More Startup Challenges For Foreigners in China – Passport Visa Enforcement

In china business by Michael Michelini15 Comments

Passport visas!!!!

I remember I didn’t even know what a passport visa was until I came to China – as a US passport holder I’m spoiled traveling to Europe, Mexico, Canada, and other countries without needing to file a passport visa. But in China, I learned to file a passport visa to enter the country.

I have had this blog post as a draft in my inbox for about 2 or 3 weeks. It has seriously affected my team and my startup – but like any entrepreneur, especially one outside of their home country – we just gotta “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin'”.

I say it was in my drafts because last week I was quoted in Tech in asia about this very topic- further motivating me to finish this blog post:

American Michael Michelini came to China in 2007 and started his work as an entrepreneur in 2009.

“As a startup, I have not been successful in hiring others as my company is too small,” says Michelini. Since he cannot afford to set up an official office, he cannot offer employees official work visas. One American he hired was sent home because he tried to use the address of the company’s serviced office when applying for a work permit approval, which apparently doesn’t count as a real office to the government. If a serviced office doesn’t qualify, then any startup based in a coworking space is also bound to be declined.

For his current venture,, Michelini tried to hire three foreigners: a Canadian PHP developer, a Dutch programmer, and a Greek UX designer. He says all three were nervous about not having proper documentation. They initially stayed on business or tourist visas, “but in the end of August, it got very difficult. The Dutch programmer got very stressed with his girlfriend about the situation and moved back to Holland. The Greek was only issued a 15-day single entry tourist visa, so he relocated to Hong Kong.” The Canadian eventually left, too.

I try not to be a complainer, I have been really working on controlling my temper. I have even been listening to zen tapes (Thanks Vlad) and trying to balance my “inner and outer being”. But just to update everyone on the current struggles I’m facing as an entrepreneur in China, heck, as any entrepreneur outside of their home country trying to start a business.

I try to put myself in the shoes of any overseas entrepreneur – and I wonder really how hard it must be for a Chinese entrepreneur to get things started in USA. Though I think if you’re a hustler and talented, you’d find a way.

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  1. In all fairness to China, it’s pretty easy to get a work visa in China if you’re the entrepreneur behind a business – something you and I have both done that.

    Work visas exist to protect the local job market – does any country give you carte blanche to hire foreigners at will with no restrictions?

    1. hey Larry,
      But how about BEFORE you get a work permit? Do I have to hire someone from overseas and give them a 1 year work permit before I know they are capable?

      1. ya, thats what you should do, sucks!

        1. But I don’t think many do that first…. think many come on tourist or business visas for at least 3 to 6 months or more

          1. Its setup for big companies that have people overseas they want to bring here, so they usually already work for you when you invite them to work in China. On business and especially on tourist visa it’s illegal to work here

          2. Hi Mike. Enjoyed your blog! I just started an English Training center in Nanshan (Yes… another one of those) a few months ago and I’m going through the work Visa process. Reading about the process gave me a headache. Agencies are an option but I really want to do it myself. Congrats on getting hitched this year!

          3. Glad you enjoy the blog! Ya sometimes I complain (vent) here but just wish policies were a bit more clear… think government is figuring it out as they go haha

            Thanks on the wedding congrats… big step and change in my life

          4. I have been running my business in Shanghai since 2010 and never had a problem hiring foreigners. Some of them were masters graduates and did internships with us before we offered them a full-time position. We simply according to the law followed the visa application procedures, sent them back to their home country or Hong Kong depending on what was allowed at the time and never once was denied. We are not a large multinational either. I think China is much easier to manage than say the US when it comes to work visas for foreigners.

  2. Mike, read where you have problems retaining foreign hires, which begs the question, what about your experiences hiring local technical talent?

    1. Hey Will, Thanks for reading – I am lucky to have an amazing Tech co-founder, CTO from Hong Kong, Chris Li – and an amazing android developer and iOS developer. I think the HUGE issue was we were doing a TON of PHP work, and that is very hard to find in China. When we moved to mobile development, the pool and options for local talent has increased so much – I had no idea there were so many app developers in China. But, I think everyone will agree with me, there is a huge shortage of PHP in China. And I do know a few good ones, but they are doing VERY well in Tencent, IBM in Shenzhen

  3. I think Mike’s point is that other regions are even more open to OECD visitors — allowing for example 30-90 days in Hong Kong or Singapore. China is following the closed-minded old-school path. This will bite them in the ass one day.

    1. Thanks for the more “clear” example – honestly I don’t even know how it works in other countries -but yes, I realize Hong Kong you can go there for 90 days (like the Greek guy did) and have enough time to sort himself out.

      In China, he was under so much pressure with a 15 day single entry how can he possibly do anything except move out.

      I agree, this will affect China in the long term – but now I’m reading about a Shanghai trade zone

  4. Mike, reading this article I suddenly have a thought to introduce you to my lawyer. She’s been a gem handling cases for me and I think she can help you address your issues listed in this post. Anyway, will Skype or text you more about it. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Vanessa,

      I just got a call from an italian entrepreneur yesterday that is trying to get a visa from his chinese company by this friday else he has to leave back to italy. I think with the holidays, he is really not going to get it and leave because it of.

      If you can connect me to a good lawyer for this then you would rock even more than you already rock!!!!!!

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