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Foreign business professionals are slowly returning to China

After more than two years with a strict “Zero Covid” policy to prevent the spread of the virus, China has eased some rules and entry requirements. These changes have somehow facilitated the arrival of foreigners under specific circumstances, such as work or business trips.

Last month, the Chinese authorities announced that PU letter requirements for some visa applicants will be waived. A PU letter is a government-issued invitation letter that foreigners are required to have to apply for certain types of visas, including the Z work visa.

Effective June 6th, foreigners holding a valid Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit and foreign dependents with spouses that have received approval to work in China will no longer be required to obtain a PU letter to apply for a work visa.

In addition, China shortened the mandatory quarantine time for close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases and inbound travelers from the 14+7 model (14 days of centralized quarantine and 7 days of home quarantine) to a 7+3 model (7 days of centralized quarantine and 3 days of home quarantine).

The updated plan also stated that, in the event of a major outbreak of COVID-19, the quarantine time for close contacts can be further shortened to 5 days of centralized quarantine and 5 days of home quarantine to ease the burden on public services.

The strict measures imposed by the Chinese government have been largely successful, with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in 2021 numbering in the low thousands, far below that of many other countries.

However, due to the recent Delta and Omicron outbreaks, the government doubled down on prevention measures, including reducing the amount of international flight routes.

The number of foreigners willing to work and live in China under probably years of Zero Covid policies is slowly increasing.

Currently, business visas issued before March 28, 2020, are invalid and business travelers need a new visa.

A PU letter is required (except in the above-mentioned cases) and it must be submitted by applicants at the Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.

Only single-entry visas are being granted, regardless if applicants previously had multiple entry business visas.

Foreign business visitors can’t request a PU letter themselves. Instead, they need to have a sponsor company or institution in China apply for the PU letter, explaining the reason why it is necessary for the individual to come to the country. Supporting documents must be submitted, clarifying the foreigner’s role in the company and why he or she is needed in person in China.

In the PU letter application, the host company or institution should request the length of the visa (maximum 180 days), and state details relating to the business activities of the individual in China, and the travel plan. The letter usually clarifies the places that the individual is allowed to visit.

This process may take up to two months. Some foreign chambers of commerce in China have been assisting member companies with these applications to cut down the PU letter processing time to one or two weeks.

Once the letter is issued, the foreign traveler may present it to the Chinese embassy or consulate, where a visa officer will decide the duration of the stay, depending on the travel plan and the project in China. A visa length can be 60, 90 or 180 days.

Upon arrival in China, business visitors are expected not to engage in any activities or visit places other than those stated in the PU letters, and respect quarantine requirements.

For foreigners coming to live and work in China, the work permit and visa application procedures are generally back to normal. These include the work (“Z”) visa, family (“S”) visa for dependents of foreigners, and family (“Q”) visas for dependents of Chinese citizens or foreigners holding China permanent residence. The PU letter requirement for Z visa applicants and dependents has been waived since June 6th.

The A, B and C categories of work permits still apply. While some cities are increasing category A requirements for minimum annual salary and individual income tax payments, the requirements in Shanghai remain at RMB 600,000 for the annual salary and RMB 120,000 for the annual individual income tax payment.

Foreigners returning from a trip abroad, who work in China and have a residence permit issued after March 28, 2020, may enter the country without additional documents or approval. Residence permit holders from the following 11 countries must have new visas issued after November 4, 2020, to enter China: Argentina; Bangladesh; Belgium; Canada; Ethiopia; India; Italy; Nigeria; Philippines; Russia, and Ukraine.

It is advised that foreigners holding resident permits from before March 28, 2020, check with their local Chinese embassy and confirm if they need a new permit to re-enter the country.

Foreign employees holding valid permanent resident cards are permitted to enter China freely.

Foreigners who have been inoculated with a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine can enjoy an easier visa application procedure with looser requirements. Applicants will be required to provide the vaccination certificate along with the other application documents.

Some visa requirements have been eased, including the standard application procedure – the same as before the COVID-19 pandemic – for foreign nationals and their family members who travel to China for purposes of “resuming work and production”.

A looser definition of ‘emergency need’ for application to a humanitarian visa has been approved. The definition can be expanded to include reuniting with family in China, elderly care, and visiting relatives.

APEC business travel card holders can apply for a business visa (M visa) by presenting the original valid APEC business travel card and an invitation letter issued by the inviting party in mainland China.

The below visa types are currently not being issued:

  • Tourist visa (L visa)

  • Student visa (X1 and X2 visa) (except for South Korean nationals)

The following visa-free policies are also currently suspended:

  • 24/72/144-hour visa-free transit policy

  • Hainan 30-day visa-free policy

  • 15-day visa-free policy for foreign cruise group tours through Shanghai Port

  • Guangdong 144-hour visa-free policy for foreign group tours from Hong Kong or Macao SAR

  • Guangxi 15-day visa-free policy for foreign tour groups of ASEAN countries

Since July 20, 2020, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has required both foreign and Chinese passengers flying into China to obtain COVID-19 negative certificates, known as green Health Declaration Certificate (HDC) codes, before boarding.

Passengers must take two COVID-19 tests within 48 hours of boarding the direct flight to mainland China. The tests must consist of two nucleic acid tests (PCR test), one taken within 48 hours, and one within 24 hours of the flight’s departure. Passengers that take a flight from a third country before transferring to a direct flight to mainland China must take two COVID-19 tests in both countries before boarding the flight to China.

The COVID-19 tests must be done at facilities designated or recognized by Chinese embassies in the host country.

In recent months, China relaxed travel requirements for travelers from some countries. People traveling from Denmark, Netherlands, Serbia, the UAE, among others, will no longer have to do an antibody test to receive the health code. Passengers will still be required to take two PCR tests from two different designated test centers within 48 hours and one antigen within 12 hours of the flight departure.

For US travelers, China has removed the requirements for passengers to undergo 7 days of COVID-19 testing, conduct self-monitoring, and take anti-body tests prior to boarding the flight, according to a notice published on the website of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S.

Passengers will still be required to take two COVID-19 tests from two different testing centers within 48 hours and one antigen test within 12 hours of boarding the flight, regardless of whether they have been inoculated and which vaccine they have been inoculated with. These requirements for U.S. travelers were first imposed in January 2022 to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. Passengers will still be required to take a direct flight to China.

Requirements vary from country to country and travelers are therefore still advised to consult with the local embassy or consulate.

After having taken the requisite COVID-19 tests in the country of departure, passengers must apply for a green HS code (for Chinese nationals) or a green HDC code (for foreign nationals). Foreign nationals can apply for HDC codes by registering on the MOFA website and Chinese nationals can apply for HS codes on WeChat.

The following documents are required when applying for the HDC code:

  • Negative COVID-19 test results (usually PCR and IgM)

  • Flight itinerary

  • If the applicant is fully vaccinated, a vaccine certificate and the Letter of Commitment on COVID-19 Vaccination must be completed and signed by hand by the applicant or by their legal guardian.

  • The HDC and HS codes are valid for two days from the date of the earliest COVID-19 test.

All passengers arriving from overseas must undergo a centralized quarantine in a government-designated hotel at the point of entry in China. The cost of the quarantine hotel must be covered by the passenger, and generally ranges between RMB 350 (US$55) and RMB 600 (US$94) per day, depending on the hotel. The passenger generally cannot choose which hotel they will be quarantined in, although sometimes they will be given the option to choose between different price points.

If traveling to another city in China after completing the centralized quarantine and health monitoring, you may be required to undergo an additional seven days of quarantine, either in a designated quarantine hotel or under observation at home, depending on the local requirements.

Older people, children, pregnant women, and individuals with a medical condition may apply for an exemption to centralized quarantine and get permission to quarantine at home.

To learn more about our services in China, contact our Head of Business Advisory - Ms. Kristina Koehler-Coluccia at

DISCLAIMER: All information in this article is verified to the best of our ability and is assumed to be correct at time of release; however, Woodburn Accountants & Advisors does not accept responsibility for any losses arising from reliance on the information provided within. The information provided is for general guidance and does not replace specialized advice.


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