Dreaming of walking the Great Wall of China, or standing among the Terracotta Warriors? Want to have real Chinese food, instead of what passes as take out at home?
China is a country filled with wonders, both natural and man-made. However, before you may behold these treasures with your own eyes, there are a few steps to take. One must know the requirements to obtain a China tourist visa for a US citizen. This process was a bit overwhelming for me, and therefore, thought I would make it a bit easier for the rest of you out there!
Why you need a visa…
In order to travel to China’s mainland, all American citizens are required to obtain some sort of visa. There are various types, which can be found at the Chinese embassy website. If your intentions are to travel as a tourist (i.e. not obtaining work or becoming a student), then visa category L is for you! Please note, this visa, once granted, does not give you full reign to travel through all of China. There are various areas which require additional permits or permissions, for example, Tibet, which requires a Tibet travel permit. Additionally, a visa is not needed to visit Hong Kong. However, if you visit Hong Kong in the middle of your Chinese adventure, you are going to need a multiple entry visa in order to re-enter mainland China.
The tourist visa (category L) typically gives the holder multiple entries for 10 years. Once entered, the holder has 60 days per visit in China. Therefore, plenty of time to visit the culturally rich country.
Requirements to obtain a visa…
Before you head to your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate General, make sure that you have all the required documents below:
- Filled out Visa Application Form. Make sure to use all CAPS when filling this out, as well as, n/a for any empty boxes. They are particular with the formatting, and any deviation can cause a delay in the receipt of your visa.
- Passport (ensure it is not expiring within 6 months and has at least 1 blank page)
- Passport size photo or another 2×2 square inch photo
- Proof of legal stay or residence status for applicants applying outside of the country of origin. See below for additional information for applications outside of home country.
- Documents showing trip itinerary including printed confirmations (see below for tips regarding this requirement) or invitation letter from an individual in China with the following information:
- Individual’s personal information (name, date of birth, gender, etc.)
- Visit details (date of arrival/departure, planned destinations, etc.)
- Individual’s contact information (address, phone number, etc.)
How to apply…
I’ve got my documents, now what?!
Glad you asked. Now, you must find a Chinese Embassy or Consulate General to submit your application material. Please see the following list of Consulates/Embassies in the States. The US has one embassy, which resides in Washington D.C. and 5 Consulate Generals that each have jurisdiction over various states and American territories. Unfortunately, the Chinese government won’t accept mailed applications. These will be returned. However, you may entrust another individual to drop off your application. (Note: Appointments are not required, but applications can only be submitted before 12:30 each day.)
Applications typically take 4 days to process, but express or rush services can be requested with an additional fee. The application costs $140USD ($20USD extra for express). This is to be paid by credit card, check, or money order. Any other forms of payment will not be accepted. Once completed, the applicant can return to pick up their passport with the visa stamped inside.
Tips for the itinerary requirement…
If you are like me, you thought, “I have to buy a round trip ticket to China as well as book accommodation without a guarantee that I will be issued a visa to legally enter the country?“
It is the ultimate catch 22. You won’t be issued a visa without the bookings, but you can’t use the bookings without the visa. Though I cannot help you avoid the step, I can give you a couple ideas to help reduce your nerves about the acceptance of your application.
- Booking.com – this website will allow you to make accommodation reservations without having to pay and also allows for free cancellation. Most places don’t even require a credit card to be entered at the time of booking.
If you were like me and had a time crunch to obtain your visa, the use of Booking.com (or similar websites) is your best friend. Make the bookings for your visa application, knowing that if necessary, you are able to cancel them later. This also gives you the freedom, once in China, to change your itinerary if you so desire.
- Flight Insurance – most airlines will give you the option to purchase insurance, which should include a clause for a refund when a flight is canceled.
This should give you a little peace of mind in the off chance that your visa application is denied. Also, to note, you do not have to buy a round-trip ticket, but you do need to have a flight in and out of China booked.
I am out of the US, can I still get a visa?
My travel mate Audrey and I decided to go visit China while we were in New Zealand on a gap year. Therefore, in order to obtain our Chinese tourist visa, we had to show our proof of legal stay or residence status (requirement 4 above). This was easy, as all we had to provide was a copy of our working holiday visa.
One other thing to note for others in this situation, in New Zealand, non-New Zealand passport holders are required to apply at the Wellington consulate. Be sure to research the Chinese consulates in the country that you are applying. Also, along with this, give yourself plenty of time to apply and receive your visa. I applied 3 days before I left Wellington for the South Island of New Zealand, and could have had to leave my passport in Wellington.
Not the best of ideas…
Though it can be a pain in the ass, make sure to have all the required documents when you head to apply. Take it from someone who had to go 3 different times to the Chinese consulate as I did not have all the required documentation printed.
Nǐ hǎo China, here I come…
Well folks, there you have it! You now have the tools to go apply for your tourist visa to visit China as well as a couple tips to make the process easier. Go out there and plan your Asian adventure!
As always, please reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns!