Work Visa in China: Full Guide


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The acquisition of Chinese work visas for foreign nationals is a significant challenge for individuals and companies operating in China. The requirements for obtaining a work visa in China are infamous, not due to their complexity regarding prerequisites but rather the frequent updates to the list of necessary documents. Since 2016, the Chinese government has revised the list of required documents almost every year, making it difficult for applicants to stay up-to-date with the latest requirements.

At HROne, we like to stay updated so we can keep providing you the most up-to-date information to provide the most current and accurate information possible. This article provides updated information for the 2023 China work visa application process.

This is a comprehensive guide to understanding all the legal processes necessary to bring your foreign talent to China.

Basic Requirements for Employee and Employer

Since the end of COVID-19 quarantine in China in early 2023, China has relaxed its issuance of work visas to foreigners. This is due to the Chinese government’s efforts to attract more foreign talent to the country to support its economic growth and development. The relaxation of work visa issuance has made it easier for foreigners to apply for and obtain work visas in China, which has in turn created more opportunities for international professionals to work and live in the country.

China has implemented a more active, open, and effective foreign talent policy. It has simplified the application process, allowing for the majority of the application to be completed online. For employers hiring foreigners in China, it is important to comply with the local laws and regulations regarding expatriates. For instance, employers must be legally established in China and must have the necessary certifications from the appropriate industry in order to hire foreign workers.

To apply for a work visa in China, foreign nationals must meet certain basic requirements. The applicant should:

  • Possess the necessary skills and have at least two years of professional work experience that align with the relevant job vacancy.
  • Have a clean criminal record, which can be verified through a background check issued by their home country.
  • Secure a job offer from a Chinese employer.
  • Possess a valid passport and/or any other mandatory international travel certificates.

Steps Involved to Hire Foreigners

The Exit and Entry Administration Law of China stipulates that foreign nationals who intend to work in China must obtain a work permit and a work-type residence permit. The following outlines the typical application process for foreign applicants who are not currently in China:

  1. Apply online from outside China for a Foreigner’s Work Permit Notice;
  2. Apply for a Z-Class Visa at a Chinese embassy or consulate;
  3. Turn in Work Permit Notice and Visa Application;
  4. Receive the Visa and Get on the Plane to China;
  5. Temporary Registration with Police;
  6. Medical Examination;
  7. Acquiring the Work Permit;
  8. Acquiring the Resident Permit.
work visa in China
Covid-19 vaccine certificate with passport travel permit

Step 1: The Chinese Work Notice

The Chinese Work Notice document must be obtained before the working visa can be acquired. It is issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China.

Before the employer in China can obtain the work permit, the following should be prepared and sent:

  1. Scanned copy of your passport information page;
  2. Medical examination report at an authorized hospital;
  3. Recent passport-sized photo;
  4. Reference letter;
  5. Non-criminal record (background check) translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate;
  6. Bachelor’s degree or above translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate;
  7. TEFL/TESOL certificate translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate (only applicable for teaching positions).

The Chinese work permit classification system

Over the past few years, the Chinese government has streamlined the work permit application process by consolidating all procedures under the purview of SAFEA (The State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs). This government agency is responsible for processing work visas, including both Z and R visa categories. Z visas are the standard visas issued to foreign employees, whereas R visas are exclusively reserved for high-level executives and individuals deemed highly valuable to certain industries that China seeks to develop.

With the new online management service system, both the employer and prospective employee can submit the necessary supporting documents electronically, making the process more efficient. The updated system has eliminated nearly half of the previously required documents, such as application letters and personal CVs, simplifying the process.

To initiate the process, the prospective employer must use SAFEA’s management system for foreign workers in China (which is only available in Chinese). The following documents must be submitted by the employer:

  • A business license and organization code certificate;
  • The registration form;
  • ID information of the employer/agent who is responsible for the registration;
  • Industry license documents.

Here’s a list of the documents now required from future foreign employees:

  • Foreigner’s Work Permit application form;
  • Passport;
  • ID photo;
  • Verification of past employment;
  • Verification of education or verification of professional qualification;
  • Copy of job contract or appointment letter;
  • Criminal record certificate;
  • Physical examination record; and
  • Information of accompanying members.

Once SAFEA (State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs) has completed the preliminary review and is satisfied with the submitted documents, a hard copy of all the materials will be requested. The documents will then be forwarded to the Bureau of Public Security, which is responsible for handling matters related to public safety and law enforcement. The Bureau of Public Security will review the hard copies on site and return all original documents to you.

After submitting the necessary documents through SAFEA’s system, a distinct method for evaluating the qualifications of foreign applicants and processing work permit applications is employed.

To attract highly skilled foreign workers and limit the influx of less qualified personnel, the Chinese government has devised a three-tiered, points-based system for classifying foreign employees. This system categorizes foreign workers as follows:

  • Class A – Elite foreign talent;
  • Class B – Professional foreign talent;
  • Class C – Miscellaneous foreigners.

China does not restrict the number of work visas offered to foreigners in Class A. However, there are restrictions on the number of class B and class C visas issued.

How employees are classified

There are two methods for employees to be classified:

  1. Be directly qualified by fulfilling various requirements;
  2. Reaching enough points on a points table.

Direct Qualification

A – Grade Foreign Workers

A foreign employee is considered class A if any of the following conditions are met:

  • They are a recipient of an international award;
  • Selected by China’s talent important plan;
  • Demonstrated entrepreneurial talents;
  • Will take a government-encouraged scarce job; or
  • Selected under the Youth Talent project.

Class-A employees comprise around 16 percent of foreign workers in China. Because they are more desirable to the Chinese government, they enjoy benefits not given to Class-B and Class-C employees. Their application will get approved quicker, so processing times are around five working days.

In addition, Class-A employees can use paperless verification during the application process and are exempt from the typical requirements of age, education degree, and work experience. As a result, they can benefit from a more streamlined process both prior to and after the application process.

B – Grade Foreigners Workers

Foreigners will receive a B classification if they meet any of the following conditions:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of work experience;
  • Has a master’s degree from a university in mainland China;
  • Holds a master’s degree from a top 100 institution worldwide as ranked by Jiao Tong University;
  • For foreign language teachers, a bachelor’s degree or higher, no less than two years experience of teaching the language, and the language being instructed is the applicant’s native language.

B-Class employees make up around 61 percent of expats in China. Compared to Class As, they can find it more difficult to obtain a work permit in industries already saturated with foreign workers.

C – Grade Foreign Workers

Finally, class C employees are considered as such if:

  • They are domestic helpers hired by class A employees;
  • They enter China for an internship under a government agreement;
  • They are in China for seasonal employment.

About 22 percent of expatriates belong to the group called C-Class employees. This group consists of individuals like company representatives who work in foreign countries for a few months and those who come to China under Chinese government young talent programs. Their stay and visa duration depends on the labor market’s requirements, and C-Class permits typically have a shorter validity period. Moreover, it takes them more time to obtain the necessary permits.

Points-Based Qualification

Foreign employees can also be categorized using a table that assigns a specific number of points to each class. Class A requires above 85 points, Class B requires 60 to 85 points, and Class C requires below 60 points.

SAFEA is responsible for evaluating foreign employee candidates based on ten different factors.

Step 2: Apply for a Z-Class Visa

To obtain a Z visa, you will need the following items. However, it’s important to note that the Z visa has a validity period of only 30 days.

  1. Completed visa application form (should be filled out online in advance and printed);
  2. One recent passport-size photo;
  3. Actual passport;
  4. Work Permit (provided by the employer in China);
  5. Any other required documents.

Step 3: Turn in work permit notice and Z-Class Visa application

You will need to take your work permit and Z-visa application to the Chinese Embassy/Consulate that serves your area. Note that a consulate is a smaller version of an embassy. The processing time for your application will be between 2 to 5 days.

*If you are residing in the U.S., you must submit your application to the relevant Embassy/Consulate in person, based on the state you currently live in. Alternatively, if visiting the Embassy/Consulate is inconvenient, you may choose to use a third-party service to handle the submission process.

Here is the complete list of Chinese Diplomatic Missions around the world.

Step 4: Receive the Visa and get on the plane to China!

Typically, the hiring company is expected to cover the cost of air travel for both the employee and their family.

Step 5: Temporary registration with Police (Must be done within 24 hours of arrival to China)

If the employee opts to stay in a nearby hotel, they might be able to register at the hotel. However, if they plan to reside with a Chinese resident, regardless of their nationality, they must register at the local police station that has jurisdiction over the area or register online using the online foreigner temporary registration application. The employee must bring the following documents to the police station:

  1. The actual passport, not a photocopy;
  2. The housing contract;
  3. A copy of the landlord’s ID and phone number.

According to official rules, registration should be done within 24 hours of entering China.

Step 6: Medical Verification (Must be done as soon as possible after the entry into China)

Every major city in China should have an International Travel Healthcare Center. This Chinese Government website provides a list of Centers. For the most part, Chinese authorities don’t accept an English version of a medical report from other countries, so it must be translated. If the company hiring the employee in China has a Chinese staff member capable of translating, and if the medical check has been fully completed in another country, there is no need to get another medical check. However, if not fully completed, the employee will need to get another medical check within China.

Things to bring if you need a Chinese medical checkup:

  • An original medical checkup from your country (if it is partially completed)
  • Cash (could be up to 600RMB)
  • One ID Photo which meets these requiremen
    • Taken within the last 6 months, against a white background, printed on high-quality paper;
    • 48mm by 33mm wide, not 2 by 2 inches, which is usually used outside of China;
    • Full frontal view of the head, not smiling, face fully visible;

*The applicant should not drink coffee or alcohol the night before and shouldn’t eat breakfast or drink water the day of.

Step 7: Acquiring the Work  Permit

Before obtaining the residence permit, a work certificate must be acquired. Again, if the company has Chinese staff, they can help obtain it. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security oversees this process. The following documents must be submitted:

  1. The actual passport;
  2. An ID photo (same requirements as for the medical checkup);
  3. The police housing registration form as obtained from before;
  4. Medical report verification;
  5. Other documents from the company.

The processing time is typically 10 business days to get the work certificate.

Step 8: Acquiring the Resident Permit

Finally, the end goal: a resident permit! To obtain this, the employee must go in person to the local Exit-Entry Administration Bureau, bringing these documents:

  1. Passport;
  2. Police housing registration form;
  3. Resident permit application forms;
  4. ID photo;
  5. Original work certificate;
  6. Other documents for the company.

The processing of the resident permit takes approximately 7 business days. The Exit-Entry Administration Bureau will retain the employee’s passport during this time and provide them with a receipt that can be used as a substitute passport.

Once the employee receives the resident permit, they are considered a resident of China for most practical purposes. They are free to travel throughout China and can enter and leave the country without any additional documentation. It is important to note that without a resident permit, a foreign employee cannot remain in China for an extended period.


Foreigners who study or perform internships cannot be legally employed, as well as dependents of foreigners who hold a work permit. Employers must sign a legal contract with foreign employees, the agreement cannot be under the table. Additionally, employers cannot engage employees in language training. Although there are a lot of steps to obtain a residence permit, the consequences of not following the proper legal procedure are serious.

Transferring Work Permits to a New Employer

When a foreign talent is hired by a new company, their work permits must be canceled and renewed. The reason for this is that in China, employees’ Work Visas are tied to their company of employment. The employer has access to an electronic system to cancel the employee’s work permit. There are two forms the employer should fill out:

  • “Proof of Cancellation of Work Permit for Foreigners Working in China”
  • “Application Form for Cancellation of Foreigner’s Work Permit”

Once employment has ended, the former employer is responsible for applying to cancel the work permit within ten working days. The cancellation certificate must indicate the reason for canceling the work permit.

Afterward, the employee must apply for a new work permit, and crucial application documents include a letter of release and a work permit cancellation certificate. Furthermore, applicants must provide evidence of relevant work experience from previous employers and hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Changes in Visa

Whenever a foreign employee changes positions in China, they will need to get a new work permit. However, whether they must change their visa depends on two situations:

Situation A: The same occupation, but a new employer

The employee can stay in China during the application process and does not need a new Z or R visa. However, the employee’s resident permit must remain valid during the transfer of positions.

Situation B: A new occupation, and a new employer

A change in both occupation and employer requires the employee to leave China and re-enter with a new R or Z Visa. The logic behind this is that since the employer is switching occupations, they must again prove to the government that they are qualified to work in China in a new position.

The government has not provided a clear definition of what qualifies as a new occupation. However, it can be inferred from the extent of the job transition. For instance, if a teacher is changing careers to become a consultant, the new job is entirely different. If there is still any confusion, it is recommended to contact the local Entry/Exit Bureau or Labor Bureau as they have the final say on whether a new Visa is required or not.

Permanent Residence Permit for Working Staff

Those who have worked in Shanghai continuously for 4 years with an annual salary income (before tax) exceeding RMB 600,000 and have paid annual individual tax exceeding RMB 120,000, and stay in mainland China for no less than 6 months every year in this 4 years; can apply for permanent residence in China with the present employer’s recommendation.

The foreign spouse and their unmarried children under 18 years old of the above applicants can apply for permanent residence together.

Permanent Residence Permit for Senior / Professional Staff

Applicants are eligible for permanent residence if they are employed in the following 5 types of organizations and hold positions of chairman, vice chairman, general manager, deputy general manager, or have titles of associate professor, associate researcher, and above, and have worked consecutively for 4 years (residence in China no less than 3 years). and have good tax records:

  • Research institutes of the State Council or Shanghai Municipal People’s Government or public institutions with administrative management or functions.
  • Key universities (“211 Project” schools and the first batch of admissions colleges).
  • Enterprises and institutions that undertake the task of national key projects or major scientific and technological projects
  • High-tech enterprises, encouraged foreign-invested enterprises, foreign invested advanced technology enterprises, or foreign-invested product export enterprises.
  • Enterprises and institutions like national laboratories, national key laboratories, national engineering laboratories, national engineering research centers, national accredited enterprise technology centers, national engineering technology research centers, or foreign-funded R&D centers.

The foreign spouse and their unmarried children under 18 years old of the above foreign applicants can apply for permanent residence together.

How can HROne be beneficial to your business?

Obtaining a Work Visa for foreign employees in China is a complex process that involves numerous steps, as the regulations have undergone significant changes in recent years. Therefore, many companies prefer to outsource this task to Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) located in China. HROne is a leading non-state-owned company offering such services to the Chinese market. We can manage the entire visa requirement process for your company’s expatriate employees in China, ensuring compliance with the latest regulations. Our team is well-informed about the Chinese system, enabling us to provide top-notch services.

Apart from assisting with Work Visas, we offer a comprehensive range of administrative employment solutions that companies may need in China. We provide office spaces in major cities, employ tax and accounting specialists, and have a team of legal experts who can help navigate any issues that may arise while operating in the Chinese system.

Apart from assisting with Work Visas, we offer a comprehensive range of administrative employment solutions that companies may need in China. We provide office spaces in major cities, employ tax and accounting specialists, and have a team of legal experts who can help navigate any issues that may arise while operating in the Chinese system.

An increasing number of companies are adopting a new approach to conducting business in China by hiring expatriate employees directly through HROne’s specialized Employment Services. With this service, foreign companies can operate in China without the need to establish a legal entity in the country, as the employee works for the foreign company but is hired and managed by HROne.

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