M Visa vs. Z Visa

November 8, 2017

Does anyone here know a website that clearly shows the difference between what you are allowed to do in China on an M Visa (business visa, for ‘trace and commercial activities’) versus a Z Visa (work visa)?

A company I know wants to send its employees to China for a range of activities over an extended time – some meetings, sometimes just working from an office there. I’m looking for something that clearly delineates what they can do on an M visa so that they can be in compliance.

Thank you! 谢谢!

8 Answers


The “M visa” is a business visa. It is meant for attending meetings, factory visits, trade shows, conferences, and things like that. It requires that you are employed overseas and are paid overseas and that you or your company has a relationship with the inviting company.

The duration of the visa and maximum duration of each stay will depend on your nationality and your visa history. The most common duration of each stay is 60 days; however, generally increments of 30 days are issued. It is unlikely to receive over 90 day durations.

Just because the inviting documents may request certain terms does not mean this is guaranteed. The officer at the Chinese consulate or embassy has the final decision. Working with this type of visa is prohibited and if caught serious consequences could be given.

The “Z visa” is the initial work visa that is obtained overseas from a Chinese consulate or embassy when you are applying to work in China. This visa holds more flexibility because working and being paid in China and abroad is allowed. Once the applicant arrives in China with their “Z visa” then the company needs to help them convert it to a residence permit within 30 days.

Within the past few months, the government has given rules for a short term work visa for those on short term assignments (e.g. less than 180 days). The requirements are much less for the applicant to meet for this type of work visa, but the work for the company to process and the processing time are just as intense, so many companies do not want to process such a visa. Also, this is not a replacement for the long term work visa, as one is only allowed an unknown certain number of them.

Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions or concerns.


Thank you. Do you know of a public website – such as a government agency, a news site – that clearly delineates this, including that there are severe penalties for working on an M Visa?


The consequences include but are not limited to:

  • warnings
  • fines
  • detention (prison)
  • exit visa
  • deportation

Please find the below notes regarding the situation.

  • Warnings could be formal or informal. A formal warning is a lot more severe because you are in the record for your crime.
  • Consequences depend on the officer’s decision and could be combined.
  • For exit visas and deportation, there is usually a visa fee associated, as well. The deportation looks the same as an exit visa but has a black star on it. It is generally thought that people with such a mark cannot come back for at least five years, but in practice it depends on the crime as there is really an unknown amount of time, and in either case, it would not be easy or straight forward for the person to come back.
  • Detention could work in a couple of different ways:
    • For a short period of time and then a possible other consequence such as an exit visa is given
    • Until you can come up with the funds required for your flight out of China and/or bail amount
  • The crime may also be documented in a database that is shared by embassies and consulates around the world which could give you difficulty for apply for visas for other places, as well.

For specific other questions please let me know.


Thank you for this. Do you know of a public website that has this information (such as a government site or a news site)?


There is not one website that lists everything you need to know about such regulations for China.

Some of this information can be accessed through Chinese embassies and consulates; however, often times they can only provide details for applications through their specific embassy or consulate and what happens on the ground in China is different.

Your home department of state may also be a good starting resource because, for example, the US Department of State page about China does warn against working illegally, but they not only have other warnings some of which scare people for little reason, they also do not go into the specific details. I think the people writing it are not on the ground in China.

While you can access websites that explain about the Chinese law, it is all in Chinese, and the other issue is that cities have been implementing many of the rules differently. Sometimes there are also special allowances for various parts of the city for certain industries, too.

Resulting, there are many so-called “experts” in English that provide information, most of which are incorrect for usually one of a few reasons and there are just a small handful of us that follow the regulations and implementation of it closely.

(a) honesty because the laws are changing so quickly and because the implementation of many of the laws locally are different depending on which city and where you are in the city, so some of these people legitimately do not know. Some of these people think they know though.

(b) Because they are trying to take advantage for their personal or their company’s gain

If you are on WeChat, I can introduce you to some groups that have people that are fully knowledgeable in such areas, which could also be a good resource, and I could also provide access to other reliable sources.


Thank you for the offer.  I’m trying to find a resource for a company with no China experience so that they can better understand the regulations and the ramifications of not following them.


As I mentioned, if you add me on WeChat I can introduce you to reputable companies and groups.

jmintzis, I’d be very interested to learn more about visa issues. I work with a lot of foreigners in China, and they often ask me about visa issues. Could you please add me on WeChat and add me to some of these groups? My WeChat ID is jlemien.