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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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
Thank you for the feedback, it's appreciated! Unfortunately, I don't know the exact procedure for changing an employer. But the basic process should be fairly simple (comparatively), and it requires that you leave your former employer on somewhat good terms. You'll need their HR-department to issue a "release letter", which should state who you are, how long you worked there, and who your new employer is. Your new employer should then help you transfer your work permit and residence permit, as both are tied to your work. That means, if you stormed out of the office and have a very strained relationship with your former employer, you might have to re-do the entire process, as they can refuse to give you a release letter, and just cancel your permits if they feel like it.
May 18, 2018 03:50 Report Abuse
This is a very good article for anyone not familiar with the changes, seeking work in China or for anyone who is currently employed in China. As for the legislation itself, way over the top. Main point against is the insistance that any job in China requires all of the documents - degree, police etc. While I accept and agree that working in education is a field that should be subject to high levels of checks (for obvious reasons) I cannot agree that EVERY sector and job should require the same checks. A 'normal' office job or working in other sectors such as hotel and catering should not be subject to the same stringent measures, especially as in the case of the latter it is not as nearly well paid. Furthermore, a contradiction to the rules are that when a person applies for visa outside China, they declare on the application form any history of criminal record - it is part of the visa application procedure for probably any country, including China. It is the role of the Embassy or Consul or agency who grants visas to deal with that. So, if a person is able to get into China having passed this in the first place, why then is more proof required for getting an 'ordinary' non-teaching job? The emphasis I place on ordinary refers to a standard office job or similar white collar work. In western countries a university degree is not required for most sectors, including most office jobs - although it is advantagous of course. What counts is background, experience and for going up the ladder - references. The new 2017 visa approach being applied to any non Chinese person seeking a job in China could well lead to a major downturn in non-Chinese people applying for work in China, which is probably what the country wants, hence the legislsation. I have no problem with that personally, however the phrase "be careful what you wish for" is pretty apt. It will be very interesting to notice the changes that happen as a result of the new visa policy.
Mar 01, 2018 11:32 Report Abuse
Niklas, Are you sure that you need the medical check for the residence permit? I only ask as that was a requirement for my work visa (step 4 on this page). I don't if that is a nationwide requirement or just for Sichuan. My employer also didn't mention it for the residence permit, just needed to submit it for work permit notice. Also I just went through this step in January and first everything needed to be submitted online which took 5 business days. After it was approved, the HR personnel went to the office to submit physical copies. He said it might take up to 10 business days to get but it was approved in 24 hours. Thanks for writing this!
Feb 09, 2018 16:03 Report Abuse
Hi Cory, there most certainly are local variations to this process. What you experienced in Sichuan is most likely a streamlined process to attract foreigners. Beijing, on the other hand, probably has the opposite mindset; to repel foreigners. Good luck!
Feb 17, 2018 21:37 Report Abuse
Wow, what a tiresome process. I used to work in China as an ESL trainer and the consulting company did the entire process with a little effort from me and they also paid for all the fees. During that time, I was a bit pissed that high school graduates from English-speaking countries could get hired as teachers even though they had no clue how to teach ESL well. That was the reason I was hired as a trainer to help these foreign teachers teach ESL properly.
Dec 14, 2017 18:59 Report Abuse