For everyone apart from citizens of Japan, Singapore and Brunei, a visa is required for visits to the People’s Republic of China. Visas are easily obtainable from Chinese embassies and consulates. Most tourists are issued with a single-entry visa for a 30-day stay, valid for three months from the date of issue. Getting a visa in Hong Kong is also an option.
The Chinese government requires that your passport be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa. You’ll need at least one entire blank page in your passport for the visa.
On the visa application you must identify an itinerary and entry and exit dates and points, though nobody will hold you to them once you’re in the country. Two passport-sized photos of the applicant are required.
Processing times and fees depend on where you’re applying; in the UK visas cost £25 and are issued in three days. In the US single-entry visas cost US$30, double-entry visas are US$40.
Normally visas take three working days to be processed. Express services cost twice the normal fee. Fees are normally paid in cash either at the time of application or when you collect your passport. With China becoming increasingly popular as a travel and business destination, queues at Chinese embassies and consulates are getting longer. A growing number of visa-arranging agents can do the legwork and deliver your visa-complete passport to you.
A 30-day visa is activated on the date you enter China, and must be used within three months of the date of issue. Longer-stay visas are also activated upon entry into China. Officials in China are sometimes confused over the validity of the visa and look at the ‘valid until’ date. On most 30-day visas, however, this is actually the date by which you must have entered the country, not left.
Although a 30-day length of stay is standard for tourist visas, 60- and 90-day visas are generally also available. On request, you can receive a double-entry or multiple-entry travel visa. If you have trouble getting more than 30 days or a multiple-entry visa, try a local visa-arranging service or a travel agency in Hong Kong.
Note that if you go to China, on to Hong Kong and then to Shànghǎi, you will need a double-entry visa to get ‘back’ into China from Hong Kong or you will need to reapply for a fresh visa in Hong Kong.
A business visa is multiple-entry and valid for three to six months from the date of issue, depending on how much you paid for it.
When you check into a hotel, there is usually a question on the registration form asking what type of visa you have. The letter specifying your visa category is usually stamped on the visa itself.
Extensions of 30 days are given for any tourist visa. You may be able to wangle more with reasons such as illness or transport delays, but second extensions are usually only granted for a week, on the understanding that you are leaving. Visa extensions take three days and cost Y100 for Australians, Y160 for British and French, and Y125 for Americans. The fine for overstaying your visa is up to Y300 per day.
To extend a business visa, you need a letter from a Chinese work unit willing to sponsor you. If you’re studying in China, your school can sponsor you for a visa extension.
Visa extensions in Shànghǎi are available from the PSB (Gōng’ānjú; 6854 1199 or 2895 1900; 1500 Minsheng Rd; 1500; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat).
The ‘green card’ is a residence permit issued to English teachers, businesspeople, students and other foreigners who are authorised to live in the PRC. Green cards are issued for a period of one year.
To get a residence permit you first need to arrange a work permit (normally obtained by your employer), health certificate and temporary ‘Z’ visa. If your employer is switched on you can arrange all of this before you arrive in Shànghǎi.
You then go to the PSB with your passport, health certificate, work permit, your employer’s business registration licence or representative office permit, your employment certificate (from the Shanghai Labour Bureau), the temporary residence permit of the hotel or local PSB where you are registered, passport photos (about ten), a letter of application from your employer and around Y400 in RMB. In all, the process usually takes from two to four weeks. Expect to make several visits and always carry multiple copies of every document. Each member of your family needs a residence permit and visa. In most cases your employer will take care of much of the process for you.