So I was in China for a Year
Let’s play some catchup shall we? About a year and a half ago, our school in South Korea told us that they were going to close down. This has always been a real possibility because we were a small school, with a very low student population. We had excellent students, but from a financial perspective, the city was just not big enough to accommodate an international school, so since we are a growing family with two kids, we started to look for other places to work. Thankfully, we found a school between Tianjin and Beijing, however, after going through the visa process, our kids dependent visas were denied. Fast forward to June, our school in Korea decides to stay open and we made the difficult decision for me to go to China (as China at the time was a longterm prospective place to live and teach) while Jill continued to lead her school in Korea. At the time, as the world was developing vaccines and seemed to be opening up again, we took a calculated risk. We thought we would be able to fly from China to Korea and visa versa, but unfortunately that was not the case. On the contrary, lockdowns in my area became more intense and for the second time this calendar year, the kids were denied their visas into China. That said, China was really good to me in general. I loved the people and when things loosen up, we plan to return to this amazing country to live and explore.
The Beginning of the Process
We signed our contracts in March of 2021 and we immediately started the process of getting together all the documents. Word of advice 1: DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. GET YOUR DOCUMENTS IN ORDER ASAP. We used Monument Visa for Jill’s FBI background check and to get our degrees apostille. For my RCMP background check we used Reliability Screening. We found both services were a little expensive, but they were efficient. I could not imagine going through this process without having an agency. A lot of these schools require ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS THAT MUST BE AUTHENTICATED BY THE CHINESE EMBASSY so remember to budget some money for express DHL and or other express mailing services. For my documents, I made initial contact with Reliability Screening on May 3rd and everything was finalized at the end of July. I received my PU LETTER in the middle of June but the other documents came in very close to the deadline. ROUGH COST ESTIMATE: 2000USD FOR THE FAMILY OF FOUR
Let’s Go to the Visa Office
This was probably one of the most tiring aspects of the whole visa application process. I decided to go to Chinese Visa Application Service Center in Seoul and process the visa there. I was happy I did that because I found that they were more informed than my wife’s experience in Gwangju (one of the reasons we are currently residing in Thailand). The first thing that you need to do is GET A COPY OF YOUR ENTRY / EXIT from immigration in Seoul (or another city that you reside in). This is a painless procedure that only cost around 5,000krw and only took me 15 minutes once I got to immigration. Then I went back to the Chinese Visa office with that and my PU letter, contract from my school in China, passport, and all the important documents. I paid 140,000krw to get it expressed in 24 hours, but if you don’t go that route, it was a few days to process.
Next Stop: The PCR Test from an Approved Hospital
So you are about 48 hours from departure and one of the final steps is to get a PCR test from a hospital that is approved by the Chinese embassy. We went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Incheon, as we were staying by the airport. This was a thirty-minute taxi ride from Incheon International Airport, but it was quick and painless. Well, it was painless until they jabbed a Q-Tip and poked my brain. Four hours later, we had the results and were gearing up for the last leg of our journey.
Uploading Your Results to get Your Travel Code for China
After you get your results, you need to take a photo of it and upload it to the Chinese Health Declaration Certificate Website. Normally, this will take about 2 hours for the Chinese embassy or consulate to approve your health status and give you a green code. As well, you need to upload pictures of your passport and visa. There are several steps to go through, and my experience was that it was rather tedious and resulted in a red code (that’s really bad) because I didn’t have a proper passport photo. After having a small heart attack, I decided to up re-upload my passport photo page from the hotel and a couple of hours later, I had my green code. PRO TIP: TAKE A VERY CLEAR PICTURE.
The Day of Departure
Like with most fathers, I like to get to the airport early and then wait around for a few hours and look at planes, talk with other dads about faster and most efficient routes to get to the airport. That was not the case here. My traveling companion and I were up early, with intentions to get to the airport with plenty of time to enjoy the business-class lounge until we encountered a problem at the airport with the health codes. You see there are travel codes everywhere in China, and they start at the airport. A year ago, these were all in Chinese and since I can’t read Chinese, I had to call my HR representative at my school to go through line-by-line to fill in the online form. This was extremely time consuming and nearly caused us to miss the flight. As well, we held up the line in customs trying to sort this out. Thankfully on the way out of China a month ago, the application is in both English and Chinese, but I do not know if that is the case entering the country.
A word of advice: GET SOMETHING TO EAT AT THE AIRPORT AND GO TO THE BATHROOM. The flight from Seoul to Tianjin was about an hour and a half. We were lucky enough to get upgraded to business class and we had a small meal and went to the bathroom while we were on the flight. I mention this because after landing there is a process from getting off the plane, going through customs, getting on a bus, loading our own luggage onto the bus and getting to the quarantine hotel. This probably took around 4 hours and if you need to use the bathroom this can be extremely uncomfortable.
Welcome to China
After landing in China, you are immediately taken through immigration to have your papers processed. As well, you are subjected to COVID tests. A piece of advice for those with young children: MENTALLY PREP YOUR KIDS BEFORE LANDING! When Jill was going to bring the kids by herself to meet me in China, we had been in the process of getting the kids mentally prepared. In my experience, there was a lot of jabbing and poking. Some of the kids were separated from their parents and this caused some mental distress, especially as the kids were being jabbed by people in full hazmat suits. So my advice is to really be patient and have the kids ready for what is about to come. Reassure them that you are near and that the people testing them are medical professionals. This was the strategy Jill and myself were going to use when the time came.
Beep! Beep! I’m a bus!
After immigration, COVID testing and a bunch of paperwork, you head to the bus where they take you to the quarantine hotel. This was unexpected, but not surprising. There was never really a clear picture of what was going to happen when we landed in China and after we cleared immigration. There wasn’t much order, we just followed directions into a bus. We sat on the bus for a solid hour to hour and fifteen minutes before we moved a whopping 150 meters to which we had to load all of our own luggage into the bus. This was quite the task trying to find luggage for a flight of about 100 people and to load it into the limited spaces, especially since this was an international flight, the bus was loaded with luggage. Eventually you get moving, but it is a long and boring process. Go to the bathroom, bring lots of water and some snacks especially if you have little ones.
Welcome to Quarantine Hotel 1 – 14 Days of Fun!
After about an hour bus ride, we get to the hotel. We had to carry the luggage up five floors, as you could not use the elevator. The clerk at the entrance wanted us to pay right away, but since I didn’t have any money on my WeChat, my HR came for the save and paid for everything from their accounts. I tried to get a paper receipt but this was denied. I did get one eventually but there was a lot of twisting and turning of arms. Be prepared for a lot of miscommunication and red-tape. My traveling companion brought cash money and they didn’t accept that either. However, I have heard from other experiences that they allow international credit card payments and other forms of payment, but in my case it was only WeChat pay, which makes zero sense as you are coming from another country and probably don’t have a bank account in China yet.
The Room and Meals Ahead
The room was very standard: a queen bed, a small desk for work and a small bathroom with a shower. In the hotel there were three cases of water to get you through the next two weeks. The meals were from a local restaurant and it was always Chinese food. A word of advice: BRING COFFEE AND OTHER DRINKS AND BRING PLENTY OF SNACKS. By the end of the 14 days, I didn’t want to look at another meal and had exhausted my supply of dried meats. I was craving a coffee. Some of my quarantine floor mates managed to get coffee and other supplies delivered but I did not have that opportunity. Below is a gallery of the food for the fourteen days. They were repetitive but overall not bad.
Mentally and Physically Preparing
At first the idea of laying in bed with delivery to my door three times a day sounded like a dream but after the first couple of days, it becomes tiresome. I felt lethargic most days. I was missing my family and friends and just having control over my life. I think that was the worst part was that I had no control over things I would normally have. My Fitbit was a good reminder of how inactive I was being. I started walking between my door and window, keeping track of my steps. A quick, no-equipment workout routine (Thank you Fraser Wilson). This exercise routine made a difference in my mental and physical health. As well, I was working online and having a routine of calling my colleagues and meeting my students helped create a day. My advice is to find something to do in quarantine; a hobby, a project you put off, because you will have a lot of of time.
Final Cost: Room Fee + Food Fee 8000RMB ($1200USD)
Ever Want to Ride 75km in an Ambulance?
So after leaving the confines of Room 513, it was time for some fresh air and recreation. Wait. No. It was a two-minute walk from my hotel to a waiting ambulance that would take me to my next quarantine location in Wuqing. I have never (thankfully) been in an ambulance, so it was kind of fun actually as we blew through traffic stops.
Welcome to Wuqing
My school was actually located in Wuqing county, as well as having a positive case of COVID on my flight and new regulation from the Chinese government, I had to add 7 days of quarantine. The first difference I noticed about the Wuqing hotel was that it was larger with a better selection of food. The food was solid and I was allowed to get delivery to the room from JD (Jindong). My HR representative took care of me and delivered me coffee and soda and some snacks to make the next week go smoother. As it turns out, this quarantine hotel was formerly an international hotel, so it explains the better conditions. Honestly, this hotel was pretty nice and I would have no problem staying there if it ever reopens as an actual hotel.
21 Days Later – My Journey Home
The final seven days were spent in my apartment. My school was kind enough to stock my apartment with necessities like food, beer and coffee. I also had the option of giving my HR a list of food from the local grocery store and having them deliver it outside my apartment door. I don’t really have any pictures because it was my apartment and I didn’t think it was relevant.
Overall: The 21 days in quarantine was a long, boring and sometimes mentally draining experience. We take for granted the things we can do in our daily lives that we can’t. Small things, like go for a coffee, walk to the store to pick up a treat, go to the park for a walk, etc. These were all things I took for granted in quarantine. Some advice: BRING A LOT OF MONEY AND IF ITS POSSIBLE MAKE SURE ITS ON WECHAT. Everything is on WeChat in China. My traveling companion brought a lot of cash and was reject for some of the services that requires WeChat. IF YOU HAVE KIDS MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A ROUTINE. Jill was going to bring some workbooks for the kids while they supposed to be in quarantine to try to simulate a school day. Online lessons in Chinese and lots of games so they are not stuck to a screen all day. It is so easy to get stuck on the Ipad and although this is okay for awhile, I felt so lethargic and rundown mentally.
Final Thoughts: China was very good to me once I got through this process. I want to reiterate this is JUST MY EXPERIENCE and does not necessarily reflect the entire China quarantine process. A close friend recently finished his quarantine in Xiamen in a five-star hotel with room service on the regular, so experiences can vary. The best thing you can do as a traveler is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Good luck in China! It is a beautiful country with beautiful people. I can’t wait to get back there to explore it more. But until then, it’s Thailand sand, sun and beaches 🙂