Visas for China:
Overview and Basic Guideline

When you are planning a trip to China, you may be overwhelmed with the range of different visas offered and the China visa requirements. Westerners are familiar with relatively laissez-faire visa applications. Such lax regulations, unfortunately, do not apply to China.

If you are considering doing business, start working or visiting a trade fair in China, the most relevant visas are the M and Z visa – the business and the work visa. These are specifically created for the intention of carrying out business or commercial activities within the country.

 

China Visa Requirements and General Information to Know

When it comes to applying for a visa to visit China there are several general points of which to be aware.

Firstly, in the majority of cases you apply from within your own country. There are many service companies around the world that can help you with doing the application. For the business visa (M), you nevertheless need an invitation letter of a company in China. With similar China visa requirements, you need an employment contract and a proof about your non-replicability/the special demand for your work force for the work visa (Z). In practise, it is rather difficult and uncommon to get a work visa. The majority of foreigners working in China only hold business visas since the requirements are quite high.

 

A Chinese tourist visa with low China visa requirements. A Chinese tourist visa.

 

While in most cases Westerners need to apply prior to travel, it is possible to visit Hong Kong or Macau without a visa (for most Westerners) due to the special status of being Special Administrative Regions (SAR) with western colonial history. This means while they are under the Chinese governments rule, they are limitedly free to implement their own or keep their old laws. Many people visit these locations on business and apply for a visa to enter into China from there, which may be a more convenient way for some if you have a few days there anyway. It should also be known due to the strained relations between China and Tibet, that if you desire to travel to Tibet you will be required to go through further registration as a Westerner. You usually can access Tibet only with pre-registered tour groups as a Westerner.

Most commonly, you will get a business visa (M) with a certain validity period such as 1 month, 6 months or 12 months with limited or unlimited numbers of entry. For long term visas, you should be aware that you cannot stay the whole time but that your business visa is also limited to a maximum duration for each stay such as 30 or 60 days. This means that you have to leave and re-enter China within this period. Hong Kong and Macau count as other countries, so that it is perfectly fine to just cross the border there and come back immediately.

In emergency cases, it might be the best solution to just get a tourist visa (L) to conduct short-term business in China. The China visa requirements here are the lowest.

 

Overview About All Visa Types (most relevant types are marked)

CCrew Visa

(乘务签证)

Issued to foreign crew members of means of international transportation, including aircraft, trains and ships, or motor vehicle drivers engaged in cross-border transport activities, or to the accompanying family members of the crew members of the above-mentioned ships.
DPermanent Residence Visa

(定居签证)

Issued to those who intend to reside in China permanently. Chinese government has started to implement new permanent residence policy for foreigners to attract and introduce technical talents and experts since August 2014.
FVisit Visa

(访问签证)

Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities.
GTransit Visa

(过境签证)

Issued to those who intend to transit through China.
J1Long-term Journalist Visa

(常驻记者签证)

Issued to resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations stationed in China. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.
J2Short-term Journalist Visa

(临时记者签证)

Issued to foreign journalists who intend to go to China for short-term news coverage. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.
LTourist Visa

(旅游签证)

Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.
MBusiness Visa

(商贸签证)

Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities.
Q1Family Reunion Visa

(家庭团聚签证)

Issued to those who are family members of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go to China for family reunion, or to those who intend to go to China for the purpose of foster care. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.
Q2Family Visit Visa

(探亲签证)

Issued to those who intend to visit their relatives who are Chinese citizens residing in China or foreigners with permanent residence in China. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.
RTalent Visa

(人才签证)

Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.
S1Long-term Private Visit Visa

(长期私人事务签证)

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. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.
S2Short-term Private Visit Visa

(短期私人事务签证)

Issued to those who intend to visit their family members who are foreigners working or studying in China, or to those who intend to go to China for other private matters. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.
X1Long-term Study Visa

(长期学习签证)

Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of more than 180 days.
X2Short-term Study Visa

(短期学习签证)

Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.
ZWorking Visa

(工作签证)

Issued to those who intend to work in China

 

China visa requirements will lead to stamps in your passport.This rectangular stamp is for leaving China–the one for entering the country is round.

About the author

Jan has an intimate knowledge of strategic planning and operations management he acquired in the German military and in academia. Having graduated from Peking University, he possesses an acute knowledge of the Chinese economy. Jan routinely consults on short and medium term company strategy and is currently working on the company’s 3 year plan.

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