A terrible guide to renouncing a child’s Chinese citizenship

You have to give it to China, she plays a hard game of holding on to her sons and daughters. When we applied over two years ago to renounce our son’s Chinese citizenship, we had assumed it would take a few months and that would be that.

That is never that when it comes to Chinese bureaucracy, or any bureaucracy for that matter. For most parents of mixed-nationality kids in China, I suspect citizenship renunciation is an unnecessary step. This is particularly true if you’re planning long-term residency, your child is fully registered in the hukou system, and if you are living in or near your Chinese spouse’s hukou region.

Living outside of these things though, as we do, is tres mafan. Not being in the hukou system, means our son cannot get a Chinese passport. He can however get a temporary travel permit that allows him to leave China, and then he can travel elsewhere on his wonderful [look-look-stamp] Canadian passport. However, the temporary travel permit can only be applied for in the hukou region of his Chinese mother — a jaunt of 2,000 km from where we live (note: there has been some headway in changes to this policy, and so it may actually be possible to apply outside the hukou area now).

This is all to explain why we even bothered. It was meant to be a 6 month process that would prevent us from needing to travel 2,000 km out of our way every time we wanted to take a trip outside the PRC. What it turned into was a bit more of a headache.

After two years, an occasional “hey, what’s going on?” phone call, and frequently forgetting all about it; we received word the application had been processed — our son was no longer a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. After getting the official looking certificate stating the renunciation, we promptly headed to the local PSB office to apply for a visa for our now Canadian-only son — a process that should be simple, as his mother is Chinese and thus he is entirely eligible for a long-term Q1 Visa/residence permit.

Some provinces don’t allow or process citizenship renunciation, and so the desk PSB officer had never seen anything like this before, so after screwing up his face at the document and conferring with his senior officer, he explained that because my son’s passport didn’t have an entry stamp into China (as he could not have, being that he was viewed as Chinese, and thus couldn’t enter China as a Canadian using a Canadian passport) he couldn’t issue us a standard visa. Instead he gave us a 6 month Visa-That’s-Not-A-Visa (which I believe is technically called an “FU Visa” … it’s not, don’t go asking for that) and told us that we would have to leave China, get a new visa, and return with an entry stamp before they could process the appropriate visa.

After triple-checking with multiple levels in the PSB officer hierarchy in Haikou and confirming that we could in fact do this in Hong Kong, and that we wouldn’t be required to travel all the way to Canada to get it done in my son’s “home” country, we made plans to head to the HKSAR. Despite the HK Visa Run being as commonplace as contempt in China expat circles, I had never taken part in one. A bit of research netted me that the usual way of handling visas in Hong Kong was through a visa agency. You could head to the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (CMFAPRCHKSAR for short) yourself and save a few bucks, but agencies could take care of it faster than you could even say, “Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

I e-mailed a few agencies, and the ones that got back to me were a bit unsure about our FU Visa, and seemed to feel sure we’d need to head to Canada to get it done. But, with all the confidence that a China PSB officer can instill in me, we headed to Hong Kong regardless. As we had some other stuff to do in Guangzhou, we flew into CAN and then took the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. I can’t recommend this route enough. I know you can take the bus to the border, and then do the walk-across, but why? With the train you handle all your customs/immigration stuff just as you would with a flight and then you get to sit in a spacious seat with a nice view for the whole ride right deep into the SAR — all for ~150RMB.

I suspect that agencies handling China visas are the only thing in Hong Kong that outnumber 7-11s, and so I wasn’t wanting for choice. I decided to go with the slightly pricier CTS, as it is PRC government-run and I’d hoped they would be a little bit better at handling our special circumstances. I was happy to find that getting off the train at Hung Hom station, there was a CTS branch waiting for me. My hopes were quickly dashed though when the agent reviewed our documents and informed me that I’d need to head to the Chinese embassy in my home country to get it done. She did, however, suggest I head down to the CMFAPRCHKSAR first thing in the morning as a last-ditch effort.

Most of what I’d read about the China Commissioner’s Office indicated that there were long waits in lines, and it was a muddled blah of bureaucracy. In hindsight, some of that may have been visa agency sales pitching. So after a nice night chilling on the awesome Lamma Island with a friend, we headed to the Commissioner’s Office first thing in the morning. By this point I had pretty much resigned myself that this was an annoying formality and that I’d be buying tickets to Canada by noon. Dreading the awkwardness of dealing with Chinese bureaucracy and needless line waiting for not, I had strongly considered just outright skipping the step and grabbing a flight. I’m glad ration overruled emotion, and I stuck with it.

The process of getting to a visa officer is divided into two parts:

First you wait in a line to get into the building. Even arriving at what the official Web site calls “peak time”, we didn’t need to wait longer than 20 minutes or so. Security is strict though, so before getting into line it’s best to check with the attendant at the door for what you cannot bring in (umbrellas, liquids, etc.). You have the option to ditch your stuff in the unsecured pile at the door, or just go around the corner to a “left luggage” service and check your bag for $20 HKD.

After you get in the building, go through the security check and head up to the 3rd floor, you reach an attendant who quickly reviews your application and confirms you have the most obvious stuff you’ll need. He then gives you a number and you wait again. For us (with about 15 numbers ahead of us) it took about 20 minutes. I was impressed with the waiting room, as it was less “Mainland” than I was expecting. The downstairs throttle line keeps the place or organized, relatively crowd free and there is plenty of comfortable seating.

Getting up to the window dispelled another fear I had — that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the officer. Just like virtually everyone else in Hong Kong, she spoke English without a hitch. I explained our situation, she took a long look at my son’s FU Visa and excused herself for a couple minutes. She came back, asked for more documents (copies of birth certificate, parents’ IDs, renunciation certificate, etc. — all stuff anticipated), stamped a few things and said I could pick up the visa in a few business days for $200 HKD. The tension I had been holding since the day before immediately dispelled, as I realized I’d just averted this visa costing me about $4,000 CAD. Snapping back into things, I decided to push my luck and ask if there was any way I could get it faster; of course there was, for an extra $300 HKD I could get it the next morning.

Not only had a saved my self a bundle by not flying to Canada, I had also saved myself a (smaller) bundle over the CTS Visa Agency path — as they wanted around $1700 HKD for the exact same next-day service (or about $1100 HKD for 2-day rush).

And so, after another night on Lamma Island, and a slightly later start than the day before, I returned to the Commissioner’s Office — surprised to find no line at all outside — and picked up my son’s freshly minted visa. Unlike the day before, when picking up, you don’t need a number, but rather you just give your receipt to a cashier at one of the first two windows, pay and collect your visa at the next window.

Total time invested in getting the visa via the Commissioner’s Office: ~1 hour
Total cost invested in getting the visa via the Commissioner’s Office: $500 HKD*

(*it’s more for multiple entries, but as our entire requirement was simply to get back into China so that we could get the typical family-member residence permit, which is long-term and features unlimited entries, we didn’t need anything more than a single entry — cost table here)

I have to admit, it was sort of a neat feeling when upon re-entering China both my son and I were required to go to the same “Foreigners” line. This whole process was a hassle, and isn’t going to save us any travel headaches (as in the time since the renunciation application we’ve had another child — and thus half my family remains mired in Chinese hukou muck), but perhaps if someone else finds themselves in a similar situation and they stumble across this page, sharing our experience will be of some service.

If nothing else, it was a good excuse to hang out in Hong Kong for a couple days. How great is Hong Kong. It is almost everything that is awesome about China, without hardly any of the suck. I think I’ll submit that with the HK tourism bureau for their official slogan.


Just a quick update: After posting this, I received some feedback from others in similar situations and instead of renouncing citizenship they simply obtained an exit permit — a little blue book that works in lieu of a passport for a Chinese citizen with a foreign passport to get out of China — returned to their home country, and got a family visa at the embassy in their home country (the country of the child’s non-Chinese passport). Though I haven’t confirmed this, I suspect this is limited to children who have not been registered on their Chinese parent’s hukou. Once registered, I doubt this would work, as they are “in the system” and thus the Chinese embassy couldn’t issue them a visa, just as the PSB office in China can’t. If anyone has any information in support or to the contrary of this, please let me know in the comments.

27 Responses

  1. Glad to hear everything worked out.

    I did a visa run to HK without an agency way back in 2006 or 07. The process was pretty easy. Problem is that mainland authorities have no idea how anything works in HK (you also can’t call and ask).

  2. Very informative article!

    May I ask why your son doesn’t have a Chinese hukou? Was he born in Mainland China? I’m currently 7 months pregnant and going back to Austria for the birth. I hope that this is going to save us some of the hassle you’ve described above (my husband’s hukou is 3000 km from SZ, where we currently live, not right around the corner either).

    • There’s no immediate requirement to register a child on a hukou, but it does disable your child from taking part in regular Chinese society (public school, etc.) in the standard way. To be added to the hukou requires a bit of mafan (and almost certainly a trip to your husband’s hukou region), which is likely worth it if your family is going to be living in China for a long time and you want the full benefits of Chinese citizenship for your child. But if the plan is to live in China while the child is young and then move away, it saves a few hoops to jump through if the child is not registered on a hukou. Also, I just added an update to the post that describes another route to take. Having the baby in Austria will probably save a few hassles, as you should be able to apply for the family visa directly in Austria and then have the child return to China as an Austrian, not a Chinese.

      • Why would a mixed kid EVER go to a Chinese public school? You know what goes on there – child abuse. You want a 45-year-old man smacking your kid? Any foreigner who sends his kid to public school is a barking idiot or hates his child.

        • Funny you should be so anti-Chinese public school. I was just thinking that I might actually WANT to enroll our child (mixed) in China’s public school system someday instead of some over-priced pretentious “international” school in SH or BJ – or worse, a public school back in the West.

          I’ve taught at several public primary schools in China over the years and have seen nothing but good results and good little people come out of them. The Gaokao might be a bitch, but at least it has scholastic merits unlike that utterly useless SAT.

          And I’d rather have a hard-ass authoritarian Chinese teacher occasionally smack the back of my kid’s head if he is misbehaving than always worrying about guns, drugs and deviance or lazy, unionized, pot-smoking pedo-teachers, which seem to be the only kind of person willing to work at a Western public school anymore.

        • My mixed kid goes to a mainland public school. The teachers are fine, if a little harried with so many students in one class. It is easier to transition from the Chinese system into a foreign system, than the other way around. So that is why she is in public school for the time being. And it saves about $8 grand a year.

  3. Prize for best acronym of the day. Full belly laugh:

    Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (CMFAPRCHKSAR for short)

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  5. Thank you for this useful post! I’m going to be in a similar situation in a few years I think. My husband’s hukou is in Guangzhou where we live and most probably will also stay. But we want to have two kids, and getting the second one on the hukou would cost a lot right? We would like them to attend international school, but perhaps attending in th local Chinese primary school would be good as it’s almost behind the corner where we live.

    • If either you or your husband is an only child, you’re probably alright for two kids on a hukou. Or at least that was what I’d heard of the new regulations.

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  7. My daughter was born in china. Mom is Chinese. I’m American. We got the exit permit without a hukou. Went back to the States for a visit and applied for her Chinese visa. It was denied because her mom is Chinese and she was born in china. She does not have a hukou. We were able to obtain a Chinese “travel document” which is valid for two years. We are kind of in limbo. She’s basically a dual citizen in ever country except china since they don’t recognize her American citizenship. How did you renounce citizenship in china without a hukou? We heard we you need a hukou to renounce. We are considering not renouncing since we have the travel document and live in my wife’s hometown.

  8. A good post. My son was born in China, I’m British and his mother is Chinese. I’ve just applied for his UK passport, and he’s not registered on the HuKou system. When his passport comes, I intend to get an exit-permit, go to the UK and get a family visa.

    I’ll try post back here with results in a few months.

    Hen MaFan.

    • Good luck. We just tried the same thing in the US back in January and we were denied since the Chinese government considers our daughter a Chinese citizen. Even though she has a US passport and no Chinese hukou.

        • We got what is called a Travel Document at the Chinese consulate in the States. It’s good for two years and works similar to a passport. We use her US passport for every country other than China. Even used it in Hong Kong and Macao. The plan now is to not get a hukou nor renounce her Chinese citizenship. She’s kind of in a grey area. Where she is a dual citizen in every country except China. It saves on visa costs for the time being!

        • Sounds cool. So when the travel document runs out, it’s not a problem as long as you’re in China. If you leave China however, you’d need a valid Travel Document for her to get back in? Ah, I love this country.

          Also, how long did the Exit Permit take to apply for? Do they do it in one day? Thanks.

        • If her travel document expires while we’re in China, I think we have to get the exit permit again. My understanding is that only the Chinese consulate can issue a travel document. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.

          It took about two to three weeks for us to get the exit permit the first time. But I’m sure every city is different.

  9. Any news on being able to apply for the exit permit after the child is registered on the hukou? We just received his passport for his other nationality (South African) and the plan was to stay long but my grandmother has taken ill and my son is the first great grand kid…to cut long story short I need to go home, in December. He is already on the hukou, what a mess that was, complete miscommunication between my husband and I. Sad really. Anyway! How the hell do we get out by December?

    • Sarah,

      If I’m not mistaken, you can only have one or the other. In other words, you have a Hukou, you cant have a foreign passport (legally spreaking). Since I don’t plan to stay in China much longer (the air pollution has defeated me) there is no point getting a Hukou. In your case however, since your son does have a Hukou, you can apply for a China passport for your child and then apply for a visa to South Africa.

  10. Greetings! I’m Canadian and an EU passport holder. My significant other is from Fujian province but we live in Shanghai. Our son is 5 months old now. We are not married and we did not do hukou registration. As a result of not being married, a DNA test was required in order to get my name on the Birth certificate when he was born in one of the international hospitals here (I noticed someone mentioned earlier in the post that the China Embassy in the US didn’t recognize the child as being American but Chinese. Is it because you didn’t register your child as an American on the birth certificate?). At that time, I registered him as a Canadian. I’m now notarizing and translating the necessary documentation and will submit it soon to the consulate. As a Canadian, our governement recognizes conjugal relationships, therefore marriage is not a pre-requisite. At the same time, I also plan to apply for an EU passport. Furthermore, i have a HK ID card as I was born there, but I am an ethnic western european, so perhaps it will make things a little easier, but who knows yet. Shall keep you posted.

    • Durangol,

      Our daughter’s birth certificate doesn’t have a place to put her nationality (only the nationality of the parents). We wrote her name in English on the birth certificate because I had read that having an English name would make it easier to apply for her US birth certificate and passport.

      If we ever wanted to get a hukou for her for some reason, I’ve read that we would have to have her name on the Chinese birth certificate changed to a Chinese name. Very mafan. For now, we’re not planning to get a hukou, though. Let me know how it goes at the consulate and when you apply for your son’s Chinese visa.

  11. HI William,

    Was your daughter born in Shanghai? I’m not sure if there is a difference of Birth Certificates throughout the country, but our Birth Certificate gave us the option to place both an English and Chinese name. Hence we gave our son both an English and Chinese name. Our son was born last year December. I had been told at the time that starting 2014, the government was changing their policy on Birth Certificates. What the change actually meant I’m not sure, and neither did the hospital representative at the time. Our son was born in an international hospital here. Maybe that makes a difference with regards to the Birth certificate? I’m not sure.

    • We are out in the boonies. The computer system that is normally used for Chinese babies didn’t support a normal-length English name. So they offered us an old fashioned paper birth certificate. We chose to only put an English name on it. I’m not sure if we could have also put a Chinese name on it (we never asked because we weren’t interested in getting a hukou).

      Our daughter was born in November 2013 so any changes for 2014 wouldn’t have been in effect then either.

      When we registered for her Exit Permit (出入境) we had to give her a Chinese name that is just a phonetic translation of her English name. We also used that same Chinese name when we got her Travel Document (旅行证) at the Chinese Consulate in the US (after the Chinese Consulate denied our application for a Chinese visa in her US passport).

  12. Hi Ryan,
    This is not a comment, but rather question.
    I am from Edmonton, but looking to move to Haikou possibly next fall. I don’t know anyone there, but need to know if there is an international school in Haikou ( primary, my daughter is 6).
    Sorry for invading, but I spent lots of time on the internet trying to look for it, but no luck.
    If you could e-mail me, would be very helpful.
    Thanks,
    Andy.

  13. First of all, thanks Ryan and guys for all your posts as I’m in a decision dilemma myself.

    I’m a Canadian citizen married to a Chinese and we have a 17 month-old with her Chinese name on the birth certificate. She is not registered in the hukou system yet and we have not applied for any passport or citizenship. The pros and cons just aren’t clear enough or good enough to decide which path to take.
    We plan to spend most of our time in China but travel and possible post-secondary education abroad are real options. My German friend hukou’d his daughter and got a German passport promptly. I was hoping the same. I believe the benefits of a hukou in China during pre-post-secondary education outweigh the difficulties and potential prejudice that may befall her while in school here as a ‘foreigner’. My question is if she is hukou’d with a foreign passport, will travel TO other countries be much easier but re-entering China more difficult? I want her visa hassles in/out of China minimal cuz I’ve been there, a couple times tragically. I’d appreciate any suggestions or info here.

    Daniel

    P.S. The most professional (and ‘helpful’) HK visa service I’ve encountered in my 20+ years of HK runs is without a doubt Forever Bright. They’ll tell you what can or cannot be done and do it for you cheaper than any other agent (not the CMFAPRCHKSAR).

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