over Easter.

Costs

So that’s where we are as of April 1st 2018. Lots of forms and paperwork filled in but still no visa in sight. All of this paperwork in Switzerland has also been hugely expensive (who would have thought of anything else in CH!)

Swapping the Alps for the Yangtze: Prelude

In December last year, my partner and I succeeded in securing new teaching posts….in China. 

A lot of people, both in Switzerland and at home, thought we had gone a little mad. And perhaps we had.

Why leave Switzerland? Why leave the perfect country for raising young children? Why leave beautiful idyllic scenery and swap it for a throbbing smoggy Chinese metropolis that hardly anyone has heard of (Chongqing)?

Unfortunately, economic circumstances have turned against us in Switzerland.

The economic situation in Canton Vaud has been such that my partner has not been able to find her first teaching position here. When we moved to CH she gave up a career as a nature conservation ranger and land manager and, while looking for work with a variety of NGOs, has worked in several different roles in the two schools we have worked in and gained her teaching qualification.

Because CH is such an attractive teaching destination, most international schools seem to require a minimum of two years teaching experience as a way of filtering the volume of applications they get. As an NQT with limited teaching experience, it was hard for her to get a foot in the door for teaching.

We decided that to stay in Switzerland we needed to both be in full-time employment by August 2018 so we gave ourselves several “family” deadlines and options. We didn’t want to live off savings nor not be able to pay into our pensions – particularly after watching my parents survive old age without one. November 2017 came and went, and this initiated us spreading our net further afield in potential posts- India, China, Uganda to name just a few places where we looked for joint international teaching jobs.

After narrowing (and being narrowed)! China became our hottest option. Since then lots of people have asked us: Why China? This question presupposes choice as if we were simply able to throw a dart at a map and move where ever it lands. The reality in international teaching isn’t like that. You move where the job is. You don’t move and then find a job.

We didn’t set out thinking “Let’s move to China“.

We started by talking about what we needed as a family in any new context we found ourselves in.

One of the reasons we didn’t want to leave CH was the opportunity to place our two daughters in a good public school system where they would have the opportunity to become fully French/English bilingual. Hardly anyone in my family in the UK speaks a second language. For me its really important that my daughters grow up appreciating other cultures through the languages they learn. And from the little I know about language acquisition, it is best that children are immersed in a second language before the age of 7 or 8. We don’t speak anything but English at home and therefore by leaving CH, we were potentially giving up on that dream unless we could find another context where the girls would be immersed in another language.

We also needed somewhere that was going to be a springboard for my partner’s new career as a teacher. Having kids and raising a family overseas is not easy. Obviously, there is less support, as your parents and extended family can’t be called upon to help with childcare and emotional support. But, CH also has a limited support system for young families, particularly for those where both parents want to return to work. There is a limited supply of affordable nurseries and creches. The cost of one child at a private full-time creche is over 3000CHF per month. Therefore with the high cost of childcare in CH for my partner to return to work, she would need to earn more than usual for an NQT.

When our first daughter was born I desperately wanted to have the opportunity to stay at home and look after her. With a lack of paternity leave (there is no statutory right to it in CH – thankfully my employer gave me a week), and with a partner without work, and a lower earning potential, for the sake of the family liquidity, this just wasn’t an option.

We were, therefore, trapped in this unfavourable economic circumstance. My partner couldn’t find a teaching post, and even if she did, it just wouldn’t make sense as the cost of childcare. And without a partner who had a career to keep the family solvent, I was unable to stop work to be with my children.

It was time to find a way for my partner to kick-start a career.

Therefore our two criteria for our new school in order of importance were:

  1. It must be a bilingual environment so that our daughters have the opportunity to learn a second language from a young age.
  2. The school would employ my partner in her first teaching position.

The school we accepted hit these criteria and they offered me a promoted post. We think we got quite lucky!

So, either stay in CH, with all its perfect idylls and become bankrupt or go to busy China and set all the family up with the right conditions for growth. What would you do?

All we need to do now is find child care for daughter number 2…