Starting a new international job in Academic Soil Science – part one

I have officially started my Postdoctoral Fellowship at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China and let me say, it’s been a long winded and multi-stepped process. Here I offer some sage advice as a Western citizen with Western degrees on the processes involved in working as a postdoc in a Chinese Scientific Institution.

Firstly, you will need at least one (and preferably more) Chinese citizen to act as your liaison in China. I absolutely would not have been able to navigate the many layers of official process one my own; I am unendingly grateful to the three (now) colleagues who did all the legwork in country.

Documents

You will need the following documents, officially certified by your government (in my case, DFAT in Australia) and certified by the local Chinese Embassy. Note you’ll have to pay both for the privilege.

  • Original Doctor of Philosophy (or equivalent) diploma
  • Federal Police Check
  • CV (no certification required)
  • Contract (no certification required)

These (plus the odd essay) will feed into the Letter of Invitation. This letter is required for your Visa application.

Forms

Most of the forms that were required were filled by my Chinese liaisons. I did have to fill out the university registration form and the Visa application form. University registration required my published document list, curiously. This is also the opportunity to inform them if you have a spouse or children. I believe special accommodation is available if your family is moving with you.

Permits and money

Foreigners aren’t allowed to have a Chinese bank account unless they have a work permit. Online pay cannot be used without a bank account. Everyone in the highly developed parts of China use (mostly exclusively) online pay. You see where this is going – you will need someone (or several someones) to bankroll your living expenses until you acquire a bank account. If you rent an apartment, expect to pay 7 months up front – this means you need someone with a lot of capacity to bankroll said lifestyle.

To get a bank account, you need a resident’s permit. To get a resident’s permit you need a work permit from the local Department of Foreign Work and Trade (or a name to that effect). To get a work permit, you need to have a local medical exam and submit several forms. I think you also need evidence of your current residency.

In summary

The long and the short of it is that this process takes a significant amount of time both before departure and after arrival. It’s worth it in the end, but one should be mentally and financially prepared for the time that will lapse between financially secure in your home country and financially secure in China – in my situation, it’ll be at least three months. Ensure that you can weather that event before you start because there’s no point getting paid in February if you already starved to death in January.