China Travel blog > China visa rules update: February 2012

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Get your China visa!

*Tourists can now visit Chengdu, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai visa-free for 72 hours.*

*Information current as of 23 February, 2012*

Unless you're from Singapore, Brunei or Japan (and can therefore stay in the PRC visa-free for 15 days), you'll need to get a China visa for Mainland China whether you're just here for a short trip to see the F1 in Shanghai or looking to set up shop in Yiwu sourcing socks and garters. We've checked and condensed the information from our other China visa posts, re-scoured the 'net and checked in again with our visa gurus Magic at Visa in China in Shanghai and Yuri at Get in2 China in Beijing to get you the latest on what you need to know about visas in China. More after the jump....

Which visa do I need?

With the exception of Hainan and the Pearl River Delta, entries into China for most nationalities require a visa. All China visas require a passport valid for at least six months. Cost varies by home country and visa type. An additional Tibet travel permit is required for trips to the "roof of the world." But for most China travel, these will do:

F visa (business visa)

The F visa is meant for those spending six months or less in China to do things like lecturing, short term business, cultural or scientific exchanges or an internship. It is not, however, a work visa, although there are companies that have their foreign employees working long term on an illegal mix of F or L visas and Hong Kong trips. If you're looking to work  in China for anything more than six months, this is not the visa for you.

L visa (tourist visa)

The L visa is only meant to cover a "short stay" in China and is generally valid for 30 to 90 days. These can be extended twice for 30 more days each time from within China; any other extension or visa transfer must be handled outside of the country. The availability of longer L visas is in constant flux. Depending on your nation of origin and the climate of the unseen forces at work behind immigration policy, 180 day L visas are sometimes available. Generally, these visas only allow you to stay in the country for 90 consecutive days at a time, requiring a trip across the border at least every three months.

X visa (student visa)

If you're studying or interning in China for six months or more, you'll need the X visa, which should be provided by your school or company.

Z visa (work visa)

If you're working in China, you legally should have a Z visa. The actual Z visa has a fairly short life span, as the Z visa in your passport should be quickly replaced by a residence permit and work permit when you arrive in the country and start your new job. When changing jobs, the residence permit is transferable.

Hey there laowai, where's your visa?

Know your visa

"Enter before"

Get to China before midnight of the day listed, or risk turning into a pumpkin. And by pumpkin we mean "person who can't enter the country."


While those on valid X and Z visas can more or less come and go as they please, those on F and L visas may be limited to one or two entries into the PRC. Make sure you know what your passport says before you take that holiday trip to Laos.

"Duration of stay"

Approval of extensions vary by local (above county level) authorities. Extensions of L visas can happen in a few days before the expiration date, but F and X visa extensions need two and a half weeks before the expiration date to process.

Changing/extending visas

All types of visas can be extended or changed, but differences exist.

The L visa can be extended twice, with 30 days on each extension. The extension can be added a few days before the visa's expiry date. According to Yuri, L visas can be changed into an F, X or Z visa in Beijing without leaving the city.

In most other cases, changing between types of visas requires leaving Mainland China, which usually means a flight to Hong Kong and a trip to the Chinese consulate. From there, CITS or another China visa service can help if you haven't already arranged your next visa. Taking a flight to Shenzhen and then crossing the land border to Hong Kong (a bus goes straight from the airport into Central) can be a cheaper route. If you only need an exit stamp, take a ferry from Xiamen to Jinmen Island, which is under the jurisdiction of Taiwan.

When switching to a Z visa, most foreigners can do this from Hong Kong, but some have to return to their home country. From stories on travel forums, it appears to be largely African, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian nationals that may need to return to their home country. If you're unsure, e-mail or call your embassy in Beijing or Hong Kong (try a quick Google search for your home country and "China embassy" or "Hong Kong embassy").

If you're changing jobs in China (and moving from a Z visa to a Z visa), you shouldn't need to leave the country so long as you can a get a release letter from the company that you're leaving. If there's bad blood between you and your former employer that results in an inability to secure the release letter, then you may need to make time for a trip to Hong Kong or a holiday back home. Usually, though, changing your job but keeping your China visa isn't a problem.

When the rules get tighter

During high profile events like the 2010 Shanghai Expo and 2008 Beijing Olympics, officials have gotten stricter about enforcing immigration policy and in some cases those rules have gotten stricter.

During the Expo, for example, there were stories of foreigners stopped by police who asked to see their passport and followed them back to their abode to retrieve it if they didn't have it. Technically, a foreigner is always supposed to have his or her passport on hand, but not many people want to risk losing it. Some foreigners have kept photocopies (photo page and visa page) of their passport on hand, but we've not heard of anyone stopped for a passport check in a while.

Visa help from the pros and helpful links

Thanks again to Magic and Yuri for their visa knowledge.

Magic Cheng

Meshing Consultancy Service

No. 485 Henan Bei Rd. YingLi building 4th floor 3B Shanghai, 200071, China

Tel: (86 21) 3301 1478 / 6307 5776

Mob: (86) 135 0182 8752




Get in2 China (Beijing)

Tel: (86 10) 6403 4923

Mob: (86) 150 1053 2542



Skype: Getin2China

MSN: Getin2China

Other helpful links

Registration and visa information from the Shanghai Police

Chinese visa fees by nationality from the Commissar's Office in Hong Kong

Visa information from the Chinese Embassy in the United States

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  1. Hi James
    Again thank you for your response. Yes that is what i got when i googled it before she went but she chose to ignore the comments!! I had a traumatic evening last night as the so calledteacher had allowed them to go out on their own and one of the boys got extremelhy drunk and glassed one of the girls on the head. The girls parent waz notified through me via my daughter, suffice to say that my daughter was extremely upset and wanted to come home. As we havening heard anything from them today i can only assume they have headed on,by the train , to Guilang and we will hear from them as soon as they get settled. It is very worrying as the parent concered has not heard directly from the teacher and togthether with the visa issue we wonder what will happen x

    By Wendy August 30,2012 02:30 AM

  2. Hi James, thought I owuld update you on what has been happening since i last posted. They had afraught time in Bejing whereby the teacher allowed them to go out drinking and one of the boys in the group smashed a glass on one of the girls heads, causinf 4 stitches and a lot of worry this end - to this point the teacher has contced the parent - we found out by my daughter who was sobbing hysterically and wanting to come home!!!! Arrival in Guiylang was by train, which apparantly had the girls shring a carriage with a random chinese man!!! Once there everything changed and they are a lot happier "it's amazing" and we have been able to face time them. They have visited the School and sorted out 'political sutff' which when asked was photocopying passports and signing a contract (tad worrying!!) and finding out what they will be doing in the school. They initially stayed in an hotel but are now staying with a host families until the apartments are ready. Not sure if they are being paid for any work - but they have said will come home at end of 3 months in novenber (whenn the ticked is booked for). Thanks again for all your help

    By Wendy September 01,2012 10:07 PM

  3. Hi Wendy,

    Yes, that sounds like something. Getting a glass smashed on your head is no doubt a lousy way to begin a vacation (only 4 stitches? I'd say it must have been a very small glass, or she is a very lucky lass indeed). Glad to hear things seems to be working out, visa and work-wise.

    By James Weir September 03,2012 03:40 PM

  4. is there not a chance about working in china if i am a american who has an old criminal record in the u.s.a.

    By dino September 10,2012 05:03 AM

  5. Hi Magic/Yuri and anyone who contributed to write this article,

    Thanks a lot! Very informative!

    We are a Sri Lanka based Travel & Tourism Company, interested to start an office in China.

    What is the VISA type I will have to get as the full time head of China operation in the company? (I will have to live in China for at least 12 months to establish the business).

    Thanks in advance for any possible information you can provide!!!

    By Sam October 11,2012 03:08 PM

  6. I have a question. If you are traveling to China for business purposes, is it mandated that your company should process a business visa versus a tourist visa? Many other administrative assistants and travel agents have told me that an "L visa (tourist) and an F visa" (business) are the "same" and that China doesn't care which you process. I have always tended to do a business visa because if I'm sending a company/business person on business I feel that is "honest and correct". Is there anything negative that can happen if a tourist visa is processed for a business person? I need to write a policy at work and I've been insistent that we always process business visas, but I need a copy of a policy from the consulate or something that explains what constitutes a "tourist visa" and what constitutes a "business visa" so that our company employees continue to do the correct thing. I need to make sure I am not steering anyone the wrong way. One of my reasons is that often times when you go to a country on a tourist visa and then you leave, you can be locked out of a country for a specific amount of time before you go back and our executives need to be able to go at ANY given time since we have an office there. Can you help inform me of the rules?

    By Lisa October 12,2012 07:48 AM

  7. thank you so much i am planning a trip to china so this has been more than helpful for me thanks again

    By chengdu travel fan October 18,2012 08:04 PM

  8. Hi.i from viet nam country .i come to china have L visa .i want to stay in china long time .can you copany help me
    L visa can be changed into F visa or Z visa .my mobifone china 13017702736

    By Nguyen anh tuan March 23,2013 06:03 PM

  9. Hi Nguyen anh tuan - I'm afraid China Travel does not provide any kind of visa service but you can contact Meshing or Getin2China - the details are at the bottom of the post.

    By Aimee Groom March 25,2013 11:13 AM

  10. hello sir, thank alot this is all vey informative, i want to ask you question i am here in Dalian have X visa ,i want to ask what are the rules for a student to work how many hours a week? i will be waiting for your response . thanks

    By bilal April 02,2013 12:11 PM

  11. Howdy bilal,

    By law, you are not allowed to work on a student visa. Some students work on the side as tutors or do freelance writing, but technically both are a no-no.

    If I misunderstood and instead you're curious about how many hours it takes to get a student visa, that is more about the organization you're studying with. Confirm that the school you're studying with can get you a study visa.

    Best of luck,


    By Miller Wey April 08,2013 04:35 PM

  12. I was heard about that the rules get tighter than its right now. It will be from July 1, 2013, is this right???

    By Middy April 25,2013 10:41 PM

  13. Hi!! Pls i have hered that from july 2013 u can work with students permit in china. Pls is dat true??? Also if u are issued with a 3months x visa nd u arrive just a day before the last day will there be any deficulties???

    By Sammy May 06,2013 06:42 AM

  14. That is correct, Middy.

    By Miller Wey May 06,2013 01:05 PM

  15. Hello Sammy,

    There are a lot of changes coming in July, but I've been unable to find anything suggesting being able to work on a student visa. A major reason this law was written was because many foreigners work illegally under X, L, and F visas. Unless you heard it from a very reliable source, I would assume it's a rumor.

    As for your other question, the government has been more alert about people overstaying their visas. If you intend to stay past your visa expiration date, you may have problems.

    By Miller Wey May 06,2013 03:23 PM

  16. Hi,

    I travelled to china some 4 years back. It was a normal visit .I than applied for the chinese visa, i was refused visa with the reason that my name appears in the blacklist.
    I tried to find the reason as to why my name is in the blacklist.But the chinese people in the embassy refuse to give me any reason.I have no clue as to what happened. After 3 years I again applied for a chinese Visa. But again it was refused with the same reason.
    I wanted to know do the chineses people ever revive their Black list afetr some period or will they ever consider me for the VISA. or will Ibe not allowed to enter China for the est of my Life.

    By Mulla May 24,2013 07:23 PM

  17. Hi,

    I travelled to china some 4 years back. It was a normal visit .I than applied for the chinese visa, i was refused visa with the reason that my name appears in the blacklist.
    I tried to find the reason as to why my name is in the blacklist.But the chinese people in the embassy refuse to give me any reason.I have no clue as to what happened. After 3 years I again applied for a chinese Visa. But again it was refused with the same reason.
    I wanted to know do the chineses people ever revive their Black list afetr some period or will they ever consider me for the VISA. or will Ibe not allowed to enter China for the est of my Life

    By mulla May 24,2013 07:24 PM

  18. Greetings,
    I have been looking for information to confirm when two foreigners get married and share a Z-visa. Those under that visa can work legally?
    Secondly, to add the spouse from their z-visa to another's z-visa after marriage, what process would be needed? (like trip out of mainland? or just proof of marraige?) Thanks for any help and information given. Josh.

    By JoshL May 25,2013 08:01 PM

  19. Hello,
    Thank you for great info about China visa updated rules, very helpful indeed.but I still have some questions, really hope you can help me.

    Me and my husband now are with Z visa with 10 months resident permit ending at the end of June,2013 ( this month,scary) but we have booked a flight ticket to fly out on the 5th of July, can we extend for a few days?

    Since the end of June is the last day of work in the university, we now live and work in Shangqiu Normal University in Henan, it's not possible to leave on the last day,or even before that. ( My husband is American, teaching English and I am Thai, a housewife)

    Thank you very much, Gevalin

    By Gevalin Bradbury June 03,2013 04:16 PM

  20. Hello,
    Thank you for great info about China visa updated rules, very helpful indeed.but I still have some questions, really hope you can help me.
    Me and my husband now are with Z visa with 10 months resident permit ending at the end of June,2013 ( this month,scary) but we have booked a flight ticket to fly out on the 5th of July, can we extend for a few days?
    Since the end of June is the last day of work in the university, we now live and work in Shangqiu Normal University in Henan, it's not possible to leave on the last day,or even before that. ( My husband is American, teaching English and I am Thai, a housewife)Thank you very much, Gevalin

    By Gevalin Bradbury June 03,2013 04:19 PM

  21. If one partner has a Z visa (residence permit & work permit) then their spouse can apply for a residence permit but is not allowed to work under this. In order to work legally they would need a company to sponsor them and provide a work permit.

    With regards to adding your spouse to your visa, it may depend on what visa type they are currently on. I did this several years ago so it may have changed but I had a residents permit with no work permit (I'd left my previous company and they did not cancel the residence part, just the work permit - this is quite common practice). I was added to my husbands visa and just had to make a personal visit to the visa office in Pudong to pick it up and show I was who I claimed to be. If you are changing your visa type (eg. from L/F to spouse visa), this may be more complicated.

    By Aimee Groom July 02,2013 01:54 PM

  22. i want to know if i'm working for a company and i'm using a working visa
    and my contract with them ends and i said i will not work with them again, can they change my working visa to tourist visa? i am asking this question because my friend is facing such problem he is in a company and his contract has ended and he said he will not work with the company and they said they are going to change his working visa to tourist visa, meanwhile he has worked for 5years in another province and they said he has to move to another province so that after a year he can come back, because the law says after 5years you can't stay, you have to exit that made him come to that company, the current company he is into did not sponsor his visa, his current company he has work for only a year and he wants to go back, please help me on this
    thank you.

    By naomi July 07,2013 07:12 PM

  23. Hi Naomi. Usually when you leave your sponsored position they will cancel your work permit but if you still have time left on your residence permit you can often stay on that but not work (officially they should cancel both parts, and in that case would probably give you short term tourist visa but in my experience they are not often that strict). With regards to the five year issue, I've never heard about that but your friend is perhaps mixed up with the tax regulation that means foreign residents must leave China for at least one month (30 days) every five years or their tax status changes to become a permanent tax resident. On your return the clock resets.

    I hope this is helpful - please note the visa regulations have recently changed so this could also affect your situation. I'd suggest calling the exit-entry bureau if you can speak CHinese, or if not, an agency with a good reputation and getting advice from them.

    By Aimee Groom July 16,2013 09:35 AM

  24. I had a question: Is it possible to work in mainland China with a working visa, and be a student in hong kong with a student visa?

    By Bree July 28,2013 08:54 AM

  25. Hello,
    I would like to know if it is possible for me as Moroccan (so African) to get my L visa converted to a student visa ( by providing official admission notice). I read that it is not possible for people from Africa and Middle East to convert their tourist visa in China. Is it true ?

    By Hinda August 06,2013 12:04 AM

  26. Hello. i just came to china and applied for the student visa here and i will get it in few days,most of the people are saying these days that students are allowed to work (Teach) is it true? if it is so how many hours we can work a week?

    By Abdul samad August 15,2013 04:56 PM

  27. Hello,

    I currently study in China and asking when the last time X visa should be extend ? mine would be expired in 31 Sept 2013 and the school already sent to my email to extend my visa, now 26 August .. is it possible to extend it in 15 Sept 2013 ? Please somebody who know about this tell me about the answer, thank you for your time

    By Alvin August 26,2013 05:35 PM

  28. Hello,

    I am wondering if you can tell me some information on laws regarding employer responsibility. I am under contract to work at a school in Beijing. I have worked for them for the past year and have 6 months on my contract. My visa needed to be renewed and they messed up somehow in the paperwork and it could not be done before my old one expired. I had to leave to Hong Kong. I am trying to get a tourist visa to return, but think I will be rejected because of the new regulations. Is my employer responsible for ensuring I receive the money they still owe me for employment provided? Are they responsible for returning my belongings to me? Are they obligated to pay me the remaining amount on my contract for the 6 months I am still supposed to work?
    Any information would be most helpful, Thank-you

    By Jennifer September 02,2013 01:12 AM

  29. I would like to know if you can use a valid chinese visa in a old passport? I have to re-new my existing passport but the Visa still has one year to run.

    By DAVID September 02,2013 10:42 PM

  30. I like what you guys are doing. Such intelligent work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys. I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it'll improve the value of my web site. :)

    By Johanna Blancett September 13,2013 09:57 AM

  31. Hi David,

    No problem—you'll need to travel with both passports. Keep in mind you'll also want to update your passport number with your bank, phone service, and anywhere else you've registered with your passport number.

    By Miller Wey September 24,2013 03:28 PM

  32. Hello Abdul,

    Paid work (including teaching) on an X visa is illegal. While this has not stopped some foreigners from having informal tutoring jobs while studying in China, working without a Z visa "can result in large fines or even detention" according to the US Embassy in Beijing.

    By Miller Wey September 24,2013 03:36 PM

  33. Hello Bree,

    I haven't heard of a problem with such an arrangement, but it would be difficult to find a company willing to sponsor a visa of someone who's also a full-time student.

    By Miller Wey September 24,2013 03:48 PM

  34. Hello Hinda,

    I've read about an Indonesian student who was able to make the switch in country, but he didn't specify whether this was before or after the recent visa rule changes/crackdown. Morocco doesn't seem to be on the off-the-books list of African/Middle Eastern countries for what I've seen. Best of luck with your visa!

    By Miller Wey September 24,2013 04:01 PM

  35. Hello Jennifer,

    As a former teacher myself, I've witnessed or heard from friends and coworkers of plenty of post-employment woes, although in one case the teacher actually took the school to court (and won the case) over a contract dispute. My suggestion would be to rely on good relationships with people in town or the school (including other foreign teachers) to get your belongings. If you're unable to get your pay, consider finding legal representation in Beijing, but it may not be easy.

    From the US Embassy in Beijing website:

    American teachers may find that Chinese contracts are not considered as binding as contracts in the United States. These contracts will sometimes contain unexpected alterations when the prospective teacher arrives, during the duration of their employment, or at the end of the period specified by the contract. Taking an employer to court over breach of contract is far less common in China than it is in the United States, and is a particularly difficult process for foreigners.

    By Miller Wey September 24,2013 04:11 PM

  36. If you are in Hong Kong and denied a VISA to mainland due to an over stay of several days, can you apply in Macau? Does Hong Kong & Macau share information on denied VISA applicants?

    By Joe September 28,2013 05:09 PM

  37. You can certainly apply in Macau, Joe, but it depends entirely why/how you were denied in HK in the first place. Did you go through an agency or did you do it yourself? If you did it yourself, try an agency in HK first. A Block of Chungking Mansions has Time Travel up at the top. I would go there and speak with them first.

    If you have already been denied through a visa agency, Macau is even more strict than HK.

    By Charlie Cooper October 11,2013 11:31 AM

  38. So this is complicated so bare with me please I will appreciate any advice or guidance. I am a british national with Hong Kong ID. Before I used my HK resident status to get a visa to china but after 3 months in china on a L visa I left and returned to HK for 2 months. I obtained a new 1 month tourist visa and returned without problem however as I left from Zhuhai I was stopped as my visa was damaged (small scratch obstructing the date, however I did not overstay) I was detained for 5 hours and told I just needed to pay a 1000rmb fine and was free to leave. I paid the fine and returned to Macau. I then was given another 1 month visa and returned and exited no problem. After I was granted a 1 year multiple entry with 30 days per entry and I returned to china again. However when I was leaving china to renew my stay I left zhuhai with no problem but when returning I was stopped and taken to the questioning room. I saw the same police officer that dealt with me before and he explained that my punishment before was the 1000 fine and a ban on entering China for 3 years. I explained to him that in the document given it said my only punishment was a fine and it mentioned nothing about a ban. He told me that I would be returned to Macau and I could not enter China for another 2 years and 10 months. I asked why I was able to enter china after they had stopped me before and he said their system didnt have my details. However my girlfriend resides in China and I wish to be able to visit her regularly without problems. I asked about an appeal but the immigration officer was very rude to me and said I am not welcome in China and hung up. They returned my passport with the red cancelled stamp on the visa. Now I have renewed my passport so my passport number has changed and I will be applying for a chinese visa without the use of my Hong Kong residency and just as a british citizen. Honestly, what are my chances of success? I believe the visa may be granted and if so I will try to enter China through Beijing? Do they keep their records locally by province or is it possible Beijing will be aware of this? If caught trying to enter China after a ban what may happen? Just denied entry and sent back to Macau or can they detain me? Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated as the time away from my girlfriend is driving me insane and the thought of not being able to return for 3 years is a severely depressing notion. Thanks in advance for any help

    By David Smith October 14,2013 03:57 PM

  39. Hi David,

    While I have never been in your particular situation, the fact that it's a completely separate passport complicates it. If they didn't have your details the first time around, then why would they have it the second time around? The only way there would be a conflict is if you show them your HK ID when entering with your new passport. I honestly don't see you having any issues as long as you exit from a different place. Try flying out of Beijing or wherever your girlfriend lives.

    I have been denied visas and went to an agency to apply and had success, so they certainly aren't keeping track of every single person.

    However, the fact that you were banned from China despite not overstaying seems strange. Perhaps the guy was just trying to extort some money out of you. I'm guessing that you were unlucky as he just recognized you and decided to cancel your visa. If you were granted a visa in the first place, then their systems are not connected or you aren't even in there.

    I think the more important question is whether or not you will risk it for the sake of seeing your girlfriend, and I think you already know the answer to that one. :)

    By Charlie Cooper October 15,2013 05:37 PM

  40. I have one problem about apply visa in China and I want to ask you.
    I was studied in Beijing for 5 years and I had too much extended student visa which were my school help me to re-new after each semester.
    This Spring holiday I back to my country , I didn't extend my visa in Beijing and it was expired while I'm in my country because of some my family situation .
    Now when everything is fine here , I want to back Beijing and finish my study for one year. First I try to apply the tourist visa as my school say and they will help me to change the visa type after I back to Beijing . But the Chinese embassy in my country was refused my passport and they say I had too much extended visa made in Beijing.
    I talk with my school and now they are make a new form to help me apply my student visa in Viet Nam.
    I'm worry that will this time they will refuse my passport again because of same reason and I try to apply the new type of visa ? I always think that I already stayed in Beijing for 5 years , I'm student , one year I go back home 2 times for summer and spring vacation. I don't understand why this thing happen to me , as I never do or have any bad record in Beijing.

    By Trang_shahir February 12,2014 07:20 PM

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