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An overview of Chinese visa and immigration



Most foreigners must have a visa to come to China. They should acquire visas from Chinese embassies or consulates-general in their home countries before they come to China.

A Chinese visa is a permit issued by the Chinese visa authorities (Chinese embassies, consulates, and other offices authorized by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to a foreigner that authorizes entry into, exit from, or transit through the People's Republic of China.

Citizens of countries which have mutual visa exemption agreements with China don't need a visa. On 1st January 2013, the Chinese government has laid down a 72-hour-free-transit policy for Shanghai whereby tourists going to these 2 cities for transit or a short visit of less than 72 hours need not apply for visa. However, it is important to note if you are within the list of the policy's qualifying nationalities.

72-hour Visa-Free Transit


In order to facilitate the international visitors' short stay for sightseeing in Shanghai, a visa-free transit policy was adopt from 1st January 2013, which allows transit passengers with passport of the following 45 countries to stay for up to 72 hours without visa on direct transit via Shanghai Pudong Airport and Hongqiao Airport:  

The list of countries included in this policy is as follows:

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.

Port Visas

Port visa is a necessary supplement in handling visa by Chinese diplomatic institutions stationed abroad, and enables those foreigners who want to enter China for emergency matters but fail to apply for a visa beforehand, to obtain a visa in the port at where they arrive.

To provide convenience for foreigners who come to China on matter of urgency, China has set up port visa institutions in some open cities and regions. Foreigners, having letters or telegrams authorized by Chinese units, passports of countries with diplomatic relations or official trade relations with China, and must come to China at once but have no time to apply for a visa at Chinese diplomatic institutions stationed abroad, may apply for a visa at ports designated by the relative institutes of the Chinese government.

Under some circumstances, foreigners can get a port visa for a maximum of three months in cases of urgent need and lack of time.

Foreigners may apply for a port visa for one of the following reasons:

∎ Being invited at short notice by the Chinese side to attend a trade fair in China;

∎ Being invited to China to enter a bid or to formally sign an economic or trade contract;

∎ Coming to China under contract for supervision over export shipment, import commodity inspection or checking the completion of a contract;

∎ Being invited to install equipment or make rush repairs;

∎ Coming to China at the request of the Chinese side for settling claims;

∎ Being invited to China for scientific or technological consulting services;

∎ A last-minute replacement or addition, approved by the Chinese side, to a delegation or group that has been invited and has already obtained visas for traveling to China;

∎ Visiting a patient in a critical condition or making funeral arrangements;

∎ Being a person in immediate transit who, because of force majeure, is unable to leave China by original aircraft within 24 hours or has to leave China by other means of transport;        

∎ Being an invitee who does not have time to apply for a visa to a Chinese agency abroad but holds letters or telegrams from designated competent authorities approving the application for a visa at port visa agencies.

Foreign journalists, officials, public affairs passport holders and diplomatic passport holders cannot apply for port visas.

Ordinary Visas


Ordinary visas shall be marked with different Chinese phonetic letters and issued to different foreigners according to their stated purposes of visit to China. There are nine types of China visa, which falls into two categories, namely, ordinary and diplomatic visa. The Ordinary visa consists of eight types, which are respectively marked with Chinese phonetic letters F, L, Z, X-1, X-2, C, J-1, J-2, G, and D.

∎ D Visa = Residence Visa 

Visa D is prepared for foreigners who are to reside permanently in China;

∎ Z Visa = Work Visa

Issued to foreigners who come to China to take up posts or employment and for their accompanying family members.

X Visa = Student Visa 

X-1 Visa issued to foreigners who intend to study in China for a period of more than 180 days.

X-2 Visa issued to  foreigners who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.

∎ F Visa = Business/Visit Visa

Issued to foreigners who are invited to China for business visit, study, research, lecture, scientific-technological and cultural exchanges. Single-entry, double-entry, 6-month-multiple-entry, one-year-multiple-entry business visa are available. The maximum stay in China for each entry is not more than 6 months.

∎ L Visa = Tourist visa

Visa L for foreigners who come to China for sightseeing, visiting relatives or other private purposes (a group visa may be issued to a group of nine or more foreigners on a sightseeing trip to China);

Single-entry, double-entry tourist visa are available. The maximum stay in China for each entry is 30 days. Multiple-entry is not granted for tourist visa.

∎ G Visa = Transit Visa

Visa G for foreigners who transit through China;

∎ C Visa = Crewmember Visa

Visa C is issued to crewmembers on international aviation, navigation and land transportation missions, for train attendants, air crew members and seamen operating international services, and their accompanying family members.

∎ J Visa = Journalist Visa

J-1 visa issued to foreign journalists who are posted to China for at least one year.

J-2 visa issued to foreign journalists who are on temporary interview mission in China.

Foreigners holding visas D, Z, X, or J-1 shall, within 30 days of entry into China, obtain foreigners' residence cards or foreigners' temporary residence cards from the city or county public security bureau at the place of their residence.

Foreigners' residence cards are issued to those who stay in China for one year or more. Foreigners' temporary residence cards are issued to those who stay less than one year in China.

Foreigners holding visas F, L, G, C or J-2 don't need to obtain residence certificates as long as they stay in China for the period prescribed in their visas.

Renewing/Extending a Visa           

Foreigners who need to renew their visas may go to the Entry-Exit Administration Bureau of Shanghai. It is possible to extend a Chinese tourist (L) visa two times for up to a maximum of 30 days each time. So if you had a 30 day tourist visa you could extend it twice for an additional 30 days each time, staying in China for 90 days.

It is also possible to extend a Chinese business (F) visa, but you will need to present an official invitation (if you used one from your own company back home to get your visa in the first place, then that won't suffice) and the business license of the Chinese company that invited you.

When: You can apply for an extension any time before your visa expires. You can even apply the day your visa expires, but if you don't have all the necessary documents or your application is simply refused (very rare) then you only have the rest of the day to get out of China.

Processing generally takes 5 working days. However, depending on the city it is possible to have done as quickly as a few hours.
Operating hours are from 9am- 5pm.

Where: Entry/Exit Administration Bureau of Shanghai

Address: 1500 Minsheng Rd, Pudong, Shanghai

Directions: Ride Metro Line 2 to Shanghai Science and Technology Museum station. Take Exit 3 and continue walking straight ahead, cross the intersection at YinCun and He Huan Rd, and pass the Pudong Expo Building. The office is a ten-minute walk from the metro station. The visa office is on the third floor of the building. Remember to take a queue number as you enter.

What: The following documents are required for extending a tourist visa:

1. Your passport with current visa.

2. A recent 2-inch color photo (standard passport photo).

3. Completed visa application form (this can be obtained from the PSB and filled out on the spot).

4. Residence registration certificate (the pink slip from your hotel or the "Registration Form of Temporary Residence" if you're staying at a private apartment).

Take your passport (and a photocopy), your Registration Form of Temporary Residence from the local police station, Public Security Bureau (PSB), or from your current hotel (and a photocopy), and at least one passport-size (2x2 square-inch) photo. Applications are provided for completion while you are at the Entry/Exit Bureau.

How much: A tourist visa extension costs 160 Yuan for most nationalities, but 960 Yuan for US citizens.

Waiting time for collection: One week. Expect the line to pick up your new visa to be considerably shorter than the application line. You may have the visa delivered to your home or office for a fee.

A temporary de facto passport may be provided upon request if traveling during the one-week wait time to receive the renewed visa. Remember to take with you an additional passport-size photo for this official document.

Alternative: Finally, it should be noted that you can also choose to apply for a 60 day or 90 day tourist visa in the first place. There is a good chance the consulate will issue it, and even if they don't you can still extend your visa later so it's worth trying. A 30 day tourist visa is the "default" option, so to speak. So you won't get a longer one if you don't ask.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Entry and Exit Bureau's telephone number?

Telephone: 021- 6854 1199

How long should the application process take? 

Expect to wait for several hours.

When is the best time to go?

Going early in the morning may reduce the wait time, but by early afternoon the crowds would have thinned and the waiting time isn't very long. The peak time is late morning to early afternoon. The lines move quickly throughout the day.

What is the Registration Form of Temporary Residence?

This document is obtained at your local police station, Public Security Bureau (PSB), or at the hotel are you residing in during your stay in China. It may be helpful to have a local point you to the police station soon after your arrival to the city.

What is the beginning date for the extension? 

The date the application was received starts the extension period of the visa.

Does the renewal process vary in other major Chinese cities? 

Yes, other cities in China may require additional documentation, such as evidence of financial position, hotel reservations, and a booked flight out of China. For example, in Beijing proof of a Chinese bank account holding several thousand US dollars must be produced.

Is there another way I may renew my Chinese visa?

Find a trusted visa agent to handle the paper work and hassle for you to save time. You may also leave the country by going to Hong Kong or Macau and re-enter China up to the maximum number of times indicated on your visa (e.g., Single, Double, or Multiple entries within three to twelve months). 

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