A Quick Guide to Chinese Tourist Visas Last updated on 2019-08-18
Since China does not have mutual visa-free agreements with many countries, ordinary passport holders from most countries who want to visit China as a tourist must obtain a tourist visa (L visa) unless they meet one of the visa exemption criteria.
While it does involve some documentation and logistics, applying for a Chinese tourist visa doesn't require too much effort or time. In this article, we will provide an overview and some tips on how to apply for a tourist visa for China or take advantage of one of the visa exemption policies. Please be aware that all government regulations are subject to change without prior notice. Contact the visa office at the Chinese embassy or consulate nearest you for the latest requirements for a Chinese tourist visa.
Types of Chinese Tourist Visa
China usually issues three types of tourist visa: single-entry (valid for 3-6 months), double-entry (valid for 6 months), and multiple-entry (valid for 6 or 12 months). Single-entry tourist visas usually grant a maximum stay of 30 days, but you can ask for up to 90 days. The number of days you receive partly depends on the passport you hold. Tourist visas can normally be extended no more than two times within China.
US citizens are eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry visa with a maximum stay of 60 days per entry. In order for US citizens to be eligible for the ten-year visa, US passport holders must have more than one year of validity remaining on their passports. If their passports have one year or less of remaining validity (more than 6 months), they will receive a visa with less than one year of validity.
When and How to Apply for a Tourist Visa
The single-entry tourist visa normally has a validity period of three months so it's best to apply for a China tourist visa 30 to 60 days before your intended date of entry. If you apply too far in advance, the visa may expire before you arrive in China.
Unless you are traveling as part of a group, you will need to arrange your own visa. Some countries have visa agents but this adds substantially to the cost. If you are able to go straight to the embassy/consulate nearest you, it will be cheaper. You can search on the internet to find the Chinese embassy or consulate closest to you. You can also apply for a Chinese visa outside of your home country—just make sure that you are able to fulfill all the application requirements.
Visa applications are normally processed within three to four working days, but you can choose to pay an extra amount for rush service. If you go to the visa office in person, you may be able to get a visa on the same day for a fee.
When applying for Chinese tourist visas, the procedures, requirements, issue time, and fee may vary from country to country. Details and application forms can be found on the website of the Chinese embassy in your country. If you need an invitation letter for your application, we can help issue one.
Whatever country you are applying from, make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months at your time of arrival in China.
24, 72, and 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit
China allows 24, 72, or 144-hour visa-free stays for travelers from certain countries who transit via mainland China for a third international destination (Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are included).
The 24-hour visa-free transit is relatively simple: it applies to travelers from most countries at most Chinese ports of entry, except the airports in Shenzhen, Yanji, Mudanjiang, Fuzhou, and Huangshan. The stopover time is calculated from your scheduled arrival time until your scheduled departure time. Travelers with this visa-free transit are allowed multiple stops (for example, USA-to-Beijing-to-Guangzhou-to-UK) as long as they leave mainland China within 24 hours.
Xi'an, Chongqing, Guilin, Harbin, and Changsha also allow 72-hour visa-free entry for transiting travelers with passports from certain countries. The 72-hour period is counted from the moment you receive your entry permit. Travelers with this visa-free transit are only allowed to travel within the city they entered. For example, if you enter through Xi'an Xianyang International Airport, you are only allowed to travel within the Xi'an area.
The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang region, Guangdong, Chengdu, Kunming, Xiamen, Qingdao, Wuhan, and Liaoning allow 144-hour visa-free entry for transiting travelers with passports from the same countries as the 72-hour visa-free transit. The 144-hour period starts from 00:00 of the day following your arrival; that usually means a few extra hours to spend in China. Travelers with this visa-free transit are not allowed to travel outside the region or province they enter. For example, if you enter through Beijing, you are only allowed to travel within Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei province, so you cannot visit Shanghai and/or depart from Shanghai.
Countries that are eligible for the 72-hour & 144-hour visa-free transit:
European countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Belarus, and Monaco
Countries in the Americas: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile
Countries in Oceania: Australia and New Zealand
Asian countries: Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar
Here is a tool from the Chinese government that allows you to check if you are qualified for one of the above forms of visa-free transit.
How to apply for visa-free transit
To apply for any of the above three forms of visa-free transit, you must present your plane, ship, or train ticket with confirmed seat and date (a standby ticket is not acceptable) for a third country that must be different from the country you traveled from. For example, if you are doing a USA-to-Beijing-to-Hong Kong trip, you are eligible for visa-free transit, but if you are doing a USA-to-Beijing-to-USA trip, then you will not be eligible. You may also need a visa for the third country or region if applicable.
Make sure that your passport is valid at least 6 months from the date of entry, and remember to fill the arrival/departure card at the airport or on the airplane before you land before you apply for the visa-free entry permit.
Other Visa Exemption Policies
Travelers holding a valid ordinary passport from one of the following countries are eligible to visit Hainan province for 30 days without a visa:
Russia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, Ukraine, Italy, Austria, Finland, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, UAE, Qatar, Monaco, Belarus.
Visitors must travel with a travel agency registered in Hainan province. They can enter Hainan Island through any airport or ship port in Hainan province, but are not allowed to travel outside the province.
Foreign travelers arriving in Shanghai on a cruise ship can visit Shanghai and some other Chinese cities (including Beijing) for up to 15 days without a visa provided they leave China on the same ship. Travelers making use of the 15-day visa exemption are required to travel with tour groups (of a minimum of two people) organized by a travel agency that is registered in China. Travel agencies must submit details of their tour groups to the authorities at least 24 hours before the ships arrive in Shanghai; this means that travelers need to book the tour in advance to leave enough time for the travel agency to complete the application.
No visa is required for ordinary passport holders from the following countries:
90 days: San Marino
30 days: Bahamas; Ecuador; Fiji; Grenada; Mauritius; Serbia; Seychelles; Tonga; Barbados (June 1st, 2017)
15 days: Brunei; Japan; Singapore
Travel to Tibet
The requirements for visiting Tibet are very different from those for other provinces in China. All travelers to Tibet must arrange their trip in advance with a registered travel agency. This is the rule and there are no exceptions. Tibetan authorities issue a Tibet Travel Permit only after a traveler has secured a Chinese visa. Depending on the places you would like to visit in Tibet, you may need further documents such as a Military Permit and/or Alien Travel Permit. Contact us for the most up-to-date information on how to travel to Tibet.
Be sure to double check the visa requirements at the Chinese embassy or consulate in your country before you travel to China, as China's visa policies, especially their visa exemption policies, can be confusing and are subject to change from time to time. Sometimes the visa rules may be interpreted differently by various cruise lines or local officials at the port of entry.
In order to avoid any possible confusion or inconvenience, we suggest that every traveler who plans to take advantage of any visa-free policies check with the relevant port of entry in China or the Chinese embassy/consulate in your country before you travel to China. Before you board the plane bound for China, you can also ask your airline to check if you will be able to get the visa-free entry permit upon arrival. If you are not sure whether you are eligible for the visa-free entry permit, you can instead apply for a regular transit visa or a tourist visa in your home country. If you are planning a tour with us, our travel specialists will also help you with the visa issues. ■
The China Guide is a Beijing-based travel agency that customizes private tours, educational student tours, and incentive trips across China. We have more than ten years of experience crafting tours for tens of thousands of travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, and beyond. We promise all our tours have no hidden fees, no shopping stops, no touristy restaurants, just memorable experiences! Learn more about us or contact us to start planning your perfect China trip.