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China Visa Process and Possible Legal Issues for Foreigners

For those who are looking for jobs in China, one of the key factors in securing employment is also securing a valid working visa. We have a look at all the information you need to know...

Do I need a Chinese visa to work in China?

       Yes. Anyone who travels for the purposes of employment in China will need to apply for a China working visa known as a Z visa. This is different from a tourist visa and is solely for those who have a job in China.

Who qualifies for a China working visa or Z visa?

       In order for foreigners to be employed in China under a Z visa, their employer will need to be able to prove that they are an expert in their field. They also need to be able to demonstrate that there is a need for a foreigner to be employed and that the job can’t be done by a Chinese national. One good example of this is the field of English education where employers may be in need of native speakers of English.

What is the difference between a Z visa and an M visa?

       You will need a Z visa if you wish to relocate to China for work purposes. This is different however from an M visa which is a business visa. The M visa is designed for people who are coming into the country for a short period of time for business purposes. This could be, for example, to attend meetings.

In short, anyone employed to work in China and paid by a Chinese business will need to apply for a Z visa, no matter how long the duration.

Anyone who is employed by a foreign company but who will be in China for more than 3 months for work purposes will also have to apply for a China working visa (Z visa).


What happens if I work without a China visa?

       The penalties for working without a Chinese employment visa can be harsh. Any overseas worker who works in China without a valid visa can be fined anything from 5,000 to 20,000 RMB. They may also be detained in an immigration detention center for anything from 5 to 15 days. Employers of foreign nationals without a working visa can be fined up to 10,000 RMB per employee. As such you need to make sure you have a China visa (Z visa) before you start work.

Do I need to have a medical examination to apply for my visa?

       Not necessarily. The rules used to state that every foreign national entering China for work purposes would have to undergo a health check, however this has been changed. Now only those who may have health concerns need to have a medical check. This may include, for example, people close to the upper age limit for a Z visa or anyone with long standing medical issues that may have an impact on their ability to work.

Do I need a criminal record check in order to qualify?

       Whether or not foreign nationals need a criminal record check is somewhat of a grey area. In theory this is not needed to enter China on a Z visa, although some areas of China have made this mandatory along with the other required documents. These areas include Beijing, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing. As such, you will need to check with your intended employer to verify if you will need to submit a criminal record check that states that you have no previous criminal convictions.

What is the visa process?

       If you want to relocate to China for work purposes, you will need to follow the visa process to get a Z visa which will allow you to be legally employed.

       A Z visa can only be applied for if you are between the ages of 18 – 60 for males and 18 – 55 for females. You will also need to be in possession of a valid passport that still has 6 months validity on it from the date on which you want to enter China. You will also need at least two blank pages left in your passport.

       You will need to fill in an application form for the Z visa and provide one passport sized photograph.

       Applicants also need to submit a Letter of Invitation from their employer. All of this will need to be submitted before you travel to China. Once approved, you will be provided with a Chinese work visa which will allow you to travel to China. Once you have arrived in the country, you will then have 30 days to apply for a Temporary Residence Permit which can be valid for up to 5 years depending on your employment contract.

How long is my Z visa valid?

       This depends on how long your contract is. It can be valid for anything from 90 days to 5 years and can come in single or multiple entry form depending on what your employer has requested. If you plan to leave China and return during the period when you are employed then you will need to make sure that you have a multiple entry version of the visa.

Can I enter China on a tourist or business visa and then change this to a Z visa?

       No. A Z visa must be applied for outside of China. You are not allowed to work in China without a Z visa, even if you are in the process of applying for one. Until the visa has actually been issued, you will be working illegally. If you are already in China and want to work, then you will need to leave, apply for a Z visa, and then re-enter once this has been issued.

       There are a number of scams in China where employers may tell you that you can start working on a tourist visa and convert it to a working visa but this is false. You will have no rights as an employee if you work on a tourist visa and you will be breaking the law.

What happens if my employer insists on a probation period?

       Even if your employer asks for you to complete a probation period you will still need to have a Z visa in order to start work. If you fail the probation period then your employer will have to cancel this visa in line with your contract. You are not allowed to work for a probation period without a Z visa even if your employer tells you that you can. This can often be a common scam to get foreigners to work illegally for short periods of time.

Can I transfer my Z visa to another employer?

       No, although this can be a common issue. Once you are in China you may decide that you do not wish to work for your current employer and wish to change to a different one. Your Z visa however is tied to an employer and cannot be used independently.

If you want to change to another employer (like a new school for example if you are a teacher) then you will need to cancel the first Z visa. You will need to exit China and reapply for a new visa at a Chinese embassy or consulate using a new Letter of Invitation from your new employer. Once your new Z visa has been approved you can return to China and begin work with a new employer.

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Where can I apply for a Z visa?

       You must apply at a Chinese Embassy or Consulate. You will need to do so in person and you will not be allowed to submit the application via post.

How long does a Z visa take to process?

Usually the process takes 4 working days.

Who pays for the visa and how much does it cost?

       Who pays the costs of the China visa depend on the individual and their employer. Often the employer will cover the fee as part of the employment offer package. The cost of the China visa varies according to the nationality of the employee. For American citizens for example it is $140 and $30 for other nationalities. To find out how much the visa costs for your nationality you will need to check this at a Chinese embassy or consulate.

Can dependents accompany someone with a Z visa?

Yes. Dependents can live in China with someone who has a Z visa but they must apply for a dependant visa separately. This is called an S1 visa for those who are married to someone with a Z visa or an S2 visa for dependants such as children. Note that just because you are married to someone with a Z visa, this does not give you the right to also work in China.

If you also want to work in China then you will need to apply for your own Z visa otherwise you will not be legally employed.




Yuri Khlystov   (

CEO and Co-Founder of LaowaiCareer. Originally from Belarus, Yuri has been living in Beijing for the past ten years where he has turned is passion for helping foreigners into a successful business. He enjoys football and once had a pet pig when Beijing was less of a modern city than it is today.


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