Learning Mandarin Chinese in Chengdu

Learning the Chinese language is a great way to start out if you are relocating to China. It’s also a great way to get a student visa to officially stay in China for more than 30, 60 or 90 days at a time (i.e., the typical limits of a tourist visa). So your question is where to study Chinese.

Here is a forum thread from 2003 which mention the following universities in Chengdu:

South West University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE)

They have a fantastic, fast-loading website for people looking study Chinese at their program. I don’t know anyone who is studying here. But it seems to be an option worthy of further investigation. The university is located on the west side of the city, just beyond the 2nd ring road.

Southwest University for Nationalities (SWUN)

I have a few friends studying Chinese at the Southwest University for Nationalities (SWUN) during this semester (Spring 2010). Semesters in Chinese universities begin in September and March, and typically do not offer summer sessions. The university is located within the 1st ring road, in its south-west corner, very close to the WuHou temple.

This English language CUCAS website advertises a tuition of RMB 5,500 per semester. However, my friend says that it is now actually RMB 6,000 per semester (about USD $879).

Private one-to-one tuition is RMB 8,000 per semester (about USD $1,172).

I have another friend who got her bachelor’s degree from SWUN.

Converting Tourist to Student Visas

You can first get a tourist visa (L Visa) to enter the People’s Republic of China. Check out the Chinese Embassy website for details on all the different types of visas offered by China. Getting a visa to get into China is BIG hassle, so that’s probably the topic for an entire blog post. But, anyway, first get an L tourist visa; you can convert it to another kind of visa later. They cost USD $130 for U.S. citizens. Alternatively, you could get a business (F) or student (X) visa instead if you want to apply to a school prior to arrival in China.

Once you get in country, you can check out the school and see if you want to study there. Once accepted, the university will help you convert your tourist visa to a student visa and make it last for the amount of time that you pre-pay tuition to study there. The visa conversion fee from tourist to student costs RMB 400 (about USD $59).

So why would you want to convert your tourist visa to a student visa? Let’s say you were able to get a multiple entry tourist visa. It might be valid for six months or a year. Some overseas Chinese with a parent who was born in China can get a two year multiple entry tourist visa. I qualify but I wasn’t able to get one when we applied in February 2010. Our multiple entry tourist visa allows us to stay in China for 60 days at a time. Other friends have gotten tourist visas that allow them to stay in China for only 30 days or as long as 90 days. Once you reach your time limit (30, 60 or 90 days) you must leave the country. As long as your visa is still valid when you want to go back into China, you can re-enter the country (hence the term: multiple entry). But if you really wish to stay in-country for a longer period, this continual need to leave the country and come back will be inconvenient and expensive. So if you are planning to study Chinese for six months or longer, its best to convert to a student visa. However, if you wish to travel around the country to visit a lot of different places, you probably should keep a tourist visa. Don’t expect to get a student visa but not actually attend classes, though. They may check on you to make sure you actually go to class.

Visa for your Spouse

Let’s say you are married and your spouse doesn’t want to become a student. But you want your spouse to be covered by your visa and not have to leave the country every 30, 60 or 90 days. You can have your spouse’s tourist visa converted to a tourist visa that matches the duration of the your new student visa. The fee to do this conversion is RMB 900 (about USD $132), basically the same cost as your spouse’s original tourist visa.

Now that I think of it, you can save money if you already know which school you wish to study at and just apply for a student visa to start off with and not have to pay these visa conversion fees. But … starting out with a tourist visa really does provide you with a lot more flexibility.

Marriage Authentication

Now in order for your spouse to qualify for this special tourist visa for the duration of your student visa, you’ll need to “authenticate” or notarized your marriage certificate the Chinese embassy or consulate. In order to prove that you and your spouse are actually married, you will need to get your marriage certificate authenticated at the Chinese embassy or consulate. Here are the instructions for the authentication. It costs USD $20 to authenticate a marriage certificate. You’ll need to fill out this Authentication Form. Make sure you find out which embassy or consulate has jurisdiction of your state of residence and apply for authentication there. And with a sigh of relief, I’m glad to report that unlike visa applications, you can do authentications by mail. Here are authentication instructions for the Los Angeles consulate.

If you are bringing children and you want them covered as well, make sure to get their birth certificates authenticated.

The SWUFE website provides lots more information on this subject.

Health Check

If you wish to pre-pay for two semesters of tuition and get a year long student visa, you’ll need to get a health check-up, just for the student, which costs RMB 344 (about USD $50).

Health Insurance

According to this webpage at the Southwest Jiaotong University, all international students are required to purchase International Students Chinese Insurance while they are a student. The cost is RMB 600 per year (about USD $88).

Study With a Private Tutor

Chinese Corner is a private company which has about twenty teacher that can serve as your private tutor. There are also many teachers available to independently tutor you. You might find one on one of these sites:

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