The A B Cs of Chinese Visas

I have had several of my friends and other expats in China that have been having issues with their visas or the visa process.  It can be confusing because the rules change all the time… and if you don’t keep up with it… you could end up getting kicked out of China or banned from the country, and even extremely large fines.

I have chosen this time to go over the visa process for those that currently live here and are coming here in the future.  Now, although this is the formal and direct way the process works… Please note.. that some people get special consideration, or some companies can pay some “gift money” to speed up the process, and even some provinces may have different ways to do the visas due to their situation.   So, if the way I describe is not exactly how you did it.. or isn’t the exact process you heard about… please be aware in China there are many ways to do things and… with enough money you can make anything happen.




When you find your job in China there are about three main kind of visas that most people, not married to a local or students, get… A tourist visa  (L), a business visa (F), and a Z visa or permanent resident.  There are others .. but I will be only referring to these three at this time.

A tourist visa, is usually granted to you from your home country.  It can be issues for 1 month  to 3 months max.  With this visa you are not supposed to work, you are supposed to be a tourist.   It can be extended if you apply at the local immigration office within China.  However, it can only be renewed once within China.  After that you must leave the country to get another one.  (Hong Kong,home country etc.)

Next is a business visa, this visa is issued usually to business men or people who will be working in China for a short time.  Usually, it is a three-month visa, that can be renewed twice in mainland China… but afterward you must leave the country and re-enter to get another one.  Sometimes, schools will bring you in on a business visa.   This is for two reasons…. 1) it is easier and cheaper to get and 2) They are taking a chance on you as a teacher. If you come here and you are not a good fit they didn’t waste the time an energy of getting you the Z visa.

Now the Z visa.  The process is extensive and expensive, so usually you want to make sure that your new company pays for it or for half or gives you back the money in someway.  To get a 1 year Z visa, it starts in your home country, you must  get a police background check, in some countries fingerprints, a full medical report, and an invitation letter from your new employer to apply for the visa in your home country. This is a new process that started last year. When I came to China we did not have to do that .. but now with criminals trying to hide in China and for basically Chinese safety it must be done.   Once you have done that and gotten your visa, you can go to China.   However, once you are in China it’s not finished.  You then must have your company apply for the expert certificate, after this is received you must get your proof of residence from the local police station.  Your new company should help you with these documents, since you will need a landlord and the landlord’s ID card to get it.

After these documents are in order, then you must complete the form at the immigration office, and they will also take your photo.  If your office doesn’t have the built-in photo shop, you will have to provide your own photos.  They will process your documents and it usually take about three weeks to get your passport back.  (I have known companies that have connections with the government that have special ways to move it along).  While you are waiting for your passport to return you are unable to leave China, and in some cases you cannot leave your city by train. Train tickets require passport to purchase.   However, the receipt they give you can be used at hotels to rent a room.  When you receive your passport back you should have a Permanent Residence Visa to stay in china that should be for one year.  It is possible to get one for 2 yrs or more.. but it is a lot of hassle and considerably more money.

Please keep in mind… if you come to china on a tourist visa or business visa and you wish to get a Z visa, you will have to return to your home country and get the appropriate documents.  You are no longer able to just go to Hong Kong like before.  You must actually leave China and go home. No, they can not fax or mail you the information.

If you currently have a Z visa, the renewal process is pretty easy.  You have pretty much been grandfathered in … like myself and you just need to get a physical in China, renew your proof of resident, get the new photos, complete the form and play the money.  If you are at the same job as the year before.

If you change jobs, you must get a release letter from that place of employment and they will also have to release your expert certificate; so the new employer can sponsor it.   Sometimes these are difficult to get.  It kind of depends on how you leave your former employer.   One thing in China… never burn your bridges….. you almost always need to cross back over it.

I hope this helps a lot of you that have been questioning the visa process here… it is a little complicated and I have generalized a lot of it.  Everyone seems to have different experiences but what I have told you is the most accurate of how the system works.

For you students…. there are student visas…. and for spouses there is a spouse visa… however, it needs to be renewed also.

If you have any further questions regarding the visa process or some trouble you are having… you can always refer to the Chinese Embassy Website or send me an email directly..I will try to advise you.


until next time…..


4 thoughts on “The A B Cs of Chinese Visas

  1. Downtown David

    Last Permanent Residence Visa I received was for a little more than 6 months, even though I signed a contract for one year. Dont know why the change, the three prior Permanent Residence Visas I received were for one year.

  2. I’m in the process of getting a work visa and luckily my company is doing all of the leg work for me. I still had to provide an insane number of documents such as, college transcripts, my resume, a Verification of Employment letter from my last company (to prove that I had at least 2 yrs of work experience in my home country), and a marriage certificate. I’ve run into some problems where they wanted documents that my last job absolutely will not and can not provide (government agency, so they do things differently from the corporate world and are very inflexible) and the HR staff can’t seem to comprehend this. They all but asked me to basically just forge the documents they wanted in order to meet their rigid requirements. I also had a problem where my previous job titles weren’t exactly what I had put on my resume because I wrote my resume in a way that would be easy to understand (no technical jargon and no BS government job titles that don’t really make sense) and when the forms didn’t match up exactly, everyone freaked out and I was accused of lying! Chalk this up to lessons learned.

  3. Great info! I just whipped out my wallet to check my old Chinese Visa (out of curiosity). Category “L” with a 60 day stay duration. Pretty cool! I was always wondering what the category was for. Thanks for the post! =)

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