China Visa: A complete guide and FAQ
On recent years China visa laws have changed greatly. Not only nation-wide, but also provincial-specific changes. It’s hard for everyone, and understandably so. Also recently, the law has been enforced more and is generally harder to get a Visa for China. On top of that the simple 30 day L tourist visa remains too expensive, slow and annoying to get. There are a lot of questions to be answered and troubles on the road of obtaining a China Visa, lets check some of them:
1) Types of Visas for China:
- C = International transportation crew
- F = Exchanges, visits, study tours, and related activities
- G = Transit
- J1 = Journalist visa for foreign news organizations (>180 days)
- J2 = Journalist visa for foreign news organizations (<180 days)
- L = Tourist
- M = Commercial, Business, and Trade activities
- Q1 = Family visa (of a PRC National or of a foreign national with permanent residency) (>180 days)
- Q2 = Family (<180 days)
- R = High or Special Talent
- S1 = Visiting foreigners working/studying in China (>180 days)
- S2 = Visiting foreigners working/studying in China (<180 days)
- X1 = Study >180 days
- X2 = Study <180 days
- Z = Work/employment
2) Should I register my stay after I arrive to China?
- 1) Staying in an apartment would need you to register at the local police department within 24 hours of your arrival (e.g. moving apartments, arrival in China, etc).
- 2) Staying in hotels, this procedure will be done for you.
- 3) It depends on your visa type.
Note by Paul: As a rule of thumb if you stay in a Hotel is the Hotel job to register you. If you rent long time in an apartment this is your problem.
As a tourist I wouldn’t stress this, is usually done automatically by Hotels when you stay in a hotel. Usually this is not a big deal, and i would not even bother to go register to the local police station if I’m just a tourist.
Business and Travel Visas
If you leave the country as part of your visa’s days duration such as for business or tourist visas (e.g. every 60 or 90 days), you have to re-register. Each time you enter or get a new visa or move, do need to register again.
If you received a new visa or residence permit or you move, you do have to re-register.
3) Can I visit China for a short time without a visa?
Direct Transit – this means you will not leave the airport and you have a connection to a third place within 24 hours of your arrival (e.g. Los Angeles, Beijing, Bangkok)
Some cities allow either up to 72 hours or 144 hours of a visa free period as follows:
- You must stay in the designated geographic region of your arrival.
- You must have proof of an international ticket to a third region.
- Not all countries are allowed to be included.
72 Hours (in the city)
72 Hours (in province)
- Changsha (Hunan)
- Guangzhou (Guangdong Province)
- Xiamen (Fujian Province)
- Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.
- Plane (all airports – Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai), Ship, or Rail arrival (as of 1/30/2016).
4) What if I want to visit China looking for a job?
There is no visa for this case. You are supposed to have obtained a job before coming to China along with the required invitation documents.
While many people do not abide by this, you can check the possible consequences if one is caught for not abiding by the terms of their visa (e.g. coming in on a business visa and finding a job or working, etc).
WORKING VISAS / PERMITS
5) How can I work legally in China?
A work visa/permit is the only method to legally work in China.
6) How to get a Chinese working visa?
Issued overseas based on:
- 1) Having secured a job in China.
- 2) Presenting the official invitation documents at your home consulate/embassy.
With the above you can get a Work (Z) visa. Once you arrive in China, your employer will help in converting it to a residence permit, together with your work permit/expert certificate allowing you to work legally in China.
It normally takes 2-3 weeks from the day of receiving the documents and job offer till you arrive in China.
7) What are the types of work permits?
- Ordinary work permit, known as an Alien Employment Permit
- Two types of Experts Certificates issued by the Foreign Experts bureau.
- a. One for teachers at officially licensed institutions (e.g. not training centers that are registered as ordinary companies).
- b. The non-education one is for senior talents.
8) My employer wants to hold my work permit or experts certificate, but I think I should hold it. Who is correct?
You are correct.
If you voluntarily gave it to your employer for renewal then this different.
9) How many days I can stay after my work permit is cancelled?
Usually, the Public Security Bureau would convert your residence permit into a one-month Tingliu (停留) visa to handle any necessary formalities related with leaving or finding a new job. After that time it’s called a overstay.
10) Can my work/residence permit get cancelled without my passport/knowledge?
An employer does not need your passport or to tell you. You would be responsible for any related consequences.
CHINA VISA REQUIREMENTS FAQ
11) What if I want to work in China and do not meet the requirements for a work permit (degree, two years experience…etc)?
This used to be easier through visa agents that have a company with a license for visas. Also, some of the large companies can help such candidates, but recently the law has become more enforced, so it’s becoming quite hard to get a China visa.
Paul Note: Specially hard to those who don’t meet any criteria. Which means it used to be easy to bypass the criteria. Those with the paperwork in order should have no problem.
12) My friend’s company processed his work/residence permit although he does not meet the requirements?
It depends on when this was the case. As said above, It used to be easier, but in recent years it’s almost impossible. Some companies and in some locations may still be possible to have done.
13) An agent said he can help me “overcome” the missing requirements to legally work in China. How can I believe him?
There are two types of agents.
- One can merely deliver documents for companies to/from the government offices.
- The other has the legal licenses to assist foreigners in their situation.
Many factors to consider whether you can believe them or not. I recommend you to investigate about their business, website domain, history and what others say about the company. Only registered companies in China can receive a (.cn) domain.
14) If I am missing the two years of work experience, can I obtain this in China?
It depends. For technical-related jobs such as engineering would require it. Sometimes, the company will need it, rather than the government, and other times both. With this said, in an increasing number of industries, the government is requiring it for a work permit (such as in education), in some areas of China.
15) Can I make up work experience?
Yes, but not recommended, because there are ways to find out if this experience is true.
For example, if you make up work experience but it conflicts with your studying period, then your application would not make sense.
16) Does the two years of work experience need to be related to the job that I am applying for in China?
Yes, In some cases. No, in most others.
STUDENT CHINA VISA AND INTERNSHIPS
17) Is there a visa for internship?
The only legal way to have internship is:
- You are a student enrolled at a local university.
- Get the university official approval for your internship.
- Get the company internship official offer.
- Take the university and company papers with your passport to the Public Security Bureau, so that your visa is marked to allow an internship.
Such internship does not count toward one’s two years of work experience for a work visa.
The university is required by law to submit records of attendance and grades to the government, and so future student visas may not be issued for tardy students.
18) Am I allowed to work while holding a student visa?
No. Working is only legal with a work (Z) visa.
EXCEEDING THE VISA SCOPE
19) Can I have a work visa for City A but live & work in City B?
Your work/residence permit must be issued for the city that you primarily live and work in. Hence, the company must be registered in that city. For example, you cannot have a work permit and visa for Shanghai but live in Guangzhou.
If your work visa is for City A, and you try to get a temporary living paper for an apartment for City B, then you may be questioned about why you need an apartment if you’re working in City A. Also, City B’s registration does not apply for renewing a work permit in City A.
20) What happens if I am caught for engaging in activity that my visa does not allow?
This could include: Working while holding a non-working visa like student or spouse visa; conducting business on a non-work or business visa; finding a job while not holding a work visa…etc. The consequences are determined by the officer and could include a combination of: Fines, warnings, prison, exit visa, and/or deportation. The latter two would require you to pay for such an exit visa.
The important other issue is a notice on the international database shared by law enforcement and embassies around the world making future visa applications and/or entry to China or other countries difficult.
21) Can my work/residence permit be with Company A and my actual employer is Company B?
Technically you are only allowed to hold one job.
If you have an official contract from company A that allows you to work for company B, then this is acceptable.
You cannot be the legal representative in more than one company or apply for two work permits simultaneously. With this said, there are some solutions for people who started a company, and is the legal representative, which is sometimes allowable.
Some people have gotten away with holding part-time jobs in other companies, the chance of getting caught is pretty slim. Most officers would rather see people holding the correct documents than fight over the details
So, it does depend on the situation. People have received consequences for working for another firm in the above methods as well.
22) I am married to a Chinese national. Can I work while holding a dependence visa?
No. A dependence visa allows you to live in China, but not to work. There is a possibility that your spouse could get into trouble too; however, since you are married to a Chinese national the authorities cannot deport you.
CHANGING JOB / VISA EXPIRY
23) When my contract expires, how can I renew my work permit and visa with a new employer?
With the same/new employer, you can begin the renewal process up to 60 days in advance. In many cases, you will not lose time if you renew early, such as in Beijing; in other cases you may lose the remaining time in the old visa. it depends on the city. It’s suggested to start the renewing as early as possible. Your employer will first handle the renewal of your work permit followed by your residence permit.
If you’re changing employers, you will need an official release letter on company letterhead, that includes the company chop (stamp), with your name, passport number and date of birth. There are a few different samples of the content of the letter. The timing of this letter is the important part. You will also need your work permit or a receipt of cancelled work permit. In Some cases either will suffice. In other cases, your original employer must cancel your work permit.
There is a high likelihood that the employer will not give you the documents because you did not complete the contract.
24) What if my current employer will not give me a release letter?
Some employers will not give the release letter or would delay it until is too late (perhaps purposely?).
The Labor Contract Law stipulates that the Termination Certificate shall be issued to the Employee in the meantime when labor contract is effectively terminated, the applicant can sue this with the labor arbitration department; however, this is not a practical solution for foreigners, for a few reasons:
- You need to be in China to attend the court proceedings. The case wouldn’t even be on trial until months/years, by that time your work/residence permit would have expired anyway.
- The chance of a foreigner winning against a local company is slim.
- Chinese courts require at least 51% of proof to deal with deciding which side is highly likely to win.
- The amount of money, time and energy spent in legal proceedings is enough to take care of this matter outside the court at the first place.
25) My employer won’t give the release letter until the end of the contract; however, this is the same day that my work permit or experts certificate and visa expires.
This is a very unfortunate situation for you. The release letter is required as part of the process for the transfer and renewal of your work permit. The process can be started up to 60 days in advance, but must be started at least days prior to the expiration. You will need to leave the country prior to your visa expiration. The renewal process cannot be started at the last moment.
26) What if my China visa expired during the visa renewal period when my passport was held by the government?
It’s OK. Use the small receipt used to collect your passport back as an evidence of your legal stay.
27) My employer cancelled my work permit or experts certificate before the end of my contract. Is my residence permit still valid?
It depends. In some cases, if your residence permit was issued for work, then it is only valid providing that you have a job and that the company is up to date and you have a valid work permit, If it is not valid, this will invalidate your residence permit.
In other cases, while your work permit is cancelled, your residence permit is still valid. This is in part because both documents are issued by different government departments, so you could live in China, but does not mean you can freely work for whom you like. In this case, better to find a new employer and have them apply for your new work permit.
It’s the employer duty to cancel your work permit if you leave the company. Some may cancel it right away, while others may take more time. It used to be allowable for the new company to cancel your work permit, but for safety, and security issues, this is no longer valid.
VISITING FOR BUSINESS
28) I want to visit China to do business, how to get a visa?
You need an invitation from a company registered in China justifying the purpose of your visit, take the invitation to the embassy in your resident country along with your passport .
Depending on the situation and your nationality, the embassy/consulate might ask for more documents from the inviting company like: Business license, export record, and more supportive documents.
29) Can I get a business visa from company A in City A and go and visit City B:
No, but it’s common, however, it’s getting strict recently.
If you got caught beyond your visit purpose, both you and the inviting company have to bear the consequences including: Fines – deportation – blacklisting the inviting company from inviting any foreigners in the future.
30) What’s the duration and terms for tourist or business visa?
Duration and exit terms (e.g. 30 or 60 days), etc are determined by the officer at the consulate/embassy based on different factors mainly related to the content of your invitation letter.
Business visas are meant for business purposes such as factory visits, conferences, meetings and similar affairs and not for working.
STARTING A COMPANY TO GET A CHINA VISA
31) Could I start a company and use it to help my work permit and visa?
Yes. However, the company cannot be just for this purpose, It must legally conduct business otherwise you, or other foreigners in the company, may not be getting a renewal work visa or the company may be shut down.
In a local organization, the person with the ‘chop’ or stamps have utmost the power. This person could be the director or legal representative. For a local Chinese company, the highest position for a foreigner which can control the ‘chops’ and the bank accounts, etc, is the legal representative.
32) As an owner of a Chinese/foreign company in China, how can I apply for the China visa?
Your visa will be applied just like employees visa and subject to acceptance and rejection. Being the owner is no guarantee to get a working visa but in general it works.
33) If I start a foreign company (to get my China visa), do I need a company registered overseas to start a foreign company?
Starting a foreign companies takes months, but you’ll keep up full control of the business. During registration or just after, the company will not be able to employ foreigners or offer you visa.
The business nature & capital must be enough to prove the business need to hire foreigners, there must be no pending issues with registration or with any of the other government offices. The company must also meet and keep up certain requirements to employ foreigners.
Some regions have relaxed policies for certain industries, such as technology companies.
Some companies claim to offer “shelf” companies but the problem is that you carry any of the associated risks with that the company is carrying.
34) I am in China with a non-work China visa and want to work in China. Can my visa be converted while in China?
The short answer is no. Under the law, you are required to go back to your home country to have this processed. This should not be surprising because the process was supposed to be started from there before you came to China.
In recent years, the authorities have cracked down on applications made not from one’s home country without a documented reason (e.g. valid work documents for that country), especially for areas near to China.
Also, just because you have the invitation documents does not mean you will be approved for the visa, and if you are denied then the entire process needs to begin again. You may lose your opportunity with the related company in the process.
35) Why are there exit terms associated with my tourist or business visa?
Exit terms refer to the maximum stay in the country that one can have commonly for a tourist or business visa. The reason is to make sure people are using their visa for its intended purpose. If there is anything unusual about your situation, (such as long periods of time in China, renting an apartment, etc) you could be stopped, questioned, or denied entry once arriving in China.
36) I am renewing my passport. Can I have my visa in an old passport, but use the new passport?
No. If you hold a residence permit/visa, it should be updated with the new passport information within 10 days at the Public Security Bureau.
Timing is important because it is very tight for all the procedures to be done within 10 days. You’ll need to show proof for when this began. For example, through stamped express mail envelopes, a stamped document showing pick up from an embassy, etc.
37) A Hong Kong company wants to invite me for work done in Mainland China / I plan to visit Hong Kong as part of my visit.
Different laws apply for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau for a number of nationalities. If you will be visiting the Mainland and going on or vice versa, it is important to read the proper laws and plan in advance.
38) I want to do a freelance position in China. Is this allowed?
No. Although many people do it on various kinds of China visa. You must hold a work permit and residence permit to legally work in China. Freelancing means you are not tied to one employer of which you would have difficulty obtaining the correct working documents.
39) Can I change visa types while in China?
Upwards no, but downwards yes.
For example, you can change a work visa into a travel visa, but transferring to a student visa, work visa again would need you to leave the country and start from the beginning.
BONUS TRACK: VERY USEFUL LINKS
- Chinese Visa Application Service center. The official VISA application service center.
- www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/. China embassy website in the US.
- CUCAS study in China website. Not the cheapest, but very useful page.
- FBT china Visa agency. A China Visa agency in Hong Kong.
- CTSHK agency. Another useful China Visa agency in Hong Kong.
- PLECO. App software, it¡s a Chinese dictionary and much more. Alongside with Wechat, easily the most useful app for living and study in China.
PS: China Visa laws and rules vary between cities, the above makes a general guideline but doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere. If you had a different experience please comment to share it with the community.
PS2: If you have more questions drop me a line in the comments section.