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How can self-employed foreigners arrange a Chinese visa?

Foreigners hoping to be self-employed or to legally perform freelance work in China may find themselves struggling somewhat, as it’s not possible to get a Z visa, or ‘Work Visa’, exclusively for that purpose. Most other visas aren’t terribly useful either: the Non-business Exchanges and Visit Visa (F visa) only allows foreigners to visit in order to take part in cultural events, with a Tourist (L) Visa you can’t work at all. 

So can foreigners stay self-employed legally in China at all? The answer is yes, but with great difficulty. Here are three situations in which they can make it work:

  1. Marriage to a Chinese person grants foreigners permanent residence on a Q Visa. However, the marriage must have been active for five years and you must spend at least nine months in China every year. However, in terms of work this option only works for those who are providing services for foreign companies and get paid into a foreign bank account. If you want to work for a Chinese company you will still need a Z visa. There is more information on how to get the permanent residence permit via marriage here
  2. You could set up your own business (wholly owned or jointed owned) in China on an M visa. There is more information on starting a business in China here and information on registering your visa through your own company here. However, this is an expensive and arduous process. 
  3. One solution used by some in China is to leverage friendships or family relations with people who have the power to hire foreign staff for Chinese companies, and to ask them to hire them as consultants, which grants a Z visa and residence permit. However, when the country is undergoing its occasional crackdowns on illegal foreigners, the company may be subject to spot checks.
  4. Besides the three methods mentioned above, you could try to apply for a Permanent Residence (D) Visa or a Permanent Residence Permit (i.e. Chinese Green Card). With the green card, you can enjoy the same rights as a Chinese citizen and perform your self-employed job as you like. However, they are not easy to get – for more information, see this page.


Useful Chinese words and phrases

自主经营,个体户的 zì zhǔ jīng yíng, gè tǐ hù de Self-employed
自由职业的 zì yóu zhí yè de Freelancing
永久居留 yǒng jiǔ jū liú Permanent residence
设立公司 shè lì gōng sī Set up a company


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