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If I get an internship in China, what visa should I have? Are unpaid internships legal?

Photo by Ray from LA

Growing numbers of foreigners are coming to China for internships in the hope of improving their careers, but at the time of writing there is not yet an official “internship visa”. Instead, interns may find themselves being shunted onto a number of different visas. But which of these is allowed?

This depends on what kind of internship you will be performing. It doesn’t not matter whether your internship is paid or unpaid – and yes, China allows both kinds of internship.


M Visa for business and work internships

Until 2013, the F Visa was the primary option for those coming to China on a business-related internship. That year, however, the internship function (among other things) was split off into the M Visa. While some companies do still issue F Visas for business internships, the official method is to use an M Visa.

This visa allows the bearer to be paid for their internship. For more information on applying for an M Visa see this page.


X Visa for internships while studying

If you are on studying in China on an X Visa, you are allowed to perform internships or paid work provided you first submit an internship application to your school and obtain their approval. You must then go to the Entry and Exit Office your city’s main Public Security Bureau to update your residence permit with details on the place you are working or interning at and the period of time that you will be employed for. 

Then you can work part-time or on internship with pay, though it is legal for the company to offer your internship without pay.


Do not perform internships on a Tourist Visa!

Note that it is absolutely illegal to perform internships on a Tourist Visa, aka L Visa. This is regarded as working illegally in China and you may be fined or even deported! 


Useful Chinese words and phrases 

实习 shíxí Internship
不带薪 bú dàixīn Without pay
带薪 dàixīn With pay
非法工作 fēifǎ gōngzuò Illegally working


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6 Responses to If I get an internship in China, what visa should I have? Are unpaid internships legal?

  • If you work or do an internship without a Z visa in your passport you are working illegally and will be arrested, jailed, fined, and deported if caught. Even if you are just tutoring 3 hours a week you still need a Z visa. Listen to the law – not some greedy job agent in a rush to sign you up and get paid his fees. When you have time read these links and learn how to protect yourself from the China job hustlers who do not care about you – only their fees!




  • I was told by both the Chinese embassy in Toronto and the U.S. embassy in Beijing that the only legal internships today in 2015 are those obtained for free from direct employers and they must request a special certification letter from the PSB to prove the internship is real and not some scam. Then with this special certification letter, we can go to apply for our visa and a 90 day limited Z visa will be issued. They both said M visa are not legal for internships and if caught doing an internship with this visa, I could be arrested and deported. See here http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/new-changes-in-chinas-internship-visa-laws-what-are-the-new-requirements-for-2015

  • There is still no legal visa to authorize a third party internship that is purchased. http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/new-changes-in-chinas-internship-visa-laws-what-are-the-new-requirements-for-2015 Therefore the only legal internship visa are those obtained with the direct FREE sponsorship of an International company which will seek a certification letter from the PSB on your behalf. That letter must then be presented when you apply for your visa. Here are two links that tell you how to do this: http://chinainternshipreviews.wordpress.com and http://freechinainternships.blogspot.com

  • I have recently contacted the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands, they said the M visa for internship is not a option but instead of that the interns need to apply for a short term work visa (z -visa). However obtaining the z-visa is a very long procedure. Any advice?

    • Hi Norbert. Later this year a new kind of short-term Work Visa (Z Visa) will be put into action for people who want to do internships. Right now, however, the M Visa is generally being used by people who are planning to do internships. Some embassies require the applicant to get a Work Visa if they meet certain categories. You can check this article to find out what kind of visa best suits your situation.

      As the embassy has the final say on which type of visa you should apply for, and each embassy can make their own decisions on which types of visa the applicants should use, it is best to follow the advice of your local embassy. Sadly, there is still no clear cut rule on the internship visa in Chinese law. 

      The reason for this is rooted in the fact that the country is tightening up giving out visas for interns, in order to make it harder for them to get visas. Good luck!

      • hi On-Stop,
        You mentioned later this year, and it is November now. Do you by any chance have any update on this?? thanks :)

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