My Chinese Green Card

Back in around 2004, I believe, the green card became available for foreigners who satisfy a certain range of criteria.

Unless you have a few million dollars spare to invest in China, or can make some momentus contribution to society, the most common method of obtaining one is through marriage to a Chinese spouse.

The green card was literally just a card you could show on demand to prove your residency status and associated rights, such as to employment and property registration. You can see a full list on the back of the featured image.

Functionality was always the biggest problem with the green card. All Chinese carry a state issued citizen’s ID card, and the latest version has a second generation microchip embedded that allows public service providers to scan the information onto a computer system instantly, vastly improving efficiency and reducing the hassle of form filling. A popular example is buying train tickets, where locals can swipe their ID cards, purchase and recieve tickets all at the same automatic booth. Foreigners generally have to scrap it out with the queue shy staffed booths.

All that changed in the middle of 2017, when it was announced that the old green card was going to be replaced with a Chinese ID style microchip card. The basic rights would remain unchanged, but in theory at least, foreign card holders would the same level of convenience enjoyed by locals.

The size and background pattern of the foreign resident’s card, which I’ll call FRC, is basically the same, but the personal information and format on the front is different, and the back is almost completely different.

Below, you can compare samples of a Chinese citizen’s ID card, that of a new permanent foreign resident ID card, and the old green card version at the bottom.

Not that the green card has ceased to be valid, it’s just no longer issued. Residents who received the card before 2017 may continue to use them for as long as they’re valid, or can alternatively apply to replace it for the new ID card version.

How do I get one?

I’m going to focus on the method that I experienced personally, and that most foreigners will follow themselves.

The basic requirements and documents you need are as follows;

  1. A valid Chinese marriage certificate between the applicant and a Chinese citizen issued at least five years prior. Foreign issued marriage certificate must be notarised, translated and legalised, meaning a Chinese embassy recognises the authenticity of the document, and places a sticker one the back as evidence.
  2. A valid passport showing five years of consecutive legal residence in China. In each of those five years, the applicant must spend at least nine months in the country.
  3. A medical examination certificate from a government quarantine hospital proving you are of sound health.
  4. Property deeds or long term lease as evidence of a stable family home.
  5. A criminal record check issued by the applicant’s home country. It must also be notarised, translated and legalised.
  6. A Chinese bank statement in the applicant’s name showing a balance of 100,000 RMB frozen for six months, and notarised locally.
  7. A Chinese format CV with all relevant personal information.
  8. A completed application form filled in black biro.
  9. 1500 RMB processing fee payable on application, and 300 RMB on collection should the FRC be approved.

The range of documents needed is not really that many, but obtaining the criminal record, then applying for apostilles, translation, and arranging somebody to legalise it at the embassy can be very time consuming and troublesome.

The bank statement isn’t too bad, but it took some explaining at the public notary what it was we needed.

I also had to travel to Chengdu to apply for a criminal record check from the Korean Consulate, as I had spent four years living there in the past.

After a few weeks, the immigration department at Sanya Bay invited me to an interview. Sanya Bay三亚湾 is the new location where foreigners must apply for visas, and is much less idyllic than the real tropical Sanya in Hainan Province. They called the area Sanya Bay because they have built a seafood market, and seafood is big in Hainan, of course.

The interview went fine. The two officers were a plain clothed handsome young man, and very pretty young lady. The atmosphere was relaxed throughout, and on the face of it at least, they seemed geneuinely interested in myself and my reasons for applying.

Keen to make an impression, I did the whole half hour interview in Chinese, which I think went down well.

A main focus of the interview was naturally what I had been doing the last five years. This can be a real sticking point for many applicants, especially those who stayed for five years on a marriage visa that doesn’t grant you the right to employement.

I talked about how I work with my father on collecting and selling Enigma machines. This was perfect, because the machines are all based out of the country, and proceeds can be wired to China when needed.

A Chinese relative was convinced that it was a mistake to talk about the Enigma machines, as anything code and cipher related was bound to be frowned upon. She told me to expect my application to be refused point blank.

This didn’t bother at all, though. The Enigma machines are completely obselete equipment nowadays, and I actually felt the officers who interviewed me were genuinely interested in the subject, and the man actually knew a little about some of the main protagonists, like Alan Turing and the like.

Besides, I was also aware that if the authorities didn’t want to approve my application, they could think up another reason to do so, anyway.

Fast forward

I applied in mid April 2017, then attended the interview in May, after which the whole issue fell to the back of my mind.

The approval process can take well over a year, during which the applicant remains on the same visa as before.

Suddenly, out of the blue in July 2018, my wife received a phone call from immigration, telling her that I could collect my foreigner’s ID card! All I needed to do was go to Sanya Bay in person, show them the marriage certificate again to prove we hadn’t divorced in the meantime, and pay the remaining 300RMB card fee.

Thoughts to date on the FRC

Obviously, it’s much more convenient now I need never apply for another Chinese visa again. I also don’t need to register at the local police station every time I return from abroad.

The permanent resident’s card is valid for ten years, and can be renewed for ten years at a time with no further requirements.

Exiting and entering the country is more convenient. There’s no more need to fill in departure and arrival forms at airport immigration. When I went back to England for a week in August, I just handed over the ID card and passport to the officer. He didn’t seem that interested or taken back by the card. He just checked the documents, stamped my passport, then I was through.

The card has been great for staying in hotels resorts overnight. Everywhere I have stayed since I received the card have accepted it without any fuss, and this means I can leave the passport safely locked up at home.


I love having the card, but there has been one big problem, and that’s the functionality of the microchip.

Now, considering only 7000 or so foreigners have this ID card, as compared to over a billion Chinese, I can understand why updating computer systems hasn’t been the top priority of the authorities here, but not a single place, be it automatic ticket machines, banks or telecom workstations, has been able to read my ID card, meaning I still have to use my passport for all of these services.

Anyway, I live in hope this will slowly but surely improve.


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