Applying for a China Green Card for a spouse of a Chinese citizen as a UK/British national

“Green card” is a convenient name used in both English and Chinese (绿卡), but the official name here (and the one you’ll use with the authorities) is Permanent Residency for Foreign Nationals (外国人永久居留证). Please note that the following information worked for Kunming, Yunnan in January 2021, but the requirements vary by region and change over time.

Where to go, who to call

You need to hand in your documents and complete your application at the Tuodong Road Entry and Exit Bureau (盘龙区拓东路118号的昆明市公安局出入境接待大厅301室,open Monday to Friday, 9am-11.30am, 1pm-5pm). You can call them on 0871-6315 2342, 0871-6314 3436, the lines aren’t usually busy and they can answer your questions. However, there is only one person actually in charge of green card applications, Officer Jiang (蒋警官) (0871-6312 4943).

How long will it take?

I was told 11 months from the date I submitted my application, but have also heard as soon as six months. The good news is that the required funds (RMB 100,000, frozen for six months) only need frozen at the time of application: If the six months is up, it’s fine to go ahead and start using that RMB 100,000 even if you haven’t heard anything about your application.

What are my chances of getting the green card?

I asked the officer in charge of processing green cards in Kunming, she said the majority are spouse (rather than investment or professional green cards) and in her experience it is very rare for these to be rejected.

Can I apply for a regular work/spouse visa while I’m waiting?

Yes. When you apply for the green card you need to show them your passport, but they’ll only take a copy of it, not the original. A green card application and visa application are considered two completely separate procedures, so while your waiting the year or so for news about your green card it’s fine to apply for a work/spouse visa.

By the way, if you’re switching from a spouse visa to a work visa you don’t need to leave the country.

What do I need? (Short list)

Here’s a short list of documents needed for the spouse (夫妻团聚人员) green card:

  1. Proof of no criminal record in the UK (or wherever you have lived for longer than 2 years).
  2. Medical check.
  3. Marriage certificate (proof that you have been married for at least five years).
  4. Passport and
  5. proof (your passport visas) that you have been resident in China for at least five years, and been in China for at least nine months of each of those years.
  6. Green card application form.
  7. Three passport-size photographs plus a digital torso photo.
  8. An application letter (a personal statement with biographical details, stating why you deserve a green card).
  9. The ID card and Kunming Hukou Book of the Chinese spouse.
  10. RMB 100,000 in a bank account that has been frozen for at least six months.
  11. Proof of residency (house ownership or rental agreement).
  12. Application fee of RMB 1,800.

Note the other categories of green card have different requirements: The investment green card requires that you have invested USD 500,000 or more over a period of at least three years, with all tax paid. A professional green card requires that you’ve been employed for at least four years in a high position (assistant general manager, university professor etc). You can also apply if you are the spouse, child or elderly relative (60 years+) of one of the above green card holders.

When you go to apply…

It will take one to two hours, start to finish. Your spouse must be with you. There is only one lady in charge of green card applications, Officer Jiang (蒋警官). Call her 2-3 days before you go to make sure that she’ll be there (0871-6312 4943).

What do I need? (Detailed list)

Below are details about each of the documents on the above list. You must also provide three photocopies of all original documents, black and white photocopies – colour scans are not acceptable. And don’t write anything else on the photocopy pages. I made the mistake of making colour scans and writing my name, passport number etc on them – they don’t want that.

  1. Proof of no criminal record (国外无犯罪记录证明)in the UK made within six months of submitting your application. For this you need either a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (www.gov.uk/request-copy-criminal-record, list of required documents in the file below) if you are a UK resident and have a current UK address OR a police certificate from ACRO (the Criminal Records Office, here) if you are a resident abroad. Both are acceptable.

    The document needs to be authenticated in three stages; notarised, legalised and authenticated (details below). It is possible to do this by yourself, however it saves a lot of time and energy if you do the whole thing through a notary – this is not cheap though, and can cost between GBP 450 and GBP 700, best to ask for quotes.

    The notary should give you the Chinese Embassy’s Legalization Application Form – this does need to be the signed original, you can’t send a digital scan, so that needs to be couriered to your notary. I used DHL from Kunming, worked great.
    1. First documents need to be notarised by a UK notary, which just means it’s a legal guarantee the documents are authentic. I ended up using Westminster Legalisation Services ( wlegalisation.co.uk/country), they were priced at the lower end 4-500 pound mark, but came across as very professional, and offered more useful information than I’d asked for.
    2. The documents need to be legalised by the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, which replaces the old Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)). ‘Legalised’ means that this government department authenticates the notary you have used. I’m not sure if ‘legalised’ is an American term or a translation of the Chinese, but in the UK they seem to use the term ‘apostille’ more frequently. This term ‘is used specifically for authentication of public documents with the purpose of making them fully legally recognizable in a foreign country.‘ It costs GBP 30 for each document, plus postage, including courier fee and takes about 10 days to process. The application page is here: www.gov.uk/get-document-legalised. You can get the notary to send the documents directly to the FCDO, and then when legalised courier to you or to someone in the UK.
    3. Authentication by the Chinese Embassy in London, which means the Chinese Embassy/government approve of the FCDO as being a recognised legal body. Some details are here.
    4. All documents that are in English, so the criminal record check, and the notarisation, need to be translated by a Chinese translation company and stamped with the company chop. Any Chinese limited liability company (有限公司) seems to be acceptable – I went to 昆明语言桥翻译有限公司,南屏街世纪中心2909,做高层电梯到29楼,make sure you get the elevator that goes up to the 29 floor, some only go up to the 25th, it cost RMB 260 to check my translation and give me the stamp – not translate the documents from scratch.) You must include a copy of the translation company’s business license (营业执照), plus three extra photocopies.
  2. A medical (健康证明书). In Kunming this is from the Kunming Customs (formerly Yunnan Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau) Yunnan International Travel Health Care Center (昆明海关(原云南出入境检验检疫局)云南国际旅行卫生保健中心) which can be found on 359 Guangfu Road, opposite the China Development Bank (广福路359号,国家开发银行对面), tel. 0871-6718 0713. You must bring your passport and three ‘2 inch’ (meaning 35mm×49mm) passport-style photos. (They also asked for a colour photocopy of my passport, but never looked at it). And you cannot have eaten anything for the eight hours preceding the medical, so skip breakfast. The medical must be conducted within six months of submitting your application. The medical cost RMB 487 in December 2020, took under an hour, and the report was ready in two days. You only need to hand over and make photocopies of the little passport sized booklet – not the A4 white book.
  3. Proof that you have been married for at least five years. This would be a Chinese government issued marriage certificate or a marriage certificate from a foreign country that has been authenticated by the Chinese embassy in that country. For a Chinese marriage certificate you need to photocopy all interior pages, including the end papers – everything except the cover. Note that your passport number must match that written on the marriage certificate, so if that’s an expired passport you need to provide the original plus three copies.
  4. Passport. If you want your Chinese name to appear on your card, you must also get a notarized translation of your passport, with your name translated as your Chinese name. You can do this at the same place you get your other notary work done (I used 明信).
  5. and proof you have been resident in China for over five years, and for longer than nine months for each of those years. For me this meant three passports, as I renewed my passport four years ago, so I needed the bio page from my current passport, and the previous passport, and the applications officer recommended copies of China visas going back ten years. My marriage certificate is from 15 years ago, which is yet a third passport, so for that one I also needed to provide the original and a copy of the bio page.
  6. The proper name for the application form is the (Spouse Reunion) Foreign National Permanent Residency Application Form (外国人在中国永久居留证申请表(夫妻团聚人员)), as far as I can tell they are only available at the Exit and Entry Bureau; you fill it in when you go to hand over your documents. The people at the Bureau were nice enough to give me copies to practise on, as the real forms must be filled out in triplicate in front of one of the Bureau staff and you cannot correct mistakes – it must be perfect first time. So they give you a trial run. It must be all filled out in Chinese, and if you want your Chinese name on the card alongside your English name write, “制证时请添加中文姓名:[Your Chinese name]”. You can only do this if you have a translated, notarized copy of your British passport. If you have been on a spouse visa for the last few years, you are not of course legally allowed to work, so in the income section write “个人” and for the source “存款“ (Personal Funds).
  7. Three colour two-inch passport-style photographs of applicant plus a digital torso photo (meaning half-body from the midriff up, this will be printed on the actual green card) this can either be handed in on a CD (!) or sent to their email address: service1408@126.com. For the digital photo, you must be wearing dark clothes (and glasses, if you usually wear glasses), ears and eyebrows must be visible.  I tried submitting a digital photo taken with a phone and it was rejected: They said it must be taken by a photography studio.
  8. An application letter (书面申请书, which is different to the 申请表 application form that you pick up and the Entry and Exit Bureau). This has a very specific format, I’ve attached a word template at the end of this post, here are the main points:
    1. It should have the title “申请书” at the top, centred, in the same 宋体 font as the rest of the letter, but bold and 22 point and there should be nothing else – no date, no applicant name, nothing. And do not write the date anywhere on the letter.
    2. Every paragraph must be indented two spaces (two character widths) and in 14 point 宋体 font.
    3. The first paragraph is about you the applicant, start with: “本人,申请人[your English name], 中文名[your Chinese name]([your nationality]国籍,护照号码:  [no.] ,出生日期:  XXXX年XX月XX日),” Then write about your background, where you grew up and went to school, why you came to China. Somewhere write your current address. Finish this paragraph with how you met your spouse, this is after all for a spouse green card, so it was made clear to me I should emphasise the relationship.
    4. The second paragraph is about your spouse, start it off with 我妻子/丈夫[their Chinese name](身份证号码:[no.],出生日期:XXXX年XX月XX日)then write about their background, where they grew up and went to school. At the end of this paragraph (or a new paragraph) write about your children if any.
    5. They want to know where your income has come from during your stay in China, this is very important. Either write about work in the first paragraph, or if you’ve been on a spouse visa for the last few years, and so cannot legally accept any form of paid employment, write about your spouse’s income in the second paragraph and something like “我们主要的收入来源来自上述的工作。”
    6. The next paragraph should detail what you have been doing the last few years. This should also cover why you need and deserve a green card. It would also not hurt to make clear how much you love China and Chinese culture, and how you intend to spend the foreseeable future if not the rest of your life here.
    7. The letter should end with “此致 [next line] 申请人:” and leave it blank. Do not sign it! You’ll be asked to sign it and apply your thumbprint in front of one of the Bureau staff.
    8. Make three photocopies of the unsigned letter.
  9. The ID card (中国籍配偶的居民身份证) and Kunming Hukou Book (常住昆明的户籍证明) of the Chinese spouse. In the checklist they specify Kunming, so I don’t know what this means for those with spouses from elsewhere in Yunnan province. Also they don’t say ‘户口册’, they say ‘户籍证明’, but that’s the same thing. You only need the first page of the hukou book plus the page with your spouse’s details.
  10. RMB 100,000 in a bank account that has been frozen for at least six months. This also needs to be notarised. (I went to 明信公证处,护国路57号华尔贝大厦C坐四楼 18987263274, note you must go to the C building not the main building, the 涉外 Foreign Affairs department, it costs RMB 200 and is nostalgically old school – they have a fax). This is to prove that you can support yourself for a decade without relying on the Chinese state. They do not ask where the funds have come from, as long as you put RMB 100,000 in a bank account in your name and get a ‘Proof of Funds’ certificate (存款证明). The proof of funds costs RMB 20 or 30, and as soon as it is issued you cannot touch the money for the term stated on the certificate (this could be six months or a year, it’s up to you).
  11. Proof of residency in the city in which you are applying for the green card, which must also be the city where your spouse’s hukou is registered. If you own property elsewhere in China, you cannot submit related documents, though it is good to mention it in your application letter.
    • If you own a house, provide the related documents (房产证明, original house ownership documents, OR notarised Intent to Buy Property Agreement).
    • If you are renting, your name should be on the rental agreement and it should be a rental agreement for longer than a year. Your rental agreement must also be notarised. When you go to the notary, a new rental agreement must be signed by you and the landlord in front of the notary (though the rental agreement can show the date of when you originally signed the contract, the date on the bottom where you sign has to be that days date). This means the (specifically, the person on the House Ownership Certificate) landlord must be present with their ID card and the House Ownership Certificate, and you need to bring your passport and two unsigned copies of the contract. Even if there is only one name on your landlord’s House Ownership Certificate, if they are married then their spouse must also be present with their ID card. The reason given for this is that under Chinese law all property is jointly owned by a married couple, and so the spouse could refuse to rent to you.
    • Anecdotally, being a long-term property owner in China is a guarantee of getting the spousal green card – I asked the applications officer and she said this absolutely is not true, it makes no difference to your application, and most applicants she deals with do not own property.
  12. Application fee of RMB 1,800 is 1,500 when you submit the application and a further 300 when you pick it up, all to be paid to the Kunming Entry and Exit Bureau (昆明市公安局出入境管理局). You can only pay by debit or credit card: No WeChat, no cash.

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