How to apply for a Chinese work (Z) visa

It’s like driving Tianmen Mountain Road in Zhangjiajie (China News Service)

Having almost completed the steps to obtain a Chinese work visa, I decided I would share the ordeal journey, so that others will have an easier time.

I made mistakes along the way. Perhaps more careful applicants would not have, but in my defense I found the instructions scattered across several websites to be needlessly confusing and/or incomplete. This explanation will as clear and complete as I can make it. Comments and corrections are welcome.

China has made it more difficult to get a work visa (also known as a Z visa) than before. Elaborately authenticated documentation, which takes both time and money to obtain, is required before you can even apply for the Z visa. In my case, it took three months and $570 just to get the preliminary documentation ready. So, if you are considering work as a foreign English teacher in China (or any other country, for that matter), be aware that most employers will not reimburse any expenses to obtain the visa. They come out of your pocket.

It is possible to use a visa agency for all or most of the required steps, but those services are expensive. It’s better to do the preliminary legwork yourself, and then if you have to, use the visa agency to deliver the documents to the Chinese consulate for the final (and very necessary) authentication. If you happen to live near one of the Chinese consular offices in the USA (see list below), you can even skip the visa agency and deliver the documents yourself. But, visa agencies are experts, and they can check your documents before submitting them for errors or possible problems. The expense may save you a lot of headaches.

Of course, your first step is to find a job in China. Fortunately, that is still pretty easy, because Chinese schools are desperate for foreign teachers. In most cases, all an employer will require is a bachelor’s degree, a clean bill of health, and no criminal record. Often, certification as an ESL/EFL teacher is not necessary, but it may help in getting better pay or better positions. Also, employers will pay master’s and doctoral degree holders more.

There are several ESL job boards, but I have used Dave’s ESL Café with great success. You can start there.

Make sure the employer will sponsor a work visa (Z visa) before you accept a job offer. It is illegal to work as a foreign teacher in China on a student, business or tourist visa. Do not accept a job from an employer who says they can get you a Z visa after you arrive. It cannot be done. All Z visa applications must be done in your home country.


Assuming you have found a job in China as a teacher, and may have already signed a contract, here are the basic documents you will need for the work visa.

  1. A verified diploma or copy of a diploma from a college or university,
  2. A verified report reflecting no criminal activity,
  3. A verified medical exam, using a form provided by the employer,
  4. A preliminary work permit from your employer in China, who will sponsor your Z visa and residency,
  5. One passport-quality photograph of your charming visage,
  6. The $140 application fee, and
  7. Your passport.

Make sure the expiration date on your passport is more than six months away. You must either submit the visa application in person or hire an agent to do it for you. Walk-in service is available; no appointment necessary. Application by mail, fax or Internet is not possible. Regular service takes four days. Express service for $160 takes two to three days. One-day “rush” service costs $170, but is only available for dire emergencies. Cash and personal checks are not accepted; payment by Visa or Mastercard, money order, cashier’s check or company check only.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 require multiple levels of verification before the employer can provide the preliminary work permit. That’s the most time-consuming part. I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a look at the Chinese consular offices and their jurisdictions. I’ve included links to each of their visa application webpages.

China has five consular offices in the USA

The Embassy in Washington, DC: Washington, DC, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming
Consulate in New York City: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont
Consulate in Chicago: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin
Consulate in Houston: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico (I checked), Texas
Consulate in Los Angeles: Arizona, Southern California, Hawai’i, New Mexico, Pacific Islands
Consulate in San Francisco: Alaska, Northern California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington

The consulates also provide the final authentication service for Steps 1, 2 and 3. As with the visa, someone must deliver in the documents in person. You can’t mail them in.

Authentication or legalization is similar to the apostille process to work in the EU or any nation party to the Hague Apostille Convention. A legal document from one country must be authenticated for use in another, beginning at the local level, then county, then state or provincial, then federal, and finally at the Chinese consulate.

To make matters worse, the embassy of China has slightly different authentication requirements than the consulates do, and each document must be sent to the consular office that has jurisdiction over the origin of the document.

In other words, if you live in Illinois but graduated from a college in New Jersey, you can get your medical exam and no-criminal activity report authenticated in Chicago, but the diploma has to be hand-delivered to the consulate in New York. So, you can see where this can get confusing — and expensive.

Note that most if not all colleges and universities are happy to verify your diploma and notarize it free of charge. You can speed up the process by sending them a 8½ x 11″ color copy of your original diploma to verify. The consulates will not accept diplomas larger than 8½ x 11″.

For the medical form, ask your doctor if someone in the office has a notary commission. Most do. The notary signature is the first step, so it’s important to get it done right.

For the criminal record report, you can visit your local police station, state police post, or county court, but again a notarized signature is necessary. You can also obtain a fingerprint (identity check) report from the FBI through one of its channelers. The channelers can get the report — often with a notarization — back within 48 hours for less than $100. The FBI, however, may take 12 days to send one back. You may need it verified by the US Department of State. Either send it yourself or use to do it for you.

The final authentication


Any document originating from the states within the embassy’s jurisdiction must have the following authentications before the embassy can authenticate them:

  • An official signature (not the applicant’s!) attested to by a notary public,
  • Authentication by the county clerk’s office (not necessary if the state will authenticate the notary’s signature directly)*,
  • Authentication by the state (see this list for state offices, and search your state site for “apostille services”),
  • Authentication by the US Department of State,


  • An official signature (not the applicant’s!) attested to by a notary public,
  • Authentication by the county clerk’s office (not necessary if the state will authenticate the notary’s signature directly)*,
  • Authentication by the state (see this list for state offices, and search your state site for “apostille services”),

Note that the consulates do not require authentications from the US State Department, unlike the embassy in Washington, DC.

* As each state has its own procedures, check with the state office first before visiting the county clerk. Or you can visit VisaRite to get those particular details. For example, Kentucky requires the county clerk sign off on the notary’s signature, but Delaware does not.

IMPORTANT!! DO NOT SEPARATE THE AUTHENTICATIONS FROM THE DOCUMENTS AT ANY POINT IN THIS PROCESS!! If the pages are separated, the authentications are rendered invalid, and you’ll need to do them all over again. The consular officials will reject any documents with holes from missing staples or rivets.

If you are lucky, you can get all these authentications done within six weeks. Figure about four to five days, including delivery times, for each office. Most state offices accept FedEx and UPS deliveries, if you’re in a hurry. So does the US Department of State. Check with each office for delivery specifics. Authentication by the Chinese consular offices will take at least a week, sometimes two, including delivery times, if you use an agency. Otherwise, turnaround for personal deliveries is at least four days.


Now you that have all these authentications, you can scan them and email them to your intended employer, so that they can apply for the preliminary work permit you will need to apply for the visa.

IMPORTANT!! DO NOT SEPARATE THE AUTHENTICATIONS FROM THE DOCUMENTS FOR SCANNING OR COPYING!! If the pages are separated, the authentications are rendered invalid, and you’ll need to do them all over again. The visa officers will reject any documents with holes from missing staples or rivets.

Your employer will send the necessary papers back by email or fax. Some may prefer to send hard copies by international courier. In any event, you’ll need hard copies before you submit them to the visa offices.

MAKE COPIES OF EVERYTHING! That includes your passport and any application forms. Keep those in case something goes wrong. Copies of authentications are not valid, but at least you will have proof you went through the process.

Always keep a photocopy of your passport with you while traveling. If the original gets lost or stolen, having the photocopy will speed up the process of getting a new one.


If you happen to live near Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles or San Francisco, or have friends or family to visit there, probably you don’t need an agency. Once you get all the necessary authentications, you can apply for the visa yourself, and come back to pick it up in four days.

If you are not lucky enough to live near those cities, then using a visa agency may actually save you money, since you won’t need to pay for transportation or lodging. VisaRite, the service I used, charges $143 for each document to be authenticated and $258 for the visa application. They offer express services at additional cost.

There are several other visa agencies, but as I have no direct experience with them, I can’t recommend them to you. Communicate with them directly to see how familiar they are with China’s specific requirements.

Finally, this information was valid, as far as I can ascertain, as of Sept. 21, 2017. China’s visa requirements may change in the future, so ask your employer for advice and visit the Chinese embassy’s website for the latest requirements.

Good luck!


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