Despite regulations have relaxed during recent years, getting a permit to enter and stay in China can be a tricky road.
In this country, a visa is not only meant to enter, exit or transit, but to control the interior flow of people, as there are many interior restrictions such as the Tibet or the Uyghur Autonomous Regions, territories for which you’ll need a special permit besides the regular visa.
Visa issuing is usually done in the country of origin of the applicant, and subject to a final approval by the immigrations officer at the time of actual entry, in the form of a stamp, one for the entrance, another when leaving. So even if you get a visa, you still need the entry stamp. In the picture below, exit stamp for China (left, in red), and entrance stamp for Macao (blue), with the allowed stay:
And in the picture below, the stamps for China: up, and from left to right, entry stamps for Jizhou Port (九洲港), and Gongbei Port (拱北口岸); below, exit stamps for the same ports.
Up next, some explanation on the theory of what it should be to get a Chinese visa:
Visa types and entries
First of all you will apply for a visa type. This will tell the customs officer what’s the purpose of your visit. It also limits what can you do in the country. For example, a tourist visa implies you are in the country for visiting purposes and that you cannot have a job under that permit. They are dead serious with this.
There are four basic types, so unless you are a diplomat, journalist or a socialite, you’ll apply for one on the ordinary category, tourist (L), business (F or M), Work (Z), or Study (X). Here I will take a closer look to the tourist and business visas, as they are the most common and easy to get:
- Tourist (L visa):
For no other purposes than get around and take pictures. Usually valid for one entrance only:
- Business, non-commerce (F visa):
For business purposes (duh). Besides allowing you to do these “business activities”, you are allowed also to conduct meetings, even internships, for a period no longer than 6 months. Here’s a double entry, allowing you to get in and out of China two times. Note the marks made by the customs agent for each entrance:
And here below, a multiple-entry (note the M after the tag “Entry”). If you’re living in Beijing, Shanghai or other cities in the inner China and no intentions of having a trip outside the country, there’s no need to fight for this one. But if you are living in a city near Hong Kong or Macao, you NEED this one. It would be unforgivable to pass the opportunity to take a stroll in Hong Kong or Macau… every weekend..!
This one also has the total time for which you’re allowed to stay (valid until).
Depending on the purpose of your visit, your allowed stance period will vary. For example, the business and the tourist visa can be issued for the same period (let’s say 1 month), but whilst with the business visa you can have meetings and business-related stuff, you can’t do so with a tourist visa.
But take into account one of the many shapes of the Chinese bureaucracy: despite what they say in the official website, embassy or consulate, the stance period and visa type depends largely on their will, as well as the international relations of your country with China. For example, a business visa can be issued for 6 months long, but they usually do it for 2 months only.
In addition, China uses the visa issuance as ‘punishment’ system. When France received the Dalai Lama with full honors, out of the blue all French citizens asking for a Chinese visa saw all their paperwork slowed down and many permits were just denied.
If you need more options than those your embassy is giving to you, in Hong Kong there’s several visa agencies. They take care of your visa application for a fee I can only recommend one which I used personally and I can make sure they are professionals. For the rest, be careful, sometimes they use your passport to buy on your behalf cars and flats, etc. We will get back later on this and why they can do so.
What they do is take your passport and cross the border back to the mainland. If you see in the pictures above, despite the agency is based on Hong Kong, the “issue place” in the visa is from Shenzhen or other places where the people at the agency have “guanxi” or connections. Visa issuing is a lucrative business and Chinese officials have their piece… So well, they cross the border, get the visa pasted on your passport (the time you will have to wait may vary; usually one-day issuance, if available, comes with an express charge) and come back to Hong Kong to deliver all the passports back to the agency. Be sure to carry your own passport pictures (blue background, etc) or they’ll surely charge an extra for them.
If you are concerned about scams on fake visa agencies, you can play it safe and go to the Chinese Embassy in Hong Kong, and apply as everybody else through official channels, but the time you’ll spend waiting and the papers they will ask for are discouraging enough to not to do so.
Regarding these scams, they basically consist in identity theft: when your passport gets back to China, they will use it to buy some properties, endorse agreements and contracts, and whatever they need. So if you are not careful enough, in your next tax payment you will be surprised with real estate at your name overseas…
You may also like:
- That time when I got a working visa (Z)