Your own business & Work Permit step by step

in November 2018 I decided to become serious about my work permit, after living 4 years in China with a residence permit (being married to a Chinese citizen), I wanted to start working.To be clear I h

in November 2018 I decided to become serious about my work permit, after living 4 years in China with a residence permit (being married to a Chinese citizen), I wanted to start working.

To be clear I have a Dutch nationality, so some of the steps might be different for other nationalities.

I hope my journey can help others to make the right steps in the right order to prevent delays and mistakes.

Also, I read many posts about how to apply for a work visa, but none of them clearly says what you need to do and how it works, they just give a list of what you need. If only it was that simple.


My journey begins:


Before making any steps, once you enter China register yourself at the local police station, bring your rental contract Plus copy, a passport picture, your passport and a copy of your passport as well as a copy of your visa page. 

although you might see a printer in the office, you need to go outside to make the copies. 


My first step was to register my own company, thinking if I have my own company I can hire myself and give myself a work permit. if only it was that simple…


Registering your own company is easy, if you can find two Chinese partners or foreigners with a permanent residence permit (max 10 years), permanent has a time limit in China. 

You could also apply for a WOFE (Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise) but I have no clue about the does and don’ts.

I found 2 Chinese citizens and founded my company xxxxxxxx.Ltd (Limited). One has to become the treasury, one the CEO and one the secretary.

When it comes to choosing a name, realize it has to be in Chinese (and unique) and most times starting with the name of your city, then your chosen name and finishing with the kind of field your business operates in, but again this varies per city. I was lucky enough that Xi’an allows you to register your own company at your home address. In my previous city Zhuhai this was impossible, I needed to have a separate office. Later I found out that the foreign expert bureau prefers that the name on the company paper is preferred to be one of the Chinese partners, but not necessary. and having another place as your address is better. make sure that the contract you write with yourself has all the same addresses, if anything is different you need to come back and explain.

total; costs around 1000 RMB (varies per city).

1 week later I got my paper proving I have my company. 

before you can actually do anything with your company you need to have stamps. Find a stamp maker near you and be sure to bring your certificate of your registered company, your passport and your Chinese partners with their ID cards.

Without this, no stamps. The stamp maker is checking online if your company truly exists and will make special numbers for each stamp that he will register to your company.  

in Xi’an I got 5 different stamps, other cities have 3 or less, again it depends per city.

Stamps are made in 2 hours and you're ready to go to the bank.

total costs; 700 RMB (varies per city, and the quality of the stamp you want), I chose the luxurious one.


On my way to the bank to open my account, be aware you need both your Chinese partners and their ID cards again to do this, your business registration certificate and your stamps because you're going to be stamping away.

After stamping and signing tons of papers, as a foreigner you might have to wait a couple of working days before your account is verified, you might even need to come back a few times to sign some more papers. Note in China make sure you write and sign with your name in reverse. for example, my name is Kevin Polak so I need to sign with Polak Kevin. if you make a mistake you need to do the papers again.


After 1 week I got my bankcard, another certificate for my account, and 2 online banking machines, one for transactions and one for changing your settings. For your information I opened my account with the Chinese Construction Bank. 

Your account is not working yet, next step, you need to register your company at the tax office, unlucky for me China was in a transition in that period with their new tax system, so I had to wait.

Once you go to the tax office bring all the papers, Bank certificate, Business certificate, stamps, your ID and your Chinese partners with their ID’s. In my case one of the partners lost his ID card so he had to reapply for one making me wait another two weeks.

My patience and confidence had been shaking a lot in these whole procedures, thinking many times I go back to Europe, maybe it’s not mend to be for me to be in China. 


Back to the tax office, having to register my company, trust me, without a Chinese PhD person next to you or the help from the employers, it’s almost impossible to understand what you need to do, especially as being a foreigner. Many hours later and coming back and forth a few times it was done.

I got my little white box and approval paper, with which I had to back to the bank, bringing everything again with me (including my Chinese partners). Stamped some more papers and back to the tax office to finalize everything. 

From this moment on I could go online from any computer (but not with a Mac !!!, CCB and the TAX office only accepts Windows PC’s) with the white box make digital PDF fapiao’s and use my bank account.


Business was running.


As Naïve as I was I thought let’s go to the entry and exit office and apply for a work visa, WRONG…. they looked at me and send me somewhere else, the office to register my company and hire employers.

We go to the office where they looked at me again saying, that’s not possible, you need to register your company online first and if approved you can register online your employers. only if these steps are all done and approved you can get a work permit.


ok, we opened the computer and started to register my company online, waiting 5 days for approval. this went actually very smooth. 

Next step register myself as an employer, that turned out to be more complicated. 


You need a lot of papers, but most important you need a degree, BA (university degree), Master and preferable a PhD. If you don't have them forget it, no matter how autodidact or amazing you are, no degree no approval. unless you fall in the category A as being a really special talent with international recognized degree’s or prices (like Nobel winner etc.) , worked with a fortune 500 company or a famous person in any field.  I was going for category B, luckily I still had my BA (university degree), somehow I saved it, I'm a notorious throwing away’er and on top of that for some reason I brought it to China 4 years ago. As I was being married to a Chinese citizen it made things easier to apply.

I needed;

- Work permit Visa application form, make sure that you chose the Chinese consulate the most convenient to you (this has to be outside mainland of China) S.A.R. Hong Kong & Macau are possible. Note this is important, you can only pick up your Z Visa outside of China at the Chinese Consulate as filed in on the application!!

- My degree translated in Chinese and approved by a notary. 

In The Netherlands you need to go to get your Degree approved by the DUO, then approved by the ministry of foreign affairs and then get a stamp from the Chinese consulate in your country. (in this order!!!)

- Non-Criminal record (VOG Veklaring Omtrent Gedrag), apply for the international one, but even then you need to translate the Dutch part into Chinese by a recognized translator and get it notarized.  Get a stamp from the foreign ministry (Dutch) and then a stamp from the Chinese consulate in your country (Again in this order). The Chinese government only accepts a VOG not older then 6 months from the date you got it from the Ministry of Foreign affairs, not the date you got the stamp from the Chinese consulate. 

As I was already living in China, I asked my relatives to arrange this for me, using their address to send all the papers to, don't make them send it to China, it might take time, if it ever arrives. You can also let a visa agent do all this for you as far as they can. Some papers you need to do yourself. I was lucky my Digid was still active, otherwise it would be even more difficult. 

- Health check if you are already living in China, if not you need to do this on arrival as fast as possible. your Health Check is only valid for 6 months. Bring your passport plus passport pictures to do the test, it might take 1 to 3 hours, depending on how busy it is.

- registration proof where you're living. Obtain this at the nearest police station near your house. Bring your rental contract, a copy of this, your passport with copies including your Visa / residence permit) and the latest arrival stamp and 2 passport pictures (make sure your picture is conforming the rules).

- labor contract, make sure your contract is as detailed as possible, especially what your function(s) are. If you would do any other work then stipulated in your labor contract you're working illegal. note, having a work permit doesn’t allow you to take any job you want, you can only do what is stipulated in your labor agreement!!!

Make sure your business stamps are on the labor contract as well as your fingerprints.

- recommendation letters or previous labor contracts of previous employers. at least 10 years back.

- Marriage book of yourself, your spouse’s marriage book and his/her Hukou are not necessary.

- Upload a passport picture, the rules for this picture are very very strict, so don't get surprised if your application is not accepted because your picture wasn’t according to the rules.


You will have to scan all these papers or take legit pictures and upload them to the online application, wait a few days for approval, if some documents are not good you will get a notice and redo or supply the missing pages, translations etc. 

when approved you will get a message saying go back to your own country or your chosen Chinese Consulate outside of mainland of China.


total costs 

Translating my Degree and notarized (in China) 400 RMB, I could also have done this in Europe but that would have cost me 400 Euro’s.

sending all the papers back and forth by DHL, Dutch Fee’s for DUO, Ministry of Foreign affairs, Chinese Consulate 5000 RMB. 

health check 400 RMB

In total about 6000 RMB


Next step, I had to go to the Foreign Expert Bureau, to get my official invitation letter as a Foreign Expert category B, this is one of the most important letters you need, you will get an English and Chinese version, keep them both.


On my way to Hong Kong, I took the ferry at 08.00 o’clock from Zhuhai to Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal, arriving at 09.10.


When you go to the customs and enter Hong Kong you get a little white paper, DON'T LOSE THIS, this little white paper is very necessary.

Make sure you bring at least these papers to the Consulate outside of China. ( Just to be sure I took all the papers I used for the online application, business registration etc, I didn’t want to take any risk). the Chinese consulate might ask you for these if they want.

For sure bring these papers:

- Visa application form (plus copy, just to be sure)

- Passport picture

- Passport Plus copy of your Passport main page, a copy of your last Visa, PLUS a copy of the last stamp of exiting China with this little white paper next to it. You can make copies at the consulate, but make sure you have an Octopus MTR (public transport) card, you will need this to use their copying machine.

- Invitation letter form the foreign expert bureau (English and Chinese)

- labor contract (English and Chinese).


I decide to take the subway (only 3 stops, you will have to change once) from tsim sim to admiralty, changing lines to Wan Chai and take exit A2, come out of the exit, go left and then at some point go Left again (find Novotel and you're close). the building is called Capital Centre (155 gloucester road) next to the Porsche Dealer. take the elevator to the 20thfloor.


Stand in the cue, I didn’t make an appointment, (it seems this is possible) but the waiting time was not very long. once it was my turn I went first to the check desk, they checked if I had all the necessary papers. I didn’t know I had to make a copy of my exit stamp with this little white paper next to it, but because I applied for an Urgent Visa I didn’t have to go back in line and got my number right away. If something is missing and if you need to make a copy you will have to go back in line after you made the copies to wait to let your documents be checked again…


Once your papers are all good you will get a number. 


I decided to do an Urgent Visa (apply before 12.00, pick up the next day after 14.00). This way I only had to spend 1 night in Hong Kong. Prices for Urgent are 1520 HK $ (2019). note you can only pay with a Hong Kong Debit card or Cash. You can use your Chinese union pay bank card to pin Hong Kong Dollars at ATM in Hong Kong, you can NOT pay with your (foreign) credit card or Chinese union pay card.


After I had to correct some lines, write on my visa application that I agreed to cancel my temporally residence permit, sign a few changes, I got a paper and a number to pay.

I paid and I got another paper and was told pick up your passport tomorrow after 14:00.


I felt almost relieved, reaching the final stages of this whole process.

The next morning, I went to pick up my passport. Check if your name is written right, your passport number is correct, if not, you need to do the procedure again, don't take the risk, because you will get in trouble if you think oh, it’s just one little letter or number.


The Z visa you get is valid for 90 days, so make sure you go back to china before those 90 days are over. Also note this Z visa is a single entry, so don't go outside of China once you entered. first get your temporally Residence Permit and your Work permit Card.

Total costs 1500 RMB (not calculating travel and living).


After you're back in China, make sure you register your home address again at the nearest Police station to your house, even if you already have one. If you take a look at your old one you will see your visa number and type is different than the one you have now. If you didn’t life in China before register where you stay within 24 hours at the police station, you will need this paper to do the next steps. This takes about 20 minutes, make sure the ID number of your landlord is on the contract or a copy of the landlord’s ID card.


Remember having your Z visa is not the end yet, you still can’t work. 


You might have to redo your medical examination, because you went outside of China and might have been getting sick… sometimes your health check you used with your online application might do. If it’s your first time make sure you get your health certificate done as fast as possible.

You need to go to a special hospital for this, depending on your day and time this might take about 2 hours, and a few working days before you can pick it up.


Once you have your home registration form from the local police station and your medical certificate, bring all the original papers you submitted in the online application procedure to the Foreign Expert Bureau to get your work permit card with accompanied letter. The work permit itself has no dates on it, only the accompanied letter tells you for how long your work permit is valid.


To be honest at this stage I let the agent I hired take care of these final steps, it was part of the agreed procedure.

I paid 3000 deposit to the agent and paid the remaining 2000 after the whole procedure was done and picked up my work permit card at my agents office.


Once I obtained my work permit, I had to go to the entry and Exit bureau to apply for my temporarily residence permit. 

You need to fill in a new Visa Application form, get a copy of your passport including the new Visa page of the Z visa you obtained outside China (that is only valid for 1 entry!!) so don't leave China till you have your residence permit (just telling you again). You also need your working contract, invitation letter of foreign expert bureau, the letter you got with your work permit and again a passport picture.


A very important note I need to make very clear, having your work permit doesn't mean you can work for anybody in China. The company that invited you is the only company you can work for. DO NOT think you can work on the side for another company because you have a work permit, this is ILLEGAL, and it can get you kicked out of China.

Your work permit is attached to the company that invited you and your job description.

If you have your own Company, you can only work for your own company and do the jobs as stipulated in your contract. For example, if your own company says you're a lawyer, then don't teach English, again its illegal. 

My advice, make your job description as clear and detailed as possible, many tasks are possible. If you're going to work for example as an advisor for other companies, you need a contract between your company and the inviting company.

business to business, when your own company wants to work for a university as a teacher, you need to make a contract between the university and your company and get it approved with the foreign expert bureau and the entry and exit office.

Having a work permit is not a free card to do any work in China, but you are only able to do the work you are hired for and only for the invited company. DO NOT take a side job!!!


As I decided I wanted to this by myself, to understand the system and have the experience, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. Don't do it yourself, it’s not worth the hassle. Hire an agent it might cost more but it will save you a lot of trouble, it’s what they do every day and more important they know the people, making things go much smoother and faster. Prices for agents range from 5.000 to 25.000 RMB.

My agent was 5.000 (Xi’an, only for applying my Work Permit)



company (in this order)

- register your business

- get stamps

- open bank account

- register at tax office

- finalize bank

- finalize tax 


work permit (in this order)

register your company online wait for approval;

- register yourself as employer online

- get official invitation letter from foreign expert bureau

- go to the consulate outside China to get your Z visa

- enter China, register your home address, (and health certificate)

- get your work permit card, plus accompanied letter

- get a your Temporarily Residence permit


In total this entire process cost me over 20.000 RMB, including travel & living (Didi’s back and forth, flights, ferries, hotel costs etc).


I hope this was useful information, as you can see this whole procedure took me more than 6 months, also due to many unexpected factors. but realize it might take time before you have all the papers you need in order. 


I will inform you next year when I elongate my work permit.