This article is a complete guide to getting a Chinese VISA. Keep reading to find out the answers to the following questions:
Do I need a Chinese VISA?
Yes, generally speaking, you do. However there are several exceptions. You don’t need a VISA if:
- You’re going from Hong Kong to Shenzhen for less than 5 days or from Macau to Zhuhai for less than 3 days;
- You hold a passport from Singapore, Brunei or Japan and you’re staying in China for less than 15 days.
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 apply for the rush 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 (or 180 days, in some cases), 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 usually required to pay the full fee of 140 USD.
Where can I get a Chinese VISA?
In many countries, you must apply through the CVASC (Chinese VISA Application Service Center).
However, if in your country there is no CVASC (click on the link above to see the complete list), you shall still apply at the Chinese Consular Office that serves your province. This is also the case of people living in USA (you can click here to see where you shall apply if you are a US resident).
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 or change VISA requirements in any moment, just like they did in 2008 (before the Olympic Games in Beijing) and in 2013. 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.
What are 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 (in English), or at the CVASC – or Chinese Consular Office – of your country, if you’re language isn’t English.
Here the complete list of Chinese VISAs (after the table we list the additional requirements for the most common type of VISA):
|C||Issued to foreign crew members of aircraft, trains, and ships, or motor vehicle drivers engaged in cross-border transport activities, or to the accompanying family members of the crew members of the above-mentioned ships.|
|D||Issued to those who intend to reside in China permanently. While in the past getting a D VISA – and thus being able to require a permanent resident permit – was rare, it seems that things are moving forward and the Resident Permit is getting easier to get (although still difficult).|
|F||Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours, and other activities.|
|G||Issued to those who intend to transit through China (however, before applying for a G VISA, I suggest you to verify if you can get a 72 hours VISA exemption).|
|J||Issued to resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations stationed in China. You shall apply for a J1 VISA if you intend to stay more than 180 days and for a J2 VISA (short-term) if you intend to stay in China less than 180 days.|
|L||Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.|
|M||Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities. Click here to read our complete guide on the M (business) VISA.|
|Q||Issued to those who are family members of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go to China for family reunion, or to those who intend to go to China for the purpose of foster care. Click here to read our guide on the Q VISA.|
|R||Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.|
|S||Issued to those who intend to go to China to visit the foreigners working or studying in China to whom they are spouses, parents, sons or daughters under the age of 18 or parents-in-law, or to those who intend to go to China for other private affairs. Click here to read our guide on the S VISA.|
|X||Issued to those who intend to study in China. You shall apply for a X1 VISA if you intend to stay more than 180 days and for a X2 VISA (short-term) if you intend to stay in China less than 180 days.|
|Z||Issued to those who intend to work in China.|
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, you’re also required to provide a copy of your return trip plane ticket from China and a copy of a Chinese hotel booking for the whole duration of your stay (click here to read our guide on how and where to book an hotel in China).
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 days. The Double Entry Tourist VISA (2 entries, 30 days each), is also common.
Sometimes, depending on your passport (for US citizens is way easier) and on the mood of the immigration officers, you can also get a longer Multiple Entry Tourist VISA. That means that you are allowed to enter and exit the country as many times as you want.
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. Click here if you want to learn more on Tibet permits.
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. Click here to read our complete guide on Business VISAs for China.
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.
Also in this case, you need an invitation letter.
Q and S VISA
Q and S VISA are both issued to people that intend to visit their related or friends in China for a period longer than 30 days (for less than 30 days you can simply apply for an L VISA). Click here to read our complete guide to Q and S VISAs.
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 CVASC or Chinese Consular Office in your country), the JW201 (or JW202) form issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education and the notice of admission from your school. Your school should obtain these documents and send them to you.
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.
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. However, you wife can’t legally work unless she gets her own Z VISA.
What VISAs must be transformed into a Resident Permit once I enter China and how to do so?
Be aware that Z, X1, Q1, S1 and J1 VISA are only valid for for 30 days starting from the day you entered in China. Then you should transform it in a Temporary Resident Permit at the at the PSB (Public Security Bureau Entry and Exit Administration Office). Your employer/school should help you to do so, at least in the case of Z and X1 VISAs.
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.
We’ve covered this topic in detail on our free e-Book “Find a Job and Live in China.” You can download it by subscribing to our newsletter on the form located on the top-right corner of this page.
How do I read a Chinese VISA?
With respect to the image above:
- 1. Visa Category: For instance, L VISA is a touristic VISA while Z VISA is a working VISA (see the table above for reading the explanations of each category);
- 2. Expiration Date: You must enter China before this date or the VISA will expire;
- 3. Issue Date: This is the date on which the VISA was released. As you can see, the VISA on the photo had a validity of six months (from 29 May to 29 November);
- 4. Full Name: Your full name;
- 5. Date of Birth: Your date of birth;
- 6. Number of Entries: The number of times that you can enter and exit China with the same VISA. “1” means that you have a single entry VISA; that is once you exit China the first time the VISA becomes invalid (going to Hong Kong or Macau counts as an exit); “2” means that you can entry and exit China twice before the VISA becomes invalid; “M” means that you can enter and exit China as many times as you want, as long as your VISA is still valid and you don’t overstay it (see point 7);
- 7. Duration of Each Stay: The number of days that you can stay in China after each entry; if for instance you have a double entry VISA with duration of each stay equal to 30 days, you must exit China within 30 days after your first entry; afterwards you can enter China a second time (you must enter before the date of expiration) and you can stay for other 30 days. Notice that for VISA that require a Resident Permit (Z, X1, Q1, S1, J1), the duration is often 000. This means that you have 30 days starting from the date of entry to apply for your Resident Permit; if you fail to do so, the VISA will expire;
- 8. Place of Issue: The place where the VISA was issue;
- 9. Passport Number: Your passport number.
Can I extend/change my VISA once I entered China?
Yes, you can require to extend or change your VISA at the PSB (Public Security Bureau Entry and Exit Administration Office) at least 7 days before the date of expiration of your VISA. However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the PSB will accept your VISA extension or change request (they’ll decide case by case, according to your nationality, your situation and the documents you’ll provide).
What happens if I overstay my VISA?
The law states that for illegal residence of aliens, warning shall be given; in serious cases, a penalty of 500 Yuan per day shall be imposed on illegal residence, not to exceed a total of 10,000 Yuan, or detention period shall be between 5 and 15 days.
As usual, Chinese law are somewhat vague and it’s difficult to assess what a “serious case” is. Our suggestion is to avoid any overstay and always exit the country before the VISA expires.
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/upton/,