First of all, there are different types of Chinese visas available in order for you to travel and work in China, although they are all referred to by letters as well as having ordinary names too (the different types of visa are of course valid in different circumstances, which I will go into detail about in this post).
One final thing to note before getting to the Chinese visas – Chinese bureaucracy is notoriously slow and you need to be extremely patient as the visa process can sometimes be very troublesome (even if you possess all required documents). There are so many people in the country that they have many people in unnecessarily created jobs, therefore sometimes messages and paperwork gets passed from person to person, most of them not knowing exactly what to do with it. You must be as patient as you can be. It will get done, just very slooooooooooowly.
The following visas are available depending on the purpose of your visit:
- Work visa (Z-visa).
When do you need it? When applying to work and earn money in China. This is the most important visa and the only visa you should realistically be applying for. You get an initial Z-entry visa for 30 days which will be converted after you arrive in China. We will explain this and go into the process in more detail later in the chapter.
- Getting Z- Visa.
One thing to ascertain from your employer before you start applying for your Z-visa is who will be responsible for the costs ($130 for Americans, and around $30 for citizens of other countries). Unfortunately you cannot apply for your Z- visa whilst in China. It can be done outside the country only (in your home country or Hong Kong) and it can take up to 1 month.
- Obtaining Z-Visa in your home country.
You can apply for your initial Z-visa (or any visa come to that), in your home country from one of the Visa for China centres or by post, whichever is most convenient for you. On receiving this Z-entry visa, you will have 3 months to arrive in China. You can apply for longer and more entries if need be, but most people get the 3 month single entry visa. The important thing to note is that once you arrive in China this has to be converted into a “proper” residence/work visa at the local public service authority (PSB) office within 30 days of your arrival. This replaces the Z-entry visa, and will allow you to leave and re-enter China as many times as you like within the visa validity period.
- Required documents.
Unfortunately, getting a Z-visa is not just about filling in an application form. It is one of the visas which requires an Invitation Letter and a Foreign Expert’s certificate from the school or institution you are working for. To get these two documents, you must send your institution the following:
• A scan of your passport photo page.
• Passport photos.
• A scan of your degree and TEFL certificate (although if you do not have either of these, your institution will be aware).
• 2 signed references from previous employers or educators (generally not required if you have TEFL certification).
• Criminal check (can be required from local police for a fee – not always required).
• A signed medical form (again not always required – your institution will advise you about this and what costs you will be responsible for).
*If you are required to have a medical, you need to head to your GP or local hospital for various tests including ECG, blood tests, reflex tests and many more – all your vital statistics are measured.
Once you gather all necessary documents, you need to head to your local Chinese Visa Office to apply for your Z-visa. If you are successful, you will receive the Z-entry visa China, where you must enter China within 3/6 months depending on what visa you have applied for. You will then have to convert to the proper Z-visa within 30 days of your entry into China.
Ideally, you’d want to have the whole process completed at least a week before you fly to China, otherwise you will get stressed and nervous! We also wouldn’t recommend booking flights until you have you visa either.
Once you get to China, the next step is to visit the PSB office (public security authority) to get yet more photos taken (as if the ones you submitted weren’t enough already) and maybe get asked a few questions as to why you are in China. Sarah was warned when in Inner Mongolia that she may be faced with a few questions, just because there are fewer foreigners in that particular province. If you go somewhere more Westernised, this probably won’t happen.
The process of getting your Invitation Letter and Foreign Expert’s certificate in China can take around a month. Do not try and apply in January/February over the Spring Festival period as this will take much, much longer. Always expect China to be slow at processing everything though, especially paperwork.
- Tourist visa (L-visa)
This visa is for purely leisure reasons only such as a holiday. You can choose either a single-entry visa, or double-entry visa, but both only last in China itself for 30-90 days, depending on the application. It means that if you are granted 90 days double entry visa, the maximum you can stay in China is 6 months (maximum of 90 days after the first entry and a maximum of 90 days after the second entry).
- Business visa (F-visa)
This is a visa which you can only get if you hold a letter of invitation from a company, educational institute (including all research and lecturing reasons), short-term study and/or internship or for attending trade fairs and exhibitions by invitation. It is valid for 6 months.
- Student visa (X-visa)
Once more, this is a visa that can only be obtained if you hold a letter of invitation from an educational institute where you intend to study for a period of 6 months or more. When applying to a university, they will be able to help you decide whether a Business or Student visa is best for your needs, mostly dependent on the duration of your course of study.
- Transit visa (G-visa)
This visa is for people transiting in China, on their way to a further destination. There are various exceptions, including if you are staying in a Chinese airport with an onward ticket for less than 24 hours, and also the new visa-free 72 hours offered to around 45 countries, as long as an onward ticket can be presented.
- Crew visa (C-visa)
This is for crew members of international trains, flights and ships passing through China in order to get to their onward transport or vessel.
- Journalist visa (J-visa)
The exception to a work visa (Z-visa) is if you are coming to China as a journalist (they are a little more vigilant about this profession). There are two types: one, if you are a resident foreign journalist, and the other for a foreign journalist visiting for temporary news coverage. The Chinese government like to know if and where journalists are in the country.
- Permanent Residence visa (D-visa)
This is issued to a foreigner who has been approved by the public service authority (PSB). This visa is usually applied for when there has been or will be a marriage.
Agness and Cez are a Polish duo standing behind eTramping.com, a travel blog where they both share budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. They call themselves “Tramps” as they have been travelling the world on the cheap since 2011 without permanent home. They are photography passionate and food lovers. Agness and Cez are currently based in Dongguan, China where they dig into baozi and jiaozi (local dumplings), teach English and travel around. If you would like to read more about China, you can check out their “Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book where they share tips on teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.