China Visa

Who Needs One, When, Where and How To Apply

In this section we explore one of the essential steps on your China trip planning to make sure you have all the pertinent documentation needed to enter China, in particular visa requirements.

Who needs a China Visa?

China Visa

Prior to 2024 requirement of a China visa was more the rule than the exception. Since then, rules have eased considerably with many more foreign travelers enjoying visa-free entry into China.

That includes travelers from countries with bilateral agreements with China, a new 15-day visa-free entry protocol for passport holders from mostly European countries, exemptions for cruise passengers and travelers on a 72/144 hour stopover at specific ports of entry.

You can review the China Visa-Free Entry protocols and exemptions to see if they apply to your circumstances. More than one protocol may apply. If none of the exemptions can be applied then you will need to obtain a China visa in order to enter the country.

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

Here's a comprehensive list of all China visa categories from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Consular Services.

Please note that the type of visa issued, number of entries and validity of visa is to the discretion of the consular officer. They will grant the visa based on stated purpose of travel and supporting documentation submitted.

When should I apply for my China Visa?

You need to contact the Chinese consular office in the country where you are applying as processing times may vary. As a general rule, and it has been our experience, it takes about 4 to 5 working days.

In addition, 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 3, 6 or 12 months and up to 10 years, 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.

  • 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

What You Will Need:

Good news! Requirements have eased in 2024. For example, effective January 1st, 2024, U.S. travelers no longer need to submit air tickets, hotel reservations and invitation letters.

As per the new visa application requirements you need to submit the following:

  • A valid passport, the passport must have at least six (6) months of remaining validity and at least two blank pages
  • A copy of the main passport information page (where the photo is)
  • One completed Visa Application Form or COVA Visa Form (China Online Visa Application), you can fill out the form online at
  • Photocopy of latest Chinese visa or resident permit if applicable
  • Proof of residence (address), for example driver's license, utility bill, bank statement
  • Signed "Where You Stay Form"

Refer to the Requirements and Procedures for Chinese Visa Application (Updated in February, 2024)

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.

Where and How to Apply for a Chinese Visa?

Once all the documentation and COVA Visa Form has been completed (about 8 pages), printed and signed, all paperwork and physical required documentation has to be turned in to the Consular or Visa Office of your jurisdiction IN PERSON. Applications cannot be mailed.

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, in that case, 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:

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

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, 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 only $168 per passport, a real bargain.

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.

Consular and Service 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
10 Year Multiple Entry - 8-11 days processing US$140 US$249
In the UK for UK Passports
Single/Double Entry 4-days processing £130 £144
2-year Multiple Entry 4-days processing £130 £144
5-year Multiple Entry 4-days processing £194 £144
10-year Multiple Entry 4-days processing £257 £144

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.

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