What, they want to retire here?

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The Straits Times
June 13, 2004

Chinese officials are surprised that some foreigners want to stay in the
country

By Chua Chin Hon – The Straits Times

FOREIGNERS retiring here? Why, no, we don’t keep any statistics on them, say officials at the Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou exit and entry bureaus.

Life is sweet for the Lims who retired to Shanghai last year. They live in a sprawling villa, and get to travel all over China, visiting places like Yunnan, pictured here.

‘I don’t think it’s common,’ said an official at Beijing’s Exit and Entry Bureau who identified herself only as Shen.

Checks with about a dozen expatriates living and working in China, as well as officials handling foreign residency issues, confirmed this.

Indeed, officials at the exit and entry bureaus in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou were surprised by the suggestion that a foreigner would choose to retire in China.

Unlike Malaysia, which offers a Silver Hair Programme, or Thailand’s ‘geezer visa’, China has no official scheme for foreigners who want to retire there.

In fact, conditions and requirements for long-term residence permits vary from province to province, and perhaps, even city to city.

‘There’s no clear-cut rule,’ said businessman Beng Tan, who has turned this into a business opportunity by helping Singaporeans with the paperwork to apply for six-month or one-year tourist visas for extended stays in China.

Singaporeans who are consultants for companies there use their work permits to stay on.

Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are among the cities that have, in recent years, introduced a scheme to allow foreigners to stay for one to five years at a stretch.

But these so-called ‘green cards’ are targeted at experts and investors.

Talk of a standardised, nationwide ‘green card system’ has gone on since 2001, and the Ministry of Public Security’s Exit and Entry Administration was supposed to have introduced the regulations by the end of last year, according to state media reports.

The official China Daily reported earlier this year that the proposals had been submitted for Cabinet approval, but there is no indication when or whether they might be implemented.

These green cards are actually long-term residence permits, with privileges such as tax breaks and local rates for educational fees and housing. The prospective targets are ‘high-level foreign professionals, big investors, and foreigners seeking to reunite with family’, but as with many administrative matters, a large grey area exists for those prepared to argue their case, including would-be retirees.

In some expatriate circles in China, there’s serious talk about staying on for good, though just as many think home is best.

Pollution, language barriers and the under-developed health-care system are among the main drawbacks cited.

Mr Bill Marcus, a 44-year-old New Yorker teaching English in Shanghai’s Fudan University, said: ‘My Chinese language skills are not up to par here yet.’

But one expatriate determined to retire in China is Ms Kerstin Kaehler from Hamburg though, at 31, she clearly has many years to reconsider.

‘The paperwork would not be a deterrent,’ said the general manager of the German Centre in Shanghai.

‘I come from Germany. The Chinese may have invented bureaucracy but we perfected it.’

She already sees herself practising taiji at Lu Xun Park in Shanghai or picking up Bejing opera in her retirement days.

‘In 20 years, something may occur that changes my mind but, at the moment, I honestly wonder why I would go back after such a long time here.’

She has spent six years studying, doing internships and working in various cities in China and feels so much at home in Shanghai that she can see herself making it her permanent home.

She said in jest: ‘I’ll be the only blonde retiree there.’

Sidebar:

GETTING THE RIGHT VISA

A WOULD-BE retiree must prove that he has some place to live and can support himself, said Mr Lu Minghui, a consular official with China’s embassy in Singapore.

Alternatively, he must prove he has relatives in China who can demonstrate that they can support him when he is old and sickly.

Mr Beng Tan, who handles China retirement arrangements for Singaporeans, said there are three avenues:

• Six-month social pass. This is like a tourist visa. Retirees need to leave China every six months.

• One-year multiple-entry visa. This requires a sponsoring letter from an employer. Retirees can take on a consultancy role with a company by investing $20,000 in it.

• Permanent residency visa. Valid for one to five years, it is granted case by case, depending on such factors as applicants’ contributions to China, such as annual donations and an investment of US$250,000 (S$430,000).

This makes it easy for the retiree to travel in and out of China and enroll children in public schools. But it does not provide health-care benefits.

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PHOTO – Nicoleen Johnson, market entry and sourcing consultant and best friend and myself and a volunteer at a fundraiser in Shanghai, June 11, 2008.