Chinese VISA application: a complete guide (updated 2013)

Chinese VISA

This article is a complete guide – updated to November 2013 for getting a Chinese VISA. You’ll discover:

  • The requirements and how long it takes for obtaining any type of Chinese VISA.
  • Where to get a Chinese VISA (either in your country or abroad).
  • The different kind of Chinese VISAs (Tourist, Business, Student and Work VISA) and the changes that took places on July 2013.
  • How much it costs to obtain a Chinese VISA.
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Do I need a Chinese VISA?

Yes, you do. The only exceptions are represented by people that own a passport from Singapore, Brunei or Japan (they can stay in China 15 days without VISA) and people that are on transit for less than 72 at Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Chengdu’s airport within 72 hours.

How long does it takes to get a VISA?

If you have all the required documents and own 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) and four working days to get a Chinese VISA.

The best time to apply for a Chinese VISA is within two months and fifteen days before departure. You can’t ask 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 costs?

The price may vary from 30 to 140 USD according to your nationality, the type of VISA and the number of entries.

Usually for European people it’s cheaper while 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 (here you find a complete list), especially when it comes down to work and student VISAs.

However the people that are already traveling or working in Asia may also apply in Hong Kong (at the moment only through an agency as VISA application at the consular office are allowed only to Hong Kong’s residents).

Click here to read our guide for getting a Chinese VISA in Hong Kong.

Keep in mind that the government may abruptly decide to restrict VISA requirements as they did in 2008 (before the Olympics game in Beijing any days). 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 it 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 instance, seem to experiment much less problems than French and American people. It usually depends on how good (or bad) are the relationships between China and your country. Since July 2013 even in Hong Kong they started to reject a lot of applications. Click here for the details.

China tourist visa

The different types of Chinese VISA (and the requirements to get it)

The basic requirements to get a Chinese VISA are a passport with at least six months validity and two blank pages, a recent photo of 2×2 square inches and an application form.

You can download the application form here, just choose the one that corresponds to the country where you are planning to apply because it may be slightly different.

Tourist VISA (or L VISA)

Tourist VISAs are issued to people that want to travel around China or visit their Chinese related.

The basic requirements listed above were usually enough. However since July 2013 some Chinese Embassies or Consulates started to ask you a copy of your return flight ticket to China and a copy of your Chinese hotel booking for at least 30% of your stay (p.s. for booking an hotel I recommend Agoda because often has the cheapest offers).

Let’s see an example. If you have a flight ticket Los Angeles – Beijing for the 3 December and a return ticket Beijing – Los Angeles for the 12 December you’ll have to show an hotel invoice for at least the first three night in China (3, 4 and 5 December).

If you intend to stay at your (foreign) friend’s house you won’t need an hotel invoice. However your friend will have to send you an invitation letter that contains his full name, his address in China, his passport and resident permit’s number and his signature. I also recommend to get a copy of his passport and resident permit (just to be sure). If you friend is Chinese you’ll need the invitation letter and a copy of his ID card.

Sometimes the consular office employee may even ask you a financial proof before accepting your VISA application. Hence, before going to the VISA office, be sure to send an enquiry by email or call them to know the documents that you need to bring.

The most common tourist VISA is the Single Entry Tourist VISA (that is you can’t go out China and then enter again with the same VISA) and lasts 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. It means that you are allowed to go in and out the country twice with the same VISA (for double entry) and you can go in and out all the times you want (for multiple entry).

If you are planning to go to Tibet be aware that, beside your VISA, you need a special entry permit issued by the Tibetan Tourist Bureau. Actually at the moment you can only enter Tibet with a travel agency so just ask it to your favorite travel agency.

Business VISA (or M VISA)

It’s the new business VISA and it’s issued to people that 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.

Even if many people use a Business VISA to work in China, this is illegal. If you want to legally work in China, you need a Work VISA.

F VISA

The new F VISA is issued to people that come to China for non-business purposes such a educational, scientific, cultural, health or sport reasons. Before July 2013 the “F VISA” corresponded to the business VISA.

R VISA

It’s issued to foreigner professionals whose skills are urgently needed in China (R1 for long-term staying and R2 for short-term staying).

Student VISA (or X VISA)

If you want to study in China for less than 180 days you’ll have to apply for X2 VISA. However if you want to stay more you’ll need an X1 VISA.

You are required to provide an healthy certificate (check the details with the Chinese Embassy on your country), the JW201 (or JW202) form issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Admission Notice from your school. Your school should get these documents and send them to you.

A Student VISA is only valid for 30 days starting from the day that you enter in China. Then you should transform it in a Temporary Resident Permit (Check below to learn how to transform your Student VISA in a Temporary Resident Permit).

China VISA

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 it at your own risk because it’s illegal. If you get caught working on the wrong VISA you risk to pay a fine that ranges between 5,000 and 20,000 and you any even end up in prison (from five to fifteen days). Afterwards you’ll be asked do living the country or, according to the conditions, being deported (at your expense. If you’re deported you’ll not be able to get a new Chinese VISA from a period that goes from one to ten years.

Having said that, many firms and public organizations (universities for instance) are accredited to employ foreign and can help you to get a work VISA as long as you qualify as a “foreign expert.”

Depending on the field, you may just need to prove to have English as first language and own a Bachelor degree (if you want to teach English) or you may provide a Ph.D. degree (if, for instance, you want to become a professor at the university).

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 a Chinese company should hire you instead of hiring 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 Foreign expert certificate or in other ways according to your field of expertise).

Beside the Work Permit, in order to apply for the VISA you should also provide an healthy certificate (check the details with the Chinese Embassy on your country), “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit” or “Confirmation Letter of Invitation” (your employer should get the letter for you), and a non-criminal record issued by your country (novelty from July 2013).

The Chinese law states that you can only get a Work VISA in your country. Then again, if you surf the internet you will find a lot of stories from people saying that you can also get it in Hong Kong (but I doubt this is still a possibility after the new rules from 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 suscribing to our newsletter (you’ll get the password within minutes):

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Comments

  1. Tom says

    The last time I applied for a China visa in London UK I as usual applied for a multi entry and was told I could not have one – they would apply for 90 days but maybe I could only have a 30 day one.
    So I got a 90 day one and when that time was nearly up I went to Hong Kong to get another .
    Junction of Nathan road and Pekin Road there is a CTS office were I was going but this building has two entrances and I ended up on the 4th floor with another visa agent – Their service was wonderful
    I filled in some basic details on a form they gave me – one page – on turning it over they said “Do not fill part in we do that. They then took my photo, I paid and was told to come back the day after tomorrow.
    My new visa was not the same colour as all my previous ones. It was issued in Shenzhen and not Hong Kong. On going through the China immigration in Shenzhen the guy said “Huh a temporary visa” but it was for the 90 days I needed.
    This agent also offered a multi-entry one but at that time I did not need that .
    I will not bother with the visa situation in the Uk where the form wants you to buy your air ticket before application – want the names and contact details of any friends you have in China – needs to know which hotel you will use – needs to know if you are married – needs a complete itinerary of your travel plans. I feel like saying ” is this a joke”.

    When I first got a China Visa 1995 form was about two pages – now I think it is five.

    This for us from the Uk may be a bit of “tit for tat” as the form the Chinese have to fill up for a UK visa is ( or was until recently ) in english and the Chinese apparently have to be fingerprinted.
    = How daft can you get.

    So my advice is apply in Hong Kong – go to corner of Nathan Road / Pekin Road, Kowloon Entrance is on Peking Road chose the entrance on the right when facing the building – office is on 4th floor – exit lift turn left and left again if my memory is correct.

    If you want one the same day CTS can do that for you.

    • Furio Fu says

      Hey Tom,

      thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, at the moment it seems indeed easier to get your VISA in Hong Kong than in Europe. However my experience with China tells me that rules may change fast.

      I’ll try to keep the article updated, hopefully with the help of readers like you : )

  2. says

    American citizens should use an agency, such as Travisa (http://www.travisa.com/), to avoid delays and hassles. If you think that another trip to China may occur in the near future, ask for a one-year multiple entry visa. The price is the same, regardless of number of entries and visa duration. A 30-day single entry visa costs the same as a one year multiple entry visa – last year I paid $145 for a one year multi-entry visa.
    Use an agency. Thanks for the article – very informative.

    • Furio says

      Hey Will,

      this make sense to American citizens because the costs for you are higher (Italians pay 50 USD for a single entry VISA while American 130 USD, if I remember well).

      So yeah, I think I will add it on the article, especially for Americans hehe

  3. says

    Both my personal and professional experience has been mixed when visiting the China consulate in New York City. Personally I have never used an agency and depending on the lines the wait can take 30 to 90 minutes.

    Last check which was (2) weeks ago they where only issuing 6 month visas. However this is seldom to change by a case to case basis or other events.

    A few tips I would add:
    1 – If applying for travel to Tibet – Do NOT mention this at all during your application process.

    2 – If you need to extend your Tourist (L) or Business (F) visa you can easily accomplish this at a local police stations. In most cities there is a specific office that process these requests.

    3 – If you are looking for support with Travel to Tibet please feel free to contact me as I work with WindhorseTour.com a Lonely Planet listed Travel Agency.

    Thanks Again for a very helpful article.

    Regards,
    Hg

    • Furio says

      Hey Harley,

      thanks for the tips. About F VISA extension, for how long do you think you can extend it from within China? This may be a useful info for a lot of readers

      • says

        Welcome Furio,

        In most cases I would expect it can be extended 3 months. Just depends on the current situation in China. Last year it was harder with the change of leadership. However this year it is expected to be more relaxed.

        Hope this helps your reader.

  4. Oti says

    I want to see my boyfriend family at china but still confused. I am from jakarta, indonesia. Do you have idea what to do because i want to stay in there 2month. They are lived hunan , changsha

  5. says

    This October in Hong Kong I was only been able to obtain a 30 day single entry visa which for one who has recently had 90 day entries is not much use.I went to your favourite agent and they confirmed this situation. This one was issued in Hong Kong and not Shenzhen like my 90 day one I got from an agent about a year ago – see my previous comment.

    Now in Zhuhai as it is close for a monthly trip to Hong Kong and I think it is a nicer place that Shenzhen.

    30 days limits me from taking on a flat for my stay which I have done for the past three years.

    I think I might look at Taiwan 90 days and no visa required

    • Furio Fu says

      Hi, in the Italian version of the website there were a lot of comments concerning VISAs in Hong Kong.

      I learned that from now on if you spend too much time in China with tourists/business VISA they won’t grant you anymore longterm VISAs in HK. You actually were lucky cause many people are getting 7 or 14 days VISA.

      Yup, Taiwan seems a good option. I’m in Thailand now but I’m considering to move to Taipei in 2014.

      p.s. I just updated the article on HK VISAs if you’re interested on knowing the details: http://www.saporedicina.com/english/get-a-chinese-visa-in-hong-kong/

  6. maria says

    Hi,

    I know you need to prove 2 years post-graduate experience, but does anyone know what if you work as a freelance?
    Do you prepare a employment certificate for yourself?

    best,
    maria

    • says

      Hi Maria,

      From conversations I have had with TEFL teachers, it is really not possible to come to China ‘legally’ and be a freelancer. You cannot prepare your own certificate as you must be sponsored by a business.

      I know that many overseas students that come to China to study Chinese, have part time teaching jobs. However if you are looking to be a full time freelancer and be more legit, you would need to look to opening up a business in China.

      Hope this is helpful.

      Cheers,
      Harley

      • furio says

        Hey Harley,

        thanks for stepping in,

        Yeah,

        for sure you can’t work in China as a “freelancer.” This is actually true on any country of the world. Thailand is the “freelancers and small biz heaven” because you can get a Tourist Visa and renew it without limitations (as was for China in the past).

        I understood Maria’s question was more about the “two years of previous experience” in order to get a Z VISA and legally work as English teacher in China.

        It’s fucked up because the only thing you could do is to:

        1) Prove you have a business (a limited company biz license 2 years old, for instance)

        2) Prove that this business is on the language niche

        However if you want a Z VISA on second/third Chinese cities you don’t need to years of previous experience on teaching English. As far as I know you only need that in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and maybe Tianjin (they are damn picky haha)

        • says

          Furio,

          No worries.

          Either way it is much harder to get a job in many cities now without the experience. I would say your list of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, etc. could be expanded. I know that within Chengdu the ministry that reviews CV’s to determine if they get a Z or not has been more restrictive.

          Given the economic situation and more people wanting to work here, they are applying more scrutiny to the visa applicants. That is unless someone has a good relationship, then all bets are off.

          Cheers.

          • maria says

            Hi again!

            I still have the same question and yes you understood right. I don’t want to work as freelance but I have worked most time as freelance, I have my own business and I don’t have 2 years of experience in an office. I got an offer recenttly for a job,so I would like to know how I should prove my experience in order to get visa z.

            Thank you both again!

          • Furio Fu says

            Hi,

            there is no fixed rule… Personally, they accepted my Ph.D. degree; for teachers, they accept a letter from a school they worked beforehand, etc.

            It also depends on the province, not all provinces enforce the “2 years experience” clause.

            If you only worked as a freelancer all your life I have no idea. Be creative, find out if your work can be seen as some kind of specialty and prove the 2 years with taxes reports etc.

            The law seems to be quite open on this matter and, at the end, it will come down on how strong is the organization that wants to hire you and how badly they want to hire you.

  7. MARGARET says

    Consular office in Chicago is brutal. If you have one item incomplete or inaccurate according to their standards you are sent away without guidance as to why the form is wrong. Also, once an error is found you are summarily rejected, they do not read through the entire form to identify other corrections that may be needed. Some people were saying they were sent away five times to make corrections to the form. And, of course, since the corrections are made online, you cannot do the corrections on the spot. Finally, I saw a post that someone got their Visa upon entry in Hong Kong. I believe this is no longer possible.

  8. Carlos says

    Hi furio
    how about when you do not have a local embassy in your country.
    I am from honduras ,we dont have embassy or consulate
    I submitted all the docuement in shenzhen,china ,now I am in Hong kong
    my invitation letter is ready.
    can I get it in HK ?

    • furio says

      Hola Carlos,

      it all depends on the relationship between China and Honduras. As an example, for French people get the VISA is more difficult cause the Chinese government didn’t like some declaration made by the French government. I have no experience with Honduras passport but on principle you shall be ok in HK.

      • Carlos says

        Thanks for your reply.
        I am thinking in two options ask the hong kong immigration office if they can or not.
        or go directly to chinese the embassy and simply try.

        Regards to all.

  9. santiago says

    Hi Furio
    do you know,if is possible to get a new visa ,after been deported.
    I overstay 46 days ,I pay the fine and get the 10 days visa to out china.
    Many agents offer me one year visa very high price USD 2000 or 4000.
    I want to do the right thing after deal with the police and been interview for not friedly chinese.
    nobody will want more problems.

    Hope you can give me some suggestions.

    P.S
    I am from mexico I do not tell you excuse about my overstay ,I only forget ,my fault.
    sorry very silly mistake.become a BIG PROBLEM.

    Thanks

  10. Tim says

    Hello I hold an X student visa issued in Kunming City in Yunnan Province (will expire on July 2014).
    I just got married to a chinese citizen in Wenzhou. Now I would like to know if I can change my Current X visa to Q Visa in Wenzhou ? Or do I need to cancel my X visa and get an L tourist visa first in Kunming then go to Wenzhou change it to a Q one ?
    From what I understand is that if I want to apply while I am in China I can only get the Q2 visa and if I want the Q1 visa I will need to apply from my home country is that right ?
    Thank you.

    • Sborto Zhou says

      Hi Tim it seems that if you want to obtain the resident permit as a relative of Chinese citizen, you should enter china with a Q1 visa first. I’ll suggest you to ask an visa agency in HK if they can get you the Q1 visa. You’ll find the contact details of one of the best agencies in HK in our post about get a visa in HK.

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