Getting a Chinese Work Visa

A practical guide for soon-to-be expats

[Edited December 2019]

So you want to live and work in China? Congratulations, life here can open up many doors for you. This article is meant to give an overview of the documents that you will need to procure in order to make your dream a reality, and also go over the process of applying from scratch. So if you are only interested in the process, feel free to jump to that section, otherwise we’ll start with the documents relevant to your application.

The Documents

There are three documents that will be directly relevant to your application, and these are often mixed up by even the most experienced people in the industry. You will hopefully see why in a minute. The documents are -

  1. Work Permit
  2. Z Visa (Work Visa)
  3. Residence Permit

Work Permit/Alien Employment Permit

Your Work Permit (officially called “Alien Employment permit” or “Employment Permit”) is a document, held by the government, that allows you to legally be paid by the company that hired you. This is NOT a visa, the only connection to the visa is that you must use it to apply for your Z-visa.

The work permit application process is fairly straightforward, and is made more simple if you are still holding a temporary residence permit or a Z Visa. You will need to bring your visa, as well as a release letter from your previous job and a job description from your new job, to the correct government office and they will issue you a Work Permit in 2–3 weeks.

As long as you have your residence permit visa, your work permit can be canceled and you will still be able to live in, and enter and exit, China. The only difference would be that you are not legally able to be paid. If you are caught working without having a valid work permit you may be subject to large fines.

Alien Employment License, 2019

Z Visa

The Z visa is a single entry, high requirement visa type, that you should hold only for a short period before you enter china.

After you arrive, you will need to bring your Z visa to the appropriate government office along with a health check and proof of residence, and it will be traded in for a residence permit.

This means that the residence permit, for all intents and purposes, is your actual visa in China; the Z visa merely allows you entry to the country when you first arrive, and lets the government know that your intent is to work and be paid in China.

In fact, if you came to China on an M or X2 visa and then your company officially hires you and applies for a residence permit directly, you may have never even have seen your Z visa and you wouldn’t have one in your passport either.

Z visa holders should enter China within 90 days after visa is issued and must register at local public security bureau within 30 days of arrival, where the China Residence Permit will be issued to replace Z visa to allow multiple entry for one year.


Chinese Z Visa, 2019

Temporary Residence Permit/Visa

The resident permit allows you to live in china for one year at a time, and to reenter China unlimited times during that year. Your Temporary Residence Permit is essentially your visa in China.

As mentioned previously, your TRP is not connected to your employment or payment in China, and really just has to do with your ability to enter and re-enter the country.

So, the Temporary Residence Permit is in reality a visa by another name. It is pasted into your passport exactly like a visa and looks almost the same and permits you unlimited exit and entry during its validity.


The Process

Get an Employment Permit

The first thing you need to do is get an employment permit from the Chinese government. This is the hardest step of the whole process, and you will likely need to work closely with your company during the application period. The materials you will need are (as of September, 2018):

  1. Original Passport and valid visa (visa better still valid over 30 days)
  2. Resume (with Education and Working experience, from 18 years old till now, continuously.
  3. Original bachelors or higher diploma (make sure it’s diploma, not the degree transcript) This must be notarized + legalized in your home country.
  4. Original reference letter from any foreign company to prove you have 2 years full-time working experience in your current industry and position. This can also be several letters adding up to 2 years total working experience.
  5. Original official police clearance certificate or background check (PCC) from your home country. This also must be notarized + legalized in your home country.
  6. Original China HSK license (if you don’t have it, then please ignore it)
  7. Digital photo (Pure White background, 390pixel Width *520pixel Height in computer, please email to us)

You will most likely need to mail all the following documents to your company who will complete the application for you and return you an employment permit. If your company will not provide you help, you can use another agency in China like Visa in China or Visarite to accomplish this.

Get a (Z) Visa

The next thing that you will need to do is to get a visa that allows you to enter China and is able to convert to a resident permit. This can be a Z, X, J-1, or M Visa class. It should be a Z Visa if you want to be paid as soon as you enter the country.

Some visas, most notably Work, Student and Long Stay Journalist visas (Z, X, J-1) are normally for 30 days and for a single entry, though it might actually say zero entries — don’t worry about that. This allows you to enter and begin the process of obtaining a Temporary Residence Permit, usually for up to 5 years — depending on the contract or course length. This Permit will allow you unlimited exits and re-entries.

Source: Travel In China

To get your Z visa you will need a couple documents:

  1. Valid passport with at least 6 months duration after the applicant’s intended entry date
  2. Completed application form
  3. One recent passport-sized photo
  4. Employment permit issued by hiring company and mailed to you

You will need to mail these to the Chinese consulate nearest you, they will process it and return you your passport with a Z-visa in it.

Turn your Z Visa to a Temporary Resident Permit

After you arrive in China, you will need to convert your Z-Visa into a Temporary Resident Permit.

Within 24 hours of arrival on one of these visas you should try to ensure that your organization (usually someone from its Foreign Affairs Office) creates an appointment to take you to the police station for the area you will be living in to register you as a resident in their area — this is a legal requirement.

Within that month, you will need to go to a local hospital and have an official medical examination conducted to collect an official Physical examination result document, and collect an official Accommodation registration from the police station in the district that you are closest to. You should also make sure your employer will provide a copy of the contract of employment (in Chinese and English), evidence of their right to employ foreigners, a letter of invitation and your certificate as a ‘foreign expert’. The documents they provide are called your Employment documentation.

Once all this has been collected, your organization will arrange an ‘interview’ with the local PSB office (it might be as little as just seeing who you are!). You will need to take along at least the following:
• Passport
• Accommodation registration printout from the police
• Physical examination result document
• Employment documentation
• The fee

After you have submitted all this to the Visa office they will process it for about 2 weeks and return you your visa with a fresh TRP inside.

You are now licensed to live, leave and enter, and work, in China. You did it.


To wrap up, here is a cool document showing the whole process from a birds eye view. If you found this document helpful, I am happy to announce that I have been working on putting together some very affordable Chinese Visa application documents to help Employees and businesses navigate the process effectively.

I also wrote a post recently about getting a travel visa in China.

If you have other questions about attaining a Z Visa in China, you can reach out to me on Wechat: @azitowolf. I work with agencies in Shanghai to help ex-pats find quick solutions to their visa problems.

Thanks again, and Safe Travels.

2017 Visa application flow chart from


Product Manager + Software Developer. Interested in Travel, Culture, and the Internet.

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