The Chinese visa system has undergone some notable changes in recent years and visa regulations can change suddenly and without warning. There is also a degree of inconsistency between consulates and the Public Safety Bureaus (PSB), where expats will have to register after arriving. As such, expats should find out about any specific requirements at their local consulate or PSB.

Expats are advised to be as thorough as possible with their documentation and, where a minimum requirement is stated, to go over and above that. For instance, it's a good idea to ensure that passports are valid for more than the six-month minimum required by Chinese authorities, especially for longer stays.

It should be noted that expats applying for a Chinese visa from somewhere other than their country of origin will have to submit additional documents such as work or residence permits. Fees vary depending on the applicant’s country of origin and where they are applying for their visa.

Tourist visas for China (L visa)

Tourist visas, categorised as L visas, are issued for tourist visits to China. Single-entry visas are generally valid for 90 days, although longer periods can be applied for. Multiple-entry visas can be valid for six, 12 or 24 months. The Chinese government requires proof of itinerary or an invitation letter, as well as proof of funds, a visa application fee and evidence of a return or onward ticket.

Visit visas for China (F visa)

Under the revised visa system, F visas are issued to applicants who intend to visit China for non-commercial purposes such as conferences, cultural exchanges and study tours. Single-entry F visas are usually valid for 30 days, while multiple-entry visas for up to 24 months can also be applied for.

Student visas for China (X visa)

There are two types of student visas for China. The X1 visa is for applicants who intend to study in China for more than 180 days, while X2 visas are for those intending to study for less than 180 days.

In addition to standard visa requirements, applicants for the longer X1 visa need the original and a photocopy of the admission letter submitted by the Chinese institution they will be studying at, as well as an original and photocopy of the Visa Application for Study in China form, which can be obtained from their nearest consulate.

Business visas for China (M visa)

The M visa is issued to applicants going to China for commercial and trade activities. In addition to the standard documentation, applicants will also need a letter of invitation from their host company in China or documents such as an official trade fair invitation.

M visas are generally limited to stays of up to 30 days. Applicants that have obtained an M visa more than twice in two years and have a certificate of investment in China or a business licence are allowed to apply for a multiple-entry M visa that is valid for six or 12 months. Expats in this category will need to submit photocopies of their previous visas.

Work visas for China (Z visa)

The Z visa is issued to expats taking up employment in China for more than six months. Chinese authorities require an original and a photocopy of the Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by the Chinese company, as well as the original and a copy of a completed Physical Examination Record for Foreigners.

In addition to these and the standard requirements for a Chinese visa, applicants will also have to produce one of the following:

  • Alien Employment Licence

  • Permit for Foreign Experts Working in China

  • Letter of Invitation to Foreign Workers for Offshore Petroleum Operations in China

  • A registration certificate from the regional branch of a representative office of foreign enterprises, issued by the relevant regional department of industry and commerce

The Z visa is applicable for accompanying family members. It's generally valid for three months and one entry, and expats should apply for a residence permit at their local PSB within 30 days of entering China.

Expats should note the difference between a work visa and a work permit for China. Although they are closely related, the former allows the applicant to enter the country for work, while the latter enables them to stay and work in the country.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their nearest embassy or consulate for the latest information.

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