Visas and Residence in China

China Visa application 

2006 © Stuart & Barbara Strother, from Moon Living Abroad in China, 1st Edition. Used by permission of Stuart & Barbara Strother, and Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.

The first step in making your move to China is to get a visa. Welcome to the web of Chinese red tape—and oh, what a web they weave. Unless you are only trying to get a tourist visa, you’ll want to leave plenty of time for obtaining all the documents you’ll need. Two months is a safe bet, though the process can be expedited if necessary. The Chinese embassy typically takes around a week to process the application before it can be returned to you. Keep in mind, however, that most visas are only good for entry within three months of their issue date, so you don’t want to get your visa too far in advance.


Chinese visas are classified based on your purpose for being in China, such as tourism, education, or employment. To stay long term in China, you’ll have to be connected to an organization (the company you work for or the school you attend), which pretty much rules out the possibility of retiring there or just hanging out for longer than a tourist visa will allow. And if you’re thinking of starting your own business in China or working in the country on a self-employed basis, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting the entry visa you’ll need, since all work visas must have a corporate sponsor. (Currently you must first get a Chinese business partner who can register the business in China, though with the current push toward opening up the nation for foreign business, these regulations may soon change.)

If any of these difficult situations apply to you, our best advice is to hire one of the visa services in Hong Kong. Though expensive, they can sometimes work miracles (though if you’re a highly ethical person, you may not want to ask just how they were able to obtain that visa for you).

Visa applications are no longer accepted by mail; you’ll need to walk it in to the nearest Chinese consulate or embassy, or have your travel or visa agent do it for you. You’ll also need to pay the application fee, which varies depending on your citizenship and the number of entries into China. All visas are classified as single entry, double entry, or multiple entry. If you are in China on a single-entry visa but would like to leave the country temporarily (including visiting Hong Kong or Macau), you can have your visa entry type switched at your local Public Security Bureau (PSB) before you go. The PSB will also help you out if you need an extension on your visa or residence permit. Staying past your expiration date will result in a 500 元 ($62) fine for every extra day; if you need an extension, contact the local PSB at least a week in advance.

Tourist and Short-Term-Stay Visas

The simplest visa to get is a single- or double-entry L visa for tourists, which will allow you to stay in the country for 30 days, or longer if requested. Multiple-entry L visas are valid for six months or more, though you’ll need to prove why you’ll be visiting so frequently (i.e. proof of real estate purchase or a sick relative). Hong Kong and Macau have their own guidelines for tourist visas and allow many nationalities to stay up to 90 days without any visa at all (check the Hong Kong and Macau chapter for more information). To obtain an F visa for short-term study or a business visit up to six months in duration, you’ll need to submit an invitation letter from the host company or university. If you will need to return regularly for business purposes and have documents to prove it, you can get a multiple-entry F visa good for up to two years. Check the Chinese embassy website (see Contacts in Resources ) for more information on what kind of documents will suffice.

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Validity of Visa
A single entry Chinese visa is valid for 3 months from the date of issue, and a double entry visa is valid for 6 months. A China visa holder must enter China before the expiration date for the visa to remain valid.
Duration of Stay
The duration of stay is specified on a Chinese visa. Chinese visa holders must not stay beyond the specified date without extending their visas. Otherwise, they will be subject to stiff penalties.