Work in China: Getting a Chinese work visa

13.03.17
6 minute read
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China’s rapid economic growth rate since ‘opening up’ is legendary. As a result, it’s been drawing foreigners to live and work in Beijing, Shanghai and China’s other major cities for decades. With the opportunity created by a rapidly developing economy and the chance to be immersed in a totally new culture, China is a popular destination for enterprising foreigners looking for a new challenge.

As a foreigner, if you want to work in China you’ll almost certainly need a visa. Luckily, the Chinese authorities have made great efforts to smooth the process of applying for your paperwork and welcome foreign experts coming for commercial purposes.

Here’s a quick guide to help you get your Chinese work visa.

Do I need a Chinese work visa?

If you intend to live and work in China for any time, you’ll almost certainly need a work visa to do so legally. There are a very small number of countries (Singapore, Brunei and Japan at the moment) whose citizens are able to come to China for short periods visa-free, and may be entitled to work without a special permit.

However, for everyone else, you’ll need to get a visa before you start to live or work in China.

What’s the process to get a Chinese work visa?

Visa applications for China are managed by either the local embassy or a dedicated service centre. Major cities around the world often have a visa service centre to support the embassy in issuing visas quickly, so this is a good option if it’s available to you.

The Chinese Visa Application Service Centre has a helpful tool which allows you to input the type of visa you want and whether you can attend a visa service centre in person or can apply by snail mail. The site then tells you what documents you need and what’s next for your application.

There are many different visa types, depending on the length of time you intend to stay in China and also other factors like your nationality. For example, there are different requirements for people who’ve previously held Chinese citizenship.

To work in China, a Z type visa might be best for you. Or, if you’re highly skilled in your field, you might be eligible for an R type visa.

You can apply for a visa up to three months from the date you intend to travel, but it’s recommended that you leave yourself at least a month for the documents to be processed. Your local embassy or visa service centre will be able to give you more detailed processing times to help you plan. As an example, arranging a visa through the service centre in Toronto in 2017 will take between 2 working days for a premium ‘rush’ service, and ten days once all documents have been submitted.

In most cases you’ll be able to complete your application form online through the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre website. You can then print it off and take it, along with your required documents, to your nearest application centre or embassy.

In some cases you’ll have to attend a service centre in person to get your visa. Appointments can be arranged and managed online. If you’re eligible to apply by post or through an agent proxy, then you’ll be given details about how to send in your documents when you complete your application online.

You’ll pay your visa fees when you get your endorsed passport back. You can pay these fees in cash if you do the process in person, or by credit/debit card if you used the post office to apply. The schedule of fees varies based on the visa and is quite complex. Nationality, processing speed, consulate fee, admin fees and taxes are all included. To find out your final visa fees, check with your embassy or visa service centre when you start your application.

There are many visa agencies who can help you navigate the visa application process for China. Because of the inevitable bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers, this is a popular choice for people moving to China for work. However, these services don’t come cheap, so make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for before you agree to work with an agent.

What documents do I need?

When you apply for a work visa for China, you’ll be required to submit some documents to support your application. These vary slightly and the visa service might require you to provide further details to accompany your application if they have any doubts. As a rule, however, you’ll need the following:

  • A valid passport
  • Completed application form and passport photo
  • Documents proving that your entry to China has been approved by the authorities

To show your role has been filled legitimately and to continue your visa application, you’ll need to show that your employer has completed their duties in informing the authorities. There are several different variations of the documents which can be used for this, including getting a foreigner’s employment permit and an invitation letter from your employer. The options open to you depend on the role type and how long you intend to stay in China. Your employer or visa agent can guide you in this.

You can get a full list of the documents you need to submit from the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre. This site will also tell you where and how to arrange to submit your documents and application forms.

Chinese work visas for part time, fixed term and seasonal workers

To apply for a fixed term or seasonal work visa, you’ll need to follow the process outlined above. There are slight variations in visa type if you intend to stay in China for less than six months, but the procedure is the same regardless.

How do I get a Chinese work visa as an entrepreneur?

The Chinese M type visa is intended for those coming to China for commercial activity and may be a possibility if you’re moving to set up a business. You can apply for this following the process outlined above, but you’ll also need to provide details of your proposed activity and an invitation from a trading partner in China.

There’s no specific visa for people working on a freelance basis, so this can be quite tricky to arrange.

It’s a good idea to talk to an immigration lawyer or reputable visa agency if you’re not sure which visa route to take.

How might my Chinese work visa affect my spouse and family members?

Once you have your work visa for China, you can invite your family members to apply for an S1 or S2 type of visa. These are for long or short term visits to a family member who’s working legally in China. You’ll need to provide various documents including a letter inviting them to join you, a copy of their passport and proof of relationship.

The definition of family for the purpose of this visa is fairly broad. Applications can be made for a spouse, minor children, adult children as well as their partners, grandparents, in-laws and parents of visa holders.

How can I move money to China from my bank account abroad?

To get the most of your money, you'll want to open a bank account in China, which you can do before you arrive.

Once you send money to China, consider using a money conversion service like TransferWise to avoid unfair exchange rates. There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another, you’ll get the real exchange rate (the same one you can find on Google). Not only that, but TransferWise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, saving you even further money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.

If your trip is short or opening a bank account in China isn't an option, you can always withdraw money from your foreign account using an ATM in China. Just keep in mind it'll be more favourable to agree to be charged in the local currency, not your home currency.

Regardless of when you start your new job abroad, it should be fairly straightforward to get yourself a visa if you follow the right steps. The most important thing is just to make sure to enjoy your new adventure.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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