If you want to legally work in China, you’ll need a work visa and a residence permit. Up until recently, obtaining both of these was not too much of a hassle. However, in spring this year (2017), the system was revised. Given the complex (read: Kafkaesque) structure of China’s new work visa system, finding up-to-date and correct information can be a challenge. Here we break down the process for obtaining a work visa and residence permit in China in 2017.
The New System
The new system grades foreigners by several factors, such as academic background, professional experience and Chinese proficiency. The idea is to streamline the process for top-level talent and to identify, and possibly bar, low-level applicants from entering China to work. The new system has changed the terminology and requirements of some of the usual steps when applying for work visas and residents permits in China. Add to that vague translations, and you have a real headache coming your way.
It’s important to differentiate between the terms used when applying for work visas and residents permits in China, and there are plenty of them. There’s: work visa, work permit notice, residence permit, work permit and finally, accommodation registration. We’ll explain all in more detail below.
STEP 1: Ready Your Documents
Once, or even before, you sign a contract with an employer in China, you need to start the long and frustrating process of getting all your necessary supporting documents together. These include:
• University degree (you need at least a Bachelors)
• Police report (clean and no older than six months. You can easily apply for a police report online in most Western countries)
• A certificate of employment (an original letter from your previous employer certifying you’ve worked in a similar industry for at least two years)
• Passport photos (Chinese standard size 48mm x 33mm , white background, at least six)
STEP 2: Legalization and Authentication
Your degree and your police report are the most important documents of the bunch, and therefore need to be legalized, just in case you bought them in a Shenzhen market.
• If you’re from a non-English speaking country, and your documents are not in English, or at the very least bilingual, you’ll first need to have them translated by an authorized translator first. If they are in English, you can get them roughly translated by someone in your office after you've had them legalized.
• If your documents were not issued by a government authority (for example if your university certificate comes from a private institution) you’ll need to get it notarized by an official notary (found in your standard high street legal team). When you’re done, this should add an apostille (a kind of certificate) to your documents.
• Send or bring your university degree, , police report and (if needed) to the relevant document legalization department of your home government. You should be able to find information on how to do this on both your government website and the China embassy websites of your home country.Here’s the procedure for US citizens. Follow the online instructions, as some systems will need you to attach an application form as well.
And yes, ALL of the above will cost you money.
Be ready for this procedure to take some time, especially if you live far away from a Chinese embassy. If you’re unlucky, the Chinese embassy in your country might have stopped their mail service altogether, forcing you to go there in person. You can usually send someone else to hand in the documents on your behalf, but they will need a photocopy of your passport, a photocopy of their own passport and their original passport (just for viewing), as well as a letter of authorization (from the company) if they are representing your employer.
STEP 3: Work Permit Notice
Assuming you’ve prepared all your documents before signing a contract with a Chinese company,the correct procedure is now to hand in or mail everything to your new employer in China.Your employer can then apply for a work permit notice on your behalf. This is the document you need to obtain a work visa.
This will take about 10 – 14 days. The document you receive will be called “NOTIFICATION LETTER OF FOREIGNER’S WORK PERMIT IN THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA”. Unlike everything else, this document does not have to be an original, so you can have it emailed to you.
STEP 4: Work Visa Application
Assuming you’re still in your own country (and not working on a tourist visa in China), you then bring your passport and work permit notice to your closest Chinese embassy or visa center and fill out a visa application form. If you are, for whatever reason, inside China, (and totally not working), then your best bet is to go to Hong Kong. Getting a Chinese visa in Hong Kong is both fast and cheap. Just make sure to save your arrival slip (a tiny piece of paper you’re given when you arrive at the airport). Otherwise, they won’t accept your application. Only those who already have a Residence Permit, for example via a spouse, can skip this step and remain in China throughout the process.
• Passport photo
• Work permit notice (see above)
• Chinese visa application form
• Arrival slip (if applying in Hong Kong)
NOTE: Don’t worry about a health check report, you don’t need that during your visa application. Don’t worry about the “Authorized Invitation Letter”, they are not issued anymore under the new system.
STEP 5: Enter China, Register Accommodation
You just entered China on your work visa, congratulations! You’re not even close to being finished, but hey, at least you made it inside the country. Oh, and technically speaking you’re still not allowed to work as you lack a Work Permit. But first thing’s first: if you’re staying outside of a hotel, you need to register with your local police station within 24 hours to get an Accommodation Registration Slip. Otherwise, they will be very, very displeased. Take your rental contract, you passport and a copy of your landlord’s ID to the designated police station of your district. If possible get your landlord to come with you or at least direct you to the correct cop shop. This can be tricky with limited Chinese, but just keep repeating “register accommodation” and showing them your documents and they should figure it out.
• Rental contract
• Photo of Landlord’s China ID card
STEP 6: Health Check Report
The next step is to do a health check. In Beijing, this costs RMB 507 as of October 2017. Find out where your official government health check center is, either by searching online or asking your employer, and go early in the morning with an empty stomach. You’ll fill out a form, register, and then have a series of strange and archaic-seeming tests performed on you - but it’s relatively harmless. Afterwards you pay and submit two passport photos. They’ll give you a date on which you can return to collect your certificate, or you might be able to pay to get it delivered to your home or workplace.
• 2 x passport photos
STEP 7: Work Permit Application
With your health check report and all the other documents you gave to your employer, you or the HR team will now make an online application for your Work Permit. The processing time for the online application is around five working days - add on another five is your company doesn’t already have a registered account. After it’s been approved (assuming it will be), you need to go to a designated Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security with an HR representative from your company and do an offline application. You’ll be given a receipt that you’d better not lose.
• Passport (they won’t take it, though)
• Passport photo
• Health check report
• Application form for foreigner's work permit (your employer/HR should help you with this one)
STEP 8: Interim Residence Permit Application
The processing time for the offline work permit application is a hefty 10 working days. If your 30-day work visa is running out before you can pick up your Work Permit, you can use your receipt from the Work Permit Application to apply for a three-month Residence Permit at your nearest Exit & Entry Administration Bureau (not to be confused with the place you applied for your work permit). This situation is very common, and is most likely to happen, so expect it and don’t get stressed out. Make sure you apply in good time as the residence permit application also takes around 10 working days (and will set you back RMB 400). You also have to sign your Residence Permit Application with a sentence promising you won’t work while you wait for it to be processed. FYI. the Residence Permit looks like a visa and will take up a full page in your passport.
• Passport (they’ll take it from you this time)
• Passport photo
• Residence Permit Application form
• Original letter from your employer saying you need to extend your Residents Permit by three months
• Work Permit Application receipt
• Health report
• Current Accommodation Registration
STEP 9: Final Residence Permit Application
Once you collect your work permit (after you get your interim Residence Permit, if needed), you get a plastic ID card with your picture, some information (such as which grade of foreigner you are) and a QR code. The work permit is usually valid for one or two years. Remember to save the paper they give you - you’ll need it eventually.
After this, you can finally apply for a one-year Residence Permit (for the bargain price of RMB 900). The processing time will once again be around 10 working days. You’ll need another letter from your employer, this time saying they will employ you for a year/two years, but other than that the procedure is the exact same as that for the interim three-month residents permit).
STEP 10: Accommodation Registration (again!)
Once that is done, you need to do Accommodation Registration at your local police station (again), whether you’ve moved or not.
• Current Accommodation Registration slip
• Work Permit
• Landlord ID and rental contract (only if it’s a new address)
That’s it! You’re done. Now you can live and work in China legally for one year. Unless you change your job. But that’s a different article altogether.
Getting a work visa in China with the new system is a lengthy and exhausting process. From start to finish, you can expect it to take several months. If your employer is used to hiring foreigners, it might be quicker and easier, same goes if they have 关系 (guānxì) with the right people.
Here’s a quick summary of the 10 steps:
1. Ready Your Documents
2. Legalization and Authentication
3. Apply for a work permit notice (online)
4. Apply for a work visa (outside of China)
5. Enter China, Register Accommodation (at police station)
6. Do health check
7. Apply for a work permit (online and offline, in China)
8. Apply for interim residence permit (if needed)
9. Final Residence Permit Application (using residence permit)
10. Accommodation Registration (again!)
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A welcome change would be making it possible for a police check from your country's consulate within China, and having that report send in a sealed envelope directly to your new employer. That would save people the hassles and terrible expenses of have a police check produced back home, getting a notarized copy, having it legalized, having it authenticated by the Chinese consulate, and then mailed across the world. The process takes forever and costs well over $200 for a piece of paper that isn't even valid for more than 6 months.
May 16, 2021 05:50 Report Abuse
Good morning! Please help me with my problem. I wanted some answers. I think this page can really help me. My working permit has been cancelled for 3 months already by my previous employer. I also started my new job for 3 months already which until now, I do not have a new working permit yet. My current employer keeps on telling me they are working on it. But it has been 3 months already. My problem right now is I wanted to leave. For my 10 years of working, this is the first job that I will be leaving very early. I just can’t see myself staying here any longer. So many things that I never expected. I have tried but I just really can’t stay here any longer. But can I leave? My working working has been cancelled for 3 months already. But my residence visa will expire on July 2021. Please help me. Thank you
Jan 25, 2021 07:49 Report Abuse
Is it possible to get work permit after entering China on tourist visa?? Say for example I am in China on tourist visa and I have all the documents needed to apply for work permit (all legalized and authenticated from the Chinese Embassy). Can I apply for a work permit and residence permit (with help from my employer of course)? Does anyone have any experience with this?
Feb 03, 2020 04:16 Report Abuse
Hello, I have some questions I would like to ask... I need your help... Well, I'm an Ecuadorian citizen (we are Chinese Visa free, multiple entries every 30days)... I found a job and I would like to apply... I brought my documents all of them stamped from the Chinese Embassy in my country. However, I've been told that in order to get the work visa I need to go back to my country and get it there and then return to China again... Well, my question is: can I just get the visa in third country like Hong Kong, South Korea, etc...? Or is it an obligation to get it in my home country? Please help me with this...
Aug 26, 2019 23:38 Report Abuse
Hello, This is Zoha from Bangladesh. One e commerce company is offering me a job in China. I worked for them before from my country. I've almost have same type of job experience. I worked in a export import company more than two years. I just came to China to visit the company. I've graduate and postgraduate degree certificates, two years job certificate and my police certificate is ready. Now I've to verify my graduation certificates and police clearance certificate from embassy. Company is dealing with an agency here. I have heard that its not easy to get work visa, China government can reject it. Though all of my documents are okay. My question, is there any chance to get work Visa? I'm little confused that's why finding a answer from any good source. Thanks
Apr 28, 2019 21:53 Report Abuse
Hi Kristina1111, while I can't speak for Hong Kong and Macau, your legalized documents need to be stamped or approved by the Chinese embassy in your home country too, or else they won't be accepted by the PRC. If you follow the link in Step 2, you can read more about that. Even though the link is specifically for US citizens, it should work the same for most countries.
Oct 29, 2018 21:32 Report Abuse
No. Residence permits are two years at most. If I'm wrong, I would graciously accept to be corrected (by a credible source). It's also important to differentiate between "residence permit" and "permanent residence permit", of which the latter us mere mortals will never see. But those can indeed be up to five years, but as of 2015 they only exist in Shanghai. Then again those rules may or may not have changed since then.
Jul 02, 2018 03:32 Report Abuse
Dear Nikwestside, is it right that you do not need a two - years working experience of teaching if you have a master of education? I wander about it, because you did not mention it in Step one? Is that information maybe already not more up to date?
May 22, 2018 20:57 Report Abuse
Hi Mandy219, the information you have, about master's degree holder not needing work experience is, as far as I can tell, still correct and up-to-date. However, the requirements are incredibly vague, for example, other expat websites have reported that "foreign master’s graduates from Chinese and ‘well-known’ overseas universities no longer need two years of work experience to apply for a work permit in China", and like you mentioned, you also need an educational background (and it's never really explained what that actually means). In summation, it's possible, but there's no way of knowing if your university is 'well-known' enough.
May 26, 2018 03:08 Report Abuse