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Practicalities/FAQ for Work in China

What documents do I need to work legally in China?

In order to engage in paid work in China, foreigners need to be issued a Work Permit (obtained by the employer in China). The Work Permit enables you to apply for a Z visa (“work visa”) at a Chinese consulate in your home country. The Z visa allows you to enter China for employment purposes, but is valid for only 30 days. Within this 30-day period, you and your employer will need to apply first for a Foreign Expert Certificate (FEC), and then for a Residence Permit. The Foreign Expert Certificate looks like a passport booklet and gives you the legal right to work in China. The Residence Permit is pasted in your passport like a visa, and gives you the right to reside in China for a fixed long-term period.

The Z visa is the only visa that allows foreigners to legally enter China for work, and the Foreign Expert Certificate and Residence Permit are necessary for legal employment after the first 30 days. The common practice of working on tourist, exchange, student, and business (L, F, X, M) visas is illegal and potentially risky. Applying for a Z visa outside of your country of citizenship may not be possible.

Am I eligible for a work permit and Z visa to work in China?

The official minimum requirements for prospective foreign language teachers are

  • a Bachelor’s degree
  • at least two years of teaching experience
  • age 18-60 (males) and 18-55 (females)
  • no criminal record (technically required everywhere, but only verified in some jurisdictions—see below).

For other (non-language-teaching) professions, the experience requirement is five years in your field. The other requirements are the same as for teachers. These requirements are sometimes treated as guidelines rather than as inflexible rules, and different cities and provinces have different policies on enforcing them. The employment procedures for different areas change frequently and are not always public record, so it is unclear exactly what is required where. See the State Administration of Foreign Experts’ Affairs (SAFEA): Provisions of Foreign Expert Work Permit Application for more information.

How do I apply for a work permit and Z visa? What documents do I need to prepare beforehand?

Your employer in China will apply for the Work Permit on your behalf before you enter the country. To do so, they will need a resume, a copy of your degree, and possibly other documentation of your qualifications or professional experience. Some cities/provinces require a Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC). The exact requirements for the CNCC vary between different locations, with some asking for a national background check authenticated by a Chinese consulate, and others accepting local background checks.

You apply for the Z visa in person or through an agent at a Chinese consulate in your home country, after your employer has provided you with a Work Permit and a visa notice/invitation letter. To apply, you need to bring the following:

  • the visa notice and Work Permit provided by your employer
  • your passport (must be valid for at least six months)
  • a filled-out Visa Application Form
  • payment of $30 ($140 for U.S. citizens)

See Z visa instructions from the Chinese Consulate in the U.S., or the website of your local Chinese consulate, for more information.

How do I apply for a Foreign Expert Certificate and Residence Permit?

After entering China on a Z visa, you need to obtain a Foreign Expert Certificate, and then a Residence Permit, within 30 days. Your employer should take care of the process of applying for the Foreign Expert Certificate. To apply for a Residence Permit, you will need your valid passport and Z visa, two 2-inch passport-style photos, a completed “Application Form for Residence Permit” (provided by your employer) and to pass a health check at an authorized medical facility (in China). In most cases, your employer will assist you with the process.

Note that you need to register as a resident with the local PSB (police) within 24 hours of moving in to your place of residence in China.

How do I renew my employment documents? Can I change employers?

If you renew your contract with the same employer in China, they can generally renew your Residence Permit and Foreign Expert Certificate without hassle, provided they start the process well in advance of the expiration date. If you sign a contract with a new employer, you can renew your Residence Permit under their sponsorship and avoid the need to leave the country and apply for another work permit and Z visa. To do this, you need to get a “release letter” from your current employer before your Residence Permit expires. Employers may choose not to provide a release letter, so renewing a Residence Permit for a new job is not always possible.

Will my salary in China be subject to Chinese taxes?

China has a graduated income tax, and employers are required to pay taxes on their foreign employees’ salaries. In most cases, foreign employees receive their salaries with the tax amount deducted, and should be provided with a tax receipt. See the website of the State Administration of taxation of the People’s Republic of China for details about tax amounts, tax treaties, and who is exempt from taxation. Salaries quoted in job offers may represent either before-tax or after-tax amounts, and you should clarify this before accepting a job or signing a contract.

May I engage in freelance work or take a second job?

Engaging in work outside of your first job requires written permission from your employer to be legal. Many employment contracts for foreigners in China include clauses that prohibit other paid work.

What calendar schedule do schools and universities in China follow?

The Chinese school year begins on September 1st and consists of two semesters. The second semester begins after the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, which falls in late January or February during the winter break (three weeks or one month), and ends in early July.

How can I avoid scams and deceptive job offers?

Do not send any money up front for a job offer! Your employer is responsible for any costs related to getting your Work Permit (though you will usually have to pay your Z visa fee). Legitimate placement agencies, recruiters, and employers will never ask you to pay for a job opportunity in China.

The vast majority of bad employment situations for foreigners in China result from entering the country for work illegally (i.e. without a Z visa). Foreigners working without proper documents in China are not only potentially subject to fines and other legal consequences, but have no recourse against abuses by employers. In general, responsible employers with legal authorization to hire you will not ask you to arrive and start work without a Z visa.

In addition to a Z visa, you should have a contract from your employer in-hand that spells out the conditions of your employment before you depart for China.

Chinese public holidays:
  • Jan. 1-3 (3 days) – New Year’s Day (International)
  • Feb. 18-24, 2015 (7 days) – Spring Festival/Chinese New Year Golden Week (date is based on lunar calendar and falls between Jan. 21 – Feb. 20, during three or four-week break for schools)
  • April 4 or 5 – Qingming Festival/Tomb-Sweeping Day
  • May 1 – May Day
  • June 20, 2015 – Dragon Boat Festival (date is based on lunar calendar and falls in June).
  • Sep. 27, 2015 – Moon Festival/Mid-Autumn Festival (date is based on lunar calendar and falls in September or early October).
  • Oct. 1-7 (7 days) – National Day Golden Week.