Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Red Tape Diaries

This is Part I of a two-part post - the second section will come after I have my APRC in hand. At that point, I'll presumably have more to share.

Anyway, I've learned a lot as I've gone through the process of getting my APRC, or permanent residency in Taiwan (still not done - fingers crossed). The best compendium of info is here, on Taiwanease, although questions asked in that thread don't get many replies, if any (I believe that will change and things will pick up).

That said, that thread is huge, and there's more to say about the process than can be conveniently put in it - or should be. Personal experience doesn't equate to fact.

So, here's my personal experience.

1.) A lot of information is contradictory - 

One person I met with an APRC insisted that you needed to pay NT$12,000, elsewhere it says that it's NT $10,000. Another said you needed NT$300,000 in savings even if you met the minimum income requirement. Another said that you needed to have met the income requirements for the entire 5 years' you've been here, not just the past year. In one thread, it says that the translation and notarization of your home country background check must be done in the country of origin. Elsewhere it's pretty clear that it can be done in Taiwan once the document is TECRO-authorized. I've also heard that you need to do this all in person in your home country, whereas elsewhere I've heard that you do not.

So far what I've learned is that the fee is NT$10,000 but subject to change, you don't need to show savings if you meet the minimum income requirement of double the national minimum wage (so you need to be earning about NT$430,000/year, and this needs to be reflected on your tax statement so make sure your employer isn't under-reporting you), that you only need to have earned this or be able to prove you've earned it for the past tax year, that you can do the translation and notarization of your home-country background check in Taiwan, and that it is quite easy to have an intermediary do things for you in your home country, it just involves a bit more paperwork (generally filling out more the bottom of the forms).

2.) It's a good idea to check your status before you begin - 

The Immigration office tells you this, but I was so sure that I was fine that I almost didn't do it. When I finally did, I learned that they had lost - lost! - the record of my ARC for my entire 2nd year in Taiwan. Fortunately I had a copy of the ARC in question and that was enough to reinstate my record so I could apply for an APRC.

Which leads me to..

3.) If you hope to get an APRC or it's even a possibility when you first move to Taiwan, SAVE EVERYTHING!

That copy of one year's ARC really saved my ass. Without it, I'd be out of luck.

4.) Don't listen to the "expected timeline" for your home-country background check.

I can't speak for other countries, but the 3-5 weeks promised by the FBI? Bollocks! It took 6 weeks plus a few days in the mail, to an American address! Start way early with this - and...

5.) Do your home country background check first.

It's the longest part of the process and other documents get dangerously close to expiring if you wait too long. When you or your intermediary receives the clearance in the mail, start the rest of the process.

6.) The Taipei NIA office has a post office downstairs, conveniently close to where they do fingerprints.

So, you can mail out your background check application to your home country right after you get the fingerprinting done. So convenient.

7.) Prepare more than one fingerprint card -

The woman knows what she's doing but mistakes happen and coming back is a pain.

8.) If you get your health check for the APRC, it can't be used to renew an ARC, but if you do an ARC check and APRC check at the same time, you save money.

Most of the procedures are the same, so they only charge you for the extra blood and the extra processing. The fees for the check, X-ray, etc. are combined so you only pay slightly more than the cost of one check. -

9.) Many people say you can get a police background check in Taiwan (CCRD) from your "local" police office. This is probably wrong.

Maybe not, but my local office - Da'an, so not exactly the boonies! - had no idea what I was talking about when I went. I finally figured out that I needed to go to the large office in Ximen (MRT Ximen Exit 5, walk straight ahead one minute). You'd be well advised to just do this rather than wasting time at the local police office. Bring your ARC and passport. It's cheap and quick and takes just a few days to process.

10.) The Taiwan CCRD is a lot easier to get than your home country background check.

6 weeks and $18 plus fingerprints from the FBI vs. two days and NT100, no fingerprints, from Taiwan. Awesome! You don't have to rush as much on this.

11.) Everyone says "get the home country background check translated and notarized" but it's hard to find information on where exactly you can do that.

So I will tell you: there's a notary that advertises on Taiwanease here (Neihu), and another one near 228/Ximen: Chongqing S. Road Section 1 #121 7th floor #1 (台北市重慶南路1段121號7樓之1) - call (02)2388-8688 to make an appointment.

When I find a translation service I will update here. I still don't know where to get that done.

12.) Notarization is surprisingly expensive - 

NT$750, so make sure your documents are in order the first time. I was surprised because for a time I was a notary in Virginia, but I performed notarization duties for free for my old company (who sponsored me in getting the designation so I could notarize things for associates).

13.) If you have an intermediary pick up your home country background check and take it to TECRO, TECRO will want a lot of stuff, including a notarized authorization letter from you.

For US only: send your intermediary your signed application and have them fill in the bottom part, a US dollar bank check, money order or cashier's check payable to TECRO for US$15 plus US$38 if you want it sent directly back to you (if you have your intermediary pick it up and mail it to you, you don't need to include the US$38). You can get a US dollar bank check at First Bank on Heping E. Road, a short walk west from Heping/Fuxing intersection. Hua Nan bank should also do it. Fubon has weird rules and it takes a few days, but the First Bank gave it to me immediately.

Also send your intermediary a copy of your ID (I included ARC and passport to be safe), a letter with the address you'd like the authenticated document sent to, and a notarized authorization letter from you, allowing your intermediary to do this. If you have no idea what to say, pick and choose elements from the templates here.

You can get the letter notarized at the locations above. Make sure to have your intermediary's name in the letter as it appears on their ID (they'll need to bring a copy of their ID, as well).

14.) If your ARC is close to expiration, having an APRC application in process does not entitle you to extend your ARC, you need to do that through regular means.

I learned this the hard way - I thought that if I applied for my APRC before my ARC expired, that it would be OK because, with an application in process, they'd extend the ARC. No dice. So, get both health checks done at once and then extend your ARC as usual if you are in this position.

Or, do the APRC process when your ARC isn't close to expiring and save yourself a lot of stress. Learn from my mistakes.

15.) If you really don't want to extend your ARC (like, you hate your job and don't want to sign another contract but need to in order to renew), you can await an APRC on a visitor's visa.

Once the APRC application has been submitted, you don't need to continue to have an ARC - they will no longer care if you've had one "unbroken" for 5 years if they already have the APRC application. You can leave and come back on a visitor's visa as you await your APRC.

16.) I thought it would take just a few short weeks after applying.

Wrong. I haven't submitted the documents yet but I will soon, however, the NIA told me that once you've submitted, it takes up to a month for them to determine whether to grant you an APRC or not. If they say a month, plan for more (see above with my bad FBI experience).

17.) Keep copies of everything. Everything!

You never know when they'll come in handy. Never submit an original if you don't have a copy, and try to get two originals of everything.

18.) That thread on Taiwanease is just right when it comes to the order in which you should prepare your documents:

1.) Call Immigration to make sure you are eligible and have no outstanding issues (this really saved my butt)
2.) Get your old work permits and tax returns in order
3.) Apply for home country background check (inc. fingerprints)
4.) Prepare and documents for your intermediary if you have one
5.) Authorize background check at TECRO
6.) Translate and notarize background check
7.) While #3 and #4 are in process, get your health check and Taiwan CCRD (background check)
8.) Get your employment certificate from work (valid for only 1 month)
9.) Make copies of everything, incl. ARC and every page of your passport
10.) Call Immigration (NIA) and let them take it from there

Anyway, that's about it. The whole process has been quite illuminating, and not nearly as bureaucratic as I'd feared (really the most bureaucratic part of it is all the crap surrounding my FBI background check. The Taiwan side is surprisingly easy).

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