The importance of understanding your visa while studying abroad
Someone I know very well here in Beijing had some semi-serious visa problems this past week. He looks exactly like me and his name rhymes with “mate”, but for anonymity purposes, let’s refer to him as Norman. Long story short, Norman didn’t quite have a good grasp on his visa situation, he discovered that it expired a long time ago, and in order to stay in the country, his options were to pay a hefty fine either with cash or time in a jail cell. He’s extremely lucky and was able to borrow the money to pay the fine and get a new visa, but to help you avoid the same mistake (and time in a jail cell), I wrote this post which covers both the specifics of the Chinese student visa as well as general tips on how to ensure you don’t end up like “Norman”.
Applying For Your Visa
Just like in any other country, all students who plan on studying abroad in China need to apply for a visa. Foreign students studying in China are required to hold an ordinary passport and either a Study visa (X-visa for a period of study lasting more than 6 months) or a Short-term visa (F-visa study/research period of 6 months or less). If you enter China on a Tourist visa (L-visa) and your program is longer than a month, you’ll have to apply for one of the visas mentioned above after entering China. You can apply for a Chinese visa from your nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate.
The Three Types of Visas
F-visas and X-visas
Whether or not you apply for an X-visa or F-visa will depend on how long you plan on studying abroad in China, but the application documents are essentially the same for both. Documentation required:
1. A valid passport as well as a copy of its information page. Your passport must have at least six months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page in it.
2. Signed application form.
3. Photo: one recently-taken 2×2 square inch sized color photo glued or stapled to the application form. (I’d staple it since glue can get a little messy.)
4. An original and a photocopy of the Letter of Admission, Foreign Student Visa Application Form (JW202) issued by the relevant Chinese government unit.
Of course, other documents might be required by visa officers on a case by case basis.
- Note: The required JW202 form requires about 2-4 weeks time to be processed once you’ve been accepted by a university, and can take longer during the July-August summer vacation.
Although the Tourist visas (L-visa) are usually issued to people coming to China for sightseeing or visiting family or friends, students who don’t receive their admission package in the mail in time to apply for an X-visa or F-visa can apply for a tourist visa (L-visa) instead.
Staff at your abroad university should help you do a visa conversion at the public security bureau when you get to school. The application documents are the same as what I’ve listed above, however, when applying for the L-visa you’re not required to provide the Letter of Admission (Form JW202) because you of course don’t have one yet. Before you apply for the L visa, make sure that the university is able to help you with the visa conversion.
What Students Should Know About Your Visa:
- Entering China: If your visa is valid for 90 days from the date of issue, this means you should get to China no later than 90 days from the date of issue, otherwise the visa expires.
- Duration of stay: In most cases, you can stay in China for the duration of your visa (i.e. 90 days, 180 days, 365 days, etc.), however, the visa usually becomes invalid after 30 days! This is a little confusing so stay with me. Once you enter China, your visa is valid for 30 days, during which you need to apply for a residence permit. This residence permit now “replaces” your visa, and is valid for the duration of time you were granted with your original visa.
- Pay attention to wording. When a document refers to your final entry date, it’s usually referring to the date you physically enter the country (assuming of course it was before the “enter before” date on your visa!).
Visas In General
- Make Photocopies: Make sure you make copies of all important documents including your visa before you head abroad. Take multiple copies with you, and make sure someone back home has a copy as well.
- Mailing Your Passport and Visa: For security reasons, it’s usually recommended that you use a carrier like FedEx, UPS, and Post Office Express Mail – basically anything except for USPS Regular Mail or Priority Mail.
- Be Informed: Know the exact date that your visa expires as well as how long it takes or how long before it expires must renew it or apply for a new one. Make sure you understand the different aspects of the specific type of visa that you’re granted. Last, but definitely not least, be aware of the penalties of staying in a country after your visa has expired as this is can be a pretty serious deal.
The Chinese visa application process wasn’t nearly as demanding as the process I went through when applying for my UK student visa, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less serious or important. One of the reasons Norman didn’t realize his visa was expired was because he had thrown it alongside all of the other issues that come with living and studying abroad. In the end, however, he learned his lesson: your visa should be one of your top concerns, if not the top concern – if you have no visa, you can’t stay in a country!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!