Getting a Chinese Tourism Visa (for US Natural Citizens)

14 May


US Passport

For someone who wants to work in China after graduation, I have to admit, I’m none to desperate to run through the whole getting a Visa thing again any time soon.  I mean, oh my word, that was a total disaster from start to finish.  Since the process outlined on their website is a heck of a confusing mess, I failed to realize that it would end up taking me weeks to get my Passport and Visa back. I literally only got it the day before my flight; and that was after calling my senator who called higher-ups who called higher-ups to track it down and then stopping the postal services to grab ahold of it. What a mess! In the hopes of helping clarify the process for some other poor soul facing the daunting prospect, here are some helpful directions.   Wish I had known all this ahead of time! 



  1.  Please note that I am a US born Citizen with no previous connections to China. The process is different for people born in China/previous Chinese citizens/non-US citizens.  Hopefully I’ll be able to track down some people who can let me know the process for them. If so, I’ll share the news with you!
  2. I only applied for (and this document is only meant for those applying for) a Tourist Visa (L Visa).
  3. This is not, and is not meant to be legal advice. I am not a lawyer yet (much more studying required), nor am I a professional in the Visa business. This is just what I experienced in the process of getting my own. Call these kinesthetically learned lessons 🙂

Helpful Notes

  1. When A Visa Is Necessary
    1. If you are entering China or Hong Kong for any duration, YOU WILL NEED A VISA! The only exception is if you have a connecting flight there that takes you to another country and you are in the Chinese airport for less than 24 hours (i.e. you go from US to Philippines, but you transfer planes in Shanghai). Note that even if you have a connecting flight, if you sit in the airport more than 24 hours, you have to have a Visa!
    2. If you leave the Chinese mainland for a trip to Hong Kong and then return to the Mainland, this requires a 2-entry Visa apparently. So if you are in Beijing, but you make a trip to Hong Kong before going back to Beijing, this counts as a second entry.  You can easily apply for 2 entries, it just has to be marked on the form properly.
  2. Tourist Visa (L Visa)–> This is for your average, run-of-the-mill foreigner who visits China to see family, tour the country, enjoy the ambiance.  For Students!!!: This is probably what you’ll need.  If you read the instructions here,  you will note that it says a Student Visa is only if you are there longer than 6 months. I’ve been told that the Student Visa is also necessary only if you are studying in a Chinese school (not abroad with a US school), but I cannot verify that. You’ll want to check with your school.
  3. Emergencies!
    1. The Embassies Do Not answer their phones. Trust me, I’ve tried. Repeatedly for days and days, but all I got was a ringing phone and an answering machine. Emailing them didn’t get me a much better result in a hurry.  My recommendation in times of  trouble:
      1. If you have a few weeks, email them; don’t call.
      2. If you have a problem that needs solved in a hurry (i.e. you are leaving tomorrow), call your state senator’s office. They will have access to phone numbers you might not otherwise have that will get a quick result. But save this for an emergency; they’re less helpful if you just call them up for a normal problem you can resolve by emailing the Embassy.
    1. A lot of these offices close for a 1 hour lunch break; keep this in mind.
    2. Within an hour of opening, you may be the 42+ person in line. Remember this when planning it out time wise.

Paperwork Needed

    1. The VISA Application Form
    2. The Supplementary Application Form –> Necessary if
      1. You are having someone else turn in the application and pick up the visa for you.
      2. If someone else also uses your passport
      3. If you are applying for the Visa in a country that is different from your home country (i.e. you are a US citizen, but you apply for the VISA in Korea).

    1. This needs to be stapled/glued to the VISA Application Form. You can get one at your local Walgreens/Photo Center.
  3. A picture of the Front Part of your Passport. This is what it looks like.
  4. Certificate of Name Change–> Used if the name on your passport is no longer a valid name (i.e. you got married; then bring the marriage license).
  5. Letter of Invitation–>
    1. Must Include:
      1. Your Name, Gender, DOB, Home Address, Phone Number, any other personal information you gave the inviter
      2. Information Regarding why you are vising.
      3. Date of Arrival
      4. Date of Departure
      5. Places you will Visit/Stay
      6. Relationship between Applicant and Inviter
      7. Person paying for the accommodations
      8. Name of Inviter
      9. Address of Inviter
      10. Phone Number of Inviter
      11. Signature
    2. May Be:
      1. Faxed, Copied, Printed our.  Usually this is accepted so long as it is legible and authentic.
    3. Can be From:
      1. Tourist Organization
      2. Letter from Your Hotel
      3. Letter from the Institution You will be Working With, Studying With (if you are a student abroad, what school will you be visiting).
      4. Letter from an Individual in China
  6. Copy of you Hotel Confirmation Receipt
  7. Copy of your Flight Confirmation Receipt/Official Itinerary–> Proof of when you are entering and leaving China. You cannot enter unless you have evidence of when you are leaving.


  1. Figure out how you want to receive the Visa. There are two ways:
    1. Pick it up yourself.
      1. With a Rush application, you can pick it up the same day so long as the application was turned in by 11:30. It doesn’t count if you were just standing in line by then. The application has to be turned in.
      2. Express Applications can be picked up 2-3 days later.
      3. Regular = 4 days later
    2. Have them mail it to you. 
      1. If you choose this option you need to turn in a USPS or FedEx overnight/express envelope that is stamped and addressed.
  2. Decide how you want to submit the application. MAILED-IN APPLICATIONS ARE NOT ACCEPTED. There are 3 ways you can submit the application:
    1. You yourself visit the proper Chinese Embassies Visa Application Office. You can find a list of them here. If you do this, note that you have to visit the proper office for your jurisdiction. They are divided on a map in the link above.  Cost = Basic Application Fee + Transportation + Mailing Envelope if necessary.
    2. You ask a trusted friend/family member to do it.  They still have to apply at the proper embassy for your jurisdiction, but they can take it if they are closer.  If you do this, remember to properly fill out 7.1-7.7 on the VISA Application Form. Cost = Basic Application Fee + Their Transportation + Mailing Envelope if necessary.
    3. You can hire a VISA Company to do the whole thing for you after you mail them the paperwork. Cost = Basic Application Fee + Cost of mailing them your paperwork + Service Fee.
  3. Fill out all the paperwork with the above decisions in mind. Get everything together in a manila envelope/folder, making sure that you have all the documents named above.
  4. Submit the application along with the proper fees.
    1. Fees =Payment accepted by Credit Card/Money Order/ Cashier’s Receipt (no Cash).  Note that if you do the rush option, you probably don’t want to do it by pre-filled out money order or cashier’s receipt. You never know if you will actually be in line early enough to get it submitted. Even on weekdays there can be dozens of people waiting around.
      1. Regular: $140
      2. Express: $160
      3. Rush: $170


Chinese Visa

Sample Chinese Visa. It is a sticker placed on one of the blank pages of your Passport

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