Any foreigner entering China is required to hold a valid Chinese visa. Chinese visas are almost never issued at the border; travelers should always make their visa arrangements in advance in their home country. Chinese visa policy is strictly enforced, and a penalty of RMB 500 per day is imposed for overstaying.
The following are the four classes of visa most frequently issued:
L Visa--Tourist visa. Issued for sightseeing, family visits or other private purposes.
F Visa--Issued to those coming to China to conduct business, give a lecture, to undertake research, to conduct short-term advanced studies or to intern for a period of up to 6 months. F visas are also issued to students coming for up to 6 months.
Z Visa--Allows the holder to work full-time in China or enter China as the accompanying family member of a Z visa holder. To obtain a Z visa, the applicant needs a visa notification issued by an approved employer, together with a work permit issued by the Labor Ministry or Foreign Expert Bureau.
X Visa--Student visa, issued to people coming to China to study for longer than 6 months. Applicants require a letter from their university.
Other visa types include transit visas, resident visas (for people permanently residing in China), and special visas issued to journalists, diplomats, flight crew members and tourist groups.
Visas: Recent Developments
In the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there has been a significant tightening of visa regulations. Applicants for tourist (L) visas are being encouraged to apply for visas from their home countries, rather than in Hong Kong, which has always been a popular 'gateway' point for China. The citizens of some countries (mainly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East) can no longer obtain visas in Hong Kong. Until July 1, 2008, citizens of other countries will still be able to apply for L visas in Hong Kong, but:
--Visas are for a period of 30 days only.
--Multiple-entry visas are generally not being issued.
--Applicants must show documentary proof of hotel bookings in China, together with round-trip air tickets or an onward itinerary out of China.
There will be a further tightening of rules after July 1, 2008.
Renewing or Changing Visas
The agency responsible for visa matters inside China is the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Applications to extend or renew visas should be made to the PSB. After July 1, 2008, it will no longer be possible to extend travel visas inside China. For information about extending or renewing other visa types, please inquire at the PSB. Changing visa types without leaving China is difficult and in the case of X visas it is never permitted: the holder of an X visa is required to leave the country and re-enter with a new visa.
There are businesses in China that offer visa agent services. They can assist with obtaining visas of various types and arranging difficult application processes. The best way of finding a reliable visa agent is through personal recommendation. You will also find advertisements for visa agents in "expat" magazines.