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How to Apply for a Visa for China

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Pandas | © Todorov.petar.p / WikiCommons
China is a country of rich culture and scenery, but for foreigners, it’s no easy thing to experience the country personally, thanks to the complicated and stringent process of applying for a Chinese visa. We know you are probably frowning upon the overwhelming visa application process, so here’s a comprehensive guide on what kind of Chinese visa you should apply for, how to apply, and some special tips you should be mindful of.

An overview of the visa to China

Foreigners are generally required to apply for a visa in advance to visit China, either for travel or for work. You need to download a visa application form and complete it either online or by hand before handing in the application materials to your local Chinese embassy or consulate in person. Over 90% of the embassies and consulates allow walk-in applications, except for embassies like the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria. Visa fees vary between different countries and citizens (check with your local Chinese embassies) and are usually paid on collection of the visa. It’s recommended to apply for the visa one to two months (at least two weeks) before the visit.

China visa stamps © Kristoferb / WikiCommons

Applying for the right visa

There are 16 categories of Chinese visas that fall under four types: diplomatic visa, courtesy visa, service visa and ordinary visa. Applying for the wrong visa will result in a waste of time and money, and may even hamper your travel plans. It’s essential to learn the different types of visas before you begin the application.

Tourist Visa (L)

The Tourist Visa (L), along with the Transit Visa (G), are the only ones that a foreigner can apply for without assistance from a government, business or academic institution. With the L-type visa, tourists can travel freely through most of China (for Tibet you’ll need an extra permit to enter). There are Single Entry Visas, Double Entry Visas valid for six months, and Multiple Entry Visas for six months, 12 months or 24 months. Holders of the L Visa can normally stay for up to 30 days per trip.

China's Great Wall © Panayota / Pixabay

To apply for the visa you’ll need:

A signed passport with at least six months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page;

One accurately completed application form with every column filled (use N/A if not applicable);

One recent passport-sized photo (2 by 2 inches) glued or stapled on the application form;

Proof of legal residence status (applicable to those who don’t apply in their country of citizenship);

And documents of itinerary (round trip flight ticket booking record, proof of hotel reservation, etc.), or invitation letter issued by a relevant institution or individual from China.

Applicants may need to submit the two other documents below in some circumstances (it’s suggested you consult with the local Chinese embassy or consulate in advance): certification letter from your employer (with name and contact information of the employer, and the applicant’s income statement), or original copy of recent six-month bank statement of the applicant’s; and a personal statement of the reasons for revisit and the itineraries of your planned trip as well as the last trip, if it is not the first time that you apply for the L Visa.

Exemptions:

Ordinary passport holders of Singapore, Japan and Brunei are allowed to enter China for up to 15 days without visas if they enter through international ports open to foreigners. If you are a national of these 53 countries, you can enjoy 72-hour visa-free transit in China (the time can be extended to 144 hours if entering from certain cities).

Autumn in Beijing © Alicepaipai / Pixabay

Work Visa (Z)

Foreigners who need to work in China need to apply for a different type of visa. It is granted only when the employer is accredited to employ foreigners. The Z visa is only valid for 30 days from the arrival date, during which you, along with your employer, should obtain a Temporary Residence Permit that ranges from 90 days to five years.

To apply for the visa you’ll need:

A signed passport with at least six months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page;

One accurately completed application form with every column filled (use N/A if not applicable);

One recent passport-sized photo (2 by 2 inches) glued or stapled on the application form;

Proof of legal residence status (applicable to those who don’t apply in their country of citizenship);

Student Visa (X)

Student Visas have two types: X1, for the foreigners who need to study or do fieldwork in China for more than six months; and X2, for the foreigners with the same purpose but for less than six months. X1 visa holders need to apply for a Temporary Residence Permit within 30 days upon their arrival in China. X visa holders are not permitted to work in China.

To apply for the visa you’ll need:

A signed passport with at least six months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page;

One accurately completed application form with every column filled (use N/A if not applicable);

One recent passport-sized photo (2 by 2 inches) glued or stapled on the application form;

Proof of legal residence status (applicable to those who don’t apply in their country of citizenship);

Original and photocopy of the Admission Notice issued by a school or other entities in China;

And (for X1 visa) original and photocopy of “Visa Application for Study in China” (Form JW201 or Form JW202).

For information on other types of Chinese visas, please click here.

Winter in Peking University © Sehenswurdigkeiten / WikiCommons

Important things to keep in mind

Apply in advance

The regular visa processing time is four working days, but in case you need to submit additional documents, you should apply for your visa at least two weeks before the travel date.

Pay on collection

You need to pay the visa application fee upon collecting your visa. Check with the embassy or consulate in advance if they accept cash or credit cards, and remember to bring them with you on the day.

Organize accommodation in advance

For Tourist L Visa applicants, you need to book in advance the round-trip flight tickets and your accommodation.

China has the most billionaires in the world. © Junjiewu99 / WikiCommons

Other Tips

Travel in Hong Kong and Macau SARs

Keep in mind that Chinese visas don’t apply to Hong Kong and Macau, and vice versa. Although the two SARs are part of China, they have their own entry regulations. For example, passport holders of over 160 countries don’t need a visa to travel in Hong Kong. For Chinese Tourist L Visa holders, especially those with single and double entries, remember that even a few hours in Hong Kong or Macau is counted as an exit from mainland China. Check how to apply for a Hong Kong visa here, and a Macau visa here.

Tibet Entry Permit

The Chinese government is sensitive to reports regarding Tibet, which makes it more difficult for foreigners to enter Tibet than other parts of China. Travelers need to apply for the Tibet Entry Permit through a China-based travel agency. Journalists, on the other hand, should only travel to Tibet under the arrangement of the Chinese government via a department like the Foreign Affairs Department. For more click here.

Other useful links

For more guidelines to Chinese visa applications, check out the State Council of China’s official website here.

Applying for a visa is just the beginning of your China trip. Check out other things you should know before going to China: