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Chinese Visas: an Introduction

A breakdown of the most common types of visa


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Most foreigners will require one of the most common kinds of visa: L (tourist), Z (work), X1/X2 (student) and F/M (business).

Those with J1 (long-term journalist), Q1 (family reunion), S1 (relative of foreigner), X1 and Z visas must apply for a resident permit within 30 days of entry at the local public security authorities. Valid for 90 days to five years, these permits can then be used to enter China instead of visas.

L: This visa is for people coming to China for tourism, friend visits or personal reasons. As well as passport, fees,passport photos and completed application forms, you will usually need a copy of a return flight ticket, and either a hotel reservation, or an invitation letter from family or friends resident in China.  The standard length of this visa is 30 or 60 days but with an extension, the maximum duration is three months.

Extending a tourist visa is usually a simple process but  it is not guaranteed to be successful, so you should not plan absolutely on being able to extend your visa. Be sure to apply to renew your visa in good time before the expiration date; at least 7 working days before your visa expires is recommended. 

Z: This is a visa that your company should help you apply for if you already have a job secured in China. It also fits commercial entertainment performers.

You can also obtain a Z visa for your accompanying family members. You will need to ask your company for additional documentation for those accompanying you, and provide relevant marriage and birth certificates.

Z visas are typically valid for one year from the date of issue, though their length of validity is dependent on your employment and the discretion of the visa official. 

Note: If you leave or lose your job, your work visa will also expire. In practice, though, there may be cases where the employer does not cancel the visa and hence it continues to be effective. Make sure you are within the law at all times and be careful not to overstay your visa. On leaving, you will be fined and any overstay may jeopardize your return to China and visa application to other countries. 

If you find a job while in China, you will need to leave the country (at least to Hong Kong) to apply for the visa. If your job is secured before you leave your country, your employer should help you find apply before you leave. Employers who claim they will process your work visa when you arrive should, in general, not be trusted. 

F/M:  There are now two types of business visa for China. The M visa is for visiting China for trade-related purposes, the F visa is for non-trading purposes, such as if you are invited to China for an exchange or study tour. 

As well as passport, fees, passport photos and application form, this visa will require an official invitation letter from the company that is inviting you to China. The standard length of this visa is now 30 days, though it may be possible to receive a longer duration if you have  sufficient reason and documentation. 

X1/X2: The X1 visa is for periods of study or internship lasting more than 180 days (residence permit for study required), whereas the X2 is for those who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.

To apply for either visa, you will need documentation that proves you will study in China, such as an admission notice from the University. X1 visa holders with off-campus internships need to obtain approval by their schools and the PSB Exit-Entry Administration.

J1/J2: These visas are for resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations stationed in China. J2 is the short-term visa for those entering China to cover a story, while J1 visas are typically longer term, and can be valid for more than 180 days. 

As well as the standard documents required for visa application, J visas require a letter from the media organization that is sponsoring your trip, and for the applicant to contact the press section of the Chinese embassy in advance to complete any additional formalities. 

Q1/Q2: For those who are family members of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go to China for a family reunion. Also for those who intend to go to China for foster care. Family members refer to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters and parents-in-law. Q2 is the short-term visa for those intending to stay for no more than 180 days.

S1/S2: 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. S2 is the short-term visa for those intending to stay for no more than 180 days.

D: Sometimes called the 'China Green Card,' this is a  permanent resident visa, for which the original and photocopy of the Confirmation Form for Foreigners Permanent Residence Status issued by the Ministry of Public Security of China is needed. This elusive visa is offered for those who ‘made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social development or meet other permanent residence conditions in China.’

You may apply for a Chinese visa independently or with the help of an agency. For non-U.S. citizens, you can find an application center at the Chinese Visa Application Service Center. Those resident in America can follow the official embassy guidelines here. 

You can apply independently at the center or by post. Postal applications take longer, and some visa centers don’t accept them. This is why some applicants choose to use agencies, who will complete the application for you and can return you your passport to you by post.

Visa Agencies

Shanghai Expat does not endorse any visa agency.

Chinese Visa Direct Limited (U.K.-based)
China Visa Service Center (U.S.-based)

Visas cannot usually be obtained in China without leaving first, at least to Hong Kong. Extensions of tourist visas are possible in China. The visa situation, and the ease with which visas can be granted, is subject to change without notice. 

If you are coming to China with work, the company should give you visa advice and provide any necessary documents before you come to China. Be wary of any company that says they will arrange your work visa once you arrive; this promise may not come to fruition. 

Useful Links:

Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States of America
FAQ: China’s New Visa Law

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