Getting a Business Visa in Hong Kong

After spending a year within Mainland China on a twice-extended business visa, I was recently informed that I had to leave the country. There was no way around it — the only option is to leave and re-enter on an entirely new visa.

For most people, and for me, this means a run to Hong Kong to process a new visa. Now that my trip to Hong Kong is complete, I’ll share what I’ve gone through on this latest trip and how the process has changed over the years.

The Changing Tide of Bureaucracy

Although Chinese visa conditions are always changing, one thing seems to remain constant: Hong Kong is the go-to place for foreigners who need to process a visa outside of the country. From most cities in China, a trip to Hong Kong is cheaper and generally more agreeable than Thailand, Vietnam, or other bordering countries for a number of reasons.

Why go to Hong Kong for a Visa

  1. Hong Kong is very accessible. Most choose to fly to Shenzhen (an hour outside Hong Kong) or Guangzhou (about two hours from Hong Kong) since these destinations are often cost half as much as flying into Hong Kong itself. Compared to Bangkok or Hanoi, both of which are international flights, this is usually a much cheaper and quicker option (I recommend Ctrip for booking domestic flights online).
  2. Hong Kong has been the go-to location for mainland visas for years, so there’s an established visa infrastructure in Hong Kong. You can expect less hassle and fewer difficulties, although that’s certainly no guarantee. Whether you’re getting a tourist (L) visa or business (F) visa, it’s easy to find instructions on where to go, how much to pay, and so on. Finding updated information isn’t as easy, but it’s still easier than Hanoi or Bangkok — both of which I’ve processed China visas in, for comparison.

Why not to go to Hong Kong for a Visa

  1. Say it’s the middle of winter where you are and you want to turn your visa run into a vacation. If you have to leave the country for a month, making a vacation out of this necessary excursion isn’t a bad idea. Once you’re in Bangkok you can reach many incredible destinations within Thailand, or in neighboring SE Asian countries (which we’re obviously fans of). Even though it feels like a different world, Hong Kong is still China and sometimes you just want to escape to another country for whatever reason — language, culture, food, weather, and so on.
  2. Hong Kong is expensive. Getting to and from China’s mega metropolis won’t cost you too much, but a week in Hong Kong living comfortably will. If you have friends in Hong Kong and can save yourself the financial burdon of accommodation you’ll be at great advantage, but eating costs alone are often more than four times as expensive as on the mainland. To give an example: chicken fried rice costs about $1 US (8 yuan) in Chengdu and about $5 US (36 Hong Kong dollars) in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Kowloon, for those who don’t know, is cheaper than Hong Kong island!

Can I Just Buy a Business Visa in Hong Kong?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t as simple as it used to be. While you can buy business visas without any documentation, they’re only for a short duration — either 30 or 60 days, which is unacceptable unless you live very close to a national border and can easily exit and enter China. For everyone else, you’ll need an invitation letter to get a real visa, of 3 or 6 month duration, processed. This is in stark contrast to the pre-Olympic good old days when foreigners would stream in and out of Hong Kong every day to buy 1-year duration business visas for less than $100 US.

A number of companies offer “Business Visa Service” wherein they request your passport and photos and can issue you a business visa. These services are of questionable legality but more often than not can (and will) do the job, albeit at a high price. One service that I used for years is called Beijing Leeo and offers 6 month business visas for about 3,000 yuan. Their service proved to be reliable until a personal friend of mine was called to Beijing when his passport (and dozens of others) were confiscated by Beijing police when they ransacked the Leeo offices and demanded to interview each of the owners before releasing the passports. This was during the 2008 Olympics, a time of unprecedented crackdowns on visas for foreigners, but the point is that when it comes to these services, they’re almost never 100% certain. With that said, I relied on such services for years and never personally had a problem.

Where to go in Hong Kong

An invitation letter - click!

The visa processing office in Hong Kong is located in Wan Chai, Hong Kong island. This is very near the downtown (Central) district of Hong Kong, nestled between towering office buildings and bustling crowds of office workers on the street. The address is #26 on Harbor Road, and you’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see a long line in front of the building. After waiting for up to an hour you’ll realize that the delay was due to a single security station with metal detector which slowly pushes each visa applicant through. Once you’re through and have arrived on the 7th floor where the visa processing office is, you’ll see hundreds of people sitting in chairs watching ping pong on CCTV and waiting for their numbers to be called. With your visa application, passport, and photos in hand, you’ll approach one of 10 windows (two were in use when I visited) and submit your application. Within two minutes I was on my way out of the building, with instructions to return in four business days and pay $150 Hong Kong dollars (just over $20 US) when I pick up my passport with 3-month business visa inside.

One More Thing… I Hope You’re Not American

…Because if you carry an American passport, you’ll be paying exorbitantly high fees for your visa. In response to the United States continually elevating the requirements for Chinese nationals entering its country, China duly bleeds Americans in China by way of elevated visa fines. I’m not talking a little bit more expensive, either — prices for Americans are sometimes eight times as expensive as for citizens of Western Europe who are applying for identical visas. This isn’t something you can negotiate or change, but be prepared for this.

What do you think about getting visas for China?

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About Charlie

Having lived in Chengdu for seven years, Charlie has traveled to every corner of China and back again, calling the Yulin neighborhood of Chengdu his home. He's a part time DJ and full time iPhone game developer, too.

59 Responses to “Getting a Business Visa in Hong Kong”

  1. Seabass

    Quality info Charlie!

    For anyone in Chengdu that doesn’t want to make the trip to HK to process a visa, there is a guy in Chengdu named Wang Bin who can help you. He works for FESCO (Foreign Enterprise Service Co.). He has serious guanxi with the PSB and for a price he will take care of your visa. His prices differ depending on nationality, type of visa, and visa length, but he will save you a trip to HK. Wang Bin is a good friend of mine, so if you email me for his contact info I can try to get you a little discount. And yes, Americans, as always, can expect to pay the most.

  2. The fabled Hong Kong Visa Run. There were other options for a while, but none as reliable as this one. good post.

    • If only we could go back to the way that it was….When a leisurely trip to Hong Kong and a few hundred yuan took care of your visa for half a year or more.

  3. I still can’t believe that the visa situation has gotten worse, not better. Isn’t China supposed to be “opening up”? The signs just aren’t there.

  4. Sigh…business visas are tough, and students don’t have it easy either. It’s around 2600 for a 6 month student visa in Beijing; what about Chengdu?

    • Damn!! I’ve never gotten a student visa personally but my understanding was that a year long student visa costed a few hundred kuai. It was always the tuition that was expensive (Sichuan University was about 8,000 per semester if I remember correctly and a small local university was 5,000).

  5. Argh, Just got my Visa in HK at the Wan Chai embassy.. payed 1170 total with expedited service. (sucks to be american).

    Waited in line on monday for about 3 hours (two of those hours were outside the office, the line was clear down the block)

    • 1170 yuan!!!! The article mentions paying 150 yuan.

      Charlie, what kind of passport do you have? You aren’t American?

  6. What’s this rubbish about a “visa processing office”?

    There are many travel agents in HK who can give you good advice on which type of visa to apply for, act as a go-between with the Chinese authorities, and tell you how to approach the entire process.

    The one I have used for years is in Wanchai, but there are a fair number in the Tsimshatsui area.

    The last thing you want to do is go through the China Travel Service or the visa processing office mentioned above.

    And yes, I am American and it is indeed more of a hassle and more expensive. But the hassle I undergo is nothing like that experienced by Black Africans and citizens of muslim-majority nations…

    Best of luck!

    • Bruce,

      It appears that your information is woefully outdated, but correct me if I’m mistaken-

      I’m well aware of the old practices, but post-Olympics, the situation has changed dramatically. The small travel agencies who used to provide visas for 500 HKD are out of business. Read any recently authored online information about where to get a Mainland visa online and you’ll most likely find that that they suggest the same place that I do. For example, Wikitravel is a comprehensive and regularly updated source: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hong_Kong

      Before this most recent trip to HK I googled a number of travel agencies that offer Mainland China visas. I called the first few that came up and most didn’t answer my call at 3pm on a weekday (also their websites hadn’t been updated in years, it seemed). The one that did answer offered an exorbitantly high price. The travel agency that I bought visas from pre-2008 is out of business.

      I would love to hear if you have contradictory information that you’ve collected from a recent trip to Hong Kong. I paid 2,200 yuan for a 6 month F-visa. If you got a better deal than that, my sincere congratulations to you. I’d be happy to update the post with any information you can provide, as well. Cheers-

    • Hi,

      Where is the company you use to process the visa? I would like to get in touch with them. I need to make the run for the first time and would like to know how to prepare.

      • The phone number for that is above, check the comments.

        I’m not sure if he can help you out (I’ve been hearing that getting visas is more difficult than before) but I’m pretty sure he can point you in the right direction. Good luck Danielle-

  7. Vincent

    Could you perhaps make an estimation of the total cost connected to this whole visa trip to HK?

    Also does Wang Bin have an email address where I can contact him, or is he only reachable through phone?

    • The biggest factors are:

      - How you get to HK and back. Flying to HK or Guangzhou/Shenzhen? Train?

      - Where you stay when you’re in HK. Staying in Central near the Wan Chai visa office, or in Kowloon?

      - How long you stay. Just for a day or check out HK for a few days?

      For me the cost of the trip is about 3,000+ yuan each time.

  8. It’s June 2011. Are there any updates? Have things improved? Or it’s even tougher?

    What’s the latest price for a 6 month visa?

    Still not possible to wander down to HK, stroll into a guesthouse, and get a same-day business visa (without letter) for 400 kuai?

    I guess the good ol days are well and truly over.

    • Hard to say what the price is since there are multiple variables like nationality and number of entries, but you should contact Nick at this number: 15982294232 (you can tell him that I gave you the number). He speaks fluent English and can give you all the info you need.

    • Hey simon

      you can still buy visas through CITS but they now require the same things that the Mainland requires. I bought a 6 month multi entry travel visa for 1500 or so 2 day delivery, something like that. But that is an L visa. If you want an F, you have to provide all of the same stuff you would here in China, so … not that easy. No more buying it with a namecard or whatever. Z visa requires invite from your work unit etc. I am ging again in a week or so, will update further if necessary

      • What kind of visa are you getting when you head to HK? If you have an invitation letter, getting a F visa as I describe in the post is still pretty easy.

        When I went they didn’t really scrutinize me during application or pickup. No questions asked, etc. I recommend dressing nice when you submit the application, I’m told that if you don’t look like what the government thinks a foreign business person looks like they can make it more difficult for you. I’ve never had a single problem with the invitation letter and business visa application though.

  9. I have an F Visa,but I never needed an invitation letter.We are talking about a business visa,I am here to earn money I have no time to travel arround for a Visa.I am using a service for that ( http://www.chinavisaextension.com )cost are ok for me,just post out the passport and I can continue to work.

  10. hello,

    im going to do 6 months with the letter, which kind of document( i know passport ) should I bring with me and how much to do it?

  11. Hi, i m in Chengdu and my visa will finish in 10 days, i can t go to Hong Kong and i need one month more for travelling.. right now i have a F visa, do you think i can change it with a tourist visa? Can i still call Mr Wang? thanks Ada

    • Hey Agosto and Ada:

      Ada I am probably too late for you, but you can give Mr. Wang a call or you could go to the PSB and give it a shot, but waiting to the last week and NOT having the option to go to HK makes it difficult. Hope all went well with you. The F visa is not as flexible as it once was, so i would recommend getting an L if you’re travelling. L (Tourist) can be extended three times.

      Agosto,

      if you are going to HK, be sure to go to the official visa issuing office, the government office in Wanchai. CITS is not reliable anymore. The official place is quick, reliable and they will tell you exactly what you need. Not knowing what Kind of visa you have and what you are applying for, I cannot tell you anything about the documents you might need.

  12. without having any documents or invitation letters from a company whats the longest visa I can get in HK? a 6 month tourist visa exists? or can i try to buy a 6 month or 1 year business visa without having documentation?

    thanks

    • without docs you can’t get Z or F (working biz visas). The longest L tourist visa that I KNOW OF is a 180 day visa that requires extensions every 30 days – not sure if you can do it in country or not.

      I would assume that you can get 30 days with 3 30 day extensions, each requiring you to leave. That is a safe bet and then, if you find out you can get 6 months multi-entry, you’re happy.

      Sorry I can’t give you the precise info ;)

  13. there are no longer agencies which can arrange these documents and get you an F visa?

    • Here’s who you want to get in contact with: Shan Shui Visa. I just finished this website, it’s for the Mr Wang mentioned previously on here. He gave me the invitation letter that I used when I published this post a year ago.

  14. nope. w/out docs no one can give you an F and actually the best place to go is the government office in Wanchai because the agencies are not as clear or reliable.

  15. Thanks for the useful blog. I am an American on a Z-visa that will expire in September. I don’t have the option to renew it. I plan to go to HK next week and apply for 6-month F-business visa myself at the Wanchai govt office. I plan to bring a stamped invitation letter from a Shanghai company. Will I need a copy of their business license, etc? Also, I have an apartment in Shanghai–will I need some proof of where I’ll be staying? Finally, I will have to return to HK every 30 days to renew? Thanks for the info…

    • You should confirm this with your company, but I never needed a copy of a business license or proof of residence. Residence is handled once you arrive at your destination city and check in at the PSB. Good luck!

  16. What I meant was, will I have to leave the country every 30 days on the 6-month F-business visa?

    • No. at the very worst you’ll have to leave every 90 days. As long as you use an invitation letter you shouldn’t have to do that, though.

      • Info I got from a forum i edit, take with grain of salt:

        Dear all expats in China,

        I’m sharing you with some information on extending your L(tourist visa), F (business visa) or Z(working visa) today:

        L visa can be extended twice in China, once you can extend for 30days, and you need to prepare a bank statement with $3,000 in it.

        F visa can be extended for 3/6months each time, and you can extend your F visa to one year since your last entry;

        Z visa, that is Residence Permit, can be extended yearly for one year with multiple entries, but if you are legal representative in a company, you can extend it for 2yrs, and renew every two years; If you change job, you can change your sponsorship to your new employer, and you still can extend your visa.

    • Thanks a lot, Charlie. Though like Danielle below says, I am wondering why everyone I know has to return to HK every 30 days on the F-business visa. I also live in Shanghai.

  17. Just got back from visa office in Hong Kong. I had a business invitation letter and a copy of their business license, but still only received a 2-entry f-visa valid for 6 months. I can stay twice for 30 days each time. This sucks, considering I have been living in China on a z-visa for the past 5 years. The visa clerk here in HK explained that the second time I apply (6 months from now) I will likely receive a multiple entry visa, but the rule is that they only give two entries to a first time applicant. While reviewing my application, I noticed that she looked through my passport at my past z-visas. She did note that I would have better luck applying back in America rather than in HK.

  18. niklas

    Some updated info on the subject in this forum thread: http://www.chengduliving.com/forum/topic/no-more-f-visas-for-freelancers
    (info on how to get a business visa in Hong Kong)

  19. jenifer simpson Reply June 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    i am i hk id holder and i am under age if i get married do my husband also gets a hk id??my hk id was sponserd by my mom..

  20. Hi Happy new year
    i want to get business visa for Hong kong please help me..i am indian…my indian cell no. is +91-94173-04080.. plz plz hep me

    • I love these comments from Bengalis and Indians. I always picture a tiny little man, skinny as hell, typing furiously while glancing over his shoulder at a mob of men in long white shirts and sandals chanting anti-something slogans and waving torches.

      What do you expect us to do Shivam, if that is your real name, call you up from Chengdu and guide you through a visa process that takes place first in India and then, maybe, in Hong Kong? Generously offer you our credit card info, or send a small donation to the save-a-skinny foundation? (perhaps you’re chubby?) I see no weird links in your comment, so you may not be a spammer, which then begs the question:

      What do you think is going to happen now?

  21. Hi,

    I read all comments, are there any changes in 2013?
    As I am now living near Shanghai on tourist visa (L) valid for 2 months, I would like to get a longer visa, possibly business visa for 6 months (I’m Croatian citizen). Is it possible to get such visa in Hong Kong? And which agency?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Den,

      I’m not 100% certain what the current conditions are, they’re always changing. I believe it is still possible to purchase 6-month F visas but I heard that they will stop issuing them in Hong Kong this summer. The best way to be sure is to contact some agencies in Hong Kong via telephone or email – good luck!

  22. niklas

    You could try contacting the agencies mentioned in the comments. I’m using and recommend this one: http://www.fbt-chinavisa.com.hk

  23. Hi Charlie, thanks for this article and this great website.

    I am planing to visit china for 1 Year, spendign the second half in Chengdu.

    Can you give an Update on the Visa Situation and what is still possible? The guys From ShanShuiVisa talked about ‘dramatic changes’.

    [Acutally i was Planing to get a 6 Month F-Visa by Invitation to Henan and was looking for a way to get another 6 Month afterwards for a stay in Chengu at SWUFE University for their 'mandarin language program'- anybodys recommends - i have a german ID btw?]

    Thank you ver much!
    And sorry for my bad english ;)

    • sry, just saw your Answer on a similar post, which i must have skipped by looking trough the comments…

      anyway i would be glad for any information that you guys have

      relating to the HongKong Option as well as a possible Renewing of the Visa in Chengdu

      thanks

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