Some visas, most notably Work, Student and Long Stay Journalist visas (Z, X, J-1) are normally for 30 days and for a single entry, though it might actually say zero entries – don't worry about that. This allows you to enter and begin the process of obtaining a Temporary Residence Permit, usually for up to 5 years – depending on the contract or course length. This Permit will allow you unlimited exits and re-entries.
So, the Temporary Residence Permit is in reality a visa by another name. It is pasted into your passport exactly like a visa and looks almost the same and permits you unlimited exit and entry during its validity
If you arrive on a work visa or student visa you will be working for an accredited employer of foreigners or attending an academic institution accredited for running courses for foreigners. Long stay journalists will also have an organisation they are linked to - only they can provide the support you need to get these visas. All these organisations should have staff who know the system and should accept responsibility for organising the application though they will need your input and co-operation.
The organisation and you are required to commence the application at the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) Exit and Entry Administration office within 30 days of your entry into the China Mainland. You should not go travelling for 29 days before you arrive at the organisation and then expect it to get onto your case the next day, go there first and get things started. Apart from anything else, you need to get to know the person who will be handling your application and learn to work together and if you are new to China you need to learn the style of management and administration. Even with the best intentions on both sides, cultural differences can cause difficulties, so try to be patient.
Within 24 hours of arrival on one of these visas you should try to ensure that your organisation (usually someone from its Foreign Affairs Office) creates an appointment to take you to the police station for the area you will be living in to register you as a resident in their area - this is a legal requirement. However, don't panic if the organisation waits a couple of days. Ensure that you take you passport and be prepared to explain your entries and exits; the interviewing officers are usually very friendly and helpful, but in all situations be polite as the officer has considerable power over your application. The police station (actually the officer given this role) can supply an 'accommodation registration printout' when you are about to apply for the residency permit.
Persons applying for residency are required to attend for a 'physical examination', i.e. a medical, at an authorised medical centre. Again, your organisation should assist you with this. The applicant is responsible for paying the examination fee and the application for the residency permit, (expect 600 to 1000 RMB for the two). Employees will often have this paid for by the employer but not always – it is simply a negotiable part of the contract. Remember to fast for 12 hours before the 'physical', drink water only. The Chinese eyesight test can confuse: you will find it is based on something like the letter E. You must say or point whether it is like an E, or reversed, or has its back to the base line or its back uppermost.
Education institutions will provide students with documentation showing that the institution is accredited, that the student has been properly enrolled and has paid the fees. Employers will provide a copy of the contract of employment (in Chinese and English), evidence of their right to employ foreigners, a letter of invitation and your certificate as a 'foreign expert'. Ask the organisation you are joining to seek an expiry date some weeks after the contract or study ends – this saves applying for a another visa immediately and provides more time to organise an extension should you stay on for a further period. Some will agree, but not all. Of course the PSB office might not agree to you having the residency beyond the contract or study period.
Once all this has been collected, your organisation will arrange an 'interview' with the local PSB office (it might be as little as just seeing who you are!). You will need to take along at least the following:
• Accommodation registration printout from the police
• Physical examination results
• Employment or student documentation (from your organisation, as explained in the previous paragraph)
• The fee
Processing the residency application itself is likely to take at least 14 days. If you have a very efficient organisation and PSB office, it is theoretically possible to get the Temporary Residence Permit within 3 weeks or your arrival, but 6 weeks is more typical, and it can take much longer (I know!). NOTE: during this time (except when your application is being processed and your passport is with the PSB) you are permitted to exit the China mainland, but you CANNOT re-enter unless you get another visa which automatically cancels the old one. You would need the full paperwork from the employer or college to get another Z or X, essentially, start all over again. So, realistically, do not plan to travel outside the Mainland soon after you arrive. Most of the time you have your passport, so you can stay in hotels if you want to travel on the Mainland. When your permit is being processed you will not have your passport, but if you can use your Foreign Expert Certificate (a small booklet) and carry a photocopy of your passport for hotel registration.
When seeking some types, eg, Z, X, F, D, J-1, you are sometimes told by organisations that you must undergo a health check in order to get it. This is generally not true, though you will have to undergo one after you arrive. The physical is required for visas having a duration of greater than 6 months in a single visit. Z, X, J1 are only issued for 30 days and then you must apply for a Temporary Residence Permit – and that requires that you undertake the physical. However, you could complete the first part of the form where you make certain declarations about your health and submit that with the application. The second part must be completed by a doctor and is normally done in China in nominated medical locations in major municipalities. If you decide to undergo the medical examination before leaving your home, ensure that you take the chest X-rays with you.
You may be rejected for a visa, or temporary residency if you have or have had certain illnesses. Serious mental disorder, infectious pulmonary tuberculosis, or other infectious disease of public health hazards are the most obvious ones. China is also less organised with facilities for those who are 'disadvantaged' and you may find that you are 'discriminated' against on that basis. This is realistic in respect of persons applying to teach, as schools and universities rarely have lifts (elevators) between floors.
Renewing a Temporary Residency Permit
If you remain with the same organisation they will arrange the residency extension. Try to ensure that you decide if you are continuing well in advance or the end of your current contract or study period so that it can be sorted out before it expires and before any travels you might make.
Changing Educational Institution or Employer
If you want to study at a different educational institution or work for another employer, it is permitted to do this without having to start from the absolute beginning and get a new visa. The first criterion is that you must do this while the existing Temporary Residency Permit is valid. The new organisation must be eligible in the normal way and must obtain all the new paperwork. There can be difficulties if the old organisation will not co-operate or positively objects as they might when you want to leave a job before the end of the contract. Realistically, a lot depends on the new organisation as it will have to lead and manage the situation.