China Visa: Who Needs One, Where to Get It, About the 72-hour Visa-Free Stopover

Important Notices:

Effective October 1, 2016 China visa rules have been eased for tourists on cruise ships entering Shanghai, the Shanghai Daily has reported. TOURIST groups that arrive in Shanghai via cruises will be given 15 days of visa-free stay. Details are still emerging, we will update as more info becomes available.

The validity of business and tourist visas for US, Canadian and Israeli citizens has been expanded to 10 years (previously one year)

A China Visa is no longer needed for certain passengers on a 72-hour transit or stopover entry. This applies to passport holders from 51 countries when entering through Beijing, Shanghai (Pudong and Hongqiao), Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Guilin, Kunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Tianjin, Nanjing, Changsha, Xiamen and Xian. More details here.

New 144-hour Visa Free Entry Rules are in effect from January 30, 2016 for China's Yangtze River Delta doubling the time of transit stay from the existing 72-hour visa for entries from Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing.

China Visa

A China Visa is needed by all foreign passport holders upon entry into China with very few exceptions.

At the time of this writing (April 2016), a Chinese visa is not required for passport holders from the following countries:

  • For a visit of up to 90 days
    • San Marino
  • For a visit of up to 30 days
    • Bahamas
    • Fiji
    • Grenada
    • Mauritious
    • Seychelles
  • For a visit of up to 15 days
    • Singapore
    • Brunei
    • Japan

All other nationalities are required to obtain a China Visa to enter the PRC.

Also, a China Visa is no longer needed for transit passengers on a 72-hour stopover entry coming through the airports at Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. More details here.

For visa purposes, Hong Kong and Macau are separate Special Administrative Regions and most Western nationals do not require a visa. More info on Hong Kong Visas and who is required to have one from our sister site

If traveling to Tibet, an additional permit is required.

Which Category of China Visa should I apply for?

There are several kinds of China visas and effective September 1, 2013, new categories have been established. The L visa which was the one used previously for most visitors and tourists has been broken down in several classes depending on the purpose of your visit.

For ordinary tourists, the type of visa is still the L visa, which can be a single, double or multiple entry visa.

These are the current categories of China Visas, with the new categories in red, pay special attention if you previously traveled with an L visa but you fall into one of the new categories:

  • L Visa: For ordinary tourists
  • M Visa: For persons on business or commercial activities
  • Q1/Q2: For relatives for purposes of family reunion or for purposes of adoption
  • F Visa: For exchanges in science, technology, education, cultural, or sports activities.
  • J Visa: For journalists
  • R Visa: The "talent" visa for highly specialized individuals in fields needed in China
  • X1/X2 Visa: For students X1 for long-term, X2 for short-term studies
  • Z Visa: For persons applying to work in China but NOT their accompanying families as before, accompanying members must apply under an S1/S2 visa
  • S1/S2 Visa: For accompanying family members of individuals on work or student visas (X and Z applicants)

Us the above as guidelines and bear in mind that further rules of implementation and details are expected to be issued, this is a work in progress. More info and latest developments here.

When should I apply for my China Visa?

There are two dates you need to be concerned with:

  • The validity of the visa, indicated by the "Enter Before" date. You may enter China anytime during this period when the visa is valid. China Visas are valid for either 3, 6 or 12 months according to the purpose and number of entries.

    For a regular tourist visa, applying within 3 months of the expected day of travel will be sufficient. In fact, if you do it much earlier, you run the risk of your "enter before" date expiring before you get to China.

    For U.S., Canadian and Israeli citizens: You can apply for visas with a validity of 10 years.

  • How long you can stay, this is typically 30 days per entry and your duration of stay begins the day you enter China.

China Visa

Where and How to Apply for a Chinese Visa?

China Visas can be applied for at Chinese Embassies and Consulates throughout the world. Applications must be made in person and cannot be mailed.

Obviously, you may not always be able to go in person to the Embassy or Consulate that has consular jurisdiction over the country/state where you reside, most Travel Agents can help process your visa.

Alternatively you can use a Visa agent that takes care of the process for you. You mail the required documents to them and they bring and process your visa at the required Consular office. You can follow the status of your application online and is really a good alternative when you don't live nearby any of the Consular offices.

Here are some online Visa Agents that can help you apply for your Chinese visa (See below for our experiences when dealing with some of these agencies):

Applying in the United States:

Applying in the U.K.:

In Germany:

A comprehensive visa service for residents in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.:

What You Will Need:

You need to submit the following materials for your application:

  • A valid passport, the passport must have at least six (6) months of remaining validity and at least one blank page in it

    For U.S. citizens applying for the 10-year multiple visa, the passport must be valid for at least one year. If your passport expires while your 10-year visa is still valid, you do not need to apply for a new visa, but you will have to travel with both passports, the new one and the old one where the visa is stamped.

  • A copy of the main passport information page (where the photo is)
  • One completed Visa Application Form. The form must be typed, it cannot be handwritten You can download the application here
  • One recent photo
  • An invitation letter from an "authorized tourism unit", which can be a corporation or individual in China. If an individual, a photocopy of his/her ID must also be included
  • Copy of airplane tickets AND hotel reservations (This requirement seems to have been waived on the latest regulation changes but it could still be subject to the discretion of the granting office)

For additional information on the requirements and for business and student visa requirements check the website of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, english version.

You can apply for a visa in the country where you are a resident, regardless of your nationality, i.e. a U.S. citizen living in the U.K. could apply for a China Visa in the U.K. When applying in a country different from your nationality, additional documentation is needed, for example a copy of your resident permit.

Applying for a China Visa in Hong Kong

A China Visa is not needed by most visitors to enter Hong Kong, and this is a good place to get your China Visa if going to the Mainland.

You can do that at most travel agencies, or you can apply directly to the Visa Office of the People's Republic of China in Wanchai:

7th Floor, Lower Block, China Resources Center,
26 Harbour Road, Wan Chai

The normal time to get a visa is three days, and you used to be able to get it in one day for an extra fee but this is not always the case any more. It is best to allow for the extra time as regulations change constantly.

How much does a China Visa cost?

There might be two types of fees involved, the Consular Fee and the Agency Service Fee if you use a travel or visa agency to process the visa.

The Consular Fees vary according to the mutual agreement between China and the passport issuing country. American passport holders pay considerably higher consular fees.

Consular and Service China Visa fees also vary depending on the type of visa and how fast you need it.

Here are some example fees for the China Visa Consular Fees and the Agency Fees if you were to use a service like the ones listed above, note that "normal" processing times vary between 4 to 6 business days, but when planning to apply through an agent need to take into account the transit time it would take to get your documents over and back from the agent.

Guideline for China Tourist Visa Fees
Type of Visa Consular Fee Agency Fee
In the U.S. for American Passports
Multiple Entry - 5 days processing US$140 US$99.99
Multiple Entry - 8 day processing US$140 US$79.99
In the UK for UK Passports
Single Entry £96 Incl.
Double Entry £111 Incl.
Multiple Entry - 6 months £171 Incl.
Multiple Entry - 12 months £261 Incl.
In Germany for German Passports
Single Entry - 10 days processing €30 €19,90
Double Entry - 10 days processing €45 €19,90

Use the above table as guidelines only, and note that fees change and vary constantly. If you are in a hurry, in most cases you will have to pay an extra premium for expedited service, so plan accordingly to avoid having to pay more.

Fees also vary when applying for a Visa in a country different than your own. For example, a British citizen residing in the U.S. can apply for a visa through a U.S. Chinese consulate, but the consular visa fee will be different from the fee charged to U.S. passport holders. The Agency Visa fee might be different as well.

Should I apply for single entry, double entry or multiple entry visa?

A single entry visa is sufficient under normal circumstances, when you only enter China once and complete your tour/visit. A double entry or multiple entry visa will be necessary in some cases for example:
  • If you will be going to Hong Kong or Macau in between the trip: Because Hong Kong and Macau are part of China but considered Special Administrative Regions (SAR) if your China trip itinerary includes a visit to either Hong Kong or Macau in the middle of the trip, you will need a visa upon re-entering China. For this reason, most itineraries include a visit to Hong Kong and Macau either at the beginning or end of the trip.

  • Visiting China on a Cruise ship: the number of entries will depend on the Cruise ship's itinerary and whether you will be entering international waters in between, in this case you will be needing a double/multiple entry visa. A Cruise itinerary that stops in Beijing (China) for example, then on to Seoul (South Korea), and then Shanghai (China) will require a double-entry visa.

  • Effective October 1, 2016, visa rules has been eased for cruise passengers entering Shanghai, who will be entitled to a 15-day visa-free entry if joining a tourist group organized by travel agencies that are legally registered in China.

When in doubt, apply for a double/multiple entry visa. For U.S. passport holders, the consular fee is the same whether you are applying for single or multiple, so might as well apply for multiple entry and be on the safe side.

For Overseas Chinese, it is now possible to apply for a 2 year multiple entry visa in order to visit relatives. My father recently used the agent at and was able to secure the 2-year multiple entry visa, the consular fee and agency fee is the same whether you apply for a single entry or a multiple entry, so might as well try! Starting in November 2014, visa validity for U.S. passport holders has been increased to 10 years.

Using an Agent to process your China Visa

Because applying for a China visa must be done in person, i.e. can not be mailed, most times it is necessary to use the services of an agent unless you live in a city with a Chinese consulate nearby.

It is a very straigth-forward process to obtain a visa using an agent. In the U.S. we have used the services of . Their website is easy to navigate and walks you through the entire process: print and fill out application form, send documents including passport photo and copy of itinerary, payment is via paypal or credit card, and then you choose how you want to receive your passports back. We chose the Fedex option which was an additional $14.95.

The entire process took a bit over a week from beginning to end. At every step of the process we were kept informed, we got an email when they received the documents, when they were taken to the embassy and when they were shipped back to us with the Fedex tracking number. At any time you can log in their site and see the status i.e. documents at consulate, pick up scheduled on xxx, etc.

Another option if you are in the U.S. is to inquire at your local AAA office. (Look for your local AAA office here.) Some will help you process your China Visa, some only if you have purchased a package through them. The ones that do, work also through agents so there will be a fee involved. We have used the AAA office in St. Louis, MO. (Note: we have been advised this office is no longer processing China visas) and also was a very simple process, they even take the pictures for you and help you review your application to make sure everything is in order. The fee, including the $140 consular fee was $168 per passport.

The 72-hour/144-hour Visa Free Stopover

Passengers from 51 countries are allowed to enter China visa free for 72 hours when arriving at a designated airport (see list below) and are "in transit" to a third destination. There are many limitations and requirements, so please pay attention and make sure you meet ALL of them.

Who does it apply to?: You must have a valid passport from one of the following 51 countries: Albania, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.

You must enter through one of these airports:

  • Beijing Capital Airport (PEK)
  • Shanghai Hongqiao Airport (SHA)
  • Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG)
  • Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN)
  • Chengdu Shuangliu Airport (CTU)
  • Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG)
  • Shenyang Taoxian International Airport (SHE)
  • Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport (DLC)
  • Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL)
  • Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG)
  • Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH)
  • Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN)
  • Xian Xianyang International Airport (XIY)
  • Changsha Changsha Huanghua International Airport (CSX)
  • Nanjing Nanjing Lukou International Airport (NKG)
  • Tianjin Tianjin Binhai International Airport (TSN)
  • Wuhan Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH)

New 144-hour Visa Free Entry Rules are in effect from January 30, 2016 and apply to entries via Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing, including Shanghai's Seaports for visitors to this specified geographic area: Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu Province, and Zhejiang Province which covers China's Yangtze River Delta.

You must be on transit or stop-over, i.e. Beijing or Shanghai are NOT your final destination, i.e. you cannot be flying on a roundtrip ticket such as Bangkok - Shanghai - Bangkok, you must be "in transit" through China on your way to a third country and must have a confirmed flight to this third country. For example Bangkok - Shanghai - Tokyo

For this purpose, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are considered third countries.

You may not leave the city or specified geographic area during your 72-hour stay and you must exit via the same city you came in.

How to apply for the 72-hour Visa Free Stopover Stay? You first apply through the airline you will be flying and on arrival you fill out the application to the border control authorities.

For more info and latest developments: U.S. and China Visa Law Blog

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