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Question: Is it possible to change a Tourist visa to a Student visa in China?

Question: Is it possible to change a Tourist visa to a Student visa in China?

Let us suppose for just a minute that you are touring China. You have been studying Chinese and you discover a fantastic study program (let’s say like ours) that seems perfect for you. You decide that you want to change your visa from one issued to you as a tourist to one that will allow you to remain in China as a student. Can you change your tourist visa into a student visa? 

Unless you are related to a Chinese citizen, the answer is probably no. In some cases, even if you are related to someone in China, the answer might still be no. Some people might have been able to do this prior to 2012, but then the rules changed. It is not wrong to try, but you should keep a close eye on the expiration date for your tourist visa because there are some stiff penalties for staying past its expiration date.

There are several reasons why you are unlikely to be able to go straight from having a tourist visa to gaining a student visa. 

First of all, in order to gain a student visa, you need to be a student with an accredited educational institution. To gain that status, you might have to return to your home country, and begin the application process to become a student. Upon acceptance, your school will help you with all of the subsequent applications that will be required in order to travel to China and to live there as a student. As with most visas these days, you will need to pass a background check. If you think about it, this is a very reasonable requirement, and works to help protect you as well as the country you are entering.

Another reason that you probably cannot simply change your tourist visa over to a student visa is that applications need to be made through the Chinese Embassy corresponding to your country – and that might mean going back home in order to apply. Some countries maintain an embassy office in Hong Kong, but that is not true for everyone, and the rules for application vary from country to country.

If you are thinking about getting a student visa, you need to make sure that it is the type of visa you really need. X2 visas are issued for 180 days or less (good for one semester of study) X1 visas are issued for more than 180 days and are good for longer terms of study. 

Arriving to China after getting your student visa

Applications for visas must be hand-delivered to the consulate, they cannot be mailed. If you cannot go there yourself, you can have a representative deliver them. The application should be filled out in full, include a picture that is full front view of the face, where both ears are equally visible, and no hat is worn. It should also include a copy of your valid passport. Your passport should have at least six months to go on it, with corresponding blank pages. If you have been to China before, it should include a copy of the page that shows when you were last there. 

People who might want a student visa include those who want a total immersion language experience, students who are participating in a student exchange program, graduate students whose studies will benefit from extended time in China – such as archeology students or business students who are focusing on international trade. Student visas do not allow the recipient to work fulltime. But students can apply for part-time jobs once they arrive, and they can participate in internships and similar programs that are associated with their course of study. 

Travelers who plan to focus more on commercial endeavors would be better advised to get a type M, R or Z visa.  Type M Visas are issued to those who are going there to participate in commercial or trade activities. This is ideal for people who have their own business or who are already affiliated with a company in some capacity. A type R visa is for someone who has a talent or skill that might be highly prized in China. Type Z visas are for people who plan to work in China. 

If you have family in China, you can obtain Q1 or Q2 visas. These are issued for family reunions, foster care and other considerations. They are organized in a manner similar to student visas, in that Q1 visas are issued for more than 180 days, and Q2 is for a shorter amount of time. There are special rules for children who are born in a country other than China who have one or more parents who are Chinese citizens. 

If the visas are issued in the United States, applicants must provide proof of legal residency in the U.S.

As you can see, applying for a visa can be quite complicated. Studying in China, however, can be exceptionally rewarding. It is a land that is steeped in tradition, with a culture that is complex. It is one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, and is a marvelous place to explore language, history, archeology or the sciences and more. 

If your dream is to view the wonders that can be found there and to immerse yourself in learning more about the Chinese culture, then by all means apply for a student visa. But do be aware that if you have fallen in love with the country while touring, you will probably have to return to your homeland in order to apply for a student visa. You have to apply to an institute of higher learning, have your course of study approved, and go through the full process of applying for a visa – with all the details completed. In fact, it is a good idea to plan ahead so that you can be sure to get your visa before the beginning of your course of study. 


Once there, it should be possible to enjoy the sights and sounds of China. Touring the famous places near your school might well be part of your studies. 

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