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.)
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 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.
- 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
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