China has a large array of visa policies, often changing and permutating. For a standard tourist visa, passport holders of countries with high GDP will not find applying very difficult. An e-visa might even be a possibility if you are not travelling solo.
It becomes more challenging when you are applying outside of your home country, want to stay longer, or want to visit restricted areas like Xinjiang or Tibet.
What is not discussed here
This page is all about the tourist visa (An L visa in official terms). We do not discuss:
- Work, marriage, student, dependent, … visas
- Permits for Tibet
- Entry procedures for residents of Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and nationals of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
- Visa-on-arrival for emergency purposes
- Special Economic Zone visa on arrival
- Taiwan Compatriot Permit on arrival
- Visa-free transit
- Visa-free travel for
- APEC business card holders
- Service and diplomatic passports
- Crew members and merchant seamen
- Cruise ship passengers
- Group tours to Pearl River Delta, Zhejiang and Guilin
- Russians and Kazakhs traveling to border areas
- CIS-country tour groups
The Wikipedia page is kept updated by a dedicated team of visa geeks. We recommend you look there first.
The rules for visa-free transit are frequently changing and quite complex, with different periods of stay depending on your nationality and where you are landing. Once again, Wikipedia is the most up-to-date source of information. We cannot keep up with the pace of change.
Since May 1, 2018. citizens of the countries below do not need a visa if they only visit Hainan Island and stay no more than 30 days. This new waiver program does not require visitors to travel in tour groups anymore like before, though individual tourists still need to select a tour agency and inform them of their schedule.
1 – for British passport holders, only British citizens are eligible.
This visa is issued at the Haikou Meilan and Hainan Phoenix airports as well as all sea ports.
You can apply online for the e-visa without the need of going to an embassy, but you cannot yourself; it can only be arranged by a small number of travel and visa agencies. We recommend Ivisa.
Citizens of the following countries can apply for this visa: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, New Zealand, Holland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Spain, United States of America, Sweden and Switzerland.
- a group of minimum 2 people, maximum 10, that enters and exits together
- the visa has to be used within 15 days of it being issued
- visa is single-entry and valid for 30 days starting from the ENTRY DAY in China
- you can enter overland as well as fly in
After applying online the visa is then sent by post (not e-mail) through to the main member of the tour. Will you be able to get the e-visa sent to an address outside of your home country while you are already traveling, or will they send it to your home address? We don’t know that. Can you extend it? Not sure.
Due to the limited duration of the e-visa, it is not superhandy. However, it does have some use cases: if you are in a hurry or going for a short trip, the e-visa might be right for you. Perhaps it is also of use for those already on the road. Many people however, will still need to follow the standard embassy tourist visa application (see below).
Please chime in with your experiences in the Chinese e-visa Q&A.
Tourist visa application
In person, either at the embassy or at the Chinese visa centre, if there is one. You can also use an expedited visa service to do it for you (we recommend Ivisa). You can print stuff out at the visa centre, however it’s quite expensive so it’s much better to print everything out in advance. Expect to be at the visa centre for between 30 and 90 minutes.
Usually 4 days, however you can pay extra for express services and postal services. This is not universal so check with your visa centre or embassy to be sure.
Visa duration and validity
Visa validity, number of entries, duration of stay per entry can vary wildly according to the embassy you apply at. A standard tourist visa is single-entry with 3 months validity and 30 days duration inside China, but there are many exceptions and options.
You can enter on the last day of your visa’s validity and still enjoy the duration of your stay within China. For example: if your visa has 30 day duration and it is valid until May 1st, you can enter on May 1st and still stay for 30 days in China until May 30th.
Do be aware that if you are applying from a third country, you may not be able to get the same visa you would have gotten in your home country. For example UK citizens get 2 year multi-entry visas, but if you are in a third country that allows you to apply for a Chinese Tourist (L) visa, you may not be eligible for a 2 year multi-entry visa.
Some passports can get long-term visas. Below are maxima. You might get less depending on the political situation or your status in the eyes of the Chinese embassy.
- Argentina: 10 years
- Brazil: 5 years
- Canada: 10 years
- Israel: 10 years
- South Africa: 5 years
- United Kingdom: 2 years is standard, 5 or 10 years possible for some
- United States: 10 years
A 10-year visa doesn’t allow you to stay in China for 10 years. It means that your visa is valid for 10 years.
It will allow multiple short stays of 30-120 days, depending on your nationality and purpose of travel. We do not know how much time you need to be out of China before you can re-enter. Do let us know.
There is no set answer. It depends on your nationality, the duration and type of the visa and the country you apply in. Express service will also cost you extra.
Hotel and flight bookings
You will need to bring printed evidence of hotel and flight bookings as part of your application. If you are planning to enter overland, or are not sure about your dates yet, then you can book fully refundable flight tickets. You can cancel them once you have your visa. The same goes for hotel reservations.
Once you have been granted your visa you can change your travel plans. Your mode of transport and port of entry and exit are not written in your visa.
If you are a journalist, NGO worker, or religious or military person, try to avoid writing this on the application form. These professions have a higher chance of getting denied a visa. Comments welcome in this forum thread.
Planning to visit Xinjiang overland, via Central Asia or Pakistan? Don’t mention it to the embassy. You have more chance that your visa will be refused. Instead, book flights to Beijing and cancel them once your visa has been granted.
Turkey and Pakistan passport stamps
Visits to Turkey have become grounds for refusal for some embassies, Hong Kong most famously. A forum topic tracks all questions and reports surrounding Chinese visa applications with a Turkish visa in your passport.
A Pakistan stamp can cause similar problems. We have only heard of the Embassy in The Netherlands causing trouble with this so far.
Visa for self-driving overlanders
Even if you are using a travel agency to self-drive your car through China, you will still need to have flight bookings, which you need to cancel afterwards. See driving in China for more, or check this forum Q&A.
The law requires foreigners to register within 24 hours of arrival in China. Every hotel, guesthouse or hostel you stay in will require your passport to register you with the local Public Security Bureau (PSB).
If you are staying in an Airbnb, see this Thorntree discussion to get a sense of direction.
If you are staying at a friend’s place, legally you need to register with the PSB within 24 hours of arriving in China. Should you? The debate is similar to the Airbnb discussion above.
With regards to camping, generally it’s a no outside of a designated area. However you can take the risk and try and avoid getting caught. If you get caught by police then usually they will just move you along. If you get into an argument then you can expect to be taken down to the police station.
Couchsurfing is similar to camping, by the letter of the law it is not legal, but if you don’t get caught you are fine. Generally you will only get caught in the following situations:
- You break the law and get taken down to the police station.
- You are stopped on the street and asked for your papers (very, very rare)
- The police come and call at the apartment you are staying at and ask for the owners info. Potentially both of you could get in trouble. You for not possessing a police registration and the owner for not registering you.
If you are staying in Xinjiang, that is a separate matter and you should be much more careful. See accommodation in Xinjiang.
Letter of invitation
A letter of invitation is normally not needed for a tourist visa, only for private, student, business and other visas. However, some Chinese embassies might request a letter of invitation. Usually after you said you are traveling to Xinjiang (don’t say that!). Questions and answers about the Chinese LOI welcome here.
Once you are in China, you can extend your visa. Extension reports are found on a separate page: Chinese tourist visa extensions.
Applying on the road
Chinese embassies change their rules for foreigners who are not residents monthly, sometimes weekly, daily or even within the same day. If possible, get your Chinese visa in your home country. If you cannot and need to apply on the road, here is what you can expect.
- Would the e-visa be a possibility? We are looking for more experience reports.
- Tbilisi is back on since April 2018
- In May 2017, Tehran embassy started handing out visas again (still going strong in 2019).
- Ulan Bator resumed in January 2018, but some have failed in 2019.
- Kathmandu and Astana are other options, Pyongyang perhaps as well.
- Almaty is no longer possible (September 2017).
- Southeast Asia offers some opportunities as well
Everywhere else: not possible for travelers.
See the embassy reports and forum links for latest updates. Please remember, as the following shows: rules change all the time!!
Application by mail
If you are a long-term overlander or resident and are facing embassies closed across the Silk Road, check with the Chinese embassy in your country of residence if they accept application by mail via an expediter. This might be your best option, if they allow it.
- Germany: you must be physically present in the country to apply (May 2017)
- USA: must have a current driver’s license or utility bills to establish your state residency and need to be physically present in the country (May 2017)
- Austria: you must be physically present in the country to apply, but they don’t check, so you can lie and have someone else apply for you (August 2017).
- France: worked for 4 French people in October 2017 through an agency called Rapide Visa
Hong Kong emergency exit
Flying to Hong Kong is still the emergency exit, but be careful as at least one person has failed recently. Rejection seems to hinge on passport stamps of Turkey and Iran – not popular in China. A last resort is a group visa in Hong Kong.
- Busan, South Korea
- Chiang Mai
- Hong Kong
- New Delhi
- Phnom Penh
52 Barnov Street (Metro: Rustaveli – five minutes’ walk). Open Mon, Wed and Fri 9.30am–11.30am. Gets very busy so you might want to start queueing up early (like 6 am). Updates collected in the Chinese embassy in Tbilisi topic.
You might need a Georgian residence permit to apply. Luckily, this is quite easy to get for a good number of nationalities. A guide to getting the Georgian residence permit.
Tbilisi has always been a flip-flop embassy. One week it’s very easy, the next it’s rejections all around. Keep an eye on the latest updates and cross your fingers.
Opening hours: Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday 8;45am-12:15am and 2:30 pm-4-30pm. 73rd, Movahed Danesh Avenue, Aghdasiyeh [GPS: 35.8042, 51.4774].Thursday afternoon is only to collect the visa not to request it. Embassy has also been known to be open on Saturday in spite of advertised opening hours.
Previously, you needed a letter from your embassy saying they support you going to China, it’s called a letter of no objections (LONO). Since 2018, this is no longer required, but in case it still is, we are collecting reports here of different embassies as we find them.
You need to have your application form typed, not handwritten. This is allegedly available from their website but if the link is still not working, there is an office near the embassy that will type up the form and print it off for you for minimal cost. Their name is M Mahdavi, Law & Immigration Services. It is across the street in the jewellery store (not jewellery land). Second floor.
The copy shop on Boustan Street that also types your application form was super expensive and does not provide colour copies. You need colour copies of your passport and Iranian visa. A bit further (35.798207, 51.474972), there’s another copy shop with a very friendly owner.
Check our forum to post and read the latest embassy updates.
Possible these days, but no certainty. You need a voucher. Vouchers are only handed out on Tuesdays. Get in line at 6 am at the latest to be certain. Updates here.
August is a very bad time to apply, as hundreds of Mongolian students are applying along wit you.
Don’t mention you have been to Turkey, or Hong Kong, Tibet or Taiwan (that’s all China according to them). In 2016 and 2017 it was not possible to get a visa here for travelers for long periods of time.
Monday 09:30-12:30 (application) and 16:00-17:00 (collection)
Wednesday 09:30-12:30 (application) and 16:00-17:00 (collection)
Friday 09:30-12:30 (application) and 16:00-17:00 (collection)