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China Visa Guide

| Words by Zoe Crane | ,

A China travel visa guide with information for Americans traveling to China.

USA passport holders require a visa totravel to China. Applying for your visa approximately one month prior to travel will ensure that you are left with enough time to receive your visa prior to travel, without being so far in advance that the visa expires before travel.

You can apply in person or by mail through the Embassy or Consulate General that has jurisdiction over the area where you live. There is an Embassy in Washington D.C. and a Consulate General in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. An application cannot be made by mail. It must either be made in person or through your travel agent.

If you have booked directly through Insider Journeys, we can arrange your visa and there will usually be a small fee to cover courier costs. Before you go, see our China travel tips page.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing Temple of Heaven, Beijing

What visa do I need

The standard visa to travel to mainland China for a vacation is the “L” visa. Those planning to study or work, go on a student exchange or study tour, visit Chinese family in China or foreign journalists need a different class of visa. The following information relates only to the tourist travel visa for China.

As an American citizen you don’t need a visa if you transiting for less than 24 hours and don’t exit the airport, or if you vacation in Hong Kong for less than 90 days and do not go to mainland China. If you are transiting for less than 72 hours through Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao or Pudong International Airport, Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou or Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu, you can apply for a visa exemption through your airline, but restrictions apply to your stay. If you require a visa to enter mainland China, and are also entering again as a transit passenger, you will require a double entry visa. If you travel from mainland China to Hong Kong and then re-enter mainland China, a double entry visa is also required. If you are entering mainland China more than twice you will need a multiple entry visa.

Giant Panda, ChengduGiant Panda, Chengdu

What you will need

  • Passport with at least six months validity from your return date and at least one blank visa page (two pages if applying in New York or Washington DC).
  • Photocopy of passport data page (the page with your name and photo).
  • Your China travel itinerary showing return air travel and hotel reservations. If you are not staying in a hotel you will need an invitation letter including your details, your planned itinerary and the details of the person inviting you.
  • China Visa Application Form.
  • One color passport-sized photo.
  • Visa fee (China tourist visa is $140 USD).
  • If you are a US citizen applying from outside the USA, you will also need to show proof of legal stay or residence status in the country you are applying from.

Fisherman on the Li river, Guilin Fisherman on the Li river, Guilin

Applying in person

You can apply in person through the Embassy or Consulate General that has jurisdiction over the area where you live. The office hours vary by location but all are closed on weekends and public vacations. Applications should take around 4 business days to process. The center accepts payment by money order, cashier’s check or credit card. Cash and personal checks are not accepted.

In a hurry?

The embassy can issue an express (3 business days) or rush (next day) visa service for an additional fee of $20 and $30 respectively. Approval for such services may or may not be provided by the Chinese Embassy or Consulates General. For a rush visa you must apply in person prior to 12:00 noon for pick up the next working day.

Note:All details above are correct at time of writing; however we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information. You will need to check the most up to date information with the US Department of Stateor theEmbassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America.