China Visas Explained

Posted by Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Dezan Shira & Associates
Editors: Ramya Bodupalli and Alexander Chipman Koty

Foreign nationals visiting China generally need to acquire a visa before entering the country, except for special circumstances allowing for visa-free entry. China issues several different types of visa for various purposes.

Chinese visas fall into two categories: ordinary and diplomatic visas. The ordinary visa consists of several types, which are respectively marked as L, F, M, Z, X1, X2, C, J1, J2. G, D, Q1, Q2, S1, S2, and R.

The Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau have separate immigration and visa procedures.

Here, we provide details on all of the different types of visas and their applications and permitted uses. Summaries of the Z Visa, China’s main work visa, and the M Visa, China’s business visa, and the required supporting documentation for both are also provided.

L Visa – Tourist Visa

The L Visa is issued to foreigners who enter China temporarily for tourism. Tourist visas are typically offered on a single-entry, double-entry, or multiple-entry basis with durations of stay ranging from 30 days to 90 days. Citizens from the US and Canada may be eligible for multiple-entry L-Visas valid for 10 years.

For those who wish to travel to Tibet, an approval notice from the China Tibet Tourism Bureau is required in order to apply for a tourist visa.

F Visa – Non-commercial Visit Visa

The F Visa is issued to foreigners who are invited to China for non-commercial purposes, such as research, lectures, and cultural exchanges. The F Visa previously covered a wider range of activities when it was known as China’s business visa, before being largely replaced by the M Visa. Single-entry and double-entry visas are available. Durations of stay typically range from 30 days to 90 days.

M Visa – Business Visa

The M Visa is issued to foreigners visiting China for business and trade purposes. It is suitable for foreigners who made frequent work-related visits to China, but spend less than six months in a given year in the country, and are not employed or paid by an entity incorporated in China. More information on the M Visa can be found below.

Z Visa – Work Visa

The Z Visa is issued to foreigners who are taking up a post or employment in China, and their accompanying family members. The Z Visa is the most common type of visa used by foreigners working in China. More information on the Z Visa can be found below.

X Visa – Student Visa

The X Visa is issued to foreigners who come to China for studies or fieldwork. While holder of X Visas do not have working rights, they may be able to undertake internships if authorized by their educational institution and other relevant authorities.

The X1 Visa is issued to students whose study period is more than 180 days.

The X2 Visa is issued to students who intend to study for less than 180 days.

C Visa – Crew-member Visa

The C Visa is issued to crew-members on international aviation, navigation, and land transportation missions, and their accompanying family members.

J Visa – Journalist Visa

The J Visa is issued to foreign journalists who are working in China on either a temporary or permanent basis.

The J-1 Visa is issued to foreign journalists who are posted to China for at least one year.

The J-2 Visa is issued to foreign journalists who are on temporary interview missions in China for up to 30 days.

G Visa – Transit Visa

The G Visa is issued to foreigners who transit through China. Since the cost and application procedure to acquire a G Visa is similar to acquiring an L Visa, travellers tend to opt for an L Visa rather than a G Visa. Several cities in China also offer visa exemptions for travellers in transit.

D Visa – Residence Visa

The D Visa is issued to foreigners who plan to live in China permanently. This visa is also known as “the Chinese green card”, and is notoriously difficult to acquire.

Q Visa – Family/Personal Visit Visa

The Q Visa is issued to foreigners who are visiting family members of Chinese citizens, and to foreigners who are spouses of Chinese citizens, including those who intend to visit China for personal purposes, including foster care.

The Q1 Visa is issued to family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents of China who intend to stay in China longer than 180 days. The Q1 Visa has a single entry. Upon entry, the holder must apply for a residence permit within 30 days.

The Q2 Visa is issued to family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents of China who intend to visit China temporarily. The Q2 Visa can be multiple entry, and valid for up to 10 years for US and Canadian citizens, carrying a stay of up to 180 days per visit.

S Visa – Relatives of Foreigners

The S Visa is issued to relatives of foreigners who are working or studying in China. It is the equivalent of the Q Visa for family of foreigners living in China long-term.

The S1 Visa is issued for a stay more of than 180 days. The S1 Visa has a single entry, and holders must apply for a residence permit within 30 days of entry.

The S2 Visa is issued for a stay of 180 days or less. The S2 Visa can be multiple entry, and valid for up to 10 years for US and Canadian citizens, carrying a stay of up to 180 days per visit.

R Visa – Highly Qualified Persons

The R Visa is issued to highly qualified individuals whose skills are urgently needed in China. This refers to Tier A talents under China’s new tiered work permit classification system.

Diplomatic and Service Visa

Issued to foreign government officials and the staff of diplomatic missions and of the United Nations who travel to China for official missions or accreditation.

About the Z Visa

The Z Visa, also known as the a work visa, is issued to foreigners employed by a company that has been incorporated in China.

Z Visas are issued prior to entry into China upon the submission of supporting documentation by the employer and related government departments. Upon arrival, the Z Visa holder must then obtain work and residence permits.

When applying for the work permit, the employer’s business license, organization code Certificate, tax registration certificate, and FIE approval certificate (if the employer is foreign-invested) must be provided, among other required documents.

Where a foreigner changes his/her job but continues to hold a valid work permit, he/she can undertake an “employer change” procedure with the government to renew the work permit. The actual procedure for the renewal may vary from city to city. In Shanghai, the main documentation required for such application includes:

  • Two copies of the foreigner employment application form
  • A release letter from the previous employer (if the foreigner is relocated to Shanghai from a different city, government-released proof of work permit relocation/cancellation shall be provided)
  • Valid business license, organization code certificate, FIE approval certificate (if the employer is foreign-invested) of the new employer
  • A curriculum vitae in Chinese, including the highest academic degree obtained and complete work experience
  • Work-related qualification certificate or proof of past work experience (issued by previous employers) that is related to the new employment
  • Academic qualifications
  • Employment contract with the new employer
  • The current work permit
  • Valid passport, residence permit and employer’s employment permit
  • Three passport photos
  • Other documents required by the government

About the M Visa

The M Visa, or business visa, was introduced in 2013. Before the introduction of the M Visa, the F Visa was known as China’s business visa.

Those seeking an M Visa must be invited to the country for business purposes by a China-based company. The M Visa is ideal for foreigners who visit China frequently for short business trips.

The visa is issued for a period ranging from one month to one year. This can be extended under certain conditions. Single-entry, double-entry, and multiple-entry visas are available. Applicants from the US and Canada may obtain M Visas valid for up to 10 years.

The documentation required for applying for M Visas are:

  • Passport, along with a photocopy of the name page
  • Filled in visa application form
  • One recent passport photo
  • Invitation letter from Chinese business based in China
  • Submission of Visa Service Request Form

Additional information and documentation may be required depending on the applicant’s country of origin, where the application is being done, and where the applicant intends to visit.

Prospective visitors to China are advised to contact their local Chinese embassy or consulate and obtain professional advice when dealing with visa-related procedures, as requirements may differ on a case-by-case basis.

This article was originally published on December 30, 2011 and has been updated with the latest regulatory changes.


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China Briefing is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia and maintains offices in ChinaHong KongIndonesiaSingaporeRussia, and Vietnam. Please contact info@dezshira.com or visit our website at www.dezshira.com.

31 thoughts on “China Visas Explained

    I’m missing the visa for long term visiting family member: people who join their spouse or other family members in China for a prolonged time. I thought it was an extended L visa, or is it what you call a D visa? Or is there a third alternative?

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    It should be a D visa Fons, unless they also wish to work in which case they’ll need to apply for a Work Z visa as normal. An L (tourist) visa is not suitable for residency. Hope that helps. D visas are relatively simple to obtain actually – email us if you need guidance.

    If anyone else requires assistance with visa questions please just ask us, we don’t charge for this advice. Email: info@dezshira.com
    Happy New Year!
    Chris

    Joe Cipriani says:

    According to the Public Security Bureau Entry & Exit Administration, a student on an X visa can work if the employment is not full time, it is related to their course of study and the employment is directly approved by their school’s FAO.

    The maximum stay of 30 days you mention for L and F visas is false. Each issued visa may have different terms, but there are those that allow stays of far longer than 30 days. In fact, there are certain types of L visas that do have residence permits.

    There is virtually no such thing as a D visa. The D visa was all but eliminated in 2004. Since 2004, the only — yes, only — use for a D visa is for those expats who have applied for and been approved for permanent residency while outside of China. The D visa enables them to enter China and receive their green card whereas the D visa is then promptly cancelled.

    You must be delusional if you believe obtaining a D visa is “relatively simple” to obtain. Permanent residence is granted exclusively by the Ministry of Public Security and since the green card system was established in 2004 there are relatively few successful applications. The requirements are easily found in the State Council Gazette and there is nothing China Briefing can do to make the process any easier or clearer.

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Concerning Z (work visas), commentary elsewhere is suggesting it is possible to change employers and still hang onto the same visa. BE AWARE that this is a very rare occurrence and is usually prohibited, not least because the employer quasi assumes responsibility for the employee in the case of any accidents. Most employers will not want to permit work visas originally issued under their documentation transferred. The practice also calls into question why the new employer cannot issue a work visa in their own right.
    As always, short cuts and grey areas of employment and visa regulations are best avoided. It is preferable to match your work visa to your employers documentation and suggestions this can be circumnavigated are unwise. – Chris

    Bill Benson says:

    Fons the visa for family is still an L visa. You’re not eligible to get a D until you have jumped through all the hoops and usually have millions invested in China.

    I’ve been married and living in China for almost 4 years now and I’m still only able to get an L. My wife has asked for a D but she’s been told I don’t qualify. We keep getting bounced back and forth between places though.

    Thanks Bill: that was also what I thought, but would of course always be prepared to change my information for more favorable ones 🙂
    How often do you have to renew it? Not every 30 days, I hope

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    As always when we get differing opinions, it is indicative of different interpretations in different areas of China. Our views were taken directly from the latest informatiion issued by Chinese Immigration. For obvious reasons we can’t advise on grey areas of how China processes its administration – that would lead to even greater confusion. However, if things work for you in a particular location – stick with it, or at least until it changes. Concerning the issue over Z, D and L visas, we know this is dealt with in different ways, and additionally impacts from time to time upon specific nationalities and China’s internal security situation (what I mean about the grey areas). We can’t at China Briefing keep abreast of all of these at any one time for you – but I do recommend that if longer term residents here have problems with spouse or family issuance, they engage the services of a lawyer whose expertise is in immigration law in China. We do know of one or two if anyone needs introductions. For additional comments it may be useful to list the location in China if you have found exceptions differing from the national immigration guidelines we provided in the main text.
    Thank you all for your instructive insights into what is obviously a moving and imprecise administrative subject. – Chris

    Esv says:

    F visas are also available with 2 year validity, 90 day max stay, multiple entry. (I have one).

    Zitarossa says:

    In the Chinese consulate in Sweden I get L visa with two entries and each stay up to 90 days; normal procedure there.

    Recently the Chinese Visa Application Service Center has opened (like mostly everywhere and meaning you pay both service fee and the old visa fee): On their web site they inform:

    ‘According to the Chinese Embassy in Sweden, from Jan 1st, 2012, new regulations on L visa (Visa for Tourism, Visiting Friends or Family Members in Mainland China) will come into effect.

    …Please note that normally the duration of L Visa will be no more than 60 days….
    …Please note that you may be eligible for applying multiple entries with longer duration of stay while the Chinese Embassy has the final decision….’

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Sweden is an interesting case. The Chinese always like to say they treat other countries citizens as that country treats Chinese nationals “in the spirit of recipriocity” but in reality it doesn’t work like that. Another element that can cloud who actually gets what. – Chris

    J. Cipriani says:

    You keep referring to a “D’ visa when, in fact, the “D” visa has been virtually eliminated. Just as a “Z” visa is only a vehicle to enter China for a limited period of time in order to process a work-related residence permit, a “D” visa is issued only — yes, only — in cases where one has applied for Chinese permanent residence while abroad and the “D” visa is issued to allow them entry into China for a very brief period and obtain their permanent residence ID card (aka Green Card). Once the Green Card has been issued all visas are cancelled and the individual no longer needs any Chinese visas.

    Permanent residence is not dealt with differently according to region. In fact, the municipal or provincial PSBs have neither voice nor vote on the process; their sole role is to gather the documentation offered by the applicant and forward it directly to the Ministry of Public Security for decision. No public security entity outside of the Ministry has any input — much less decision making power — over the process and final outcome. Period. As such, the services of an attorney would be a waste of money.

    To meet the basic qualifications for permanent residence based on marriage to a Chinese national or another permanent resident, you need to have been married for a minimum of 5 years and, subsequent to marriage and up to the point you file your application, have resided in China for 5 continuous years with no cumulative absence greater than 90 days per year.

    @ J.Cipriani – thanks for your notes on the ‘D’ Visa. It isn’t rare for these to be issued – most long term expats will have Z visas and work permits in any event, and those with families here on full expat packages have the D visa in place for their spouses with X visas for their kids. Please also be aware most of our readers are with MNC’s and not of the individual english teacher type clientele as dealt with on other blogs. The issue is a matter of compliance, not of ease of obtaining the document, and we’ve never had an issue with this – although the adminsitration can be a pain, it is obtainable.

    However, to summarize this article, we can agree that the whole visa issue in China is a can of worms actually; despite official guidelines it is still highly politicized (meaning according to specific circumstances guidelines can shift overnight) and even personal emotions can come in – a visa officer overseas having a bad day can issue rejections just because he feels like it. (not that China is alone in that). We can do the best we can in terms of provide what the visa guidelines actually suggest – but how they are sometimes implemented is a different matter entirely. However for corporates the issue is clearer as they tend to have a lower risk threshold and have their financing in place. We’re working on a piece to try and demonstrate this and will get it up as soon as we can.

    Thanks – Chris

    David says:

    For those you mention who are on full expat packages, you mention that they obtain D-visas for spouses. This may be the case, but then this must be switched out with a residence permit. Correct? A D-visa or Z-visa as I am understanding it, is single entry with zero duration. You then have 30-days to apply for your work permit and or residence permit. Hope you guys can clarify. (as best we can in this very fluid environment.)

    Paolo says:

    Whats the difference between a Z visa and a resident permit. I have the latter, but its a sticker just like your photo at the top, but no “letter” …

    David Buckley says:

    Assuming you apply for your visa out of country, you obtain a sticker in your passport which is a “Z” visa. This allows you to travel and enter China one time for the purpose of going through the process to obtain a residence permit which allows you to work. The “Z” visa allows for but one single entry with a duration of stay of 30 days.

    During these 30 days you obtain a residence permit endorsed for employment which allows, usually, you to stay in China for a year. During your year the residence permit then fulfills virtually the same function as a visa. Basically, you exchange the “Z” visa for a work-related residence permit which generally allows you to enter and depart China freely as often as you like during the period of its validity.

    If for some reason you are not able to process the necessary documentation to obtain a residence permit, after 30 days your “Z” visa is invalid and you either need to leave China or ask the proper authorities for a new visa.

    Gorgio says:

    Indeed Z and D visa are temporary until the residence permit is issued. A D visa, in order to get the green card, is very, very difficult to get. The remark that DS can arrange is not true. You have to apply yourself. Besides high investment and/or a high position as well as having been in China and pay tax, the whole thing is at the discretion of the ministry of Public Security. The L visa in multi-entry, one year version is very easy to obtain after you lived in China long enough and are married to a Chinese national. Hukou, booklet, wedding booklet and temporary residence card from your local police station, 400 rmb, pass foto and filled-in form and you are ok. If the Hukou is from another city you might be out of luck. You can not hold a paid job in China with it.

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Thanks Guys your additional input
    CDE

    Ettel says:

    Hi, My visa will expire in May 11th but I will stay with my current employer until May 4th. This is actually my first year in Shanghai. I already have a new employer and will be onboarded on the 7th of May. Since, I can only get my release letter on my last day, will I be violating any legal laws?

    By the way, I found this article.
    http://answers.echinacities.com/question/latest-pup-shanghai-psb

    Tom says:

    Hi I have a single entry VISA to china, my plane arrives in shanghai, but i am also taking a flight out of shanghai to other parts of china such as hong kong and macaco. and then i fly back to shanghai to return home.

    do i need a multiply entrie visa to do so or is my single entry visa ok?

    @Tom; If you exit mainland China to visit Hong Kong and Macau you will need another China visa to re-enter mainland China. Although they are both part of China, Hong Kong and Macau operate independent immigration systems. Therefore you will need either a Chinese double entry or multiple entry visa to take on this trip and return to Shanghai.
    Best regards;
    Chris

    Craig Bond says:

    Hello, I am currently in Taiwan and in the process of getting a Z Visa to enter into and work in China. One thing it says I need is a China Health Check. Does anyone know how or where I should do this considering I am not in China?

    @Craig Bond – the Health Check needs to be carried out in China. It’s part of your work permit process.
    I suggest you get that done at one of the international medical clinics, although actually Chinese hospitals are pretty good these days.
    Best wishes
    Chris

    Iamhere says:

    This article provides a very basic guide to the visa options for China. There are many unexplained details and as regards to the “new” work permit and visa policy there are many factors determined at the local level. There are also specific situations or procedures that could have articles written on their own such as situations in which converting to a work visa is doable within mainland China or verifying one’s degree through the Chinese government. I have co-written articles on this subject and know a number of various groups where members can ask detailed questions and situations for advice. Please get in touch.

    ThuyNguyen says:

    I have a 15 day visa to expire in China. But I want to stay longer and want to extend it. Is there any way I can not go home and stay in China?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello,

    You can apply for a visa extension at the local entry-exit bureau. However, it is not guaranteed that the extension will be granted. We recommend that you visit the bureau as soon as possible.

    Abey George says:

    My wife is on a X1 visa, I intend to come and live with her, reading the information given on the site, i feel i would need to apply for a S1 visa? Can i work during my stay there?

    Aman Kumar Agarwal says:

    I am looking for for 6 months double entry F Visa for my internship.
    So is it possible to get a F Visa for 180 days stay double entry or single entry with 60 days validity?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Abey,

    An S1 visa would allow you to stay in China while your wife is there on an X1 visa. However, it does not grant you working rights in China. If you’d like to work in China, you would need to get an employer to sponsor you for a Z visa or an R visa.

    China Briefing says:

    Hello,

    Factors such as your country of origin, previous travel to China, and the nature of your invitation letter may determine the length of stay and number of entries you are granted on your visa.

    Bianca Erasmus says:

    Can my husband come on an S1 visa to china to search for a job and he has a degree, then transfer to a Z working visa when he finds a school ?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello,

    If your husband enters China on an S1 visa, he may need to leave the country and re-enter once he is granted a Z visa.

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