Visas for China

Visa processes for China are notoriously difficult to navigate. Immigration procedures are further complicated by the fact that they are largely carried out at a local level and each locality has its own unique structure. This means the visa requirements will vary according to where an expat will be based. For this reason, many expats consult a qualified immigration practitioner.

Foreign nationals are required to apply for the relevant visa before arriving in China. Because immigration regulations in China are subject to change at short notice, expats should consult their local Chinese embassy for the most recent list of requirements for each type of visa.

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Single-entry tourist visas for China are valid for 90 days from the date they were issued. Double-entry visas are valid for three to six months, and multiple-entry visas can be granted for a period of six months, one year or more.

For each entry into China, the maximum duration of stay is 30 days. A single-entry visa can be extended once for an additional 30 days, while a double or multiple entry visa can be extended for an additional 30 days twice.


M visas are granted to those travelling to China for commercial and trade activities. Applicants are required to have a formal letter of invitation from a Chinese host company or documentation to show that they’ll be attending a trade event.

Business visas are generally limited to stays of up to 30 days. Those who have been issued an M visa can apply for a multiple-entry M visa, which is valid for up to a year.

It’s possible to extend an M visa, as long as the application is made at least seven days before the visa expires.

Expats who want to take up employment in China for more than six months will need a Z visa. This visa can also be used by family members accompanying the expat.

Z visas are generally valid for up to 90 days. Within 30 days of entering the country, expats will need to apply for a residence permit at their local Public Safety Bureau (PSB).


Once an expat has arrived in China on a Z visa, they will then need to start the process of applying for a work permit. The Z visa is different from a work permit. A work visa allows an expat to enter China for the purpose of working, while a work permit gives an expat the right to work once they are in China.

Each work permit application is unique and there are differences in each city’s immigration and labour process. In general, a work permit application has to be sponsored by a locally registered company in China, and expats will be required to live and work in the same location as this company. Furthermore, the applicant will need to have a medical examination at an authorised hospital.

Within 24 hours of arriving in China on a Z visa, expats must also complete a Temporary Residence Registration Form and produce their passport at the nearest PSB. Some cities also require expats to do this after every trip they make out of the country.

In addition to applying for a work permit and registering their residence, expats need to apply for a Working Foreigner’s Residence Permit at their local PSB within 30 days of arriving in the country.

This is an expat’s proof that they're legally living in the country. Permits are valid for up to a year and can be renewed for a year at a time. This is usually done at the same time as an expat’s work permit extension application.

If an expat wants to move to a different region of China, they'll have to get permission from their local PSB. Once the expat has moved, they’ll need to apply for a new residence permit at the PSB in their new neighbourhood. Furthermore, if any changes need to be made to the residence permit, such as a change of address, they have to be applied for within 10 days of the change taking place.