A cumbersome process
As a world traveler on my second passport in ten years, I’ve had my share of visas, work permits and residency permits in various countries. But no process was more cumbersome than attaining my myriad Chinese visas. Probably, because of all the countries I’ve been to, these visas are the ones I applied for myself. Seeing the inner workings of the Chinese government gave me new insight to the entire process. As a business woman, I’ve learned some very eye-opening things about the nuances and slight differences between the visas that are suitable for conducting business abroad.
For starters, China is one of the few countries where you MUST have a visa to enter, even if you are just passing through. Of the eight types of visa offerings, most business people will only be concerned with two: Business Visa (F Visa) and Work Visa (Z Visa). While the consulate websites offer detailed information on how to apply for each visa type, the government websites leave out experiential information that elucidate many of the hard-to-answer questions.
What I discovered
Here’s what the Houston Chinese Consulate says about each of the business related visas:
- Business Visa (F Visa) is issued to a foreign citizen who is invited to China for a visit, research, lecture, business, exchanges in the fields of science, technology or culture, advanced study, or internship for a period of no more than 6 months.
- Work Visa (Z Visa) is issued to a foreign citizen who comes to China for the purpose of commercial performances or academic exchanges, and to his/her accompanying spouse and minor children.*
But there’s more that determines eligibility and likelihood of attaining each of these visas.
1. Education Matters
In order to qualify for the Z Visa, one must have at least a bachelors degree and 2 years work experience. In times when a candidate lacks either one of these, an F Visa is given. In these cases, contract terms should be explicitly outlined to protect the foreign employee from any legal issues surrounding payment terms.
2. Desired Outcomes Matter
If the primary goal is gainful employment and a salary, then by law, a Z Visa is needed. As an international lawyer friend pointed out, one can “earn” money on an F Visa, but it must be outlined as a one time fee, commission or other payment structure.
3. Relationships Matter
A strong relationship to a company is beneficial in obtaining a business visa as a letter of invitation is required. On the other hand, one must secure a work permit from a Chinese employer in order to apply for a Z Visa.
How you can be prepared
I’m preparing for another trip to China later this year and had a chance to chat with a foreign business owner in Shanghai. As we traded success and horror stories of getting our visas, we agreed that preparing with enough lead in time was crucial.
In addition, I urge business travelers to reach out to other international road warriors for tips, tricks and advice. While the visa process is designed to be uniform, not every application is the same. There are various forums and companies that offer support, answers and visa preparation services. Lastly, determine and outline the specifics of your trip. From the delineations above, it’s beneficial to know the purpose and desired outcome of you trip overseas. This will help you narrow down the type of visa you need.
*For more information on Chinese visas, visit the consulate online or in person in your city.