Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to... get a Z visa

The Z visa is the only legal way to constantly work in China, be it for a Chinese or a foreign company. It's also the appropriate visa if you are a freelancer in China, while you have to understand that such thing as freelancing doesn't really exist - you'll have to set up a (albeit one man) company and appoint yourself as its boss.

The Z visa constitutes the basis for the residence permit - and this is where confusion starts. When people say they're here on a Z visa they're technically wrong, because a Z visa is issued for only a short period of time which will allow you to change it into a residence permit.

Let's look at the process of getting a Z visa*:

Most people will be in China on another visa and then switch to a Z visa. We will therefore assume you're in China and have decided to pop the question to your employer. He is responsible for applying for a work permit for you and will need to hand in a bunch of documents. Those are:

a) Counterpart of business license of the enterprise (original and one copy)
b) Approval Certificate (copy)
c) “Application for Recruiting Foreign Worker in China” (form provided by agency / employer)
d) The letter of intention for employment (provided by agency / employer)
e) Board resolution and articles of association required for the position of managing director (with company chop)
f) Your personal resume (Chinese Version), original and one translated copy of each diploma and certificate of vocational qualification

(Please note that the authorities will take these qualifications as proof you are sufficiently skilled to fill a position that cannot be filled by a Chinese employee. In practice, this means they will check if you are above the age of 25 and below the age of 60, have a relevant diploma of at least bachelor level, a minimum of two years of relevant work experience and so on. They can be more or less strict on these points but applications will usually be tough if your degree is less than two years away. For senior technical staff, companies can apply for a "Foreign Expert Certificate" to circumnavigate the 60 years old / university diploma restriction. Rules may also differ between Shanghai and Beijing.)

g) Passport
h) Physical examination record (Health Check)
i) One photocopy
j) Reference letter from your enterprise. Please provide one official letter paper with company chop. The content will be provided by your agency / employer.
k) Working permit request form (provided by agency / employer)

l) Since June 2008, some Chinese provinces have started requesting criminal record certificates from at least some work permit applicants. Requirements seem to differ on provincial levels. More information can be found here:
Criminal Record Certificates to be Required for China Work Visas

The outcome of this process will be the work permit, an A4 green-ish page with your data on it:

Now comes the tricky part: applications for Z visa are only accepted outside of China, which means you will at least need to go to Hong Kong at some point to apply for your visa. In any case, on the invitation letter you take along the location of application should be clearly stated ("Please apply forthwith... at the Embassy in Hong Kong").

The official regulation states that applicants should apply for visas in their home country - so although visas are currently still being issued in Hong Kong, there's always a little risk involved.

The only exception to this rule is when your position in your company is very high - this will usually apply to GMs and Vice GMs only (Chief Representatives of Rep Offices included) , but your firm's capitalization might play a role in this, too. Beijing will usually only accept domestic applications if the applicant is the legal representative mentioned on the company's business license. If this position of yours is clearly stated in all documents you provide for the application, you can apply for your Z visa without leaving China.

To apply for a Z visa abroad, you will need to provide
  • the original work permit (外国人就业证)
  • a copy of your health check, but you need to show the original
  • an original invitation letter from your company, in the same format as an invitation letter you need for an F visa (工作签证邀请信), stating the right location for application for your Z visa
  • the visa application form with a picture
  • your passport
  • you also might have to provide the booking confirmation for your flight to China
The Z visa you'll be issued now alows you to travel to China within a certain period, where the remaining formalities can be taken care of.

Now, you might be in China, but it's not over yet! If you look closely at the visa your got back from the embassy, you'll notice it says "entries: 1; duration of stay: 000 days" (sometimes 030 days). Don't get scared: this does not mean you'll have to turn around and go back home once you set a foot in the PRC. It means this Z visa is just a temporary document that allows you to enter China and apply for a residence permit. After you arrive here, the first thing you should do is register at your local police station. Within 30 days of your arrival, you can then change your Z visa into a residence permit. To do so, you'll need to ask your employer to do the following:

Apply for a Alien Employment Permit in China with
a) your Work Permit
b) One copy of the counterpart of business license of the enterprise
c) your Passport
d) The original of your Physical examination record (Health Check)
e) Two pictures
f) A Copy of your employment contract
g) The Employment Registration of Foreign Workers in China.

When your employer or his agency successfully applied for your alien employment permit, a little red/brownish book:

you can proceed to switching your Z visa to a residence permit with

a) Your Work Permit
b) The Counterpart of the business license of the enterprise (original and one copy)
c) The Temporary Residence Certificate your got when you first registered with your local police station
d) Your Passport
e) One picture
f) The Visa and Residence permit application form.

What you'll finally get is a red "cancelled" stamp over your Z visa and a brand new sticker in your passport saying "residence permit for foreigner". The residence permit is usually valid for one year and allow you to travel freely from and to China (multiple entries) during its validity.

As you now have a new document in your passport, don't forget you'll have to register with your local police station again! Your new registration will have the same duration of validity as your residence permit. Make sure you don't forget this last step because in case you'll want to extend your visa at some point you will be asked to provide the police registration!


* Pretty often, confusion arises between the translations of the involved documents, employment permits, work permit, work licenses, invitation letters and so on. There are certain consensus but to be sure it's helpful to have the Chinese translation ready.
So, what I call a
  • work permit = 外国人就业许可证
  • working license = 外国人就业证
  • invitation letter = 工作签证邀请信
  • business license = 营业执照副本复印件


Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that having to leave China to get a Z visa is related to the position one has in the company. If the position is high enough - (GM, other types of managers & supervisors) - then it is possible to get the process done without leaving the country. Is this correct?

Coeurdelion said...

True. Thanks for pointing this out! I changed the post accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for such an informative page!
One question: I am not in China yet but will have to apply for a Z-visa shortly. Is it sufficient to send copies of my diploma/passport to my employer so that he can apply for the work permit or do I have to get them legalized (and where in Germany?)? Or do I have to send the originals to China?

simone said...

Hi Nadine
You mention the health check BEFORE applying for the z-visa in the home country.
Is it not possible anymore to do the health check in China after I return with my z-visa?
(1. work permit in China 2. z-visa in home country 3. health check in china 4..........alien employment/.... residence permit ...)

S. (already living in China/ need to reapply for z)

Coeurdelion said...


the most common situation is that applicants first come to China on an L or F visa, which makes the process a lot easier. The same accounts for your case: what you can do is to prepare all documents now (including the health check), and when your company is issued your work permit, you take it back home and apply for a Z visa.

However, for people who come to China for the first time and wuold like to enter the country directly on a Z visa, there is, in my understanding, no way around passing the health check in their home country because the document needs to be handed in when the company applies for the work permit and not only when you apply for the alien employment permit.

Anonymous said...

The last time I applied for a Z visa, I tried to get a Health Check at home in Australia, but the hospitals over here don't do the "tests" as required by the Chinese Embassy. I actually got laughed at when I said I needed a chest x-ray to test for TB. So how can I apply for a Z visa from Australia, if I can't get the health test?

Coeurdelion said...

I would ask the Chinese Embassy if they have any hospitals they can recommend - it might be the tropical institute of your area for example. If all else fails, you'll have to come to China on a different visa, do the health check here, and apply for your Z visa abroad, for example on a short trip to Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

I am just wondering, have they stopped issuing the little green book now?

Is it correct that all I need now is the residence permit sticker in my passport that looks like a visa sticker, but says "Residence Permit" instead?

I always thought there was another little green booklet that I would have to carry around and take with me when exiting and entering the country.

Coeurdelion said...

The sticker in the passport has replaced what was formerly known as "the little green book" in November 2004.

All you get today is, well, the RP sticker, and the above shown "alien employment permit", a little red book.

Anonymous said...

Great site! Quick question, thought, what happens when I have to renew my passport (too much traveling, not enough pages) - how do I transfer my residence permit?

Coeurdelion said...

When you renew your passport, you will usually take it to your embassy which will cut a corner of your old passport. Take that (now invalid) passport AND the new one to the PSB within TEN days from the issue date of your new passport and ask them to transfer your visa.

Sometimes, when you pick the new passport up from the embassy, the issue date will already be more than 10 days ago. In that case, you will need to ask your embassy to certify the date you picked up your new passport; otherwise, the Chinese authorities will not transfer your visa.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful infos, thanks !
Excuse me:
1. how about reapplying Z visa? I have present Z visa as representative, and I'd like to reapply Z soon but this time as working in a formal company as employee. So, can you tell me which things to take care of?

2. is it legal to apply for visa in city X but working in city Y as a matter of fact?


Coeurdelion said...

1. When you change jobs, your new employer will need to take your work permit (the little brown book), along with a release letter from your former employer, to the authorities. The labor bureau will then change your work permit to your new employer.

2. You have to apply for your visa in the city where your company is located. If you live somewhere else (say, you work in Tianjin and live in Beijing), you'll have to register there with the local police station.

Scott said...

My former employer took my little red book when I left, claiming that it had to be returned to the issuing bureau (I was working in a different province). Now I'm trying to apply for a renewed Z visa here in Beijing and they say I need it, and my previous employer has said they don't have it any more.

Am I able to just get a new work permit? If it involves leaving the country for a while, that's not a big problem.

Coeurdelion said...

Hey Scott,

your assumption is right - you'll have to go through the process of applying for a work permit once more. You can only switch your work permit from one employer to the next if you hand the original in with a letter of release. In your case, you'll have to start from scratch as if you never had a Z visa and yes, this might involve you having to leave China at some point to apply for your Z visa.

Anonymous said...

It appears that you need to be a minimum of 24 or 25 years old to acquire a work permit. The rule they cited to me was that I needed to have graduated from University at least two years prior.

netbang said...

Any idea how long it will take to process a Z visa in Hong Kong? I'm just about to book flights. Do you know if it's possible to do the rush service on Z visas? Thanks.

Coeurdelion said...


it depends if you go through an agency or apply directly at the Commissiober's Office. Many agencies have a 36 hour service, sometimes even 24. I'm not sure if the Commissioner's Office itself has a rush service for individuals, but I'm sure you can find a way to get everuthung done in three days if you have all necessary documents.

netbang said...

Got it. I applied at the commisioner's office first thing on Tuesday morning. All I needed to present was the passport, work permit, and invitation letter. I also brought my health check certificate + copy, letter from my company with the company chop on it, and my degree certificate but they just gave all these documents straight back to me without looking at them. They had a rush (1 day) or express (2-3 days) service and I went for the express service. Picked up my lovely new Z visa this morning for the cost of 600 dollars (450 + 150 for express service). Now I'm going to get the train back to beijing. it takes 24 hours so hopefully that won't be a problem when i go to apply for my residence registration.

Coeurdelion said...

Great, congratulations! Have a safe trip home. Don't worry, you won't be getting in trouble at the police station, but bring your train ticket just in case. Remember you'll have to register with the police first, then convert the visa into a residence permit and then register with the police again!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a similar situation to netbang. I just got a job offer here in Beijing and they told me that I need to go back to my home country (USA) to get the Z visa which is just ridiculous!
I am wondering how netbang got his Z visa from Hong Kong when it is said that you can only get it done in your home country?
In addition to that, there was this note about Z visa's getting issued in HK which I'm posting below:

For application of working permit & residence permit (long-term working visa), we'll apply employment license and Z visa invitation letter for you at first, to apply Z visa in the Chinese embassy in your country ( Z visa can not be issued in Hong Kong since April.1.2008 according to the Chinese Authority)

Someone please help me!! I've settled down in Beijing and there's no way I'll be able to go back to the US to get this done!

Anonymous said...

Netbang, if you're reading this, can you please tell me what your citizenship is just so I know if I can get it done in HK?
Thank you very much!!

Anonymous said...

This is up to date as of last week (before the october holiday).

I've been following advice on this website very closely for the past few months now. It has been extremely helpful for me in getting my Z visa. Everything I have read on here has been 100% accurate so far. Now that I have some information of my own I will share what I know.

1. The 25 age limit is definitely flexible. I am 23 and was issued the work permit (an A4 green-ish page with your data on it) without too much of a hassle. Like so many have been saying, the most important thing is to show RELEVANT work experience. Everything after that is negotiable including age and graduation date. For me, this included work that I did while I was at college (graduated '06). For those wondering, I work for a very small company (17 employees) in Shanghai. We did not have any special "guanxi" or capitilzation to make the process go "smoother".

2. You can get the Z-Visa in Hong Kong. The step after you get the invitation letter and work permit says you should return to your home country. I am an American. My invitation letter clearly said "return to the embassy in U.S.A." I went to HK and got my visa there with no quesions asked. I have also had 2 other people confirm this works. I'm not sure when people were getting turned around in HK, but it is certainly open now for processing Z visas (at least for Americans).

I hope this information is helpful. I will try to check back here if people have questions, but I think everything is pretty clear. Good luck.

Coeurdelion said...

Hey there,

thanks for your detailed post - this is a great piece of advice and I'm sure many people will appreciate. As to the age limit, I'm still uncertain if things are different between Beijing and Shanghai, but it's reassuring to know that at least for some beijing born after 1982 is not a knock-out criteria.

Alex in China said...

Thank you for all this info.

There are a number of application forms necessary to complete the application process for the Z visa. Are these forms available online?

For instance:
1) Application for Recruiting Foreign Worker in China
2) Working permit request form
3) The Employment Registration of Foreign Workers in China
4) The Visa and Residence Permit Application Form

Coeurdelion said...

Hey Alex,

I'm not sure if you can find them online - I have the first one as Word document and can send it to you if you let me know you address.

Anonymous said...

Hi Coeurdelion,

Thanks for this awesome site. I have read all the information but none of them applies to my current situation. I have been in Beijing for more than 3 years now and I teach English at the school which is being owned by the Embassy. I used to have working visas (2 working visas stamped on my passport)the last one was July of this year. I wasn't able to get a new one because of the tight visa regulations given to most Asian countries. I went back home last June with my papers including the release paper from my previous school, health certificate, employment contract, copy of the school's license, certificate of employment and the letter from the Embassy(that owns the school. But my application was refused, the officer from the Chinese Embassy told me to get a letter of approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Beijing.

The Embassy then contacted the Ministry and provided all the documents that they could get. Until they finally said that they need my work permit which is so absurd since we employees of the Embassy including teachers don't pay tax that's why we don't have the work permit. The rest of the teachers got their visas 5 months before the Olympics without hassle and this letter was not a requirement at all.

This coming December I intend to come home again to process my Z visa. Do you know if there's any special regulations for those who works in the Embassies? As I know Embassies have their special relationships with the government where they are based. And what are the requirements I should bring with me to reapply because there's no chance that I could get this work permit. I am just so worried and been thinking this mess.

Thank you so much and hope to hear your advise.

remu said...

Hi all,

I am going to leave china, as my work permit will expire this month end. Do i need to submit the "brown book" back to PSB? or i can submit it at airport immigeration counter?

My company is saying me to go back my country and apply for a businness visa and come back china. But i see that for again apply VISA, i need to show the "WORK permit" (i think, it means the brown book). So i should keep the brown book with me?

plz help. I want to do a safe exit, so that i can again easily come back china.

Very Confused said...

Thank you anonymous for the new information above.

I am applying for a Z visa and have been told by the Labor Ministry that my Invitation Letter cannot list Hong Kong as the place to register for the visa. Since I am an American citizen, they will only issue an Invitation Letter that requires me to apply forthwith with the Chinese consulate in the U.S.A.

So according to anonymous, it doesn't where my Invitation Letter requires me to apply for the visa, I can still apply for the visa in Hong Kong?

This sounds plausible since the Minsitry of Labor issues the invitation letter, but a completely different bureau issues the actual visa. Still, this seems a little risky. Have others successfully applied for a Z visa in Hong Kong, even though their invitation letter specificies that they should apply in their home country?

Anonymous said...

Call a visa agent in HK to ask for details with your nationality.

elena said...

Thanks so much for the information so far.

I was wondering if you would know any information that could help me in my situation.

I am a Malaysian citizen, aged 23, graduated in 2007. Actually, I already have a job waiting for me in Beijing since spring but because of the Olympics, the Labor Dept rejected my application stating the Olympics and my age as reasons. The additional challenge is that I am from Malaysia.

Since then, my company has continuously insisted that they have been "working on it" and that in my case, it would be a reapplication and that makes it more challenging. They also insist that the agency handling this have had no news from the government.

My question is how reapplications work and are chances slimmer because of that? Also, is the labor department friendlier to citizens from certain countries compared to others? Will it be equally difficult if i'm trying to get a Business Visit (F) visa instead?

I'm not getting any information from my company on this so any updates at all would really help.


Coeurdelion said...

Hello Elena,

to my knowledge, the age requirement is still being enforced in Beijing and won't be relaxed any time soon. That's why I'd strongly advise you to rethink your career plans - the probability that you'll get a Z visa before you turn 25 is very slim.

Your best bet is probably to come to China on a tourist visa and get a proper 6 or 12 month business visa from an agency like Trader's Link or Beijingleeo. Make sure you get in touch with them before you come to find out if this is possible for you as a Malaysian! You're right saying that regulations are pretty tough on Southeast Asian nationals.

elena said...

Is there an age restriction for the F visa then?

Because since my company is a multi-national one, I was thinking maybe we could apply for me as an "exchange" from another office. Don't know if this will work.

Coeurdelion said...


there is no age restriction for F visa.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear from any others who have successfully obtained Z visas (from a L visa) in Hong Kong as an American.

Also, Very Confused: How did your situation turn out to be?

Appreciate you all kindly.