Beawander

Beawander

[bee-won-der]
noun
  1. The documented wanderings of Bea. Mostly to let her family and friends back home know she’s still alive, but partly so she can remember herself. 
Home Return Permit 回鄉證 – Don’t Spend 3x the $$$ + Time Like Me!

Home Return Permit 回鄉證 – Don’t Spend 3x the $$$ + Time Like Me!

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14 min read

Home Return Permit.

Also known as Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macau Residents, 港澳居民來往內地通行證 or 回鄉證 for short.

I thought it was going to be easy-peasy, just like how I got my Hong Kong passport.

But I overlooked one important detail.

I’m dealing with China – not Hong Kong. 

It didn’t help that I was born overseas, so everything was 10x more complicated.

But, hey, if you want what they have, you gotta play by their rules!

If you’re in a similar situation (born overseas to an HK-born parent), I hope you can use my experience to fast track your application.

Why Get a Home Return Permit 回鄉證?

That’s a great question! Sample home return permit

I didn’t want one.

Actually, I didn’t know that I could get one for the longest time (a decade!)

When I found out it may be possible, I thought ‘Sure, it’s a huge convenience, so why not?!’

Other reasons why I got it was because it’s:

  • Not expensive – 390 HKD ($50 USD)
  • Valid for 10 years
  • An extra ID
  • Convenient for border crossing without restriction. This means I don’t need to:
    • Stand in the foreigner line while my family passes through with ease and waits 30+ minutes for me
    • Fill out arrival/departure cards
    • Be subjected to irrelevant and somewhat retarded line of questioning:
      • What is your Chinese name? Write your Chinese name.
      • Where were you born?
      • Why is your passport number weird? (Really?! How am I suppose to answer that??)
    • Not waste pages in my Canadian passport
      • FYI – You cannot use your HKSAR passport to go into China

Step 1: Find Out if You’re Eligible

How do you do this?

By going on the China Travel Service website to read the most up-to-date eligibility criteria.

The authority is called China Travel Service (CTS) or 中国旅行社总社. A 1-stop-shop that sells travel packages, issue visas and approves/renews Home Return Permit applications.

TL:DR Version

If you are a “normal” case, you probably fall into one of these 3 scenarios:

  1. If you were born in Hong Kong, Macau or China and still have documentation to prove it (Eg. birth certificate, Hong Kong ID card, HKSAR Passport) then you’ll get it for sure. Without any delay (like my brother)!
  2. If you were born overseas (like me) but one of your parents was born in Hong Kong and hasn’t given up their documentation, then it’s still possible for you to get the Home Return Permit card. However, they’ll require you to jump through more hoops.
  3. If you were born overseas and your parents either were a) born overseas too or b) immigrated and gave up their claim to the motherland, then you have to do it the regular way… which is immigration.

    You know, the whole “get your company to sponsor you OR marry a Honger and live here for 7 years” thing.

Here’s a snapshot of the criteria as of Summer 2019:

return home permit eligibility

Step 2: Book an Appointment with CTS

Once you’ve confirmed eligibility, book an appointment RIGHT AWAY.

Why?

Several reasons:

  • The service centers usually get booked up 1 month in advance
  • It’s free to book an appointment
  • You can always reschedule or cancel your appointment

For example: I booked my May 28th appointment in mid-April, and my June 26th appointment on May 28th.

You can also just walk in but I wouldn’t recommend that because you’re not guaranteed a spot, and you’re just adding chaos to the system.

china travel service hong kong head officeThere are many China Travel Service branches in Hong Kong. The main one is a block away from Sheung Wan MTR station. 

FYI – After you book your appointment, you will NOT receive a confirmation email or any reminders of your appointments.

The only way to check, adjust or cancel your timeslot is to log back into your account.

I screenshot my confirmation page and put reminders of my phone.

Always be prepared!

Home Visit Permit - Appointment Confirmation Page

Step 3: Get Home Return Permit Paperwork in Order

While you’re waiting for your appointment, now is the time to get all the paperwork ready.

This is what their website asks for:

  • Home Return Permit Application Form
    • TIP 1: If you are unsure how to fill out any section, just leave it blank. On the day of, just explain your confusion to the person at your assigned counter, and they’ll either tell you what to do or do it for you.
  • Headshot Photo
    • TIP 2: Don’t bother getting this beforehand, they require specific measurements, so just get it there (3rd floor) on the day of. They’re different sizes from your HKSAR Passport pictures.
  • Your HK Permanent ID
  • Your HK SAR Passport
  • Your Other Passport – in my case, my Canadian one
  • Money – 390 HKD in CASH, exact change is preferred

For all of these IDs, they want the physical copy, not photocopies. They will photocopy your IDs themselves.

If you were born in HK or Macau, then that’s all you need.

If you were born overseas, keep reading to find out what other paperwork you need…

Step 4: Present Paperwork at Appointment & Pay

Go there exactly 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment.

Why?

A few reasons:

  • Get your ticket to queue up – It will be ready exactly 30 minutes before. Not 31 minutes *eye roll*
  • Get your photo taken on the 3rd floor for 50 HKD (cash only)
  • In case you didn’t bring enough money with you, go to the ATM – the application costs 390 HKD.

Try to give them exact change – I’m not sure if they accept other methods of payment.

It’s important to remember that they have power over your fate, so smile, be polite and patient, look innocent – don’t give them a reason to dislike you!

Present Paperwork: Take 1 (May 28)

I thought I could just hand in what they asked for on their website and that was it.

Nope!

They wanted more...why? 

Because I’m born overseas. 

So, what did they want exactly? 

A whole bunch of things their website didn’t tell me…

Proof that I’m related to my Chinese National parents

What she meant by this was a whole slew of documents:

  1. My overseas birth certificate – with my parents’ names on it, specifically THE parent that was born in HK (in this case – my dad)
  2. All of my dad’s HK/China IDs:
    1. HK Birth Certificate
    2. HK Permanent ID Card
    3. HKSAR Passport 
    4. Home Return Permit
  3. All of my mom’s HK/China IDs – same list as above 
    1. The rep did say that if I didn’t produce my mom’s documents it should be OK since I got my HK ID through my dad…but why take the risk?! 

Here’s the issue:

All my dad’s and my documents were back in Canada, and I wasn’t going to drop $1000+ for a return trip home just for this. 

Win #1: I explained the situation to her and asked if photocopies, in this case, can be an exception. She said she would try to submit my application with photocopies…I took that as a yes. 

So I asked my dad to scan these files over to me, and I printed them at a local shop (2 HKD per page).

Win #2: She did not ask me for payment when we discovered I didn’t have everything she needed. I really appreciated that! Even after they accept all your paperwork, your payment doesn’t guarantee approval. 

Win #3: Don’t worry if your parents don’t have a HKSAR passport. The rep returned the photocopy of my dad’s expired HKSAR passport when I went back the 2nd time. Apparently, not that important if they have both a valid HK ID and Home Return Permit

That was the easy part.

Now came the hard part that stalled my application process.

Proof that I came into HK on a Foreign Passport before getting HK ID

She wanted the Canadian passport that I came into HK with to get my HK ID card. Specifically, they want to SEE the stamp of arrival.

hong kong stamp of arrival

The issue was:

I don’t have this passport.

Why?

Because that stamp of arrival was back in 2009 in my OLD and EXPIRED passport. I don’t carry around any expired documents on me.

And, I actually don’t have it. When I went to renew my passport a few years ago, I never got the expired one back. 

Calming myself down from hyperventilation, I explained my situation to her.

She said there’s an alternate way. I can get this document from the HK government that can prove the same thing. 

She even wrote it down on a piece of paper for me – how helpful! 

…Unfortunately, she wrote down the WRONG name for me. Good thing she explained what the document was supposed to show, so I was able to figure out which one she actually meant.

It’s OK, I won’t hold it against her.

Missing Paperwork #1: Hong Kong Statement of Travel Records

I left CTS and B-lined to HK Immigration Tower at Wan Chai.

This document is officially known as the Statement of Travel Records or 出入境紀錄證明 “Entry/Exit Record”.

The record shows all the dates that I’ve been in and out of HK based on my foreign passport in the last 10 years. 

This is what you do:

  1. Go to the 2nd floor, ask the guy from the clear window for the form. 
  2. Fill it out – it’s pretty simple and only 1 or 2 pages
  3. Go to the other window on the 2nd floor (the small one behind the escalators) to get clearance to go up to the 12th floor 
  4. Give the person your paperwork and they’ll give it back with your “clearance” (it’s just a little sticker you put on your shirt) 
  5. Go down to the main floor, through the security guards, and into the elevator
  6. Go through the only door on the 12th floor, give them the form and pay them. 

It cost 160 HKD ($20 USD) and I had to wait 3 weeks before they sent it to my physical address through registered mail. 

I didn’t ask but I was under the impression that you can also pick it up in person. It’d just cut down on the mailing time (2-3 business days).

Knowing that I had to wait 3 weeks for this document and an appointment with CTS is about a month’s wait, the timing was perfect.

So, I booked another time slot.

Present Paperwork: Take 2 (June 26)

Pick up slip for Home Return Permit (full)It was time to go to my second appointment. 

I ended up getting the same lady.

She looked at all my paperwork, made copies of her own and kept the photocopies I brought with me, stamped a bunch of paper, got me to sign a few pages and then collected 390 HKD from me. 

She told me my card will be ready for me in 2 weeks. I’d just need to come back with this slip that she gave me.

Yay – finally, success!!

…Or so I thought

A few days later, I got a phone call from CTS. 

The agent said I’m missing a document.

WTF!? 

What can I possibly be missing?! 

I gave you my whole life’s worth of legal documents – what more can you want?! 

Well, they wanted one more thing.

Missing Paperwork #2: Hong Kong Certificate of Registration 

Once again, I went to HK immigration at Wan Chai, got the Certificate of Registration form or 登記事項證明書 from the 2nd level, and went to the 7th (or was it 8th?) floor for processing.

Certificate of Registration

I got a ticket for the queue before settling down to fill out the form.

I had SO much trouble with it – there’s no section relevant to the Home Return Permit. 

Through very kind and patient service workers there, I was told that there is another option under the “Purpose” section that will be ‘unlocked’ to me when I explain my situation to the agent.

My agent literally drew boxes and wrote in her own options on the form. I thought that was hilarously ghetto. 

FYI – Ask for the Chinese version, of course. 

After they helped me fill out the application, I had to wait my turn to pay. 

It cost more than the Home Return Permit – 425 HKD ($55 USD) and takes 25 business days before it’s ready for pick up.

25 Days Later (August 8)

I went to pick my certificate at the HK immigration Tower and b-lined to CTS to hand it in.

Since there is no booking option for this kind of remedial appointment, I told the customer service rep who stood by the check-in machine my situation.

He sent me to the same window I went to twice already. 

When that window’s agent was done with her current customer, I marched right up there.

I explained my situation, she talked with her coworkers for a few minutes, then told me to go upstairs to another window. 

Slightly confused (because 3rd floor is not for new applications), I didn’t question her instructions. 

New Pick up date for Home Return PermitAgain, I waited until that window’s rep was free, sat down and explained my situation.

To my surprise, it was the same rep that helped me out the first 2 times and she REMEMBERED me. 

She said “Oh, finally! I waited for you for so long!!” like an old friend. I felt like I was in good hands.

Literally 3 minutes later, she was done photocopying my certificate, doing whatever she needed to do in the computer system, crossed out my old date and wrote a new one on my pick up card.

I was good to go.  

Step 5: Pick Up Your Home Return Permit 回鄉證

AT LAST, SUCCESS!!!

It felt like I figured out the secret code to this treasure trove.

2 weeks later, on August 22, I went back to the same China Travel Service branch and got my Home Return Permit!

This is what you do:

  1. You put that slip into this little ‘check-in’ machine (there’s only 1) that’s next to the 3 big ones. It will give you a number. The number tell you which machine has your card in it.
  2. Go line up at that machine. (It’s the same ones that people use to pick up their renewed card)
  3. When you get to the machine, follow the instructions on the screens. This literally took me 10 seconds.
  4. If you followed the instructions correctly, your card should pop right out.

Some people had issues with it and gave up after trying a few times, but just do what the machine wants you to do and you’ll be fine. Most of these frustrations are due to human error.

Total Cost – How Much Did I Spend to Get the Home Return Permit 回鄉證?

So, how much did the Home Return Permit actually cost me?

I’m scared to tally it all up, but the Asian math-nerd in me is too strong.

  • 390 HKD – Application home return permit cost me 3x as much
  • 50 HKD – Photo
  • 160 HKD – HK Travel Record
  • 10 HKD – Print-outs of familial evidence
  • 425 HKD – Certificate of Registration

Not to mention travel costs, time and energy, but I’ll exclude those.

I spent 1035 HKD ($132 USD) for this card – it’s more than my HKSAR passport. That’s 2.5x as much and 3x as long (May 28 – Aug 22) compared to my HK-born brother.

For 10 years of convenience? Yeah, it’s still worth it.

I will definitely use it as much as I can whenever I can!

Aftermath

I used my new card to go into Shen Zhen a week later. It was a BREEZE – everything I imagined and more.

It was during protest times, so I had to be careful about not wearing black and looking innocent. I think it helped that I crossed the border from Macau instead.

My next step would be to register for eChannel. Then, I can be anti-social like everyone else and talk to a robot instead of a human being.

Anywho, hope my experience helped you get your Home Return Permit!

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