Chinese customs generally pay tourists little attention. There are clearly marked green channels and red channels. Importation of fresh fruit or cold cuts is prohibited. Pirated DVDs and CDs are illegal exports from China as well as illegal imports into most other countries. If they are found they will be confiscated.
Objects considered to be antiques require a certificate and a red seal to clear customs when leaving China. Anything made before 1949 is considered an antique, and if it was made before 1795 it cannot legally be taken out of the country.
- 400 cigarettes (or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco)
- 1.5L of alcoholic beverages
- 50g of gold or silver
- ¥20,000 in Chinese currency; there are no restrictions on foreign currency but declare any cash that exceeds US$5000 or its equivalent in another currency.
Needed for all visits to Shànghǎi except transits of up to 144 hours.
Residence permits can be issued to English teachers, businesspeople, students and other foreigners who are authorised to live in the PRC. They range from one to five years – depending on certain criteria the applicant must be able to meet – and allow unlimited exits and re-entries. In addition to this, as of July 2015, high-earning foreigners who have lived in Shànghǎi for four straight years and have paid their taxes will be eligible for permanent residence permits (previously only open to top-level business executives or professors). International students who graduate from a Chinese university are now eligible to apply for a residence permit valid for two years.
To get a residence permit you first need to arrange a work permit (normally obtained by your employer), health certificate and temporary visa ('Z' type visa for most foreign employees). If your employer is organised, you can arrange all of this before you arrive in Shànghǎi.
You then go to the Public Security Bureau with your passport, health certificate, work contract or 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 local PSB where you are registered, passport photos, a letter of application from your employer and around ¥400 for a one-year permit. In all, the process usually takes two to three weeks. Expect to make several visits and always carry multiple copies of every document. In most cases, your employer will take care of much of the process for you.
Shanghai Visa-Free Transit
Citizens from a number of countries including the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden and France can transit through Shànghǎi via Pǔdōng International Airport and Hóngqiáo International Airport for up to 144 hours without a visa as long as they have visas for their onward countries and proof of seats booked on flights out of China. Your departure point and destination should not be in the same country. Note also that you are not allowed to visit other cities in China during your transit.
Travel in China
Most of China is accessible on a standard Chinese visa. A small number of restricted areas in China require an additional permit from the PSB. In particular, permits are required for travel to Tibet, a region that the authorities can suddenly bar foreigners from entering.
Extensions of 30 days are given for any tourist visa. You may be able to wrangle 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 ¥160 for most nationalities and ¥940 for Americans (reciprocity for increased US visa fees). The fine for overstaying your visa is up to ¥500 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 Public Security Bureau and can be completed online.
Common Visa Categories
The most common categories of ordinary visas are as follows:
business or student (less than 6 months)
journalist (more than 6 months)
journalist (less than 6 months)
commercial & trade
family visit (more than 6 months)
family visit (less than 6 months)
visit to foreign relatives/private (more than 6 months)
visit to foreign relatives/private (less than 6 months)
student (more than 6 months)
student (less than 6 months)
For residents of most countries, a visa is required for visits to the People’s Republic of China, although 144-hour visa-free transit in Shànghǎi (and Běijīng, plus five other cities with international airports) is available.
Visas are easily obtainable from Chinese embassies, consulates or Chinese Visa Application Service Centres abroad. Getting a visa in Hong Kong is also an option. Most tourists are issued with a single-entry visa for a 30-day stay, valid for three months from the date of issue. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa (nine months for a double-entry visa) and you’ll need at least two entire blank pages in your passport for the visa. For children under the age of 18, a parent must sign the application form on their behalf.
The visa application process has become more rigorous and applicants are required to provide the following:
- A copy of your flight confirmation showing onward/return travel.
- For double-entry visas, flight confirmation showing all dates of entry and exit.
- If staying at a hotel in China, confirmation from the hotel (this can be cancelled later if you stay elsewhere).
- If staying with friends or relatives, a copy of the information page of their passport, a copy of their China visa and a letter of invitation from them.
Prices for a standard single-entry 30-day visa (not including Chinese Visa Application Service Centre administration fees):
- £85 for UK citizens
- US$140 for US citizens
- US$30 (approximately) for all other nationals
In many countries, the visa service has been outsourced from the Chinese embassy to a Chinese Visa Application Service Centre (www.visaforchina.org), which levies an extra administration fee.
When asked about your itinerary on the application form, if you are planning on travelling from Shànghǎi, list standard tourist destinations. Many travellers planning trips to Tibet or western Xīnjiāng leave them off the form as the list is nonbinding, but their inclusion may raise eyebrows; those working in media or journalism often profess a different occupation to avoid having their visa refused or being given a shorter length of stay than requested.
A growing number of visa-arranging agents can do the legwork and deliver your visa-complete passport to you. In the US, many people use the China Visa Service Center, which offers prompt service. The procedure takes around 10 to 14 days. CIBT (www.uk.cibt.com) offers a global network and a fast and efficient turnaround.
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-day, 90-day, six-month and 12-month multiple-entry visas are also available. 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 or Macau and then to Shànghǎi, you will need a double-entry visa to get ‘back’ into China from Hong Kong or Macau, or you will need to reapply for a fresh visa in Hong Kong.