Chinese Work Visa for Foreigners

7 min.

Foreigners, especially those that intend to work in China, often face the question of which visa type to apply for. Since the Chinese Central Government implemented new visa regulations in September 2013, the complexities of the application process for work visas have increased even further. The different visa categories should, therefore, be examined in detail.

Since 2013, the Administrative Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Entry and Exit of Aliens (as of September 1st), as well as The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Exit and Entry (as of July 1st) regulate the entry requirements for foreigners into China. There are now twelve different visa categories instead of the previous eight.

If overseas or domestic companies wish to hire foreign workers in China, the first organisational obstacle is to solve this visa issue. Therefore, particularly those visa categories, which are relevant for foreigners with the intention to work in China, are illustrated below (see Figure 1). At this point, the new M, R, and S Visa categories, as well as recent changes with regard to the work visa (Z Visa) are most important (read here an analysis of the work visa new point system).

Visa Type


Required Documents

Z Visa

For foreigners working in China

Ministerial Invitation Letter,

Alien Employment License

M Visa (new)

For persons that are invited to China for commercial purposes or trade

Invitation Letter of the party in China, Business License of the company

R Visa (new)

For particularly skilled professionals and highly specialized experts whose qualifications are in urgent need in China

Conditions of the Chinese government set for these experts are to be met, approval of the respective authorities needs to be reached and the required documents need to be provided

S1 Visa (new)

For parents, spouses, children under 18 and parents-in-law of foreigners who work or study in China; for long-term visits (more than 180 days) of these relatives and for other personal affairs

Invitation Letter submitted by the relative living in China; Residence Permit, Passport Copy of the relative and Proof of Relationship

S2 Visa (new)

For family members of foreigners who work or study in China; for short-term visits (less than 180 days) of these relatives

Refer to S1 Visa

F Visa

For exchange visits, study, travel, or other (non-commercial) activities

Invitation Letter from the person in China

Figure 1: Overview of Visa Types according to activity in China

Why you need a work visa

As companies in China may employ foreigners with valid work visas only, the most reasonable long-term solution for sending staff from Europe to China is the Z Visa. Foreigners planning to work in China should enter the country only when holding a valid Z Visa. However, the application process for such a work visa is more complicated than, for example, that of a business visa (M Visa).

Before the actual start of the application process for a Z Visa, the foreign applicant must meet certain requirements (seeFigure 2): The employment agreement must already have been signed when applying for a Z Visa and the applicant must prove the qualifications needed for the desired job in China. Furthermore, the minimum age of 18 years and good physical health are required and the applicant must present a clean criminal record to prove no previous charges.


In some cases, a personal interview with the respective visa authorities may be necessary. This may be the case, for example, if you apply for a Permanent Residence Permit in China; if you need to verify personal information and the reason for your application; or if you have been previously denied the entry into or exit out of China. Therefore, we advise companies in China to factor in enough time for the visa application procedure of their employees.

Upon arrival of the employee in China, expats need to obtain an Alien Employment Permit and a work-related Residence Permit first. These permits represent yet another step through Chinese bureaucracy. Figure 3 provides an overview of the lengthy process to a successful start of work in China – including responsibilities and timelines for the respective steps.


How to apply for a work visa in China

 Alien Employment License

The prospective employer in China must provide certain documents in advance. Before hiring foreign employees, companies initially need to apply to the Beijing Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs for permission. The required documents for the application for an Alien Employment License are the following (see Figure 4): CVs of the foreigners to be employed, confirmation of the employment, explanation of the planned employment relationship, certificates that demonstrate the employees’ qualifications for the respective position the necessary medical certificates and the completed visa application form with a recent coloured passport photo. The processing time for this step is generally 15 working days.


2. Ministerial Invitation Letter

Besides the Employment License, the company must also provide an original copy and a photocopy of the ministerial Invitation Letter to the foreign employee. The Invitation Letter is issued in China within three working days by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Commerce.

3. Work Visa

With the Employment License and the Invitation Letter, the actual application for the work visa can begin. This takes place in the Visa Centre of the respective Chinese embassy or Chinese consulate. In Germany, this may be the China Visa Centre of the Chinese Consulate in Munich, the Chinese Consulate in Frankfurt, the Chinese Consulate in Hamburg or the Chinese Embassy in Berlin. The authorities estimate the processing time at 4 working days.

4. and 5. Physical Examination and Employment Permit

The next step is to obtain an Alien Employment Permit for the applicant in China within 15 days after entering China. Therefore, the employee has to submit the health check report in duplicate. In addition, a photocopy of the labour contract, a photocopy of the Business License of the company and one original copy and a photocopy of the Registration Form of Temporary Residence and of the valid passport are needed for the application of the Employment Permit. The processing time of the application for a work permit is 5 working days.

6. Residence Permit

Once the new employee has obtained his Employment Permit, the expat has to apply for a Residence Permit at the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Exit-Entry Administration within 30 days after entering China. The necessary documents for this purpose are a valid passport and all documents relevant to the purpose of the application as well as a scan of fingerprints. The Public Security Bureau will issue the residence permit within 15 working days. The validity of a work-related Residence Permit lasts for one year. For legal representatives a residence permit for the duration of two years is also possible. Recently, Chinese authorities have also started to issue permits with a longer validity.

Get Help with Your Work Visa Application

According to Chinese law, foreigners contributing greatly to China’s economic and social growth or those that meet other conditions can apply for a Permanent Residence Permit. The Chinese Ministry of Social Security must recognize this application.

After completion of these steps, the foreign worker may begin the legal employment in China. If you need help, please contact our office for support during your application procedure.

If you have further questions about work visa in China, please contact or visit the website of ECOVIS Beijing.

Contact person

Lawyer in Heidelberg, Richard Hoffmann
Richard Hoffmann
Lawyer in Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 9985 639