Ask any foreigner who’s been in China for a while and you’re likely to hear the same gripe – visas can be a real headache. Visa regulations are ever-evolving as the government tweaks the system to close loopholes and reduce ambiguities. In 2013, there was a major overhaul of visa categories, increasing the number of classifications from eight to 12. In China, visas are referred to by a letter code. Recently, both Canada and the US signed reciprocal ten-year multiple-entry visa agreements with China. Under these agreements, Canadian citizens are eligible for long-term L, M, S2, and Q2 visas while US citizens are eligible for long-term L and M visas. The application documents and materials needed for ten-year visas are similar to those for regular visas.
M Visa 商贸, shangmao
Also known as the “commercial visa,” the M visa covers business- and commerce-related trips, which in the past fell under the F visa. This means visitors traveling to China for business or to participate in a trade fair. The longest stay granted is a multiple-entry 12-month visa.
Q Visa 亲属, qinshu
This visa is intended for family members (defined as spouses, parents, children, children-in-law, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law) previously covered under the L visa. Only those related to Chinese nationals or foreign nationals with Chinese residence permits are eligible for this visa.
The Q Visa has two subclasses, Q1 and Q2. The Q1 is also known as the “family reunion” or “foster care visa” and allows long-term stays of over 180 days. Holders of a Q1 visa must register at the Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 30 days of entry. The Q2 visa is issued for stays of under 180 days; there is no need to visit the PSB unless an extension is required.
S Visa 私人事务, siren shiwu
Also known as the “private visit visa,” the S visa is for family members (defined as spouses, parents, children under 18, and parents-in-law) who are visiting or staying with foreign nationals living in China for work, study, or other purposes. This is also divided into two categories, S1 and S2.
A Note about the Q and S Visas
At first glance, the Q and S visas seem interchangeable; however, they have slightly different conditions and application procedures. The Q visa has a wider definition of “family members” and covers both relatives of Chinese nationals (such as overseas Chinese) and foreigners residing in China. The S visa is intended specifically for family or friends of foreigners residing in China. This means that both Chinese nationals and foreigners residing in China may issue invitation letters for the Q visa, but only foreigners residing in China may issue invitation letters for the S visa.
R Visa 人才, rencai
The “talent visa” is issued to foreign, high-level professionals whose expertise in their field is considered authoritative and valuable to China. They can be visiting or staying.
F Visa 访问, fangwen
Formerly known as the “business visa,” the F visa now only covers short-term, non-commercial “exchanges, visits, and inspections” for scientific, educational, cultural, health, or sports purposes.
L Visa 旅游, luyou
One of the most-issued visa categories, the tourist visa used to cover both tourists and those visiting family in China. Now, it’s reserved exclusively for tourists and tour groups.
X Visa 学生, xuesheng
Also known as the student visa, the X visa is issued to those who intend to study or intern in China for more than six months. If the study or internship period is under six months, the candidate must apply for an F visa instead. Neither visa grants the permission to work; if discovered, the holder faces immediate deportation.
J Visa 记者, jizhe
The elusive journalist visa is a specialist visa that requires several extra documents, including a “Visa Notification Letter” issued by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an official letter signed by the head of the foreign media organization, an invitation from Chinese media authorities (if working for Chinese media), and an itinerary. The visa is divided into two subcategories, J1 and J2. J1 is for journalists staying in China for more than 180 days. J2 is for visiting journalists staying under 180 days.
The 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy
Introduced on January 1, 2013, this visa exemption is handy for friends, family, or colleagues transiting in Beijing in 72 hours or less. They must apply for the exemption during the immigration check upon arrival. Some other conditions apply:
• Only applicable to citizens from the 51 countries on the exemption list
• Only applicable to air travel, not any combination of land or sea transportation
• Visitor must have a confirmed flight to a third destination out of Beijing (see next line)
• Visitors must not be returning to the same country or territory they came from. For example, Los Angeles to Beijing and Beijing to San Francisco is not a valid itinerary. However, Hong Kong to Beijing and Beijing to Macau is acceptable.
• Visitors with multiple transits in China don’t qualify for the exemption (e.g. New York to Shanghai to Beijing to Singapore). If the plane makes a stop anywhere else in China – no matter how brief – this is considered multiple transit. Pay attention to the itinerary, as a direct flight doesn’t automatically mean a non-stop flight in airline parlance.
About the Illustrator
Fourteen-year-old Clemence Cao is in Grade 9 at the French International School of Beijing and takes art classes at Atelier. For her illustration, she imagined a bridge between China and the world. She incorporated different monuments into her world landscape.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.