China isn’t exactly the most open country, though there has been significant progress in the past few years in easing all the bureaucratic friction. Just over a year ago, the Chinese government allowed a 72 hour “mini-visa” allowance for “transit” travellers passing through by air in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. This is great for those looking to do some exploring during a layover, and I highly recommend it. Other than that 72-hour transit visa, you will need to sort out your visa (or visa exemption) before you get to China.

Note: Hong Kong does not have these kinds of restrictions. Most people from western countries can go to Hong Kong without any sort of visa and stay for up to 90 days.

APEC Travel Business Card: Enter Visa Free

airport
If you are a citizen of a country that is part of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) you are eligible to sign up for a APEC travel business card (ATBC), which allows you to enter China (or any other APEC country) visa-free, and stay up to 60-90 days! You also get expedited entry at immigration when you arrive at the airport.

APEC participating countries include:

Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and just recently Russia. Canada and the United States are transitional members of APEC and will soon be able to issue the ATBC cards to their citizens.

Now, to get one of these APEC travel business cards, you need to be part of an established business, typically one that is registered with your country’s chamber of commerce. Other requirements include:

  • Demonstration of frequent business trips to APEC countries, at least 4 times every year.
  • Be a senior business person (CFO, CEO, etc) or be an employee nominated by a senior business person.
  • Be employed by a registered business entity.
  • Be employed by a business involved with international investment or trade with other APEC economies.
  • Be authorized for work in your country of residence.
  • Have no prior criminal convictions.

If you meet these requirements you should probably apply. Most countries in APEC require a visa obtained in advance. This costs time and money. With an ATBC you can just hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to check out a business opportunity in a different country, hammer out an important deal, or sort out some emergency situation at the factory immediately. Definitely check it out. Here’s the link for the ATBC application in Australia Immigration.

Visas

For those of us who are just starting a business, you probably do not qualify for a ATBC (but definitely check first!). So you will need to apply for a visa at a Chinese Consulate or Embassy (usually any major city of your country will have one).

You can try to get a business visa, but the amount of bureaucratic friction involved is said to be too much of a hassle. It is best to actually just go and get a tourist visa. Even though you are not technically allowed to be employed under such a visa, it is not really a rule that is enforced. Many people who are employed as English teachers in China first arrive under a tourist visa. If required, a more legitimate visa for employment can be ironed out after you have arrived.

Here’s the breakdown of the types and prices of Visas at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia:

Types Australian Citizens American Citizens Citizens of Other Countries
Single-Entry with 3-month Validity AUD 60 AUD 169 AUD 50
Double-Entry with 6-month Validity AUD 90 AUD 169 AUD 75
Multi-Entry with 6-month Validity AUD 120 AUD 169 AUD 100
Multi-Entry with 12-month Validity AUD 180 AUD 169 AUD 150

IMPORTANT: No matter how long your tourist visa is valid, you are only allowed to stay within China for 60 days at a time. This means you will need to leave and re-enter China if you wished to stay longer. This can be by air or overland. If you are in Shenzhen, you can easily take a short train ride into Hong Kong to do you re-entry. Guangzhou is about 2 hours by bus to Hong Kong, and costs maybe 12$ US one way.

ALSO IMPORTANT: The visa validity date typically starts once your visa application in approved, so don’t go and get your visa too far in advance, otherwise it will expire earlier than you require.

Multi-Entry:  This means that you can leave and re-enter China as many times as you would like.

Obviously if you are serious about living, working, or starting a business in China, you will want to get the longest duration of visa. The difference in cost is very little, and you will save yourself the headache of having to go apply for another visa.

Another tip: Go apply for your China visa in different country. It’s usually cheaper in less developed countries. For instance, in Thailand:

China Visa Fees (in Thailand): Prices in Thai Baht (1 USD ~ 30 Thai Baht)

Types Thai Citizens American Citizens Citizens of Other Countries
Single-Entry with 3-month Validity THB 1000 THB 4560 THB 1100
Double-Entry with 6-month Validity THB 2000 THB 4560 THB 1650
Multi-Entry with 6-month Validity THB 3000 THB 4560 THB 2200
Multi-Entry with 12-month Validity THB 4500 THB 4560 THB 3300

So Americans will pay roughly 138$ for a China visa applied in Thailand, which is about 30$ cheaper than in Sydney. If you are already in Thailand, or want to make a small holiday detour, you can save a little money on your visa by applying in Thailand.

Visa Application Process

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
You will need to go the Chinese consulate with:

  • Passport photo
  • Application form
  • Proof of transit in and out of China (return tickets)
  • Photocopies of your main ID page in your passport
  • Photocopies of any previous Chinese Visas in your passport
  • Proof of a hotel reservation
  • Proof of Legal stay in country of application (i.e If you are applying in Thailand and are not a Thai citizen, you need proof of a visa or resident status)

Usually the application process will take 4 working days. Express services are available for a fee.

You need to be very careful when applying for your visa in China. Do not mention any hint of working or living or business in China. You are there strictly as a tourist, initially.

Conclusions

If you are interested in China, you should definitely get your 1 year tourist visa, or APEC travel business card if you are eligible. You will have to re-enter China every 60 days but this is usually not very difficult or expensive (especially if you are located near Hong Kong). A better visa can be obtained in the future, but if you are just starting out and looking to get your feet wet, the 1 year tourist visa is the way to go!

Also make sure you sign up for a VPN before you go to China if you want to use Facebook, Google, and Youtube!

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