Shanghai, one of China’s most vibrant and prosperous cities, offers a plethora of opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs. One such opportunity lies in the fitness and sports education sector. With Shanghai parents spending at least 10-15K RMB per month, per child, per activity on extracurricular activities, the market is ripe for investment. This article provides a detailed guide on how to start a basketball, football, tennis, or other fitness academy in Shanghai as a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE).

1. Understanding the Market

Shanghai’s market is one of the strongest in China. Based on 2023 statistics, parents in Shanghai are willing to invest heavily in their children’s extracurricular activities, spending between 10-15K RMB ($1386 – $2079) per month, per child, per activity. If the education center employs foreign teachers and uses English as the medium of instruction, the prices can be even higher. There is a particularly high interest in basketball and football among boys, and tennis is popular among girls.

2. Registering a WFOE for Fitness Businesses

Foreign entrepreneurs can register a WFOE for their gym and fitness businesses. The only requirement to register a WFOE for a gym and fitness business is to find a premises first. Once you have secured a location and signed a rental agreement, you can register the WFOE at that address.

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3. Visa Requirements

If the company director and other foreign employees wish to sponsor their work permits using this WFOE, they must meet the following requirements:

  • Hold a minimum bachelor’s degree from a recognized university
  • Have at least two years of paid professional work experience
  • Provide a non-criminal background check
  • Provide a medical certificate showing no health issues

4. Safety and Quality of Life

Shanghai is considered an extremely safe city to live in with a family. Its high standard of living, coupled with its vibrant culture and robust economy, make it an attractive location for foreign entrepreneurs.

5. Business Opportunities and Scalability

Starting a business in Shanghai, especially in the area of fitness and extracurricular activities for children, can be very lucrative and easy to scale. The high demand for these types of schools is evident in how quickly spaces fill up each term.

6. Registration Timeframe

As with any other type of WFOE, the total timeframe for registering a fitness-related WFOE takes around 3-4 weeks.

7. Getting Started

For any questions related to starting a WFOE in China, please refer to the FAQs below. If your question is not covered here, feel free to contact us at JR & Firm. We have been helping clients enter the Chinese market with their services and products for many years, and we have a strong presence in Shanghai. Our office is located in the heart of the business and manufacturing hub of Shanghai – Songjiang. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you start your fitness academy in Shanghai.

Starting a fitness academy in Shanghai as a WFOE can be a rewarding venture. With the right planning and understanding of the market, foreign entrepreneurs can tap into the lucrative fitness and sports education sector and make a significant impact.

1. What is the first step if I want to register a WFOE?

The first step towards registering a WFOE in China involves contacting a professional consultancy firm, such as JR & Firm, and signing a service agreement. In theory, the founders could handle the process themselves. However, since it requires an in-depth understanding of the company registration system and proficiency in Mandarin Chinese, it is generally more practical to hire a professional company to prevent potential mistakes during the process.

2. I have signed a service agreement with JR & Firm to register my WFOE, what's next?

After signing an agreement with our clients for WFOE registration in China, we issue a formal invoice. At this stage, we anticipate that our clients will make a payment for the service, allowing us to commence the process.

3. I have paid JR & Firm for the WFOE registration service, what should I do next?

Upon receiving full payment for the WFOE registration, we provide our clients with a detailed questionnaire. This document requests all the necessary information about the company, business activity, founders (shareholders), and executives (including the company director and supervisor). We request that our clients complete the questionnaire and return it to us via email.

4. What should I prepare for the WFOE registration questionnaire?

1. Company Name Choices: In China, WFOE names should follow this structure: [Place of Registration] + [Chosen Name] + [Business Direction] + Co., LTD. For example, Shanghai Silk Road International Trading Co., LTD, or for a consultancy company: Shanghai Silk Road Consulting Co., LTD. An alternative structure is: [Chosen Name] + [(Place of Registration)] + [Business Direction] + Co., LTD. For example: Silk Road (Shanghai) International Trading Co., LTD. Please note, in China, a company’s Chinese name is considered its main name. If our clients know Chinese, we ask for name choices in both Chinese and English, following the above structure. If not, English name choices will suffice, and we will select a corresponding Chinese name based on similar sounds. Avoid city, country, and historical names, as they’re typically disallowed. Also, we discourage direct translations of the English name due to high likelihood of them being taken. We recommend selecting similar-sounding Chinese characters to avoid delays. The Chinese name does not need to have a specific meaning, as meaningful characters are often taken.

2. Company’s Legal Person (Company Director): The legal person is an individual and cannot be a corporate entity. Please prepare their full name (as on the passport), a copy of their passport (not ID), along with their address, phone number, and email address.

3. Company’s Supervisor: The company supervisor is a separate individual from the company director, meaning they cannot be the same person. Please provide their full name (as on the passport), a copy of their passport (not ID), and their address, phone number, and email address.

4. Company’s Shareholder(s): Shareholders are the owners of the company and can be both individuals or corporate entities. Both the company director and supervisor can be shareholders. There can be up to 50 shareholders. Whether an individual or corporate shareholder, full information is required: full names, contact details, address, and either passport copies (for individual shareholders) or a full set of company documents (for corporate shareholders).

5. Company’s Business Activity: What products and/or services does the company plan to sell? Please prepare a detailed list.

6. Company’s Registered Capital: The registered capital is the amount the founders plan to invest in the company over a span of 30 years or more. The amount varies depending on the activity and place of registration. We recommend $300,000 for international trading companies and $100,000 for consultancy companies, as examples. The registered capital amount is usually suggested by the local government.

7. Full Contact Details for All Involved Executives and Shareholders: We need the complete contact details for all executives and shareholders. This includes addresses, emails, and phone numbers.

5. I submitted the WFOE registration questionnaire to JR & Firm via email, what's next?

Once we receive the completed WFOE registration questionnaire, we review it carefully and follow up with our clients accordingly. If there’s any missing information, or if the company requires additional permits or licenses based on its planned products or services, we will inform the client. If everything is in order, we prepare the application documents, attach our clients’ documentation, and submit the WFOE registration application. The estimated waiting period for feedback from the government on the registration application is approximately 10 business days. Please note that timeframes in China are approximate due to government bureaucracy.

6. How long does it take to get my WFOE license after the registration application is submitted?

Once the WFOE registration application is submitted, the government generally responds within 10 business days. If approved, they will issue the company’s structural documents, which the founders (shareholders) and executives (director and supervisor) are required to sign with a black gel pen and mail back to us (Note: In China, only black gel pens are acceptable for signing legal documents; other colors and ballpoint pens are not accepted). We then submit the signed documents to the company registrar and await the business license. The waiting period for the business license is roughly 10 business days unless expedited service was purchased. With expedited service, a business license can be obtained within 2-5 business days. Contact us for more details about the expedited service.

7. Great, I have obtained my WFOE business license, what is the next step?

Once we secure the WFOE business license, we will contact our clients and the bank to schedule an appointment to open a corporate bank account for the company. Please note, the company director must be present in China to open a corporate bank account and their citizenship should not be among the countries sanctioned in the bank’s system. Alongside being present, the director needs to provide a Chinese phone number linked to their passport and a second person’s passport and phone number linked to this second person’s passport. This second person can be anyone in China (provided their citizenship isn’t among the sanctioned countries) with a Chinese phone number. This requirement is due to the banks’ need to issue online banking devices that require two people’s information. Legally speaking, this second person doesn’t have any rights or obligations regarding the company’s finances or bank account. While this might seem unusual, it remains a requirement, so we advise clients to identify such an individual in China before opening a bank account. The bank account opening process takes around 5-6 hours, and we recommend our clients exercise patience during this process.

8. I have my WFOE bank account opened, what is the next step?

After your WFOE bank account is opened, we’ll proceed to contact the customs department to initiate the process for the e-port device (if you’re registering an international trading WFOE focused on import/export. Note that e-port isn’t required for consultancy or other types of companies). This process typically takes about 5 business days, and we’ll mail the e-port device to our clients once it’s secured.

9. I have obtained my e-port device, are there any other steps to be completed before I start my company’s operations?

Yes, following the acquisition of the e-port for the WFOE, we’ll register the company with the tax department. This process generally takes around 14 business days, and it requires the company director to visit the tax office in person for ID verification.

10. After the WFOE tax registration, are there any other steps involved before the company becomes active?

Indeed, the final step in the WFOE registration is the foreign currency permission application. This process typically takes around 7 business days and necessitates a visit to the relevant government department. After securing the foreign currency permission, the WFOE can commence its operations.

On the whole, the complete process for WFOE registration can span anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks. As we mentioned earlier, all timeframes are approximations due to the inherent unpredictability of government bureaucracy. Although these factors are beyond our control, we will do our absolute best to expedite the process.

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