China: Visa

With the exception of transit passengers (see below), you must have a visa (签证) to visit mainland China. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate well before departure. Citizens from most Western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors from most western countries can stay in Hong Kong with free visa for 7 to 90 day.  The time duration should depend on which country you are from.

Chinese visa applications can, in some jurisdictions for some types of passport holders, be applied for online.

To visit mainland China, travelers should check the most up-to-date information before traveling.

Chinese Visa Categories

Visa Category Description of Visa

C

Issued to foreign crew members of means of international transportation, including aircraft, trains and ships, or motor vehicle drivers engaged in cross-border transport activities, or to the accompanying family members of the crew members of the above-mentioned ships.

D

Issued to those who intend to reside in China permanently.

F

Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities.

G

Issued to those who intend to transit through China.

J1

Issued to resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations stationed in China. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.

J2

Issued to foreign journalists who intend to go to China for short-term news coverage. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.

L

Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.

M

Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities.

Q1

Issued to those who are family members of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go to China for family reunion, or to those who intend to go to China for the purpose of foster care. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.  “Family members” refers to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters and parents-in-law.

Q2

Issued to those who intend to visit their relatives who are Chinese citizens residing in China or foreigners with permanent residence in China. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.

R

Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.

S1

Issued to those who intend to go to China to visit the foreigners working or studying in China to whom they are spouses, parents, sons or daughters under the age of 18 or parents-in-law, or to those who intend to go to China for other private affairs. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.

S2

Issued to those who intend to visit their family members who are foreigners working or studying in China, or to those who intend to go to China for other private matters. The intended duration of stay in China is no more than 180 days.  “family members” refers to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters and parents-in-law.

X1

Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of more than 180 days.

X2

Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.

Z

Issued to those who intend to work in China.

How to Apply

I recommend avoiding 3rd party agents and applying directly with the Chinese Embassy or consulate with the jurisdiction of your home – for example, within the USA or Canada.    The information changes so frequently on visas, that I will not provide further information here.

In most cases you will need to apply as tourist, needing the following documents:

  • a detailed return itinerary showing flights, cities and hotels
  • an invitation / financial guarantee letter to come to China
  • your original Passport
  • color Passport photo
  • complete Visa application (long form)

In some cases you will need to apply under a business structure, needing the following documents:

  • a detailed itinerary showing dates, meetings and hotels
  • an invitation / legal guarantee letter from a Chinese company
  • your original Passport
  • color Passport photo
  • complete Visa application (long form)
  • occasionally requires proof of your profession

Transit Visa Exemption Program

Shanghai & Beijing offer Visa-free transit travel for transit tourists from many countries to spend up to 72 hours in Shanghai / Beijing without a visa. This waiving visas policy permits visa free entry for transit travelers with visas and plane tickets to a third country to transit through for a visa-free stay of up to 72 hours. The policy does not apply to travelers arriving by ship.

The Transit Visa Exemption Program lets you spend 72 hours in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu or Chongqing without the hassle and cost of applying for a single-entry visa.  Great for business travelers you’ll have up to 3 days (and nights) for meetings in a single city.   You have to be travelling onwards to a third country directly from the arrival city, such as flying from USA to Hong Kong to via Shanghai.

You must have a confirmed, onward ticket to a third country before you board your flight to China. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are “international flights” so you may fly there on a non-stop flight after your time in China.  If you’re just flying into Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing or Guangzhou and then heading straight back home again you’ll have to obtain the appropriate visa (or an APEC card) before boarding your flight to China.

  • You cannot have a return ticket to the country you came from, even if the cities are different (i.e. New York-Beijing-Los Angeles would not work).
  • You also must fly into and fly out of the same city and airport. Note: In Shanghai you can fly into or out of either airport, I.e. into Pudong and out of Hongqiao or vice-versa.
  • You may not leave the metropolitan area of the city you arrive in. For example: You cannot fly into Beijing, take another flight to Shanghai or Guangzhou and leave China from there under the 72-hour transit rule.

The recommended itinerary:
USA –> Shanghai (2 day) –> Hong Kong –> USA
(and often the cheapest in last minute flights also)

On arrival into China, look for the 72-hour Transit Visa lanes at passport control.

The current visa-free countries include:

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Travel to Tibet

Any non-Chinese citizen must have a Tibet Travel Permit in order to enter Tibet. This permit is issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau, and will be checked when going on board any buses, trains or airlines that bound for Tibet. However, the only way to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit is to arrange a tour operated by an approved Tibetan travel agent which at least includes hotels and transportation. Foreigners are also not permitted to travel by public buses within Tibet and are only allowed to travel by private transportation as organised in the tour.  Additionally, if entering Tibet from Nepal, you must also joined a group tour and be only allowed on a group visa. The Tibet Travel Permit has to be handed in to the tour guide upon arrival in the airport or train station, and to tour guide will keep the permit until the traveler leaves Tibet.

May 21st, 2018|