The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals need a visa to enter mainland China, but not Hong Kong or Macao. For mainland China, you must get a visa prior to arrival, including for Hainan Island, although some exemptions may be available for tour groups travelling to certain parts of the country. For details of entry requirements to China contact the Chinese Embassy or the China Visa Application Service Centre well before your proposed trip. You may be asked to provide your previous passport in support of your visa application.
It is your responsibility to check your visa details carefully. Don’t overstay your visa or work illegally. The authorities conduct regular checks and you may be fined, detained or deported (or all three) for not complying with the conditions of your visa or work permit. If you remain in China longer than 6 months, you may need to get a Residence Permit.
Under certain circumstances, if you’re transiting China, you may be able to enter without a visa. Some airports, including Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chongqing, have a visa waiver programme that allows you to stay for 72 hours visa free. Others, including Shanghai, allow you to stay for 144 hours. There are restrictions on where you can go while you’re in China, and you must be travelling on to a third country afterwards (ie - not back to the country that you entered China from) to be eligible.
In all other circumstances, if your stopover requires you to leave the airport terminal you will need a transit visa for both the outward and any return journeys. If you’re staying within the airport for up to 24 hours, you don’t need a transit visa.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months when you enter China. There’s no requirement for it to be valid for 6 months at the time of exit.
Travelling to Hong Kong
British nationals don’t need a visa to travel to Hong Kong or Macao. If you visit Hong Kong from the mainland of China and wish to return to the mainland, you’ll need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China.
China has recently introduced a requirement for all foreign passport holders aged 14-70 years to have their fingerprints taken on arrival in China. This new process was introduced at Shenzhen airport in February 2017, and will be gradually rolled out at other points of entry around the country.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from China. You may be required to show a police report indicating how you lost your full passport.
If your ETD has been issued in China, you will need an exit visa from the Public Security Bureau before you can travel out of China. This process can take up to 5 working days. The ETD can be used for a return journey back to China providing you have evidence of residence within China.
Registering with the Chinese authorities
You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Chinese authorities enforce this requirement with regular spot-checks of foreigners’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, registration is done on your behalf as part of the check-in process.
Stays of more than six months
If you are entering China for employment, study or private purposes for a stay of over six months, you must produce a health certificate, which includes a blood test for HIV, legalised by the Chinese Embassy.
Working in China
You should research your prospective employer before coming to China and get the correct visa to allow you to work legally. You can only work if you have a Z visa - tourist and business visit visas don’t allow you to do so. You must also hold a valid work permit. The local police regularly carry out routine checks on companies/schools. Violation of Chinese Immigration Laws can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, deportation, a travel ban preventing you from leaving China, and an exclusion order, which prevents you from returning.
Although your employer/agency may submit the application on your behalf, it’s your responsibility to make sure you abide by Chinese immigration laws and that your visa, work permit and any other necessary documents are valid. You can do this by contacting the Chinese Embassy to check visa requirements and making sure you (rather than an employment agency) research the institution you’re going to work for before you leave the UK. When submitting your visa application, and when you receive your work permit, check that the details are correct i.e, the name of the company and your job title and location match your role and city you are working in. If they don’t, you can be detained.
If you intend to change employer you should check with the Chinese authorities whether a new visa and work permit is required.
Teaching in China can be a rewarding experience but it’s important that you research the school or university thoroughly before you travel. There have been increasing incidents of teachers being arrested and detained (which could lead to deportation) for working on the wrong visas. Some have also got into disputes with their employers, who have refused to pay their salaries.
You can help avoid this by making sure you (rather than an employment agency) research the institution and visa regulations properly before you leave the UK. It’s illegal to work in China on a tourist or business visit visa. If you intend to change employer in China you should check with the Chinese authorities whether a new visa and work permit is required.