All Westerners are required to have a visa to enter China. All Westerners not staying in a hotel are required to register at the nearest police station within 24 hours of their arrival in China. No visa is required for ordinary passport holders from Singapore, Brunei and Japan to visit China for up to 15 days for business, sightseeing, visiting relatives and friends or transit.
All other non-Chinese nationals need a visa to enter the country – including nationals from Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). Hong Kong citizens do not need entry visas for China. Prior the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government tightened the rules for obtaining and renewing visas. You must keep in mind that Chinese visa policy can vary a lot depending on many factors: international-level events held in China (the Beijing Olympics is the best example), security alerts, internal political or social problems or even diplomatic conflicts with one given country can make things a lot more difficult for citizens of the concerned country. This not only affects getting the visa, but it also can change how police watch the correct use of each type of visa. During the Beijing Olympics, for example, public security forces persecuted foreigners who were working in China but had a business visa (which is not legal, but very common practice), often through surprise inspections in foreign companies’ offices.
You can get your Chinese visa at Chinese embassies, consulates, and other offices authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. If they have a website, sometimes you can download the application forms, but there is no centralized government website that maintains information and forms. Check with your home country’s Chinese representative. The good news is that if you can supply all the required documents, in their original form, you will be awarded the visa. While the process can be exhaustive, it is transparent. There are no interviews. Once your documents have been accepted, they will be processed and your visa issued. If your application documents are not accepted, it will be because the application is incomplete or contains an error. The visa office will refuse to accept them and ask you to make the required amendments before you resubmit your application. One piece of advice: try to get the “best” visa you can in the Chinese embassy in your country, they tend to be less strict. Getting a short-term visa in your country and trying to apply for something more long term once you’re in China is not a good idea. Processes are almost always more difficult in the Middle Country.
Visas are not required of aliens who hold air tickets to a final destination and have booked seats on international airliners flying directly through China and will stay in a transit city for less than 24 hours without leaving the airport.
As of January 2013, nationals from 45 countries are allowed to transit through Beijing and Shanghai without obtaining a visa.
There are 8 types of regular visas for China – they are briefly described below – additional details are located in the sections pertaining to why you are traveling to Shanghai.
C Visa: Issued to crew members to perform duties onboard an international train, airliner, or another vessel, and their accompanying family members.
D Visa: Issued to an alien who comes to reside permanently in China.
F Visa: Issued to an alien who is invited to China for a visit, an investigation, a lecture, to do business, scientific-technological and culture exchanges, short-term advanced studies, or internship for a period of no more than six months.
G Visa: Issued to an alien who transits through China.
J-1 Visa: Issued to foreign resident correspondents in China.
J-2 Visa: Issued to foreign journalists who make short trips to China on reporting tasks.
L Visa: Issued to an alien who comes to China for sightseeing, family visiting or other private purposes.
X Visa: Issued to an alien who comes to China for study, advanced studies, or internship for a period of more than six months.
Z Visa: Issued to an alien who comes to China for a post or employment, and his or her accompanying family members.
Additional Information on Obtaining Visas
Visa applications at Chinese embassies usually take about a week to process, with a provision for faster service for an additional fee. Visas are generally valid for 3 months from the date of issuance so applicants should time the process properly. For entry into China, apply for visas from your nearest Chinese diplomatic missions, consular posts or other resident agencies abroad authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, such as Chinese Embassies or Consulates. Contact your nearest Chinese Consulate to determine whether they oversee your district for visa applications. Applicants who reside or are away from the country of his or her nationality can apply for visas at their nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate. If you are not within easy traveling distance to the nearest Consulate, you will need to enlist the help of a travel agency or passport agency who will submit the application on your behalf, since Chinese consulates do not accept mailed or couriered applications from individuals. Contact your local travel agency for information.
It is usually not a problem to renew your visa once you are within the country. However, this will depend on the political climate or other factors that can make the process lengthier and more complex (such as during the 2008 Olympics). L visas can be extended for an additional month; F visas will require sponsorship letters from your employer or school/university. Apply for an extension at least five days before the current visa expires at the Exit & Entry Administration of the Public Security Bureau.
Changing your visa from one type to another may be more difficult. X visas will require leaving China and applying for a new visa. L visas can change to F and X visas, with supporting documents from an employer or school. It has not always been necessary to return to a home country to obtain a new visa. However, during the 2008 Olympics, temporary regulations mandated that some visa holders return to a home country in order to apply and receive the new visa. Again, most of these restrictions have been lifted but will depend on the political climate at the time. Many people opt to take a “visa run” to Japan, Korea, or another Asian country instead of going home. However, the “Hong Kong Visa Run” is the most popular and economical option for those whose renewal procedures require that they leave the country. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region in China and taking a trip there counts as “leaving the country”.
Foreigners currently in China who have visa questions should contact their nearest Exit-Entry Administration Bureau (EEB). In Shanghai, the EEB is located at 1500 Minsheng Road in Pudong. The Shanghai EEB is open to answer visa inquiries Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. This is also the place where you have to go to get a visa extension when it is possible.
Foreigners who lose their passport must immediately report their loss to the nearest Exit-Entry Administration Bureau. After obtaining a lost passport report from the local EEB office, it is then possible to apply for a new passport at the nearest embassy or consulate. After a new passport is issued, they can then go to the Shanghai EEB office to obtain an Exit Visa. No foreigner will be allowed to depart China without a valid Chinese visa.
EXTENDING A VISA
Foreigners should apply in person at the EEB to extend their Chinese visa. You should beware of so-called visa consulting companies that claim they can extend a Chinese visa. This sort of company is never allowed to represent a foreigner applying for a visa extension. Such companies have been known to produce fake Chinese visas.