China Visa

Who Needs One, Where to Get It, About the 72 and 144-hour Visa-Free Stopover

Latest Notices:

Everyone returning to China has to reapply for their visa, as travel documents issued before the pandemic have been nullified.

Coronavirus: Travel restrictions for visitors from Europe are easing. Passport holders from 36 countries, including Britain, France and Germany, with a valid residence permit can apply for a visa without an invitation letter. But anyone coming from abroad is still subject to Covid-19 tests and a 14-day quarantine

Who needs a China Visa?

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:

  • For a visit of up to 90 days
    • San Marino
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • For a visit of up to 60 days
    • Mauritius
  • For a visit of up to 30 days
    • Bahamas
    • Barbados
    • Belarus
    • Ecuador
    • Fiji
    • Grenada
    • Qatar
    • Serbia
    • Seychelles
    • Tonga
    • UAE
  • For a visit of up to 15 days
    • Singapore
    • Brunei
    • Japan
  • Residents from 59 countries can travel visa-free to Hainan as long as their tours are booked through travel agencies.

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

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.

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)

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:

  • 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 passport and 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 have 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. More here.

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 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 144-hour visa-free transit you must enter through one of these airports, ports or railway stations:

  • Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA)
  • Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)
  • Shanghai Railway Station
  • Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal
  • Shanghai Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal
  • Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH)
  • Nanjing Lukou International Airport (NKG)
  • Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) At this time, visa-free entry is not supported for the new Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX)
  • Beijing West Railway Station
  • Tianjin Binhai International Airport
  • Tianjin Tianjin International Cruise Home Port
  • Hebei Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport (SJW)
  • Hebei Qinhuangdao Beidaihe International Airport (BPE)
  • Guangdong Guangzhou Baiyun Airport (CAN)
  • Guangdong Shenzhen Bao'an Airport (SZX)
  • Guangdong Jieyang Chaoshan Airport (SWA)
  • Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport (DLC)
  • Shenyang Taoxian International Airport (SHE)
  • Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU)
  • Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN)
  • Xiamen All Seaports
  • Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH)
  • Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG)
  • Qingdao Liuting International Airport (TAO)
  • Qingdao Qindao Cruise Port
  • Xian Xianyang International Airport (XIY) From December 1st 2019
  • Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG) From December 1st 2019
  • Ningbo Ningbo Lishe International Airport (NGB) From December 1st 2019

For the 72-hour visa-free transit you must enter through one of these airports:

  • Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG)
  • Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL)
  • Xian Xianyang International Airport (XIY)
  • Changsha Changsha Huanghua International Airport (CSX)
  • Harbin Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB)

Entry with the 72 or 144-hour Visa Free entry allows you to stay only within the area that visa applies to.

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.

The allowed stay area under the Chengdu 144-Hour Transit Visa Free Policy will be expanded to Chengdu, Leshan, Yibin, Deyang and altogether 11 cities in Sichuan Province

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 or 144-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 latest info and to see if you qualify for 72 or 144-visa free entry, use the Chinese government visa-free transit app, which spells out specifically which ports of entry are covered, areas open to travel, 72 or 144 hours, etc.

Passport Visas

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