If you want to visit China, or live in China and want to stay beyond the duration of your visa you have to apply for a new Chinese visa. The easiest, if not cheapest, way to do this is to visit Hong Kong on the infamous Hong Kong China Visa Run.
Finding the Chinese Visa Office
The visa office is in the China Resources building, mid-way between Wanchai MTR station and Wanchai Ferry Terminal. This is pretty easy to find, but identifying the correct entrance for the visa office is a little trickier. Facing towards the water, the China visa bureau is on the far left side. If you ask for the visa office at the main entrance they’ll ask which one, which isn’t very helpful. The magic word is ‘official’. Ask for the official office or you’ll be sent to a visa agency.Consular Department Office of the Commissioner Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
Chinese Visa Office
7th Floor, Lower Block, China Resources Building
26 Harbour Road
Wanchai, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 9am-12pm then 2-5pm on Weekdays.
Check for public holidays as this will affect both opening hours and processing times.
A queue forms outside within a few minutes of the visa office opening. When I was there it reached the far corner and looked pretty daunting, but only took 25 minutes to reach the front. The holdup is caused by two things – the small lifts and the airport style security. You’re not allowed to take in food or drinks, lighters and knives, all of which will be permanently confiscated. Bags, computers and phones all have to pass through an x-ray machine, as do you.
Arriving on the 7th floor you’ll be given a Visa application form to fill out. This form can be downloaded in advance, but the one they gave me was slightly different so I completed it again to be sure everything was correct. Make sure it’s complete, that you’ve got a 1-1/2″ by 2″ photo, and any supporting documents. All documents need to be photocopied on both sides and there’s a photocopier available in the lobby for HK$1 per sheet. There’s also a photo booth, and a gaggle of people complaining about the high price, so get photos before you arrive. Make sure they’ve got a plain, pale background.
This is the most important stage, as there’s no pleasure in waiting for the next part only to be told something is up with your form and you need to start again. The visa officers are understandably strict so it’s best to get it right first time. Whilst I was waiting I would estimate that 1 in 5 people got turned away for missing some element. Most of these were easily avoidable – for example one chap had a 5×5 Polaroid of his face rather than a standard passport photo, and another was offering an email as proof of employment.
Before you leave home, you can check the instructions for different visa types and what documents you’ll need at the VisaForChina website. The site also shows alternative locations, such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore.
Once you’re ready, take the form back to the person who gave it to you and they’ll give it a quick once over, and all being well a queue number.
This is the worst bit. A large LED screen at the front indicates which booth to visit. The paper slip with your number on also shows how many people are in front of you. For me this equated to about a minute per person, so 71 minutes later my number came up. Take something to pass the time, but don’t miss your number as they won’t process you unless you’ve got the current ticket.
This stage could be avoided by using one of the many Chinese visa agencies in town, who for around HK$250 will fill out the form and wait on your behalf. This is great for a simple tourist visa but I was applying for a more flexible stay so wanted to be there to deal with any issues.
The visa officer briefly looked through all my papers and z-visa documents before stamping them and giving me a blue slip of paper, telling me to come back in 24 hours.
Standard visa applications are turned around in 4 working days, with 2 or 3 days being available for an extra fee. The number of days includes the day of application, so 2 days is actually next day. The price of hotels in Hong Kong is so high that it’s considerably cheaper to pay for the fastest service possible than pay for an extra night in a hotel.
The day of collection is much easier. Arriving at the downstairs entrance show your blue slip to the guard outside and you’ll be ushered through security without queuing. Back on the 7th floor proceed to the cashier on the far left and pay for the visa. They’ll give you a receipt, which must then be taken to the collection point in the adjacent booth. This had a longer queue but moved rapidly.
Once you’ve got your passport back check everything before you leave the building as there’s a policy of no returns once you’ve left. In the unlikely event anything is wrong just go back to the collection point and they can rectify it on the same day assuming you can provide any extra documentation.
It’s not that hard, and doesn’t really need the assistance of a Hong Kong travel agency unless you’re very short on time. If you’re applying for a more complicated visa an agency from your Chinese town of residence is more useful to ensure you take all the correct paperwork.
May 2012 Update
This is from Ross. Please thank him here in the comments
I’m an American who was granted a Z visa in mid-May 2012 through the Hong Kong Consulate. Here’s what I needed:
#1 Invitation Letter or Z-Visa Notice from Provincial Foreign Expert’s Bureau (aka Ministry of Foreign Affairs) – It MUST be addressed to HK Consulate; Applicants may only apply at the consulate/embassy to which this letter is addressed.
#2 Alien Employment License “JiuYeXuKeZhengShu” from Ministry of Labor and Social Security (aka Labor Bureau, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security)
#3 Certificate of Health Examination (For me, a “Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine” Booklet from provincial-level Health Bureau)
#4 Invitation Letter with official company chop
#5 A copy of the Business Registration License from your company (QiYeFaRenYingYeZhiZhao) – although a friend applying in Singapore didn’t need this document.
#6 I used Everbright, who completes the (#6) application form for customers – but bring photos (#7), passport (#8) and several copies of everything. Thankfully, Everbright also will review documents over e-mail before you visit their offices (email@example.com ph: 852-23693188). They finished my application by the next day, and charged HKD1600 total. They seem to know very well the various China visa situations for many different countries.
August 2012 Update
You now also need to take a photocopy of your hotel reservation and a photocopy of your round-trip flight ticket.
The letter of invitation has been further defined as:
An invitation Letter issued by the Chinese local governments, companies, corporations and institutions other than above-mentioned Chinese agency.
The invitation letter shall include the following items:
(A) Personal information of the invitee: name, gender, date of birth, etc.
(B) Information concerning the invitee's visit to China: purpose of the visit, date of arrival and leaving, places to visit, relationship between the applicant and the inviter, and who will bear the cost of the applicant's accommodations in China.
(C) Information of the inviter: name of the unit, phone number, address, seal and signature of the legal representative.
* Generally, the invitation letter may be submitted as a fax, copy or printout. If necessary, the consular officer will ask the applicant to submit the original invitation letter, or to provide some supporting and supplementary documents, or schedule an interview.
May 2013 Update
This recent comment indicates that everything is going smoothly at the moment as long as you prepare fully.
This post got to over 400 comments. I’m going to remove a few of the older, repetitive or less relevant comments to help people find the useful information.
If this has been helpful, please share the page using the buttons below, so others can benefit. I’ll also notify any updates via this Facebook page. Good luck with your application!
New Regulations update – from July 2013
There are quite a few changes, but it boils down to applying for the right visa. Tourist visas are no different, work Z-visa are now in 2 categories: Z2 only allows under 90 days, Z1 allows longer than 90 days. There’s also a new M-visa for people coming for work, but not actually working (i.e. attending conferences or meetings) – this needs more clarification, which I’ll add as it emerges. Here’s a rough guide to the changes.
The most important change for first-time work visas is the need for a criminal background check. For most nationalities these are only available in your home country, so make sure to get it before you leave for Hong Kong.
December 2013 update
Getting Chinese visas is still possible in HK, despite recent reports. See the newest comments for success stories, although note that the 24h option is no longer available.