The Expat Hub

Chinese VISAs

Once you’ve decided to make the move to China a VISA should be one of the first things you organise. It’s generally recommended that you allow a minimum of two months for the VISA application process but sometimes it can take even longer than that. Whilst it is best to be prepared you must also bear in mind the fact that a Chinese VISA is only valid for entering the country within 3 months of the date it was issued.

After you have submitted all relevant documentation the Chinese embassy will take about a week to process the application but it will take longer than this if the embassy feels that any of your documentation is unsatisfactory or if they have further questions for you.

There are several types of Chinese VISA available and they are divided into the categories of ordinary and diplomatic.

The different visas are classified according to the duration and purpose of your stay in the country and are distinguished by Chinese phonetic letters.

L VISA – Tourist VISA. These VISAs allow a stay in China of up to 30 days. It is illegal to work in China with an L visa.

F VISA – Business/Visit VISA. These VISAs are issued to foreigners who have been invited to China for research, to lecture, for business or to be part of a cultural exchange. They are valid for short term educational or business visits. Single-entry, double-entry, 6-month multiple entry and one-year multiple entry F VISAs are available.

Z VISA – Work VISA. A work VISA is issued to foreigners who are employed in China. Any family members which accompany them are also issued a work VISA.

X VISA – Student VISA. Student VISAs are for those foreigners who are entering China on an internship or study basis for 6 months or more. It is illegal to work in China with an X VISA.

C VISA – Crewmember VISA. This type of VISA is issued to crewmembers on navigation, land transportation or international aviation missions. Any family members which accompany them are also issued a crewmember VISA.

J VISA – Journalist VISA. There are two type of journalist visa. A J-1 visa is for foreign journalists posted in China for a year or more while a J-2 visa is for foreign journalists staying in China on a temporary basis.

G VISA – Transit VISA. A transit VISA is issued to any foreigners who transit across China.

D Visa – Residence VISA. If you want to reside in China permanently then this is the VISA you apply for. They can be difficult to obtain and are usually only allocated to foreigners who have already spent some time living and working in China. More paperwork is required for this kind of VISA than for any other.

Diplomatic and Service VISA – This VISA type is for foreign officials who are travelling to China in an official capacity.

If you find that you need to change your VISA it can be relatively simple to switch it to another type. Often this can be done directly through the local Public Security Bureau but sometimes obtaining a new VISA can require you to leave the country and reapply.


An application for a Chinese visa must be given to your closest Chinese consulate or embassy. They will usually ask you to provide the following forms of documentation: formal application form, passport with a minimum of 6 months validity, passport photo, medical examination certificate and a letter of invitation from your Host Company or institution. It’s always a good idea to make copies of all the documents you may need to submit.

Obviously the documentation you are required to provide (as well as the fee you will be asked to pay) differs depending on the type of visa you are applying for. As the exact specifications alter quite regularly it is always best to check what you need to supply before you put together your application.

Immediate family members (spouses and children) will be issued the same kind of VISA as the individual studying or employed in China. However, each family member must fill out an individual application form and pay an individual application fee.

Residence Permit

Although you have to have a VISA to enter China it is your residence permit that gives you the right to stay there. There are three kinds of residence permit and they work like multiple entry VISAs – with them you can enter and leave the county without an additional visa for as long as they remain valid. A residence permit must be obtained within 30 days of arriving in China.

Temporary residence permits are valid for 6-12 months, foreigner residence permits are valid of a year and can be annually renewed and permanent residence permits are renewable every 10 years. Permanent residence permits are only issued to those possessing a D VISA.

In order to be allocated any of these types of residence permits the following documentation must usually be produced: residence registration, relevant application form, job contract/work permit, physical exam certificate, passport photo and your passport with the VISA matching the type of residence permit you are seeking.

Residence Registration

After arriving in China you have 10 days to register with the local Public Security Bureau. You will need all the documents pertaining to your residency status and you will be asked to provide a permanent address. You can be deported if you fail to register!