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What you need to know about returning to Shanghai as an expat

Since COVID-19 has turned into a global pandemic, China has taken drastic measures to prevent a second wave from happening. The country has closed its border to virtually all foreigners since March 28, 2020, significantly reducing the number of international flights into the country. With the pandemic seemingly under control in China and the majority of the country marked as low-risk areas, Shanghai-based expats who are currently abroad are waiting to return. This Pacific Prime China article is a short guide for expats and their families who are returning to Shanghai.

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Returning expats and their families

While travel for leisure is not likely to happen anytime soon, expatriates who live and work in China are looking forward to returning. However, the process for returning expats and their families involves more than booking flights and quarantine procedures. It is worth noting that the information provided in this article is subject to change and that qualification criteria and regulations can vary between cities and regions. If in doubt about any of the below-mentioned points, please contact the nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate.

Applying for a visa

Visa application processes are currently available for foreign executives and their families.

If your company is based in Shanghai then your employer can apply for an invitation letter from the District Foreign Affairs Office (FAO). Shanghai has 16 District FAOs in total, with each having a unique application procedure. Additionally, another application channel is available through the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce (SCOFCOM), making it possible for companies to apply via SCOFCOM instead.

Even though individuals can apply for letters of invitation, the district government seems to consider the economic value of the applicant before offering approval. Therefore, it could be more difficult for individuals to get a visa. Companies can also include family members in their applications, though it’s unclear whether dependents can apply on their own.

Required documents

Be sure to have the following documents for your visa application process:

  • Company introduction: The introduction should state how the business contributes to Shanghai’s economy.
  • Written application: The application should make it clear why the employee is urgently needed back in Shanghai, along with the employee’s personal information such as name, nationality, and job title. It should also enclose a scanned copy of the employee’s passport information and visa page
  • Letter of Guarantee from the employer: This letter should state that the employee is in good health and that the company will ask the employee to follow the epidemic prevention and control regulations.


The company should apply in the district it is registered in at the functional zones, sub-district office, or the district competent authorities according to its industry, such as the Education Commission or Commission of Commerce. The authorities will then submit the application to the company’s District FAO. If the District FAO decides that the employee is essential to company operations, they will notify the company. They will also forward the employee’s application to the Shanghai FAO. Companies that apply through SCOFCOM instead of their District governments will have their applications reviewed by SCOFCOM first and then forwarded to the Shanghai FAO.

If the Shanghai FAO approves of the application after reviewing it, then a visa notification will be issued to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Beijing or the Chinese Embassy or consulate in the employee’s country. The company will receive a copy of the visa notification as well, which should be scanned or faxed to the employee. The employee can then take a copy of the notification to their Chinese Embassy or consulate to proceed with their application.

The notification comes with a bar code that allows the embassy or consulate to access any information that the Shanghai authorities have collected. It’s worth noting that additional information may be required by the MFA, local embassy, or consulate.

Health requirements

Along with their visa application materials, employees may also be asked to provide a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test to the embassy or consulate. The test must have been taken within three days (72 hours) of the time of application.

Quarantine upon returning to China

Those who are approved to travel to China should plan to spend 14 days under quarantine. Quarantine is likely to take place at a facility since home quarantine eligibility criteria are currently high. Unless the person is pregnant, has a disability, or has other exceptional circumstances, they will most likely be subject to centralized quarantine.

Any person entering China will have to undergo an antibody test and an additional nucleic acid test. Moreover, additional procedures may apply if any person on the flight tests positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in China.

Even though health insurance is not required in Shanghai, it is a good idea to have international health insurance or family health insurance while living in China to avoid having to pay hefty bills. If you’re looking for health insurance for expats, then look no further than Pacific Prime China. As a reputable insurance agent, Pacific Prime helps expats in China and around the world to secure the ideal insurance plan for their needs and budget. Contact us for free expert advice or a no-obligation plan comparison or quote today.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime China solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.


Content Creator at Pacific Prime China
Jantra Jacobs is a content writer at Pacific Prime. On a typical work day, she writes and edits articles, guides and anything else word-related. She aims to produce content that is easy for readers to understand and enjoyable at the same time.

When she’s not writing, she’s likely searching for a new restaurant or cafe to try, reading or doing yoga.