This article is a complete guide – updated as of November 2013 – to getting a Chinese VISA. You’ll discover:
- The requirements and how long it takes to obtain any type of Chinese VISA
- Where to get a Chinese VISA (either in your country or abroad)
- The different kinds of Chinese VISAs (Tourist, Business, Student and Work VISAs) and the changes that took place as of July 2013
- How much it costs to obtain a Chinese VISA
Do I need a Chinese VISA?
Yes, you do. The only exceptions are people who hold a passport from Singapore, Brunei or Japan (they can stay in China for 15 days without a VISA) and people who are in transit in the airports of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Chengdu for less than 72 hours.
How long does it take to get a VISA?
If you have all the necessary documents and hold a passport with at least six months validity and two blank pages, it should take between one (if you can, apply for the express service) to four working days to get a Chinese VISA.
The best time to apply for a Chinese VISA is between two months and fifteen days before your departure. You can’t apply for your VISA too early because if you don’t use it, the VISA will expire after 90 days, starting from the day you obtained it.
How much does it cost?
The price varies from 30 to 140 USD depending on your nationality, the type of VISA and the number of entries.
Usually it’s cheaper for European people, whereas American people are often required to pay more than 100 USD.
Where to get a VISA
Generally speaking, you should apply at the Chinese embassy or consulate in your country (you can find a complete list here), especially when it comes to work and student VISAs.
However, people that are already traveling or working in Asia may also apply in Hong Kong (at the moment, only through an agency, as applying for a VISA at the consular office is only possible for Hong Kong residents).
Click here to read our guide to getting a Chinese VISA in Hong Kong.
Keep in mind that the government may abruptly decide to restrict VISA requirements, just like they did in 2008 (before the Olympic Games in Beijing), whenever they want. I don’t want to scare you; just be prepared to deal with the unforeseen.
In practice, you can also apply in other countries, but do so at your own risk, as it’s possible (probable?) that your application will be rejected. It also depends on your passport: Italian and German people, for example, seem to experience much fewer problems than French and American people. It usually depends on how good (or bad) the relationship between China and your country is. Since July 2013, even in Hong Kong, they have started to reject a lot of applications. Click here for the details.
The different types of Chinese VISAs (and the requirements for getting them)
The basic requirements for getting a Chinese VISA are: a passport with at least six months validity and two blank pages, a recent 2×2 square inch photo and an application form.
You can download the application form here, just choose the one that corresponds to the country from which you are planning to apply because it may have slight differences.
Tourist VISA (or L VISA)
Tourist VISAs are issued to people who want to travel around China or visit their Chinese relatives.
The basic requirements listed above were once usually enough. However, since July 2013, some Chinese embassies and consulates started to ask you for a copy of your return trip plane ticket from China and a copy of a Chinese hotel booking for at least 30% of your stay (p.s. for booking an hotel I recommend Agoda because it often has the cheapest deals).
Let’s see an example. If you have a plane ticket from Los Angeles to Beijing for December 3rd and a return ticket from Beijing to Los Angeles for December 12th, you’ll have to show a hotel invoice for at least your first three nights in China (December 3rd, 4th and 5th).
If you intend to stay at your (foreign) friend’s house, you won’t need a hotel invoice. However, your friend will have to send you an invitation letter that contains their full name, address in China, passport and resident permit numbers and signature. I also recommend you get a copy of their passport and resident permit (just to be sure). If your friend is Chinese, you’ll need the invitation letter and a copy of their ID card.
Sometimes, the consular office employee may even ask you for proof of your ability to financially support yourself before accepting your VISA application. Therefore, before going to the VISA office, be sure to ask via email or to call them to be sure of the documents that you need to bring.
The most common tourist VISA is the Single Entry Tourist VISA (that is, you can’t leave China and then enter again with the same VISA) which has a validity of between 30 and 90 days.
Sometimes, depending on your passport and on the mood of the immigration officers, you can also get a Double or Multiple Entry Tourist VISA. That means that you are allowed to enter and exit the country twice with the same VISA (for double entry) and as many times as you want (for multiple entry).
If you are planning to go to Tibet, be aware that in addition to your VISA, you need a special entry permit issued by the Tibetan Tourist Bureau. Currently, you can only enter Tibet with a travel agency, so just ask at your favorite travel agency.
Business VISA (or M VISA)
This is the new business VISA and it’s issued to people who come to China for business and trade activities.
You are required to provide an “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit” issued by a registered Chinese company or organization.
While many people use Business VISAs to work in China, this is illegal. If you want to legally work in China, you need a Work VISA.
The new F VISA is issued to people who come to China for non-business purposes such educational, scientific, cultural, health or sporting reasons. Before July 2013, the F VISA was the same thing as a business VISA.
This visa is issued to foreign professionals whose skills are urgently needed in China (R1 for long-term stays and R2 for short-term stays).
Student VISA (or X VISA)
If you want to study in China for less than 180 days, you’ll have to apply for an X2 VISA. However, if you want to stay longer, you’ll need an X1 VISA.
You are required to provide a medical certificate (check the details with the Chinese embassy in your country), the JW201 (or JW202) form issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education and the a notice of admission from your school. Your school should obtain these documents and send them to you.
A Student VISA is only valid for 30 days starting from the day that you enter China. Afterwards, you have to exchange it for a Temporary Resident Permit (See below to learn how to exchange your Student VISA for a Temporary Resident Permit).
Work VISA (or Z VISA)
Holding a Z VISA is the only way to work legally in China.
Be aware that not all employers can get you a Work VISA. For instance, small, private English schools often can’t. This is the main reason for which they often try to convince you to come to China and work under a Tourist or Business VISA.
Do this at your own risk because it’s illegal. If you get caught working with the wrong VISA, you risk paying a fine that ranges between $5,000 and $20,000 and may even end up in prison (from five to fifteen days). Afterwards, you’ll be asked leave the country or, depending on the conditions, will be deported (at your expense). If you’re deported, you won’t be able to get a new Chinese VISA for a period that ranges from one to ten years.
Having said that, many firms and public organizations (universities, for instance) are accredited to employ foreigners and can help you get a work VISA as long as you qualify as a “foreign expert.”
Depending on the field, you may need to prove you have English as first language and hold a Bachelor’s Degree (if you want to teach English) or provide a Ph.D. degree (if, for instance, you want to become a university professor).
The logic behind this rule is the following: you have to prove that you are useful to China by bringing some skills and expertise that the country needs. If you can’t do anything, why should a Chinese company hire you instead of a Chinese person?
So, if your employer is accredited to employ foreigners and you qualify as a foreign expert, your employer can apply for your Work Permit (also called a Foreign Expert Certificate or other things depending on your field of expertise).
On top of the Work Permit, in order to apply for the VISA, you should also provide a medical certificate (check the details with the Chinese embassy in your country), an “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit” or “Confirmation Letter of Invitation” (your employer should get the letter for you), and a clean criminal record check issued by your country (new as of July 2013).
The work VISA will also allows you to bring your wife, husband or children to China. They will only need to provide a marriage or birth certification.
A Work VISA is only valid for 30 days starting from the day you entered in China. Then you should transform it in a Temporary Resident Permit (your employer should help you to do so).
How to transform your Student or Work VISA in a Temporary Resident Permit
In order to get the Resident Permit, which must be renewed each year, you will have to provide a bunch of documents and an Health Certificate issued by China Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau or HK public hospitals.
I’ve covered this topic in detail on our free e-Book “Find a Job and Live in China.”
You can read it by subscribing to our newsletter (you’ll get the password within minutes):
[Photo Credits (Flickr Commons): https://www.flickr.com/photos/upton/,