Looking to visit Mainland China? Maybe you’re going to attend our Cross Border Summit (if so, thank you, you rock!) or maybe you’re coming to the Canton Fair Trade Show or visiting factories. Whatever the case, I’m 99% sure your passport will require you to file and pay for a passport visa in advance.
Frequently Asked Question
We get a lot of questions about how to enter China! Here’s a common one:
Hey Michael, not sure if you remember me. I’m moving back to China and was wondering if you have any recommendation regarding visa. I have an idea for a startup (mobile app) but not sure I’ll be doing that yet. That said, I won’t be applying for a job in China. My wife is Hong Kongese. I was thinking of trying a Q1 visa and maybe switch to something else if I start working as an entrepreneur.Entrepreneur
What’s a Visa Anyway?
I have to admit; as a US passport holder, I didn’t have much experience with applying for a visa in advance. In my younger years I traveled to Europe, Canada, Mexico, and just showed my passport (or driver’s license even!) and got in.
So those cases I automatically got a stamp (visa) upon arrival. I didn’t need to do any paperwork upfront to get permission from the country I am entering. No fees, etc. The countries had an arrangement that those citizens could freely travel between each other’s countries freely. Keyword there is “travel.” I have friends who have worked illegally on the other side of the border, that is not allowed without proper paperwork.
Entering Hong Kong is also a similar case – most passports get an automatic visa upon arrival, no need to process anything upfront.
Mainland China is the more complicated one, and most of you reading today will need to process paperwork and pay fees upfront. I tell people to process the paperwork in their home country, but you can also do it while outside your home.
Now, let’s talk about our main topic, getting a China visa from Hong Kong. So today we will discuss helping you process this when you’re traveling to Hong Kong and then trying to get into Mainland China. Maybe you went to the Global Sources trade show in HK, and now want to get to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou.
Global Sources Show = No visa required
Canton Fair = Need Chinese visa.
Different Visa Options
Before applying for your Visa in China, here are some options to choose from:
You want to take a holiday in China. Maybe you’re going in to see your favorite band or meet friends living there. This is the lowest cost option, but again, don’t risk it. I know what you’re thinking. You can take this lower cost and easier way out and then get an English teaching job. I know how it goes, I understand the hustle. Be aware, if you’re earning income on a tourist visa, you’re risking being kicked out and denied re-entry, fines, and worse.
This is for the Canton fair visitors. You have a company you own or work for in your home country (or anywhere outside of China), and you want to come into China to “do business.” Immigration defines this as meeting factories, distributors, partners, etc. It is not meant to earn income from China (i.e., Sales or salary). This is the most common one and it costs a bit more than the tourist visa.
Want to learn Chinese? Or do an exchange program? This is the visa for you. Some try the part-time student, and business on the side combination and opt for this visa to stay in China longer than the tourist or business visa. Will need a Chinese school to sign off on the paperwork.
Planning to live in China for the long term? Get a job and earn a salary? This one’s for you. A bit more complex, and currently we can’t help you do this one. This is where your employer would need to sponsor your visa, endorse you and normally they pay the fees and process the paperwork. Of course, this is the ideal situation for your extended stay in China.
Which one is right for you? Hopefully, this helped you pick the right one. We can help you with the first three, the fourth we have partners, or you can ask your Chinese employer if they can help do it for you. The should have the contacts.
Why Do I Need A Passport Visa in China?
So you may wonder why this extra hassle and paperwork. Basically, it gets down to politics and inter-government relations. Maybe your home country doesn’t let Chinese enter without a visa, so then the Chinese government makes the same policy for you when you enter China.
One thing about China is – you may not like it – but if you want to do business here – you need to play by the rules.
Complaining about it, which many of us foreigners do, doesn’t solve the problem. There are 10-year visas now for Americans, Canadians, and a growing number of other citizens. It seems things are lightening up (but who knows what the future holds). Policies often change, depending on the political environment.
Don’t want to use scare tactics, but let’s hope no world war starts. One of the first things that would happen is various countries would deny visas, and the borders would get more strict and higher.
Luckily the political environment is pretty safe, and paperwork is straightforward.
What’s The Difference Between a Hong Kong Visa and China Visa?
I won’t get into politics – but in this case – China and Hong Kong are different when it comes to visas. As Hong Kong is a SAR (Special Administrative Region), they have special rules and are much more open to foreigners/visitors.
So almost any passport holder can enter Hong Kong without a visa beforehand. For some countries, the border patrol may inquire why you are coming – as certain countries have the reputation of having illegal workers overstaying in Hong Kong. The visa on arrival is not for getting a job in Hong Kong – it is for visiting on business or a short-term vacation.
Many people I know first come into Hong Kong for their business trip – do the Global Source trade show and then go into Mainland China. You can have the China visa first, or you can apply from Hong Kong.
Now that you get the basic idea, let’s get into some of the how and details for a China visa.
What is the Purpose of Your Travel?
Is this trip for your company or for your holiday? I know many digital nomads say a mix of both. And it is cute and fun to say at a bar with friends. But when choosing your passport visa, you need to decide on one or the other.
I would suggest to go for the business visa. The fee is a bit higher and you will need an invitation letter from a Chinese company, yet it is just “safer”. Sure, I haven’t heard stories of people getting in trouble on a tourist visa in China, but it is always better safe than sorry and pay the slightly higher fee.
There are people I know that want to save some money or for whatever reason and opt for a tourist visa. It isn’t something I recommend and could raise eyebrows at hotels when checking in or if you were ever stopped by the police. When you check into a hotel, they will take your visa number down and it will be registered with the local police department as they want to know where the visitors of their country are staying.
Things To Consider When Getting Your China Visa
The rules and policies of visas are always traveling, so it is hard to give the exact price and terms of every country passport holder, how much, and what you’ll get. So instead, I will outline some of the variables so when you are talking to a visa agent, you get the big decision points.
Length of Visa (Expiration Date)
How long will the visa last for? A low length is three months, average is 1 year. But some amazing news is that recently US passport holders get a 10 year business visa now! So you can apply this visa one time, and use it again and again for 10 years from date of issue.
The price of the visa will be more the longer the length of visit. But you also need to factor in how often you will be going into China, as having one visa that can last a long time will just save you the hassle of applying over and over again.
Depending on your passport, you may or may not have options. Now, USA passport holders only can apply for the 10 year visa, which is a few hundred dollars. There used to be shorter term visa options that were a lot cheaper – now no choice.
Number of Entries
Will the visa let you leave China and enter again? There are single entry visas where you can only come into China one time.
What does a single entry mean? It means if you fly into China, say to Shanghai, and enter at the airport – you can not leave the country and re-enter on the same visa. So if you went down to Hong Kong for a trade show and then wanted to go to Shenzhen or another Chinese city after, you’d need to apply for a new visa.
There are normally 3 options or choices here – single entry, dual entry, or multiple entry. Titles are pretty self-explanatory. It is just worth noting that the entries must be done before the Chinese visa expiration date (earlier point).
How long can you stay per entry? That leads to the next point.
Length of Stay
This is not the same as the length of the visa. This means when you enter China with your visa, how many days, months, years, can you stay in the country without needing to leave.
Let’s put this in context. You have a 1-year business visa with dual entry. It was issued on Feb 1, 2016, and you entered on Feb 14, 2016. You CANNOT stay until the visa expires in 1 year (Jan 31, 2017), you MUST look at the length of stay. Probably it will be a 30 day or 90-day stay.
If it’s a 30-day stay, and you entered on Feb 14, 2016 – you can stay inside Mainland China until Mar 13, 2016 (about one month) and you need to LEAVE! Maybe you can hop over to Hong Kong by train or MTR. Or fly out to Philippines or Korea. You can then re-enter the country (and use your 2nd and final entry) to stay for another 30 days.
After those 30 days on the second stay are up, even though your Chinese visa hasn’t expired, you cannot re-enter. Why? It’s because you used up both of your entries on your previous trips. Makes sense? Many people seem to get confused here. The date of entry is stamped on your passport, so that is where you need to look first. Then look at your Chinese visa page in your passport and look for the length of stay. Add those amounts of days and you have the last day you can stay.
I always leave a few days earlier than the last possible day, just to be safe. What happens if you overstay your visit? It isn’t a fun time, when you go to the China border to leave, they will look up in the computer and see if you have overstayed. They’ll pull you to the office and calculate the fine you need to pay, on a per day basis.
The first offense incurs this fee and the 2nd time you may even not be allowed back into China. I have had friends miss this a couple times and not been accepted for a new China visa. It isn’t worth it – put a calendar reminder on your phone and leave China a few days earlier!
Applying for a China Visa
Option 1 : From Your Home Country
Most likely you are living in the country you have your passport in. Search for agencies that help you process your China visa for your country and talk to them.
You can also go direct and find the Chinese embassy in your country.
What is the difference with a agency and going direct to the embassy? Of course the agency adds their fee, but you can also avoid waiting in lines and making mistakes in your application form and process. Depends on how much trouble you want to go through – most business executives just pay a visa agent and get it done.
Option 2 : Apply from Hong Kong
As mentioned earlier in the article, you can apply from Hong Kong. Though it may cost more than doing it from your home country, and you may not get as good of a length of stay or number of entries – you can do it.
If you are applying from Hong Kong, allow at least a couple days to have them process the visa.
You will need to turn in your passport and wait for it to be processed. So without a passport, you won’t be able to change hotels or leave the country!
There are tons of visa agencies in Hong Kong who will be more than happy to help you-you can see a sign all over the place and random people on street corners giving your flyers for Chinese visa. Of course, it is best to go with an agency you can trust – as you give them money and your passport!
There are rush visas that can be processed same day (turn in first thing in the morning, pick up in late afternoon) or overnight visa processing as well. What an agency does is take your passport, your application form, and fee – and goes to the Chinese embassy for you. Wait in line, take care of a headache and deliver it back to you.
Getting a China Visa in Hong Kong: What You Need to Know
Are you looking for China visas in Hong Kong? This is where I spent many nights getting my visa processed my first couple years living in Mainland China. So it is a common practice or expats in China to travel into HK and process their visa.
You could do it yourself and wake up early and go to the China Consulate in Hong Kong or you can use one of the many visa agencies in Hong Kong. For me, I value my time and prefer to pay for an expert to take care of it – but you need to use your own judgment on the value of your own time.
The way I did it (before getting the residence visa and work permit that I have now) is I would go to a visa agent, pay the fee, and opt-in for the 1-day processing. Normally you turn it in before noon, and you can pick it up the next afternoon. So, you’d have to book a hotel/hostel in Hong Kong for that one night – and enjoy the sites. Do some business banking too, maybe a trade show or a business meeting, and you’re all set.
Option 3: Apply From Thailand
Many of our readers are in Thailand (nice place to work from!) and are coming to the Canton Fair. Often, they ask how to get a Chinese Visa while they are stationed there. As with everything, there are a couple of ways
1) Go to the Chinese Embassy in Thailand. Apply there directly.
2) Use a Travel Agency / Visa agency in Thailand. Tell them you are traveling to China and need a visa for your passport to enter. They normally provide such services.
3) Apply from Hong Kong – if you’re in a rush or don’t want to be bothered with applying from Thailand, come over to Hong Kong first.
Tip: Flights are cheap to HK from Bangkok, and you can spend a few days at the Hong Kong shows like Global Sources and HKTDC. Once they finish processing your visa, you can enter Mainland China via the many land borders (check our Hong Kong border crossing post)
How Long Does It Take To Get A Visa To China?
As mentioned above- when I did it from Hong Kong – I would pay the fee to get it next day. If you’re filing from home country, it normally takes longer. I would courier my passport to a visa agent and then wait at least a week or so to get it back.
In a Big Rush In Hong Kong? Pick Up Visa At Border
I’ve been with friends and clients who are rushing to get to Mainland China for their factory visit. And soon, rushing in for our Cross Border Summit, Ha! So, if you are in a big rush – the visa agency can often have your passport held right at the Luo Ho border.
It’s on the second floor on the China side of the border. You can take the MTR right up to Lo Wu. Fill out your exit Hong Kong paper form. Many times, you will forget it in the passport, so take a new paper at the border to fill out. You then exit Hong Kong – without your passport! This is because the passport is on the China border side. Don’t worry, you’ll have special papers to show them.
Once you left Hong Kong side, you’ll be in what I joke as “purgatory” (between heaven and hell) and to enter China you will need to get your passport upstairs. Walk across the border (you’ll see the line) and then there is an escalator on the left side. There are teller booths and you will show them your papers the visa agency gave you. They’ll take the documents and give you a number.
Take a seat and normally within just a few minutes they will call your number. Pick it up, and voila – you can go back downstairs to cross into China. Make sure to fill out a yellow “China entry” card before getting in line, else they will make you go back to the end of the line later.
Awesome Tip: Some Passport Holders Can Apply At the China Border
In an even bigger rush? You can go to that 2nd floor office at Luo HO border without applying beforehand. You can fill out the paperwork and pay the fee and wait in the seating area until they process the visa.
This visa at the border service notes that it only works for within the Shenzhen city – if you want to take a train or plane to another city, you need to show the ticket booth and if you have this Shenzhen only visa, they won’t sell you a ticket.
Only applies to certain countries. And as everything with China and international business – things can change due to political tensions or friendliness.
I asked them if an American passport holder can apply at the border, and he simply shook his head no. Update – it is possible for US citizens now. Please check into the 5 Day visa on arrival.
Flying into China without a visa? There are China visa offices in airports, but safer to check beforehand. But the airlines are supposed to check your visa before they let you check into the flight, as they are liable to take care of you if you get rejected at the border.
Good Luck in Getting Your China Visa!
So, I hope today’s guide gave you the full understanding of getting a Chinese visa. Whether you apply at the Chinese embassy in your home country, or an agency, or fly to Hong Kong and process here – decide how long and how often you plan to come to China.
Maybe someday you won’t need a visa to enter China. And you may wonder why they even require it now? Many times, it’s because your home country makes Chinese citizens apply for a visa to enter your country – so the governments equalize the rules. It is a balancing act of political relations, and hopefully your country is at good terms with China for your business trip!
So how has your experience been at applying for a China visa? Easy? Headache? Now it’s your turn to share in the comments below. Let’s crowdsource some suggestions and ideas – I’ll be replying as best I can and updating the guide as we go.
We Can Help You Apply From Hong Kong!
Our Global From Asia agency division can help you apply from here in HK if you’d like. We can accept Paypal, Credit card, Bitcoin, whatever – to make it as smooth and easy for you as possible. We have a sales offer at China visa applicants here, and would love to work with you! No pressure, you may have an agency you found on a forum – this is a secondary service we like to offer our clients to be an all in one provider.
Learn about the 5 Day Shenzhen Visa on Arrival
Since making this post, there has been a more popular option – the Shenzhen 5 day visa on arrival – check out our blog post on it here
Get Started Now!
Planning your Hong Kong to China trip? It doesn’t hurt to get things straight before taking the trip! contact us and we’ll give you the current rates of the visa and how much time it will take. We’ll also give you some tips on which one is right for your situation, and answer any other questions you may have.
What are you waiting for! Let’s do this, and take the dive deep into China business!
Other Business Visa Agencies in Hong Kong
If we can’t find the right visa option for you – we will do our best to send you to various other China visa agents in Hong Kong or around the world.
Take the next step and fill out our China visa request form below