Chinese Visa for Visitors: Shall I Apply for a Q, S or L Visa?

visiting family china visa

After publishing our comprehensive guide for obtaining a Chinese Visa, we received hundreds of questions and suggestions.

We updated the article several times based on the feedback and new laws. However, it appears that there is still a point that is unclear.

This article will explain what type of Visa you shall apply for and what documents you need when you want to visit (or accompany) your family members or friends in China.

important noticeEffective March 15, 2023, China will resume issuing all types of visas. Travelers may be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test taken within 48 hours prior to departure, but quarantine will not be necessary upon arrival.

Differences between L, Q, and S Visa

There are three kinds of Visas that can be issued for visiting purposes: the L Visa (tourism), the S Visa (private affairs), and the Q Visa (family reunion).

This may be a bit confusing! In order to assess what Visa you shall apply for, you must look at the relationship (sister, friend, and so on) between you (that is the visitor) and the person you want to visit in China (that is the host). Moreover, you must take into account the legal status (Chinese citizen, foreigner with Chinese temporary resident permit, and so on) of the host in China.

Here are the details:

  • Q Visa: Issued to family members (below you find the definition of “family member”) of Chinese citizens or foreigners with a permanent resident permit.
  • S Visa: Issued to family members of foreigners with a temporary resident permit.
  • L Visa: Issued to family members and friends of Chinese citizens or foreigners with a resident permit (however if you have a hotel booking you don’t need an invitation letter in order to get an L Visa).

Important: In order to be able to issue an invitation letter for you, your host should hold a resident permit (either temporary or permanent) or a Chinese passport. People that live in China with an M, F, L, X2, Z2, or J2 Visa can’t issue an invitation letter for you.

Notice that the definition of S Visa as “private affairs” leaves the door open to interpretation, and on some special occasions non-family members, such as unmarried couples, will also be able to apply.

Requirements for obtaining an L Visa

Beside the basic requirements (passport, photos, etc), you’ll also have to provide:

  1. An invitation letter: The invitation letter should contain your name, passport number, travel dates, itinerary, address, and your host’s name, passport and/or ID number, address in China, and telephone number.
  2. Copy of your host’s Passport and/or ID.
  3. Copy of your host’s resident permit (if he’s not a Chinese citizen).
  4. Copy of your host’s registration to the local police (if he’s not a Chinese citizen)
  5. Copy of your round-trip flight reservation (a round-trip ticket to/from Hong Kong or Macau is also accepted).

Important: Note that if you have a round-trip reservation AND a hotel booking for the whole duration of the trip (with the full names of all the people that will apply for the Visa and stay at the hotel with you) then you may apply for an L Visa without providing any additional documents (letter of invitation and so on).

The reason is that the L Visa is a standard touristic Visa. By presenting all the documents we mentioned above you won’t need any hotel reservations.

Definition of “family member”

The definition of “family member” depends on the type of Visa you’re applying for:

Q1 or S1 (long term, more than 180 days): A family member can only be your spouse, parent, parents-in-law, son, or daughter under the age of 18.

Q2 or S2 (short term, less than 180 days): Besides the previously mentioned relationship, a family member can also be your son or daughter 18+ years old, grandparent, grandson, granddaughter, or sibling.

Requirements for Q Visa and S Visa

Beside the basic requirements, you’ll also have to provide:

  1. A copy of the passport, registration to the local police, and/or resident permit of your family member (in case of a non-Chinese citizen) or a copy of the ID card (in the case of a Chinese citizen).
  2. An invitation letter from your family member indicating:
    1. Your personal data (name, passport number, address)
    2. Your family member’s personal data (name, contact, ID or passport number, address in China)
    3. general info about the visit (purpose, dates, relation between the host and you, itinerary, financial source for expenses)

    Click on the following linka to download a sample of the invitation letter in English or Chinese.

  3. An original certificate (and a copy) that states the familiar relationship between you, that is the visitor, and the host (for instance a marriage certificate). Notice that additional documents or an interview might be required in order to prove your relationship.

How to transform my Q or S Visa into a resident permit

If you get a Q1 or S1 Visa you’ll have thirty days after entering China to change it to a resident permit (or the Visa will expire). Besides the basic requirements (passport, registration at the local police station, photos, and application form), you’ll have to provide:

  1. A copy of your family member’s passport or Chinese ID (and a copy of your family member’s resident permit in case of your family member isn’t a Chinese citizen).
  2. A proof of relationship issued by the Chinese government, authenticated by a Chinese consulate in the country where you got your Visa or issued by a foreign consulate in China.

The following additional documents might also be required:

  1. Depending on where you apply, you may need a copy of your family member’s unit business license, an enterprise code certificate (组织机构代码证), an official invitation letter. Click here to download sample invitation letter.
  2. If you entered China with a different Visa than a Q1 or S1 Visa, you may need a letter from your family member as a guarantee for your economical independence and compliance with Chinese laws. Notice that this is an “exceptional” situation: if you entered China with a different type of Visa, it will be difficult to get a resident permit.

Important: you must require your resident permit at the PSB (that is the Public Security Bureau) where your family member has its residence (hukou or local police registration). As an example, if your family member’s hukou is in Hubei province, it doesn’t matter if both of you live in Shanghai: you must apply in Hubei.

How to apply for an S or Q Visa if my partner isn’t living in China yet

  • Q visa: The law isn’t clear whether a “family member” of a Chinese citizen that lives outside China can apply for a Q visa or not. However, in our experience, you can easily get a Q2 visa showing a marriage certificate and a Chinese citizen ID. Additional documents such as financial proof or a work contract might be required for a Q1 visa.
  • S visa: You can apply for an S Visa at the same time as your family member is applying for the X1 or Z1 Visa (long term student and work Visa, respectively). The requirements are the same; the only difference is that, instead of the resident permit, you’ll have to provide a copy of all the documents of your family member’s Visa application.

How to apply for an S visa (for unmarried people)

Most Chinese laws offer a lot of space for interpretation in order to be adapted to specific circumstances. In this sense, Visa laws aren’t an exception. The S1 Visa normative states the following:

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

This vague definition allows certain flexibility to whom can apply. If you want to get an S Visa with your unmarried partner you should be in one of these two situations:

  • Unmarried couples that have a biological son or daughter in common.
  • Unmarried couples that have a relationship certificate indicating the partners live together as they were a married couple.

Important: Especially in the second case, the PSB or consulate officer will decide whether grant you a Visa or not case by case and at its sole discretion. Also, the rules might be different depending on where you apply and on the Visa owned by your partner.

Notice that same-sex partners with a marriage certificate might also be allowed to apply for an S Visa. Again, it depends on the circumstances.

I hope you found this article useful! If you have any questions or you want to share your experience you can leave a comment in the section below.

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Chinese Visa by Brett Wilms

181 thoughts on “Chinese Visa for Visitors: Shall I Apply for a Q, S or L Visa?”

  1. What is the maximum length and maximum number of entries I can apply for? I have never applied for a Chinese Visa before. I will be going to visit my Chinese girlfriend who I have been with since 2018 (when she was studying in England), so I will apply for a tourism visa. She will provide me with an invitation letter. Is it possible for me to apply for the two year multi entry visa based on this (or even the five or ten year visa’s), and if it is rejected could I still be offered a shorter duration for this application (without having to reapply). Basically, I am looking for the longest length, and most entries possible. Thanks

  2. Hi.
    I’m working in Hefei Anhui, and living with my spouse (a housewife). My sister-in-law wants to visit us. Could you please guide me which visa category is suitable and can I issue her an invitation letter?
    Thanks in advance

    1. At the moment is not possible, your sister-in-law needs a tourist visa and are still suspended. Probably soon they will start to allow tourists to come back to China but it’s uncertain when

  3. I am English and my English boyfriend is looking at a job in China. We are not married and do not have children.
    My question is can I get an S1 visa or is there another way for me to come with him and stay long term? (tourist, student, business?get married?!)
    I read this on your website…
    “Notice that the definition of S Visa as “private affairs” leaves the door open to interpretation, and in some special occasions non-family members, as unmarried couples, will also be able to apply.”

    Does this mean I can apply as his girlfriend? We are living together and are both on the tenancy agreement.
    Also if we were to have a baby in China, does this complicate the visa process and how does that work for visas and health insurance etc?
    Thank you for any help you can offer – also do you recommend any visa agencies?
    Thank you!

  4. Hi good day! I have a Q1 visa already and im about to buy a ticket. Do i still need a return ticket? Thank you!

  5. How do I get an invitation lettter to get an L visa. I plan to visit my girlfriend in Henan and she has her own place that I can stay at. Also what does PBS stand for?

    1. A Chinese person or foreign long term resident in China must write the letter for you. The PSB in this case is simply the local police station

  6. Hello! My Chinese partner and I are engaged and are moving to China to marry and then live (I won’t be working). I’m guessing my only visa option is to enter China on a visitor visa considering we aren’t married yet? In which case, if I do go to China on a visitor visa, can I simply change this to a Residence Permit at the local Entry and Exit Office after we’re married? Or must I go all the way back to my home country to apply for the Q1 visa and THEN convert it to a Residence Permit? I’m really hoping to get this done without having to leave, but I feel really nervous that I will go to the Entry and Exit Office only to be told that I must urgently leave China before my visitor visa expires and reapply from home, or something alike. Thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      we heard it’s possible but the procedure is unclear to us, especially because it may change according to the country. If your partner is Chinese, I suggest he/she gets in touch with the PSB to learn more about the details

  7. Hi, thanks for the info here. I was wondering if the Q2 visa covered stepchildren and half-siblings? I’m British and my Chinese wife and I want to visit China to see her son (my stepson). We will be taking our children with us to visit their half-brother and we were wondering what visa to apply for. Marriage and birth certificates could be provided if proof of relationships was required. Thanks, Jon in the UK

    1. Hello Jon,

      I’m sorry but I don’t know the answer. You can ask to the Consulart Office / CVASC where you intend to apply for the visas

      1. Thanks for the response. I got my Q2 visa without any problem so it seems stepchildren are included in the definition of ‘family’.

  8. Hello, thank you for your wonderful website packed full of useful information!
    I noticed in your comment section that people have been caught out not having their marriage certificate legalised by the Chinese embassy. However, I was wondering if I got married in China and had a Chinese Marriage certificate would I have to go through the process of legalising the document or could I simply use it to apply for a Resident Permit? A simple question I may have gone around the houses. Do Chinese documents have to go through the same process as English documents?

    1. Hello Carrie,

      I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that legalization is a procedure necessary to “legalize” foreign documents!

    2. If you marry in china and have a Chinese jiehunzhen that is a Chinese marriage certificate then you need not get it attested by Chinese embassy. you can use it to apply for resident permit. but if you want to use that marriage certificate later in your own home country then you need to get it translated and attested by your country’s embassy in china

  9. Hi, I am a UK citizen working in China for a year as an English teacher. My Hungarian boyfriend wishes to come out and stay for as long as possible. Can I invite him with my resident permit? If so, how long can he stay for? Also, is it possible that he could find a job that would provide a Z visa once he is here? Or does he have to find a job prior to traveling here? Many thanks.

    1. Hi there,

      yes, you can issue an invitation letter for an L and maybe S visa. I have no idea what kind of duration he will be granted, this is decided case by case.

      Yes, he can find a job once he’s there, but he may be required to leave China in order to apply for the Z visa

  10. Hi! My boyfriend has a chinese passport and is working here in the Philippines for almost 10 years,he visits china every 2 years. We have a 10 month old baby under wedlock and want to visit China at the same time prepare his documents for marriage. What visa can I apply for? I am currently unemployed since I focused on being a stay at home mom(his choice). What other documents do i need in order to have my visa granted? He doesn’t have any bank account/statements to provide if ever he will be supporting our travel but he does have money,not just documented. He is employed under a friends company.

    1. Hi,

      I don’t know if Philippines’s citizens need special requirements. I suggest you to get in touch with the Consular Office where you wish to apply for the visa

  11. Hi? I would like to ask, I was granted an L visa last month, so I got only 14 days for duration stay in China. I am married to chinese man and we have a son that left in China now, me and my husband returned to Philippines to notarized our marriage in the embassy. We returned in Philippine after we failed to apply of my residency in China ( were both stupid, that we only bring our marriage certificate without the notarized of the embassy, we believed in the agency that my husband paid, said it was okay, and we can apply for residency with it.) I was just worried now what visa should I apply, by the way, we are in the process for notarization of our marriage. And one more thing, can I apply for visa without bank certificate this time?

    1. If you are married already in china and you are registered in the city where you got married you just need to find a notarization in your city so could also translate in english. I am married with chinese also and always have 1 yr resident visa. If you will apply for Q1 visa you need a invitation letter from your husband and your marriage certificate in china and they will grant you right away in china embassy philippines as long as your requirements is complete. Hope this could help.

  12. Hello,

    My wife will have an S1 visa. Is it possible for her to study Mandarin in China in a language academy? Or should she change to student visa at some point?


    1. Hi Roger,

      good question; I never heard of such a limitation but I’m not sure. I guess it’s better to ask to the school and to the Chinese consular office in your country.

      For sure, I only know that she cannot work, with an S1 visa-

  13. hi I got 3 months S2 visa to visit my brother. is it possible to change visa type to x1 to join a Chinese course without going out the country ?

  14. Diana rose guillermo

    hi there!
    my boyfriend is a chinese citizen living in mainland,he visited me here on the Philippines for 3 months and we were hoping i could go with him to meet his parents back home.we applied for my 30 day L visa, i passed documents like my application letter, bank certificate, invitation letter (his parents but indicated they are a friend of mine, stating thy would take care of all my expenses and accomodations) ,mothers Chinese ID card and bank statements. I got denied application after 4 days so i couldnt go with him.CAn you give me ideas as to why I was denied? They asked for my return tickets but i havent booked any yet that time fearing my visa would be denied.And im thinking my bank statement have not enough money on it(it have 7500rmb).now talking about marriage,my bf’s parents are asking me if it would be easier if we get married here first so we can get married there second because honestly i dont know what to do to get my visa approved so we can get married there first ?。help me please

    1. If you got no return ticket it’s normal they denied your visa because it’s a compulsory requirement.

      I don’t know how much money you shall have in the bank!

      1. Diana rose guillermo

        thank you for your reply.i will try to do my visa again. hopefully this time they’ll grant me one.

        1. Donna Rose MariñasDonna

          Hi Diana! We’re on the same page.. P100,000 is the minimum amount that they want for Filipinos to have on their bank account, it’s listed on their website. Then, a roundtrip ticket.. I got all of it but still they deny but will try to apply s1 visa after the release of our marriage certificate.

          Don’t know if I can leave my email address here but feel free to reach me at [email protected]

          I’d been a follower of this thread and this useful website

  15. I got a foreign bf who currently works now in beijing , china . This is his second work in china. We were in a relationship for few years now. We hve discussed one time that he wants me to visit him there . Im kind a scared ifit wouldnt be grant. You think i am qualified for S visa?

  16. Dear Team,

    I am working in china from last 2 years and on a Z visa. Now am planning to bring my wife and kids in china, So which Visa would be more suitable in this case Q1 or S1. I am confuse in between these two.

    your advice is highly appreciated.


    1. I think it’s the S visa, but these are details you must figure out with the Chinese consular office where you will apply for the visa

  17. Hello, I have a question, I live in spain with my chinese girlfriend (she has chinese passport) and we are gonna get married soon and we want to go to china to work..I have been reading a lot of blogs and visa websites and I am still not cleared..I read that I can apply for a Q1 visa and once I am in China I can get the resident permit for 1 year(and renew it) but it doesnt allow me to work, so I am thinking what is the best way to go. If I apply for the Q1 visa then get the resident permit, I could search a job and change the visa to a Z (without going back to spain)? Or just go directly from Spain with a Z visa?
    Thanks and best regards!

    1. To apply for a Z visa you’ll need to have a job, so probably the best option is to go first with a Q visa and search the job and then try to apply it in Hong Kong. However, it is possible you might have to go back to Spain to apply for it.

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