HOW TO: Chinese work permit and residency visa


First we started a Chinese company, then we got a bank account and import export permit. The last major thing is a work permit and residency visa.

Americans, Canadians, and soon Australians, all get an automatic 10 year multiple entry visas for China. It’s quite common for foreigners to post up in China for years on a business or tourist visa.

In practice China seems quite happy to have creative professional foreigners on extended stays. As long as you have a valid visa, don’t over stay, and don’t do something stupid like teach English without a work permit, things are fine. We’ve never heard of anyone being turned away at the border for extended stays.

All that could soon be a thing of the past though, thanks to one of China’s classic pragmatic solutions. A PCB factory once told us that the city government wanted them to move to a new industrial park. Rather than use eminent domain or zoning changes, the city increased the price of water in their neighborhood and offered free water at the industrial park. They moved happily.

Recent developments in the visa situation seem similar. Last year the immigration department linked databases with the tax office. Rather than set confusing 90 days in/out rules like Europe, we can only assume China is preparing to send a tax bill to foreigners who stay long enough under dual taxation treaties. The problem solves itself.

While there’s a gray area for foreigners doing extended business in China, a work permit and residency permit are mandatory to run a Chinese company. Standard agent fee is 5000RMB ($900USD). Everyone said it should take a month, our crap agent took almost 4 months – but gave us a generous 100RMB ($16USD) discount. As with the import export license, we just handed over the main company licenses and stamps to get started.

The final chapter of this harrowing experience follows below.

Employment licensework-permit

The employment license certificate is the first step. Fill out a simple online application with name and passport number, pick up the license the next day. Our agent took two weeks to get it done.

Health checkhealth-check

China can be a bit rough, and immigration wants to make sure you don’t show up with tuberculosis or another debilitating problem that loads the medical system.

Health checks are done at a dedicated clinic with brand new European and Japanese medical equipment. In a whirlwind of efficiency, we walked down a single hallway to get a chest x ray, heart rhythm check, ultrasound of every major organ, and a full urine and blood workup. All in about 15 minutes! While the equipment was new and shiny, it isn’t clear how well the results were read.

Total cost was 200RMB ($33USD), but we paid another 400RMB ($66USD) to get the report the next day instead of next week.

Photo receipt


As with most visas we needed to include a photo. The photographer has to submit the image to a government website for verification, so be sure to get proof of that.

Employment permit


This little passport book is the employment permit, it is separate and distinct from the employment license. Evidently it has to be updated at the employment office every year, by hand, in pen. A photo is simply stapled to one page. Not exactly forgery proof.

Invitation from authorized unit


Most nationals can get a single or dual entry Chinese visa with a stamped letter from a company. For some, and for longer term visas, a special invitation letter from an “authorized unit” is required.

This is an official invitation stamped by the government. The company applies to the Shenzhen government, the government researches the company and individual, then issues the official invitation. This takes a couple weeks and it’s not cheap, but the actual cost is hidden in our agent fees so we can’t tell you the exact amount.

Join the visa train


In the first post we highly recommend a second passport for anyone attempting a Chinese company. Your passport will be gone for months at a time, and likely you will still need to travel (even if only to leave China on a visa run).

Even with the second passport, here is the series of steps we took to get the residency permit.

Business visa


This is a 10 year business visa, now available to Americans, Canadians, and soon, Australians. We used Sunshine Travel Agency on the 41st floor of the China Services Building in Hong Kong. Drop off before 10am and pick up same day after 5pm. 5000HKD ($700USD) in total, sure beats standing in line downstairs.

Note to anyone reading this: do not assume you can get a visa in Hong Kong. Most people cannot. Until very recently Americans could not. Even if you can, the agency wants a BRAND NEW PASSPORT or warns it will be rejected by the Chinese embassy. Remember, you MUST enter Hong Kong on the passport that needs a visa and submit the “landing slip” from immigration.

Work visa


Submit the employment license, authorized unit invitation letter, and a visa application form to the consulate in your home country. Despite what know-nothing sleazebag agents say, most (western nationals…) don’t need to appear in person. This means you can FedEx your second passport and application to an agency, then travel Malaysia and Thailand for a week while it’s processed and returned.

We FedEx’d it from Hong Kong, spent a few days in South East Asia, then for purely unrelated reasons went to the US. The agency, China Visa Service Center, was way more responsive than our old processor. They actually managed to divert the visa to us in Seattle on a 24 hour layover, saving an extra night in Hong Kong. Total cost for rush service and shipping was around $600USD.

Work visa is good for a single entry, unlimited stay. However, you have to apply for the residency permit within 30 days.

Residency permit


Disappointingly, the residency permit is not a green card (or pink card). It’s just another visa in the passport. Show up to the police station and turn over the passport and a short application form.

The officer asked three questions: What is your name? Where have you been in China? Have you worked in China before? It’s different for everyone, but contrary to what every scumbag agent told us ad nauseam, nobody asked for a bribe or made it difficult. It was simple and easy.

Pickup was about 10 days later. We had to pay a 400RMB ($66USD) fee that had already been included in the agent fees. Agents suck.

Register address


Finally, register your home address and residency permit with the local police station. Everyone is required to do this within 24 hours in China, if you stay in a hotel they do it for you. In practice the police in Shenzhen will openly tell you not to bother unless you want to buy a house, a car, or get a driver’s license*.

Registration is simple, but frustrating because nobody seems to know how to do it. The first time they gave up and let us sit at the computer to fill in our own info. Be sure to take a bunch of copies of your passport, visa, entry stamp, and possibly a photo, just to make things faster. If you want to make your Chinese name official, register it now (we found out later).

The real deal. Documented here

That’s “it”. Dangerous Prototypes INC is a functioning Chinese company with all the legit paperwork and permits. It took a year and we almost gave up a dozen times, but we made it out the other side alive.

Watch out for phonies! Always get a copy of a sourcing agent’s import export license, and verify the company online. Comments on our previous post make it clear that gray market sourcing agents in China are effecting the larger open hardware industry.

A future post titled “Shenzhen as Hollywood for Makers…but not always in a good way” has some pointed thoughts on this trend. There’s an analogy of which we’re quite fond that includes turning tricks in the alley for drugs…


Residency positions us well for the new three year permanent residency permit offered to high tech and skilled “foreign experts”. While permanent residency in China isn’t an immediate goal, a Chinese ID is the key to using eChannel immigration lanes and train ticket vending machines.


*Next time we get a Chinese driver’s license! Without cheating!

Join the Conversation


  1. There’s a lot of interest in that. I will post about it once I know more. A local journalist said this kind of stuff happens a lot and you have to wait and see what actually happens. A lot of these things are mentioned or debated in the Chinese government but never implemented. Even if the federal government sends down rules, you have to see if the big cities will implement them. Shenzhen has huge autonomy.

    What I understand so far is that It simply doesn’t apply to us in any way.

    We are a Chinese company. Not a joint venture or foreign partnered company.

    The Chinese, hong Kong, and American companies don’t have a server inside china, so this wouldn’t really apply.

    The Chinese company doesn’t publish anything.

    You’ve always needed an ICP and or publishing license in china, and they only give them to Chinese individuals. until this year that meant a Chinese citizen, a wfoe couldn’t get one. They actually relaxed that policy.

    Yes, we are applying for an ICP internet permit so we can have a server in china. Because I like to apply for things. If there is a blogger permit (which is NOT what is proposed) I will get one for the Chinese company because we plan to operate in the Chinese market starting next year.

    I want to make cool stuff. China is a good place to do that. If that’s no longer comfortable or possible to do then of course I have the luxury to leave. Given the vast firehose of cash china is pointing at innovation I don’t feel particularly concerned about this. Having worked with china for almost a decade I have even less concern.

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