During normal times, nearly a million foreign workers might call China home, with hundreds of thousands inhabiting vibrant costal metropolises such as Shanghai. But after the rise of COVID-19 in early 2020, things got a lot more complicated.

Many foreign workers fled the country as reports circulated of the virus’ spread in places like Wuhan, but the tables were quickly turned. Soon, China was successfully controlling the virus, and the expatriates who had sought safety in their home countries soon found themselves facing even more worrying local outbreaks and difficult job prospects at home during what became a lockdown economy.

This was also my story. For over ten years I made my life and career in China, working with Chinese companies looking to develop their global marketing and public relations capabilities and expand into overseas markets. But in 2020 I was trapped in Hong Kong, unable to return to China for work, while also not daring to return home to the USA where the pandemic was raging out of control.

Thankfully, after a nearly 10-month long purgatory-like existence, moving from hotel to hotel to avoid Hong Kong’s legendarily-high rent prices, I met with a much-needed break. I received a job offer allowing me to return to the city of Shenzhen, China, which had become my second home, to continue my journey in China’s burgeoning tech sector.

However, in light of China’s tighter restrictions on entering the country following the onset of the global pandemic, getting a job offer was only the first step. In the below vlogs, I highlight the many process I had to undertake (December 2020 – February 2021) to satisfy Chinese government requirements for visa applications, border crossings, and mandatory quarantine stays.

While, moving forward, Chinese government requirements for returning to the country for work, as well as those of different Chinese cities, will likely continue to change and evolve, I hope that my own experiences can serve as a guide for others like me who have made China their home, who also long to return.

Applying for a Work Visa & Crossing the Border

Undergoing China’s Mandatory Quarantine

It’s worth noting that in the nearly two months since I completed my own return to the Chinese Mainland, including the border crossing and three-week quarantine, there have already been additional updates to Chinese government policy regarding the pandemic and crossing the border.

On one hand, many sources appear to agree that some locations in China, including Shenzhen, are stepping back the restrictive 14+7 day mandatory quarantine period, instead requiring only 14 days at a hotel. However, some cities’ requirements may differ, so be sure to double-check before making plan to return to China.

The Chinese government also previously announced that foreigners who had received a Chinese-made vaccine would not be required to go through the additional visa processes imposed by the pandemic, instead only needing to meet pre-pandemic requirements.

To be clear, as was true in my own case, applying for a visa and crossing the border is still possible without a Chinese-made vaccine, but the process is longer, more documents are required, and more pressure is placed on the individual, or the applying company, to prove that the foreigner in question is necessary for travel/employment in China.

Personally, I am confident that China’s entry and visa restrictions will continue to loosen as the world recovers from the pandemic. However, I doubt that these restrictions will completely disappear in the years to come.

China has prospered, relatively speaking, while foreign countries implemented indecisive and ineffective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. While keeping its borders closed, or at least restricted, certainly has its negative sides, China has a lot more to lose by not learning from the mistakes of others and opening-up too soon.


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