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How do I apply for a Chinese mainland Z Visa for workers?

The Z Visa is issued to those who intend to work in China. For more information about other types of visas for China, see this page.



Getting a Z visa in China is particularly tricky, for several reasons. For a start, many companies are not authorized to hire foreigners. This is why, for example, many language schools hire foreign English teachers without providing them with a work visa; lacking the necessary credentials to hire foreign staff, they are unable to get their hands on a Z visa for said staff without paying a premium (which, of course, they choose not to do, electing instead to illegally supply the teachers with business visas).

Even for companies who can hire foreign staff, the process involves several steps and multiple branches of government bureaucracy. The applicant (or more likely, the applicant’s employer) must apply for a work permit (“Alien Employment License”) or Foreign Expert’s Certificate before the actual visa application can be submitted. This stage of the process involves the employer persuading the relevant authority that the applicant in question has the skills and experience needed to do a job which could not be done equally well by a Chinese person. Usually, applicants must be at least 25 years old, with a relevant education - some businesses may demand a bachelor’s degree, but this is not demanded by law - and a minimum of two years’ work experience in the relevant field, or five if you’re teaching something other than languagesMany applications hit a brick wall at this stage.

Applicants must also undergo a medical examination. The official line is that this is to verify that the applicant is not carrying contagious viruses or diseases. However, many suspect that the examination is mainly to test for cases of HIV/AIDS, which is still something of a taboo in China. However, being HIV positive does not necessarily mean that you will be refused a work visa although it will probably lower your chances considerably.

Applicants may be required to pass a health examination in their own country before a Z Visa will be issued. However, many have then found themselves havng to undergo another examination upon arrival in China (most cities have a single hospital designated for overseeing  examinations of foreigners and issuing the relevant certificates).

When your Physical Examination Record and work permit or Foreign Expert’s Certificate have been issued, you (or your prospective employer) can apply for a visa notification letter to be issued. With this taken care of, it’s a matter of gathering all these documents, along with those that you are required to provide yourself, and submitting your application to the relevant visa office.

After a Z Visa has been issued, you may now travel to China safe in the knowledge that you will be allowed to enter the country. Upon your arrival in China, the final step in the process is for your employer to take your passport to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) to apply for your visa to be converted into a Residence Permit (a separate document which will be pasted into your passport). 


Application requirements

To apply for a Z Visa, the following informaiton must be handed in at your nearest Chinese embassy, consulate or (in some countries) official visa processing center:

  1. Completed visa application form.
  2. One recent passport-size photograph with white or blue background.
  3. Original, signed passport (with at least six months before expiration).
  4. Evidence of previous Chinese visa (if you have previously received a Chinese visa).
  5. Money for visa application fee.
  6. A work permit, or “Alien Employment License,” issued by the Chinese Ministry of Labor & Social Security, or “Foreign Expert’s Certificate,” issued by the Chinese  State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. 
  7. Visa notification letter issued by relevant authorities in China. 
  8. Covering letter from applicant. 
  9. “Physical Examination Record for Foreigner.” 
  10. Certification that you have no criminal record in your home country.
  11. Registration with the PSB over residency in China.

Notes: All documents required under this category should be presented in the original form, along with photocopies of each. Application forms for visas and authentication or notarization can usually all be downloaded from the websites of the Chinese Embassy and Consulate General in your country, or collected from the visa section in person. For example, see this page.



Up to 90 days for single entry (your Z Visa must be converted into a Residence Permit within this 90-day period). Remember that ‘validity’ just means how long you have to attempt to enter China on that visa from the day it is supplied, not how long you can actually spend in the country.


Maximum stay per one entry

365 days.


Can I extend my stay on this visa?



Can I work on this visa?



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One Response to How do I apply for a Chinese mainland Z Visa for workers?

  • Dear One-Stop:

    Can a potential ESL teacher come to China on a tourist visa, visit schools, give demonstration classes, whatever is asked by the school (informally, of course, no remuneration) to prove their capabilities in teaching English to students , and without leaving China, having all the credentials I need from my home country (US), including a university degree in education and the TEFL, having all of the documents from the above list, and get it changed to a work visa?

    If not, why not? Wouldn’t it be easier for them?
    If so, does the tourist visa forever become useless? I mean, after the teaching contract, if it is a multi-entry tourist visa or a ten-year visa, would it still be effective?

    Thanks for your comments.

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