This article is a complete guide on how to get a visa for China. First of all, I recommend that you don’t get discouraged if you still don’t know which visa is best for you, or if you still don’t understand which documents you need to get.
If you prefer to use an agency to apply for your Visa, click here to find out more about this option.
How long does it take to get a Chinese 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 two (if you apply for the express service) to four working days to get a Chinese Visa.
Note that the rush service (one business day) is only available in some countries (the US, for instance) and only for cases of extreme urgency, upon the approval of the Chinese Consular Office.
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.
Do I need a Chinese Visa?
Yes, generally speaking, you do. However, there are several exceptions. You don’t need a Visa if:
- You are in transit in one of the cities enumerated in this article for less than 144 or 72 hours;
- You’re going from Hong Kong to Shenzhen for less than 5 days or from Macau to Zhuhai for less than 3 days;
- You’re going to Hainan with an organized tour of a minimum of five people for a maximum of 15 days;
- You hold a passport from Singapore, Brunei, or Japan and you’re staying in China for less than 15 days.
- You hold a passport from Bahamas, Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Mauritius, Seychelles, Serbia, and Tonga and you’re staying in China for less than 30 days.
How much does a Chinese Visa cost?
The price varies from 30 to 140 USD depending on your nationality, the type of Visa, the country where you apply, 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, including the UK, Australia, Canada, and EU 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 for people living in the USA (click here to see where you shall apply if you are a US resident).
If for some reason you don’t want to, or you can’t show up personally, you can use an agency to get your Chinese Visa. This will have a supplementary cost, but it may still be cheaper than the cost of the trip to the nearest CVASC or Chinese Consulate).
In this case, you’ll have to send your passport (and other necessary documents) to the agency and they will handle everything. To apply for a Visa service through an agency you can use the form on the right sidebar of this page.
At the moment we recommend Visa HQ, a reputable agency that charges 79 USD for its Chinese Visa service.
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). You can 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 at any moment, just like they did in 2008 (before the Olympic Games in Beijing), 2013, and 2020 (with covid-19 pandemic). 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 2016, in some cases, it is possible to get your Chinese visa directly online.
What are the basic requirements for getting a Chinese Visa?
The basic requirements for getting any kind of Chinese Visa are the following:
- Original passport with at least six months of validity and two blank pages. Travelers with passports newly issued might be required to include their previous passports, along with their current passports;
- Copy of the passport page with your photo, and the pages that contain any past Chinese Visas that you have obtained (only applicable if you have already been to China);
- Recently-taken color passport photo (48mm x 33mm) with light background;
- Copy of previous Chinese passports (only applicable to foreign citizens who were once Chinese citizens and have obtained foreign citizenship);
- Proof of legal status in the country where you’re applying for the Visa, such as a resident permit (only applicable if you’re applying for the Visa outside your country of citizenship);
- Application Form completely filled in, printed, and signed (click here to download the application form provided by the CVASC of London and here to download the application form provided by the Chinese Consular Office in the US – if you prefer you can download a similar document on the CVASC website or from the Chinese Consular Office in the country where you’re applying for the Visa);
- Declaration printed and signed (only needed if you’re applying through the CVASC, click here to download the declartion for the CVASC of London);
- Printed copy of the appointment receipt (only applicable if you’re applying through the CVASC – you will be able to make an appointment directly on CVASC’s website).
An Invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China. The invitation letter is only needed if you’re applying for a C Visa (unless you have a letter of guarantee issued by a foreign transport company), F Visa, or L Visa (unless you have proof of a hotel reservation for the whole duration of your stay in China), M Visa, Q Visa, S Visa or Z Visa. See the next section for details on the different types of Chinese Visas.
Although normally the invitation letter can be in the form of a fax, photocopy, or computer-scanned printout, in some cases, you may be required to submit an original invitation, provide other supporting documents, or schedule an interview with the consular officer. Click here to find out how to write an invitation letter and what documents must be attached to it.
Important: All the requirements listed above are necessary but insufficient for obtaining a Chinese Visa. This is because depending on the type of visa you’re applying for, you’ll have to submit some additional documents. Read the next section for the details.
Finally, note that if the applicant is a child born outside China to a Chinese parent, the Visa requirements are different. Click here to learn more about this.
Do I have to file my fingerprints to get a visa for China?
Starting from November 2019, there is an obligation to deposit your fingerprints at the CVASC Center or the Chinese Consulate at the time of the presentation of the visa application for China.
Here in cases that are exceptions, and therefore it is not necessary to present fingerprints:
- People under 14 or over 70 when applying for a visa;
- Members of official government and diplomatic delegations;
- Applicants who have deposited their fingerprints in the same location and with the same passport within the last 5 years;
- Applicants for whom depositing fingerprints is physically impossible.
What are the different types of Chinese Visas (and the additional requirements for getting them)?
Here is the complete list of Chinese Visas (after the table we list the additional required documents for each types of Visa):
|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.
|Issued to those who intend to reside in China permanently.
|Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours, and other activities.
|Issued to those who intend to transit through China (Before applying for a G Visa, I suggest you to verify if you can get a 72/144 hours Visa exemption).
|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 for less than 180 days.
|Issued to those who intend to visit China as a tourist.
|Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities.
|Issued to those who are family members of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese Permanent Resident Permit and intend to go to China for a family reunion, or to those who intend to go to China for the purpose of foster care.
|Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.
|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.
|Issued to those who intend to study in China. You shall apply for an X1 Visa if you intend to stay more than 180 days and for an X2 Visa (short-term) if you intend to stay in China for less than 180 days.
|Issued to those who intend to work in China.
Note that regardless of what you are applying for, the Chinese Consular Office reserves the right to refuse your Visa or to grant a different validity, duration of stay, and/or the number of entries for your Visa.
Below, we list the additional requirements for each type of Visa.
C Visa – Foreign crew members and their family members
The only additional requirement is a letter of guarantee issued by a foreign transport company, which is only needed if you don’t have an invitation letter.
D Visa – For permanent residents
The only additional requirement is the original and photocopy of the Confirmation Form for Foreigners Permanent Residence Status issued by the Ministry of Public Security of China.
F Visa – For exchanges, visits, study tours, and other activities
The new F Visa is issued to people who come to China for non-business purposes such as educational, scientific, cultural, health or sporting reasons. Before July 2013, the F Visa was the same thing as a business Visa.
The basic requirements, including the invitation letter, should be enough in most cases.
G Visa – For transit through China
The only additional requirement is an onward plane (train or ship) ticket with a confirmed date and seat to the destination country or region.
J1 and J2 Visas – For journalists
The only additional requirements are a Visa Notification Letter issued by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and an official letter issued by the media organization for which you work.
Be aware that you should contact the press office of the Chinese Embassy/Consulate General in advance and complete the appropriate formalities.
You should 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 for less than 180 days.
L Visa – For tourists or visits to relatives
You’re also required to provide a copy of your return trip plane ticket for China and a copy of a Chinese hotel booking for the whole duration of your stay containing the full names of all the people that are applying for the Visa.
If you intend to stay at your friend’s or relative’s house, you won’t need to book a hotel. However, your friend/relative will have to send an invitation letter to you (scroll down for more details on the invitation letter).
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.
Note that U.S. citizens (and other nationalities) may be eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry Visa. In this case, the remaining validity of your passport must be more than 12 months.
You can apply for this visa even if you don’t have an American passport but are still a resident of the United States. In this case, you’ll also have to present your “green card”. Usually, you’ll also be asked to present your old passport (expired), if you have one.
Note that, despite the visa lasting for 10 years, this doesn’t mean that you can remain in China for 10 consecutive years.
Each time you enter China, you can stay for a period between 30 and 60 days (the length of each visit can vary, the Chinese Consulate will decide). Be very careful to leave China before it expires (which can be between 30 and 60 days).
After leaving China, you can re-enter and stay for another 30 (or 60) days.
In general, the costs and time to get a 10-year visa are the same as for getting a multiple-entry visa of shorter lengths.
To conclude, at the moment you can also apply for a 10-year visa with Canadian, Australian, or United Kingdom passports as well. The conditions are similar to those for a 10-year visa with an American passport, even though the details can change (I recommend that you always verify the details with the consulate, the CVASC, or the agency you went to in order to obtain the visa.
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. Read more about Tibet entry permits.
M Visa – For business and trade activities
This is the 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 issued by a registered Chinese company or organization (for example, a trade fair).
Note that U.S. citizens and other nationalities may also be eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry Visa. In this case, the remaining validity of your passport must be more than 12 months.
A 10-year business visa has characteristics that are very similar to a 10-year tourist visa, which we discussed in one of the previous sections of this article. The main difference is that in this case, the maximum length for each entry can also be for 120 days (depending on the visa you get), while in the case of a tourist visa, the maximum length of stay is 60 days.
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. For more details, you read our complete guide on Business Visas for China.
Q1 or Q2 Visa – For family reunions or foster care
The Q Visa is issued to people who intend to visit their relatives or friends in China for a period longer than 30 days (for less than 30 days you can simply apply for an L Visa).
For the Q2 Visa, which only allows you to stay for a maximum of 180 days, an invitation letter issued by a Chinese citizen or a foreign citizen with a Chinese permanent residence permit who lives in China should be enough.
For the Q1 Visa, which is needed for stays longer than 180 days, in addition to the invitation letter, you’ll also need to provide further documentation.
For family reunion purposes, you’ll have to provide the original and copy of the certificate showing the family relationship between the applicant and the inviting individual (marriage certificate, birth certificate, certificate of kinship issued by the Public Security Bureau, or a notarized certificate of kinship). Note that “family members” refer to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters, or parents-in-law.
For foster care purposes, you’ll have to provide a large number of documents and, in my opinion, you should contact the Chinese Consular Office in your country before starting to collect the documents.
Note that many nationalities are eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry Visa. In this case, the remaining validity of your passport must be more than 12 months.
R Visa – For high-level talents
You’re required to submit relevant certifications in order to meet the requirements of the competent authorities of the Chinese government on high-level talents and individuals with special skills urgently needed by China.
The requirements, in this case, are quite vague, due to the fact that “talents” and “skills” may vary greatly.
S1 or S2 Visa – For family reunions or private affairs
The S Visa is issued to people who intend to visit their (foreign) relatives or friends in China for a period longer than 30 days (for less than 30 days you can simply apply for an L Visa). It may also be issued for “private affairs”.
For the S2 Visa, which only allows you to stay for a maximum of 180 days, in addition to an invitation letter issued by a foreign citizen with a Chinese temporary residence permit who lives in the country, you’ll have to provide the original and copy of the certificate showing the family relationship between the applicant and the inviting individual (marriage certificate, birth certificate or notarized certification of kinship). “Family members” refer to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters, or parents-in-law.
For private affairs, in addition to the invitation letter, you’ll have to provide documentation identifying the nature of the private affairs. The term “documentation” is left purposely vague, as the nature of private affairs may vary greatly.
For the S1 Visa, which allows you to stay for longer than 180 days, in addition to an invitation letter issued by a foreign citizen with a Chinese temporary residence permit who lives in the country, you’ll have to provide the original and photocopy of the certificate (marriage certificate, birth certificate, certificate of kinship issued by the Public Security Bureau or a notarized certificate of kinship) showing the immediate family relationship between the applicant and the inviting individual. “Immediate family members” refers to spouses, parents, sons or daughters under the age of 18, or parents-in-law.
Note that depending on your nationality you may be eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry Visa. In this case, the remaining validity of your passport must be more than 12 months.
X1 or X2 Visa – For students
You are required to provide the JW201 (or JW202) form issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education (only necessary for the X1 Visa) and the notice of admission from your school. Your school should obtain these documents and send them to you.
You may also be required to provide a medical certificate, depending on the duration of your stay.
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.
Note depending on your nationality you may be eligible for a 5-year multiple entry X2 Visa. In this case, the remaining validity of your passport must be more than 12 months.
For more information, you can read our comprehensive guide on the Chinese Student Visa X1 and X2.
Z Visa – For working
Important: Holding a Z Visa is the only way to work legally in China.
In addition to the Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by the relevant Chinese entity, in most cases, you will have to provide a Foreigner’s Work Permit issued by the State Bureau of Foreign Experts.
There are some special cases in which a different document is required; however, if you have a “normal job”, such as a teacher, engineer, etcetera, the Foreigner’s Work Permit shall be enough. We still recommend that you double-check the requirements with your employer.
Since 1 April 2017, foreigners that work in China have been divided into 3 classes: Class A (high-level talents), Class B (professional personnel), and Class C (foreigners who are nontechnical or service workers hired on a temporary/seasonal basis).
There are several criteria that are used to rate the applicant: salary, education, Chinese language skills, experience, etcetera.
If you reach at least level C, then your employer can apply online for your Foreigner’s Work Permit.
Besides the basic requirements and the Foreigner’s Work Permit, in order to get the Z Visa you will also have to provide the following documents:
- Curriculum Vitae (in English or Chinese language);
- Original copy of bachelor (or higher degree) diploma. If the diploma has not been issued in China, then you shall also provide an authenticated copy, which can be obtained in a Chinese Consulate or Embassy in your country (or in the Embassy or Consulate of the country that released the diploma if you are already in China);
- Original reference letter from one or more non-Chinese companies that prove you have at least 2 years of full-time working experience (after graduation) in the industry you intend to work in China;
- On top of that, you may also be required to provide a medical certificate and /or a clean criminal record check issued by your country of citizenship (check the details with the CVASC or the Chinese Consular Office in your country);
However, note that, if you fall into Class A (high-level talent), then the requirements are much less strict (read this article for more details).
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 CNY and may even end up in prison (from five to fifteen days). Afterward, you’ll be asked to 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, it can apply for your Foreigner’s Work Permit
The work Visa also allows you to bring your wife, husband, or children to China. They will only need to provide a marriage or birth certificate. However, your family members can’t legally work unless they get their own Z Visa.
What information does the invitation letter have to contain?
The invitation letter should contain:
- Information on the applicant: Full name, gender, date of birth, passport number, etcetera;
- Information on the planned visit: The purpose of the visit, arrival, and departure dates, travel itinerary, the relationship between the applicant and the inviting entity or individual, the source of funds for expenditures;
- Information on the inviting entity or individual: name, contact telephone number, address in China, the signature of the inviting individual or of the legal representative (if you’ve been invited by a company), and an official stamp (if you’ve been invited by a company).
An invitation letter may only be issued by a Chinese citizen, a foreign citizen with a Chinese Resident Permit who lives in China or a Chinese entity (for instance a Chinese company or trade fair).
If you’ve been invited by an individual, he/she must also attach a copy of his/her Chinese ID or a copy of his/her passport and Resident Permit (if he/she is not a Chinese citizen). Note that if you’re applying for a Q Visa, the inviting individual must be a Chinese citizen or hold a Permanent Resident permit (Temporary Resident Permits are not allowed for Q Visa application invitation letters).
In the case you’ve been invited by an individual, he/she shall also attach a copy of his/her Chinese ID or a copy of his/her passport and Resident Permit (if his/her is not a Chinese citizen). Notice that if you’re applying for a Q Visa, the inviting individual must be a Chinese citizen or hold a Permanent Resident permit (Temporary Resident Permits are not allowed, for Q Visa application invitation letters).
If you’ve been invited by a Chinese entity, the company’s business license – or other applicable documents – must be attached to the invitation letter.
Finally, if you’re applying for a Z visa, the Invitation Letter must be issued by a “Duly Authorized Unit”; in other words, your Chinese employer must have a permit to hire foreign workers.
What Visas must be converted into a Resident Permit once I enter China and how do so?
Be aware that D, J1, Q1, S1, X1, and Z Visas are only valid for 30 days starting from the day you enter China. Then you should transform them into a Temporary Resident Permit (or Permanent Resident Permit, in the case you’ve been granted a D Visa) 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 a Health Certificate issued by China Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau or HK public hospitals.
How do I read a Chinese Visa?
With respect to the image above:
- Visa Category: For instance, L Visa is a tourist Visa while Z Visa is a working Visa (see the table above for reading the explanations of each category);
- Expiration Date: You must enter China before this date or the Visa expires;
- 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);
- Full Name: Your full name;
- Date of Birth: Your date of birth;
- 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 enter 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);
- 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 the duration of each stay equal to 30 days, you must exit China within 30 days after your first entry; afterward 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 Visas that require a Resident Permit (D, J1, Q1, S1, X1, and Z Visa), 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;
- Place of Issue: The place where the Visa was issue;
- Passport Number: Your passport number.
Can I extend/change my Visa once I enter 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, a warning shall be given; in serious cases, a penalty of 500 CNY per day shall be imposed on an illegal residence, not to exceed a total of 10,000 CNY, or a detention period shall be between 5 and 15 days.
As usual, Chinese law is 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
To enter China, you must have a visa. There are however a few exceptions that you’ll find here.
In general, the answer is yes. Some agencies manage to get you the visa even without those documents, especially if you request the visa in Hong Kong, but the situation is evaluated on an individual basis.
If you have all the necessary documents, from 2 to 4 business days.
No, the only way to be able to work legally in China is by getting a work visa (Z visa) and change it into a residence permit within 30 days of entering the country.
The length depends on the type of visa you’ve been issued. Click here to learn how to read a Chinese visa.