Getting Canadian Citizenship in China

When we first started the process of getting Casey his Canadian citizenship here in China, I had intended to write a post about the experience. The long delay between the application and us actually picking the thing up left the post in permanent “draft” mode until I received the following comment from Cam in Xi’an yesterday:

I would love to hear the rant on getting the citizenship card as I will be heading down that road in a couple months. It seems like a nightmare and I haven’t even started yet. I plan on calling the Canadian embassy (not known for being super helpful over the phone) to try to make sure that I at least get the birth certificate written correctly so we won’t have any problems there. We are in Xi’An so not exactly a hotbed of Canadians having kids. Anyways, interesting to read your experience and please do share on the citizenship card!

Thanks for the kick in the pants Cam!

It definitely could have gone smoother, but wasn’t as bad as I had braced myself for. The one credit I’ll give the Shanghai consulate is their promptness with replying via e-mail. I had several questions over the course of the process and they were always quick and thurough with their responses. But at the end of the day, dealing with anything “government” and “important” requires a boat load of patience, a lot of flexibility and a stiff drink — it’s actually a fantastic warm-up for parenting.

The other thing we had going for us was the fact that Casey’s mom is Chinese. This basically means that no matter what we do with the Canadian government, until we leave China and return with a Canadian passport and Chinese visa in Casey’s little toddler hands, he’s regarded as being a Chinese citizen. This means that we had considerably more time to handle all this stuff than if Maggie and I were both Canadian citizens. Had we been, the Chinese government would have required us to get Casey a visa (and thus a temporary passport) within something like 30 days after his birth.

Also, and this probably isn’t true for all Chinese hospitals, our birth certificate was bilingual, so I didn’t need to have it translated and notarized by a Notary. It did require notarization, but that was easy enough to have done — not real cheap (especially considering how low-value anything “notarized” in China is) but not hard either.

The trickiest part was the photos. I thought we had followed the instructions to the T on the application, but there was a small issue and so we had to get them redone. Not a big deal, as there is a photo place right at the base of the building the consulate is in, but their machine was broken. Fortunately the consulate allowed me to submit the application and mail retaken photos from Suzhou, so we didn’t need to make an additional trip to Shanghai.

The site explains that processing times can take up to 18 months, which is just stunning to me, but I suppose it’s on par with general government efficiency. In reality, it took about 1/3 that time. Unfortunately for us in that time we had moved across the country and were no where near Shanghai.

We had foreseen this and confirmed we could simply update the consulate when we moved and they’d have the citizenship card sent to the Guangzhou consulate instead — a much cheaper and quicker trip. This is where things got a bit frustrating, and time-bendingly confusing.

I updated the consulate in March, and they said no problem. A couple weeks later they informed me that the card had already been shipped, and so would be going to the Shanghai consulate. Asking what my options were, I was told that I could either have someone else pick it up, or have it shipped down to Guangzhou — which would take an extra 3-6 months.

3-6 months? WTF? Apparently, consulates (or indeed, embassies I would assume) cannot intra-ship, and so the card would need to be sent all the way back to Canada and re-sent to Guangzhou. If that sounds especially retarded, you’re feeling what I felt. I was told this is due to “security”, but cannot for the life of me work out why it is more secure to send something across the globe and back again than it is to send something by registered overnight delivery domestically.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that it takes so incredibly long to travel between China and Canada. The only method I know of that takes that long is regular post, which is shipped. They can’t possibly be sending identity documents by regular post, can they? Maybe all consulate-bound documents wait until John Baird or one of his crew are headed over, and they all get stuck in their carry-on? You tell me.

Whatever, the Guangzhou trip would have been faster and cheaper, but going up to Shanghai was a nice break from Haikou’s summer heat, and an excellent opportunity to visit friends we hadn’t seen in a few months.

Overall, much smoother and easier (if not slower and more expensive) than organizing visas for Maggie to visit Canada.

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