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How To Apply For A Visa In China

If you are between 14 and 70 years old, you will need to make your visa application in person at a visa application centre. As part of the application process, you will need to provide your biometric data (scanned fingerprints). Biometric data may also be checked/collected by immigration when you enter China, to register your entry to the country.If you’re transiting through China, visa waivers are available in certain places. For example, for transit through Shanghai, you can apply online for a visa exemption of up to 144 hours. In some locations, a visa waiver application must be made in person on arrival, so make sure you fully research the details and requirements that your journey entails, prior to travelling, so that you are correctly prepared.

If you visit Hong Kong from the mainland and then wish to return to the mainland, you will need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China. If you remain in China for a period of longer than six months, you may need to apply for a residence permit.

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for both entry and exit, as well as airside transit. You may be required to show evidence, such as a police report, to prove that your passport has been lost. If your ETD was issued in China, you will also need an exit visa from the Public Security Bureau before you can be permitted to depart.

You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arriving in China. This is enforced by Chinese authorities, who regularly conduct spot-checks of foreigners’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, they will usually do this for you as part of the check-in process.

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UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for both entry and exit, as well as airside transit, in China.


You can only work in China if you have a Z visa; neither a tourist visa, nor a business visa, will allow you to work. You must also hold a valid work permit. Violation of the immigration and work laws in China can result in severe penalties, from hefty fines and imprisonment, to deportation, travel bans or exclusion orders. Therefore, it is wise to contact your nearest Chinese embassy in order to get the most up to date information prior to departing from your home country or country of residence.

Bear in mind that the majority of expatriates working in China will be tied to a specific employer and contract, which would have allowed them to get the appropriate visa and work permit. If you are intending to change employer once you arrive in China, you will need to check with the authorities whether you will require a new visa and/or work permit.

The various types of visa for China include:

Tourist visa (L)

This visa is issued to those who intend to visit China in order to go touring and sightseeing. Proof of a return ticket or onward travel, as well as copies of your accommodation reservations, will be required. The L visa is available as a single-entry visa, a double-entry visa, and a multi-entry visa.

Business visa (M)

The business visa is issued to professionals visiting China for commercial and trade activities. It is available as a single-entry visa, a double-entry visa, and a multi-entry visa. The business visa can also be issued for a period of up to 10 years.

Non-commerce visa (F)

This visa is for professionals visiting China in a non-commerce capacity, such as those visiting China for the purposes of research, lectures, cultural exchange and study tours. It is usually only offered as a single- or a double-entry visa.

Work visa (Z)

This visa is designed for those who have been given an offer of employment in China. Alongside this visa, you will require a government issued work permit or an employment license. This particular visa is usually only available as a single-entry visa. Holders of the Z work visa will need to register and file an application for a work permit at the Public Security Bureau (police station). The residence permit allows for multiple-entry.

Student visa (X1 and X2)

The student visa is designed for students who have been enrolled in a Chinese college. This visa is subdivided into visas X1 and X2. The X1 visa is issued to foreign students who come to China in order to study for a period of longer than six months. The X2 visa is essentially for the same purpose, but for a period of less than six months. The X1 visa can be valid for up to five years and allows for multiple-entry; the X2 visa is issued for single-entry only and is valid for the length of the course, or up to the six-month limit.

Long-term private visa (S1)

This visa is usually used by people who intend to live in China with an immediate family member. They may be working or studying in China, or dealing with private affairs, such as visiting friends, filing for divorce, dealing with inheritance, securing an adoption, getting married or using medical services. Or they may simply use this visa as they intend to visit their relations(s) for a period of longer than 180 days. Immediate family members are defined as spouses, parents, dependent children under the age of 18 years old, and parents-in-law. Proof of relation will be required. Holders of an S1 visa will also be required to register and apply for a residence permit.

Short-term private visa (S2)

The short-term private visa is essentially the same as the S1 (above), with the same permitted circumstances. However, the S2 is designed for a short-term private visit, and is normally granted for between 30 and 90 days. This visa is usually multiple-entry, and can be valid for up to 10 years for certain nationalities, such as the United States.

Long-term family visa (Q1)

This visa is for Chinese descendants or foreign spouses of Chinese citizens. It is issued to family members of Chinese citizens, or family members of foreigners who are permanent Chinese residents. It is mostly for the purpose of family reunions, or for those intending to go to China for the purpose of foster care. The premise is that the planned duration of this visit will last longer than 180 days. Proof of relation will be needed and an interview may be required. This visa is designed as single-entry visa. Holders must register and apply for a residence permit.

Short-term family visa (Q2)

Q2 and Q1 visas are essentially designed for the same purpose, with the only difference being the intended length of stay. The Q2 visa duration is for up to 120 days per visit, rather than 180 days, but is a multiple-entry visa. It can be valid for up to 10 years for US passport holders.

Work permits

The Chinese work permit system uses a point scoring system to judge an applicant’s eligibility. Candidates scoring 85 or more points qualify for Tier A, while those scoring 60-85 points class as Tier B, and those scoring below 60 points fall under Tier C. In addition to the point scoring system, a candidate can be placed in a work permit tier if they have specific qualities and meet certain conditions.

Points are earned from a number of factors, including annual salary, education, qualifications, and vocational skills. Work experience and age are also important, as well as language proficiency.

Tier A: minimum score of 85 points

Candidates in this tier:

• Are employed through one of China’s regional plans for the introduction of foreign talent
• Adhere to internationally recognised standards for their field (i.e. they may have been given an award for excellence in their field, or they may have headed a prestigious academic institution or other organisation)
• Are applying for a position in China, such as a senior management role, a senior or technical position in large scale industry, or another high-level position
• Are earning over six times the average local salary
• Are considered entrepreneurial and new industry talent
• Are under the age of 40 years old
• Are doing post-doctoral research, or have graduated from a high ranking university/ academic institution

Tier B: score of 60 to 84 points

Applicants that fall within Tier B typically:

• Have a bachelor’s degree (or above)
• At least two years of work experience in a relevant field
• Are employed in a management position in a field such as education, science, technology, culture, arts or sports
• Hold an internationally recognised certification for a skill that is urgently needed in the Chinese labour market
• Earns over four times the average local salary

Tier C: score of under 60 points

Candidates that rank within Tier C are usually either:

• Undertaking short-term work in China (under 90 days); or
• In a position subject to labour, skills, and immigration quotas, such as young talent coming to China for an internship

Tier A comprises of approximately 16% of expatriates in China. Ranking within this top talent tier offers luxuries and benefits that the other tiers do not receive, such as a “green channel” service. This essentially offers expedited approval and shorter processing times. Tier A workers can also enjoy paperless verification during the application process.

The Chinese work permit system uses a point scoring system to judge an applicant’s eligibility.


Foreigners who are holders of long-term visas (such as Z, D, X1, S1, J1, Q1) are legally required to register and apply for a temporary Chinese residence permit within 30 days of their arrival. You can do this at your nearest Exit-Entry Administration Service Centre of the Public Security Bureau.

Foreigners can achieve permanent residence in China through:


Either by marriage or as a dependant child under the age of 18 years old. This includes spouses and/or dependants of Chinese citizens or of foreigners who have obtained permanent residence in China. For a spouse to be eligible for permanent residence, the marriage must have lasted for five years before the application is made. They must have a stable and secured living status and a place to live.


Only if they have had direct investment in China for three years in a row, a sound taxation record and meet the financial stipulations, which generally involves an investment of over USD 500,000 in encouraged industries, as set out by Industries of Foreign Investment, or the same amount invested in western provinces struggling with poverty. Alternatively, over USD 1 million investment in the central region of the country, or a total investment of over USD 2 million in China.


If the candidate has assumed certain roles at a specified level, such as deputy general manager or deputy director of plants, or higher level posts, or posts of associate professor or associate researcher or similar posts. Any such position must have been held for more than four years in a row, and the candidate must have a sound taxation record.

Outstanding contributions

This is available to foreigners who have either made outstanding contributions to China, or who are needed urgently, for example because they provide services or skills that are in demand.

For more information on residency in China, including an in-depth look at the criteria for certain individuals and their families, you can visit the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.