China Visa: Who Needs One, Where to Get It, About the 72 and 144-hour Visa-Free Stopover
Starting January 1, 2019 the 144-hour visa free stay is being extended to the following cities which are currently on the 72-hour program: Xiamen, Qingdao, Wuhan, Chengdu and Kunming
A Visa exemption agreement has been signed in July 2018 with the State of Qatar and will enter into force after the completion of necessary domestic legal procedures in both countries. For effective date follow the website of the embassy
China Visa Quicklinks
Who needs a 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 (November 2018), a Chinese visa is not required for ordinary passport holders from the following countries:
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 or 144-hour stopover entry coming through specific airports, ports or railway stations in China. 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 www.hong-kong-traveller.com
Residents from 59 countries can travel visa-free to Hainan ("China's Hawaii") starting on May 1, 2018 as long as their tours are booked through travel agencies. See more here.
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:
Use the above as guidelines and bear in mind that rules and requirements change. More info and latest developments here.
When should I apply for my China Visa?
There are two dates you need to be concerned with:
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: www.PassportVisasExpress.com
Applying in the U.K.: www.visaforchina.org.uk
In Germany: www.china-visum24.de
A comprehensive passport and visa service for residents in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.: www.visahq.com
What You Will Need:
You need to submit the following materials for your application:
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 KongA 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.
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:
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 www.PassportVisasExpress.com 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 www.PassportVisasExpress.com . 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 53 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 53 countries: Albania, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belarus, 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, Monaco, 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.
For the 72-hour visa-free transit you must enter through one of these airports:
For the 144-hour visa-free transit you must enter through one of these airports, ports or railway stations:
The latest 144-hour visa-exemption transit policy expands the scope of temporary stay to cover Shanghai Municipality, Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province, which are collectively known as the Yangtze River Delta area.
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 specified geographic area during your 72 or 144-hour stay but you no longer need to exit via the same entry venue you came in, i.e. cruise passengers entering through Shanghai ports can fly out of Shanghai via Pudong, Hongqiao or Xiaoshan Airports.
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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