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Visas and Residence Permits for Shanghai

Welcome to Shanghai! You will encounter an extraordinary city with a unique mixture of Western lifestyle and Eastern flair. Our InterNations Guide on moving to Shanghai gives you a general city overview and more specific information on expat life, e.g. expat neighborhoods and visa regulations.
The Chinese visa application process is lengthy, so plan your stay in advance.

Short-Term Visas

As a foreign employee, executive, or investor, a member of your country’s consulate staff, or an expat spouse living in Shanghai, you are subject to the usual visa regulations for moving to China. You could use an L visa for tourists and private visitors for a first fact-finding trip, to go flat hunting or visit a couple of international schools.

However, as soon as you travel to Shanghai for commercial or academic purposes, an L visa is no longer going to cut it. In this case, you need an F visa. It is valid for a stay of up to six months. Among other things, it requires a letter of invitation from your Chinese contacts, a Chinese business organization, academic institution, etc.

An F visa is especially suitable for shorter business trips, academic research projects, or extended language-learning holidays. For the exact details of the application process and the mandatory documents, please make an enquiry at the nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate in your home country.

The Long-Term Employment Visa

Most expatriates would like to live and work in China for a couple of years. This is only possible with a so-called Z visa. The application procedure is a lengthy one, and we recommend you to plan your stay in China well in advance.

At first, your future employer needs to obtain an Employment License from the Shanghai Administrative Center for Employment of Foreigners (4F, Meiyuan Lu 77, Shanghai 200070). Ask the company carefully which documents they require for this procedure. Also make sure to check if they need the original, one or several copies, and/or a certified Chinese translation. After that, your employer-to-be can use this Employment License to get you an official invitation to Shanghai from the Chinese authorities.

You are going to need these documents – the Employment License and the official invitation – in order to apply for your Z visa. If you want to stay in China for more than six months, please make sure to include a health certificate as well. This health certificate requires chest x-rays, testing for HIV and other STDs, an ECG, and other medical check-ups. Once you have obtained your Z visa, don’t forget to register with the local Shanghai police within 24 hours of your arrival.

As of September 1, 2013 expats may also qualify for a R visa, which aims to recruit senior-level professionals with skills that are needed in China.

There are various visa categories and application requirements, you should know about. You can learn all this and more from our Extended Guide article on how to get a Chinese visa.

Residence and Work Permits  

Within the first 30 days of your stay, you also need to change your visa into a proper Residence Permit for Shanghai. This process can take up to 15 days. As of September 1, 2013 the validity period for work-related residence permits ranges from 90 days to 5 years.

When applying for a work-related residence permit, you must submit the following to the local (above county level) exit and entry administration authority:

  • travel documents, including your passport
  • photos and other supporting personal documents
  • human biometric information, including fingerprints
  • a health certificate valid for more than one year
  • work permit
  • documents from the Chinese authorities proving that you are a senior-level professional with skills needed in China

Visas for Family Members

Family members who plan to visit you during your stay in Shanghai must obtain either a family reunion (Q) visa or a private affairs (S) visa. The Q visa is designed for the purpose of a “family reunion”, family members visiting PRC citizens or permanent residents. Family members visiting for China for less than 180 days must apply for a Q2 visa, while those planning on staying for longer than this time frame must apply for a Q1 visa. Individuals with a Q1 visa must also apply for residence within 30 days after coming to China.

If you are a foreign student (X visa) or an employee (Z visa) living in Shanghai and a relative comes to visit, they must apply for an S visa. The S visa is also divided into two categories based on the length of stay. Family members visiting for less than 180 days need to apply for a S2 visa. The S1 visa is reserved for parents, parents-in-law, spouses or minor children of an X or Z visa holder. The S1 visa is for stays longer than 180 days.

If you need some support along the way, there are several institutions you might ask for advice: the Chinese Embassy or Consulate back home, your new company’s HR department, your general consulate, the Shanghai branch of your national Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a commercial visa / relocation agency, etc.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

David Thyne

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

Diana Anhaus-Brey

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

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