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[How To]: Leave China the Right Way

Here's 13 things you should do to make sure you've got your affairs in order before quitting Big Red for good...
2024-01-15 16:00:00
From the directly and minutely useful to information on living your best self in the world. How To is our regular column on how to accomplish things in the city.

Well, yeah, you CAN just get on a plane and leave. No one's stopping you from doing a midnight dash...

Unless they are stopping you; see Item 1.

But here are 13 things you should take care of to leave China the "right" way, as in, with all your affairs in order and with the door open should you wish to return someday. And hey, there might even be a little money in it for you. See below for the sections on taxes and social security refunds.

Let's get into it.

Make Sure You Can Actually Leave

Even foreign passport holders might face a situation where they are legally barred from leaving the country. The most common case is if there's a pending lawsuit against you. This is more common than you'd think.

The typical scenario is this: Laowai opens a brick-and-mortar business, like a bar or a consulting business. It does not go well. Laowai fails to pay landlord the rent. Laowai tries to leave the country, only to find out at the airport that the landlord has filed a lawsuit. Laowai is prevented from getting on the plane.

We've seen cases where foreigners were stuck in China for several years because lawsuits can often take that long to be resolved. But you can actually find out if there are any lawsuits filed against you at the China Judicial Process Information Online website right here.

O find an English-speaking lawyer on SmartShanghai's directory and ask for help.

Make Sure Your Shanghai-born Kids Can Leave

Mixed-nationality kids born in China, where one parent has a foreign passport and the other parent has a Chinese passport, have a so-called "nationality conflict" (国籍冲突), and they cannot obtain a Chinese passport to travel. Further complicating things, however, is that the infant in question also cannot leave the country using a foreign passport, since that one does not have a valid China Visa.

The solution is to get an Entry-Exit Permit. We have a full guide on that here.

Deal with Your Expired Visa

Your visa period counts from the midnight of the day of your entry date. So when you enter on June 1, for example, on a 30-day visa, it counts from 12:01am on June 2, and then you have to leave at the latest on the 30th day from that (in this case, July 1).

There's no official grace period for overstaying, and it's changed a lot in the last three years but, generally speaking, even if you accidentally stay one or two days over your visa, you'll have to go to the Entry-Exit Department and explain nicely why you are late.

For anything beyond 1-2 days, they'll still let you leave but have to pay a 500rmb penalty for every day you overstayed with a limit of 10,000rmb.

For more than that, it gets ugly. If you overstay for more than a month, you might be put into a detention camp for 5 to 15 days and repatriated to your home country. It's possible you will be blacklisted, which will affect re-entry to China, and you may be prohibited from entering the country for ten years.

Long story short: Always have in mind your visa and how long you are good for, and plan accordingly. This is one of the major rules about being a foreigner in China.

Get Your Pets Qualified to Leave China and Enter Your Next Country

Getting your pet out of China is actually a two-part question: how do you get your pet OUT of China; and how do you get your pet INTO your end destination?

Pets leaving Shanghai must meet export requirements and meet import requirements, which can be different depending on the destination. It can take anywhere from a minimum of 30 days (i.e., for the US, Canada, Malaysia), four months (i.e., EU, Singapore), to eight months (i.e., Japan) to get your pet ready to fly.

We got a full guide on that right here and a list of Pet Relocation Agencies here.

Get Your (Pristine) China Criminal Record

Let's say you intend to take a job elsewhere that requests a Criminal Record of the past few years. It's easier to get one before you leave China so you should take care of that.

(Once you are out of China, you'd have to ask an agency to help you get one, and we've been quoted 3,000rmb and up. HASSLES.)

You can get a Criminal Clearance Certificate (无犯罪记录证明), that's what it's officially called, at one of those Entry-Exit Bureaus. The place you also go for Visa renewals and stuff. You can go to either the main one in Pudong, or one of the other new ones that have opened up in the last few years. Everyone who's lived in China for more than 180 days can get one, and the only other requirement is that you don't actually have a criminal record. Here's our full guide on how to do it.

Get Your Tax Statements

You might find yourself in a situation where you'll have to prove that you've paid taxes in China, especially when you return to one of those countries where you pay taxes either in China or your home country, but not both.

Here is our full guide on how to get your tax statements.

Find Someone to Take Over Your Apartment runs Shanghai's best English-language housing classifieds (in our humble opinion), and it's super easy to post your available apartment or shared apartment on our site.

Just click the "Create" button in the main navigation of our app, then "List an Apartment." Or here on the web.

Take Your Money Out

So, you've done really well with your company or your high-paid corporate job in China, and managed to put lots of savings into your Chinese bank account.

Now how do you take it out of China?

We did a full-featured article on this, but the short version is basically: Ask your HR for your personal income tax statement. Take this, and your employment contract to your bank. Tell them you want to transfer your savings out. They'll help you exchange it into whatever currency you want and then transfer it out.

For foreigners, there's no limit on how much you can transfer as long as you've paid taxes on it. (For locals, there's a 50,000rmb limit per year.)

You'd also want to consider getting help from a lawyer to transfer dividends or revenues from property sales. Here's our list of lawyers again.

Sell or Donate Your Furniture and Clothes

Just as easy as it's listing your apartment, it's super easy selling stuff on Smarthanghai's Buy&Sell section. Open our app, click the big "Create" button at the bottom and select "Sell Something on Buy&Sell" to post your stuff.

It's also free! Post a listing here.

Get Your Social Security Back

Paying social security (housing funds, social security, pension, health insurance) became mandatory for foreign employees in 2021, but in reality, it's not actually enforced, and very few companies do it. We got a pretty good insightful article into that here.

Anyway, if your company does pay yours (ask your HR if they pay 社会保险 for you), then you are entitled to receive back a portion of those funds. You won't get all of it but in a lot of cases you'll get enough to make it worthwhile.

We also got a step-by-step guide for that here.

Find a Relocation Company to Move Your Stuff

SmartShanghai got a full list of English-speaking Shanghai-based relocation companies right here. Price can vary heavily depending on how busy they are. The best strategy is to contact a bunch of them (please mention that you saw them on and then compare prices.

Buy a Snazzy Souvenir of Your Time in Shanghai

But wait! Before you dash off to explore the world beyond Shanghai, swing by our souvenir haven, Smash – far from your average e-store peddling forgettable trinkets. You'll find unique items that you won't find anywhere else (many were designed by us) that capture the essence of this wonderful city, mememtos to remind you of your special time in Shanghai.

Enter our Smash store here.

Make Sure You Won't Regret Having Missed These Things

Shanghai offers unique experiences that are hard to find elsewhere, and you might regret missing out on them once you're in a different locale. So, we did a little office poll to compile this eclectic bucket list of must-dos before you bid farewell to the city:

  • Visit the Shanghai Tower's Observation Desk - it's the 2nd highest in the world (535m) right after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (555m).
  • Take a farewell Instagram photo at the Museum of Art in Pudong: MAP is an excellent museum with world-class exhibitions, but the real catch is that glass atrium overlooking the Bund. Go there when it's empty. The afternoon sunlight is good for some pretty nice photos.
  • Eat Luneurs Salted Caramel Ice ream. Nothing else to add to this one. Mmmmm.
  • See Sleep No More: Originally from New York, Shanghai is now the only place in the world to see this award-winning theatrical experience that tells Shakespeare's classic tragedy Macbeth through a darkly cinematic lens.
  • Take the Maglev train back to the airport: It's a piece of Shanghai history. Shanghai had the first commercially used Maglev train in the world, and it still lives a slightly awkward, useless life (it's no longer reaching max speed, it doesn't even bring you into the city center, it runs a weird schedule). It's a perfect picture of Shanghai. Forward-thinking, imperfect, half finished, somehow cool. Somehow not cool. Maybe it will be really cool later.
  • Eat a really traditional shengjianbao at Shu Cai Ji or any of the other little street shops north of People's Square.
  • Walk along Suzhou Creek and the North Bund in the morning: One of Shanghai's most iconic and unique walks is a long the Suzhou Creek, maybe starting from around Sihang Warehouse Battle Memorial, all the way to the Bund, and then continue walk on the North Bund. Get up early for that one and see the sun come up over Pudong, with the Garden Bridge as a backdrop. Before the crowds (and heat) arrives.
  • See Era. It's an excellent acrobatic show, a blend of traditional Chinese acrobatics, Western theater and avant-garde technologies.
  • Have a drink at Flair at the Ritz Carlton with someone special close to sunset, one of the highest terraces in Asia. In case you hadn't noticed, most iconic views in Shanghai face east. Flair is unique, in that it is one of those rare vantage points where you can see the sun set over this magnificent city. Be on the lookout for clear, sunny days.