Join InterNations

The world's largest expat community

A Guide to Visa Types and Work Permits in China

  • Connect with fellow expats in China

  • Join exciting events and groups for expats

  • Get information in our expat guides

  • Exchange tips about expat life in China

  • David Thyne

    At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me.

Even before you apply for a Chinese visa, you’ll need to decide on the type of visa you need and make sure you fully understand the application procedures and the documents needed.

As part of the Chinese visa application process, expats on a Z visa will need a medical exam and official employment license. While China doesn’t operate an immigration point system as such, you’ll need to be classed as a “foreign expert” and in-demand skills are looked upon favorably.

If your stay in China extends to a few years or more, you might be eligible to apply for the so-called Chinese Green Card. If China’s permanent residence visa is not enough and you wish to further commit to the country, you can opt for citizenship. And while the fees to get one are not high, it will cost you a lot of patience and time.

You will need to register with the police on arrival no matter how long you’re staying here. Getting a residence permit is a requirement for individuals with long-term Chinese visas. We cover each step of the process from application to arrival in this relocation guide.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

An amazing community is waiting for you!

Meet internacional people at local events

Socialize, enjoy hobbies, and make friends

Get info, and feel at home abroad!

Work Permits and Employment-Based Visas

Whether you are looking for skilled worker visa or any other permit that allows you to work in China, you will need to decode some enigmatic abbreviations with letters and number such as “C visa” or “X1 visa”. The letters in these abbreviations are based on the Chinese designations for specific visa categories: C (chuányuán = crew), L (lǎowài = foreigner, tourist), X (xuéshēng = student), J (jìzhě = journalist), G (guòjìng = transit), etc. The numbers indicate the length of your planned stay.

For individuals who wish to work or study in China, these are the combinations they have to keep in mind:

  • Z – visa for workers (staying in China for longer than six months)
  • X1/2 – visa for students (X1 if you are staying for longer than 180 days, X2 if your chosen period is less than that)
  • J1/2 – visa for foreign journalists (J1 if you are staying for longer than 180 days, J2 if your chosen period is less than that)

Required Documents for a Chinese Visa

The documents you will need to file in order to obtain your visa, depend on the type you need. The usual Chinese work visa requirements include the Chinese work permit visa application form, passport, and photograph, as well as:

  • an official letter of invitation
  • a health certificate covering a recent medical exam
  • an official employment license from the Chinese authorities

However, the regulations may vary slightly for special sub-categories of foreign staff, e.g. NGO workers, people employed in the offshore petroleum industry, and several other options.

For the employment license, you need to have a status as a “foreign expert” with special qualifications, e.g. as an EFL-teaching native speaker with a B.Ed., or a contract from a company officially accredited to employ foreign nationals. Fulfilling these visa requirements will help your future employer obtain the employment license for you.

Types of Chinese Visas

Other types of Chinese visas include:

  • M – business visa(duration of stay 30-60 days);
  • F – visa for exchange, visits, study tours (duration of stay 30-90 days)
  • S1/2 – visa for individuals visiting non-resident family in China (duration of stay: S1 – more than 180 days, S2 – up to 180 days)
  • Q1/2 – visa for individuals visiting resident or native family in China (duration of stay: Q1 – more than 180 days, Q2 – up to 180 days)

If you, as a worker, are granted a Z visa, you can bring your family to China under S1/2 visa. However, in this case, your family will not be able to work in China.

For more information, visit the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

How to Register with the Police

In accordance with the Chinese Exit-Entry Administration Law, all foreigners have to register with the Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 24 hours of arrival. If you are staying at a hotel, the staff will take care of this registration for you.

In other cases, you have to take care of this registration yourself. In order to do so, head to your nearest police station, i.e. the local PSB, and bring along the following documents (originals and photocopies):

  • your passport (including your visa),
  • the lease or deed of your home or your host’s household registration,
  • a completed Temporary Residence registration form.

Note that depending on where you are registering your resident address, further or different requirements may apply. Once registered, you will receive your approved Registration Form of Temporary Residence, which is essential for those who need to get a Chinese residence permit. Also, remember to register any change of address when, for example, moving from a hotel into your own apartment, or any changes connected to your visa.

How to Get the Temporary Chinese Residence Permit

Holders of long-term visas (Z, D, X1, S1, J1, Q1) also need to acquire a temporary Chinese Residence Permit within 30 days of their arrival in China. Keep in mind that even though your visa might allow you to stay in the country for more than 6 months, it will not be valid if you don’t take this step.

In order to do so, head to your nearest Exit-Entry Administration Service Center of the PSB and take along the following:

  • your passport (including your visa),
  • the registration form of your Temporary Residence (see above),
  • a filled-out Foreigner’s Visa and Resident Permit Application Form,
  • a passport photograph,
  • your official Health Certificate (issued by the Health & Quarantine Bureau), and
  • any supporting documents which were previously needed for your visa application (e.g. your employment contract, marriage certificate, etc.).

For these types of transactions, it is advised to have an interpreter with you.

For more information, visit the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

How to Apply for a Chinese Visa

You need to apply at your closest Chinese Visa Application Service Center or, if your country does not have one, at your nearest Chinese embassy. At the Service Centers, postal applications are often also accepted. If you prefer or actually have to visit in person, make an appointment to avoid long waiting times.

Ideally, you should apply for your visa around one month before you intend to enter China. At a minimum: two weeks. Since visas are only valid for a limited amount of time (typically 1–3 months), you should, however, not apply too early. Otherwise, your visa may already be expired on the planned day of entry.

Provided everything is in order with your application, it typically takes around four working days to be processed. Postal applications may take somewhat longer with processing times of around ten working days.

Chinese Work Permit Point System

When applying for a work permit, your value to the country will be assessed by various criteria. Depending on how highly you score, you might get additional benefits during the application process.

Criteria Clauses Points Annual Salary Under 50,000 CNY 50,000 – 70,000 CNY 5 70,000 – 150,000 CNY 8 150,000 – 250,000 CNY 11 250,000 – 350,000 CNY 14 350,000 – 450,000 CNY 17 450,000 CNY or more 20 Educational Qualifications / Vocational Skills None Bachelor’s degree/high-level worker 10 Master’s degree/technical expert 15 Doctor’s degree/highest possible international vocational qualification 20 Work Experience Under 2 years 2 years 5 Over 2 years (+1 with every year, up to 20) 6-20 Time Spent Working in China (per year) Under 3 months 3-6 months 5 6-9 months 10 Over 9 months 15 Location of Employment Western Regions, Northeast region’s industrial areas, areas of interest (impoverished counties) 10 Age 18-25 10 26-45 15 46-55 10 56-60 5 Over 60 Mandarin Proficiency None *HSK level 1 1 *HSK level 2 2 *HSK level 3 3 *HSK level 4 4 *HSK level 5 or above 5 Bachelor’s degree or above that was taught in Chinese 5 Former Chinese national 5 Extras Graduating from a high-level university 5 Work experience at a Fortune 500** company 5 Patent or intellectual property rights 5 5+ years’ work experience in China 5 (regional level) talent needed for the development of regional economy 1-10

*HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) – Mandarin Proficiency Test

**Fortune 500 – an annual list of top 500 corporations around the globe, compiled and published by Fortune magazine

Depending on your score, you can be either A, B, or C tier talent.

Tier A Talent – 85 Points or more

The benefits:

  • faster visa processing and paperless verification
  • ability to work in any industry
  • longer visa validity

Other ways to qualify for this tier:

  • get employed through China’s regional plans for foreign talent
  • earn over six times the average local salary
  • get a highly valued position in Chinese or foreign enterprise in a large scale, middle-sized, or small-scale industry (senior management, technical heads, chairmen, legal representatives)
  • get employed by one of the top tier hospitals, province level hospitals, or foreign-funded hospitals.
  • do post-doctoral research after graduating from a high-level academic institution (only eligible if you are under 40 years old)
  • be a highly successful entrepreneur (earn over 10 million CNY per year, offer a new service or product that requires a patent and large investments, be in a senior management or technical position of a company in an industry that aligns with China’s regional requirements)
  • get awarded in your field of work
  • prove academic excellence (high position in an academic institution, senior-level contributions to high-ranking national journal)
  • prove overall excellence (prestigious awards, a senior position in government or a renowned international organization, senior role in Fortune 500 company)

Tier B – 60-84 points

If you belong to this tier, the application process is usually slower and more complicated than for individuals in the tier A. Also, you can usually only be eligible for a visa in a certain industry that is in demand in China.

Other ways to qualify for this tier:

  • have a bachelor’s degree or above and two years of experience
  • be certified or have a skill that is urgently needed in the labor market
  • teach a foreign language or hold a bachelor’s degree or above in education
  • earn four times the average local salary

Tier C – Under 60 points

The entry of individuals belonging to this tier is limited to quotas set by the Chinese government. Workers that usually belong to this tier work in China temporarily.

Other ways to qualify for this tier:

  • do short-term work in China (under 90 days)
  • be on an internship/young talent program

What Are the Necessary Documents for a Visa Application?

In general, you will be asked to provide the following basic documents for your application:

  • your passport with blank visa pages and at least six more months of validity,
  • a filled-out visa application form (to be found online on the website of your respective Visa Application Service Center or Chinese embassy),
  • a recent passport photo, and
  • a copy of any previous Chinese visas (if not in current passport).

Please keep in mind that further requirements for specific visas may apply.

Single-, Double-, vs. Multiple-Entry

When completing your visa application form, you can state your preferred number of entries (single, double, or multiple). This denotes how often and in which time period you may enter the country with your visa.

Since even returning from a visit to Hong Kong or Macao counts as a new entry, make sure to write down your travel itinerary in the corresponding field of your visa application to stress your need for a double-entry or multiple-entry visa. However, even then you might still be issued a single-entry visa. If you do not plan to go abroad during your stay in China, a single-entry visa is the cheaper option anyway.

Chinese Work Visa Costs

The price for the application and the issuance of a work permit in China varies depending on the country of your origin. It can go from about a 1,000 to 1,500 CNY. The fees also vary according to how quickly you want for it to be processed and whether you choose to apply in person or via mail.

Each country presents their own pricing with the country’s VAT included that you can find on this website.

Self-Employed Visas

Self-employment specific visas are not available in China. Becoming a legally self-employed expat in China is a challenging process that will require time, effort, and money. The legal grounds for self-employed are not set, there are no programs for self-employed, and usually one needs to work their way through and around various obstacles that inevitably come their way. However, if you do want to pursue your freelancing career, we have a few suggestions listed in the Working section of this guide.

Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

If you’re thinking of how to become a permanent resident in China, D type visa is the answer you are looking for.

How to Get Permanent Residency in China

To meet the requirements for the Chinese permanent residence visa, sometimes called the Chinese Green Card, the possible resident has to be:

  • a spouse of a Chinese citizen or a permanent resident for five or more years;
  • a child under the age of 18 that came to China to live with their parents;
  • an investor with a stable, three-year-long investment in China’s market;
  • a high-profile employee that has worked in China for four years or more;
  • an outstanding alien with a record of major contributions to China
  • a dependent who is over 60 years old and come to China to live with their relatives.

In addition to one of the above-mentioned Chinese visa requirements, an individual also has to stay in the country for 3 to 5 years (at least nine months per year), depending on their qualifying clause. The visa is valid for five years for children under 18-years-old and ten years for adults.

Required Documents when Applying for Permanent Residency

The documents you need to present when filing China’s permanent residence application:

  • a health certificate
  • proof of no criminal record
  • a valid ID
  • two passport photos

The fees for the application of Chinese permanent resident amount to 1,800 CNY.

The benefits of becoming a permanent resident in China include possibilities of changing jobs and the rights to invite your other family members to visit or reside in the country. That means that after the process of getting the permanent residence in China you spouse and your family will be able to get Q type visa.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

Time is luxurious. If you only have 15 minutes to present your own ideas. What would you do? I will simply reserve a space for someone like you before the activity. +86 28 8526 9999 ext. 5556
Greetings to all the newcomers in Shanghai and a warm welcome to InterNations! We are excited to invite you to join us for a fantastic Friday evening on May 31st at the Latina Brazilian Steakhouse in
Jun 1, 2024, 12:30 PM
22 attendees
We are happy to invite you at The Westin! The wonderful Niche Bar is one of the most famous timeless bar in Shanghai. Westin Hotels & Resorts is an American upscale hotel chain owned by Marriott Inte
Let's Party, meet people from all over the world, from all walk of life, enjoy Each Other. The beautiful rooftop, Hilton, Eden Garden, with great view of Shenzhen, Shekou, ocean front, great wines, gr

See all upcoming events for expats in China

Our Global Partners