Tourist Visa Requirements for China

Tourist visa requirements for China are no joke. There are many different types and knowing which kind you need is a critical first step to visit. Without a visa, you will be denied entry.

What kind of visa do I need?

With a few exceptions, most tourists will require a full visa. If you are planning a layover or a short trip to China, you may qualify for a transit visa (G visa) which requires a trip to the consulate before you leave your home country. Or you may qualify for China’s visa-free transit which is granted upon arrival in China. The visa-free transit is available in 72- and 144-hour (3 and 6 day) increments. It is notoriously complicated so check here for more information. You don’t want to get all the way to China only to get deported for having made the wrong visa selection.

The safest route to entry into China is the full visa. Tourists will need to apply for an (L) visa for independent or group tourism. Expect to dedicate several hours, even days, to the process depending upon how many of the required documents you already have on hand and digitized. 

The picture below shows the application when it was six pages short of completion. That’s 24 feet of paper!

The visa that ate the kitchen

 There are two methods to file for a tourist visa: on your own or by an online service to file for you. If you have the means, having a service file for you is the quickest, most convenient way to go.

If you’d rather save that money for dumplings, you can find the Chinese full visa application here. For the very latest on visa application procedures, visit the China Embassy website


What Kind of Information is required on the visa application?

The actual application is only a few pages long. It must be typed in all capital letters in black ink. There must be no errors, no handwritten corrections, or it will be rejected.

The other 1.5 pounds of paper, or ten hours of time if you’re doing it all online, comes from the rest of the required information. Among other things, you will need to supply:

  1. travel dates
  2. a day-to-day itinerary including hotels and their addresses
  3. proof of onward travel
  4. a letter of invitation to visit China from a tour company if you’re using one
  5. who you will be traveling with and what your relationships are to one another
  6. your social security number
  7. copies of driver’s licenses
  8. copies of birth certificates
  9. professional passport-sized photos
  10. copies of passport page
  11. your valid passport

tourist visa requirements for china
The visa is a sticker that takes up one full passport page

You read number 11 correctly. You must send in your passport to have the visa placed directly into it. In addition, your passport must have at least six months left before its expiration from the time that you will leave China. If you are planning a year in advance, your passport will need to have at least eighteen months left before expiration.

Though the turnaround time is supposed to be less than two weeks, leave plenty of time to receive your passport with attached visa back in the mail before your trip. I’d recommend sending your application out no later than twelve weeks before your trip begins.

PRO TIPS: The application will offer a standard visa good for six months. For about the same cost, you can get a ten-year visa. Check OTHER on the visa application section that offers the six-month option and type in ten-year visa in the explanation section below it.

If you intend to visit Hong Kong as an extension of your China trip, opt to visit AFTER your mainland China tour is completed. Placing Hong Kong at the end of your trip will avoid additional tourist visa requirements for China.


Read my humor essays about our trip to China here.