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.
Chinese Visa Categories
|Visa Category||Description of Visa|
|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.|
|Issued to those who intend to reside in China permanently.|
|Issued to those who intend to go to China for business exchanges, business visits and other business activities. Most creative team members will fall into this category.|
|Issued to those who intend to transit through China.|
|Issued to resident foreign journalists of foreign news organizations stationed in China. The intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days.|
|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.|
|Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist.|
|Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Issued to those who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of more than 180 days.|
|Issued to those who intend to study in China for a period of less than 180 days.|
|Issued to those who intend to work in China. Most actors and crew on tour will fall into this category.|
Z-visas cover people working in China, their spouses and dependent children. If your Notification of Foreigner’s Work Permit (NFWP) is valid for longer than 364 nights, a health certificate (Physical Examination Record for Foreigners) will be required. For applicants from Europe and the United States, even if you have the health checks before you arrive in China you will have to repeat them once you arrive, with the exception of your X-rays if they are fully labelled. However, if the X-rays are older than six months, they may be considered out of date and will be repeated.
If you have already received a valid Chinese Notification of Foreigner’s Work Permit (NFWP), the official process is to enter China on a temporary 30-day Z-visa, then you will have the health check within 30 days of your arrival, submitting the Notification of Foreigner’s Work Permit (NFWP), your PSB temporary residence registration certificate, your passport with your temporary z-visa with an entry stamp less than 29 nights old, color photos, along with the your officially chopped health certificate to the PSB, and make an “interview” in person. The process can take take an additional 10 days, prior to receiving back your original passport with your actual Z-visa allowing you to start work. Then within 24 hours, you must re-register at the local police registration for your new temporary residence registration certificate.
How to Apply
I recommend avoiding 3rd party agents and applying directly with the Chinese Embassy or consulate within the jurisdiction of your home – for example, within the USA or Canada. The information changes so frequently on visas, that I will only provide the most basic 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 (with copies of Z visa, alien registration book and PSB registration)
- 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 (with various license copies)
- 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 144 hours in Shanghai or Beijing without a visa. Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Guilin, Hangzhou, Harbin, Kunming, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen and Xi’an similarly offer visa-free transit travel for transit tourists to spend up to 72 hours. 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 brief visa-free stay. The policy does not apply to travelers arriving by ship.
The Transit Visa Exemption Program lets you spend a short time in China without the hassle and cost of applying for a single-entry visa. Great for business travelers 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 or Shanghai 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 are not allowed to leave the city you arrive in. You must fly into and fly out of the same city. Note: In Shanghai you can fly into or out of either airport, ie. into Pudong and out of Hongqiao or vice-versa.
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 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.
|Travelers interested in the Transit visa should use this official tool from China’s State Council Ministry of Public Security to determine their eligibility for a visa exemption based on their nationality and port of entry. The results will additionally show you domestic China travel restrictions accodingly.|
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.
e-channel at China Immigration
For those who have crossed the border here a few times have noticed about half the border are these pods or plexiglass glass gates people are walking through. It’s a way to “skip” filling out the immigration form, talking to a customs official by simply placing your passport on the scanner, the door opens, and you then go inside the “pod”. In the pod they take your thumbprints and scan your face. Once they see this matches you on the file, the door to enter (or leave) China is complete. No stamps, no talking to a customs official, no customs forms, and normally no line or a very fast moving line.
Frequent traveling foreign passport holders with Z visas can apply to use the e-channel (the one with the Plexiglas gates) to speed through immigration lines upon returning to China.
The primary prerequisites for obtaining this permission is to have an “e-passport” enabled with a microchip and a valid visa and residence permit with at least six months of validity.
You have to sign up when arriving on an international flight. When you get to the immigration area, go to the e-channel lanes. One of the booths next to the E-channel lanes is for E-channel registration. Talk to one of the officers and they’ll get you setup. There is no fee, and the form is in Chinese and English. The application form is essentially a consent form permitting the registering officer to collect “biodata,” (photo & thumbprints).
Using the e-Channel
At the e-channel terminal, travelers are required to scan the passport photo page at the receptacle. This will open the door to the e-channel. Inside, a scan of one’s face will be taken as well as of the thumbs on a fingerprint scanner. Once successfully scanned and proven a match, the exit doors will open, and the traveler can proceed over the border. In case of any problems at the e-channel, the normal border crossing channel will need to be taken. The entire process takes about 10 seconds.
One of the problems with the e-channel is that you don’t have a stamp in your passport and so while it may make your airport experience easier and faster to go through the ec-hannel, there are many aspects of life in China that we still need to prove that entry stamp, such as local police registration for the temporary certificate (when renting an apartment, etc); at the bank for certain transactions; at a hotel, etc.
New Visa – Need to Re-Apply
If you get a new China visa, you need to re-apply to the e-channel. You need to take a new photo, new fingerprints, and wait for it to activate – same as if I applied for the first time.
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