S1 and S2 Chinese Visa Difference

What are the differences between a Chinese “S1” visa and “S2” visa

In 2013, China introduced a new regulation that benefits many foreigners and their family members. Instead of categorizing foreigner’s family members under tourist “L” visa, the Chinese government introduced a new category for family members that are visiting foreigners with temporary or permanent residence permits in China, and this category is known as “S”. This category now allows expat family members to stay longer than a tourist visa would have allowed them and extends beyond just immediate family members to all family relatives such as in-laws, grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts.

S1 visas are valid for 3 months with a single entry so make sure you time the application with your arrival time in China. Once you enter China, you have 30 days to apply for a residence permit. Please see information on residence permits by visiting our FAQ regarding residence permits. For information regarding S1 and S2 applications, please visit work and dependent visa requirements or for student visa relatives, please visit student visa dependent requirements.

S2 visa validity varies based on the applicant’s nationalities. You can visit our pages for further information.

1) What are the types of “S” visas?

There are two types of “S” visas. S1 is for long term staying and usually issued to dependents of work “Z” visa and student “X” visa holders. Dependents usually are categorized as spouses and children under the age of 18. However, under some circumstance parents and children over the age of 18 can also be granted S1 visas. S1 visa holders must apply for a residence permit within 30 days of entering China. You can follow the link to residence permit information. For S1 visa requirements, please follow the link to work and dependents visa requirements. For student visa dependents, please visit our student visa dependents page.

S2 visas are for those visiting foreigners that are residing in China. For US passport holders, S2 visas are usually multiple entries, valid for 10 years and with a duration of stay of up to 120 days. For other nationalities, you can select the number of entries and validity and duration corresponding to the entries. To apply for an S2 visa, please see our page regarding work visas and dependent requirements. For student visa dependents, please visit our student visa dependent page.

2) S1 vs. S2, the length of stay

Other than the required documents to submit for S1 and S2, the other main difference between S1 and S2 is the duration you can stay in China. S1 visas allow the applicant to apply for residence permits which can be up to 5 years in validity (in most cases it is 1 year and extendable based on the “Z” or “X” visa holder’s duration). S1 visas are valid for 3 months with single entry and 30 days duration of stay. Once you enter China, you will have 30 days to apply for a resident permit. For S2 visas, depending on your nationality your duration of stay will vary, but for U.S citizens and certain nationalities with U.S. permanent resident cards, usually you can ask for up to 120 days. For some other nationalities you can request up to 30-60 days.

3) What Type of S visa should I Apply for (S1 or S2)?

The type of visa you should apply for all depends on answers to these 3 questions:

1.What is the visa stay duration of the primary visa holder’s Z or X visa.

If the primary visa holder’s visa stay duration is less than 90 days, you can usually apply for S2 visa and request for a 90 days stay. Any Z or X visa with a duration less than 90 days usually will not be issued a residence permit. Only X1 and their dependents will be allowed to apply for a residence permit. X1 is for studying in China longer than 180 days and X2 is for less. For the difference between them please visit our X visa page.

2.Can the host company or university provide a visa invitation letter from the city or local government. Usually if the primary visa holder has already obtained his or her residence permit then dependents can obtain one as well.

An official visa invitation letter issued by the foreign ministry of affair is a requirement to obtain an S1 visa. Only those companies and universities that are permitted by the government to hire foreigners or host foreigner students can obtain the invitation letter issued by the foreign ministry. Now if your company or school cannot, don’t panic, your company or school is not operating illegally. Chances are, they weren’t able to get permission to host dependents of Z or X visas or they are private company or school and haven’t jumped through the red tape to get permission yet. You can apply for an S2 visa. For S2 visas, the residence permit holder just needs to issue an invitation letter and provide a copy of the first page of passport and a copy of their residence permit.

3. How long do you intend to stay in China – are you just visiting or going to live and care for the primary visa holder.

S1 visa is usually for dependents to stay and live with the primary visa holder for an extended period and children will also attend school in China. S2 is usually for short period visit. Chinese Consulate will grant a stay of 90 days.


If you have a question or are unsure of which category to apply for, please contact us at 713-774-5606 or office@visa-chinese.com for free consultation and document checks.