How to: Get a Chinese Tourist Visa

Shanghai Living

Because everyone’s nervous the first time they apply

So you’ve decided you want to come and visit China. Good for you. It rocks! Unfortunately, unless you’re eligible for a transit visa you’ll have to send your passport in to your local China Visa Application Service Center.

The first thing you need to know about applying for a China tourist visa is that in several countries the Chinese embassy or consulate does not directly handle applications. While they do have the final say on who gets a visa, they often use outside offices to handle all the paperwork. In many countries (Not in the US) the embassy uses a company called “China Visa Application Service Center” to handle applications. Most of these service centers will accept postal applications, alternatively you can book an appointment for you to come in and apply for your visa in person.

If you’re applying for a Mainland China tourist visa through Hong Kong you’ll have to head to a branch of the China Travel Services to put in your application.

An individual Tourist Visa (L Visa) is issued to travellers from certain countries and it is usually valid for 30 days, although in some cases the government does hand out 90 days visas. Extending your tourist visa within China is almost impossible so whatever you do, DO NOT overstay! Also, don’t work here on a tourist visa, if you get caught you’ll be in a lot of trouble.

What you need to provide for your tourist visa application will differ depending on the country you’re from, but there is general guidance that seems fairly uniform across the board. China’s Tourism website gives this guidance:

A Tourist Visa (L Visa) is issued to an alien who comes to China for sightseeing or visiting family members or friends or for other personal affairs.


A valid passport as well as a photocopy of its information page.
Your valid passport must have at least six (6) months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page in it.

One completed Visa Application Form – This can be found on your country’s Chinese Embassy website. You must fill this form out properly and truthfully or else you run the risk of being denied entry to China. You must fill in every column of the application form, using “N/A” if not applicable.

One recent photo of 2×2 square inch glued or stapled on the application form.

Proof of legal stay or residence status (This is only applicable to those not applying in their country of citizenship).

If you’re just traveling to China as a tourist and not visiting anyone you know there, you’ll need: Documents showing the itinerary including round trip air ticket booking record and proof of hotel/hostel reservation.

However, if you’re visiting a relative or someone you know in China. You’ll need:
An Invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China, with following information:
a. Information on the applicant (full name, gender, date of birth, etc.)
b. Information on the planned visit (arrival and departure dates, place(s) of visit, etc.)
c. Information on the inviting entity or individual (name, contact number, address, official stamp, signature of the legal representative of the entity or the inviting individual).

If it is not your first time applying for an ‘L’ Visa, a personal statement may be required, with the following information: reasons for revisit, the places you plan to visit this time and places you visited before.

In most countries, the regular processing time is 4 working days, but you can also choose the express service, which is 2-3 working days but it does cost more.

Usually the validity of a Single Entry or Double Entry “L” Visa is 90 days or 180 days from the date of issue. This means that you MUST enter China no later than 90 days or 180 days from the date of issue, otherwise the visa is expired, null and void. Normally the duration of stay of an “L” visa is 30 days, which means you can stay in China for up to 30 days from the date of entry. If your estimated stay in China is longer than 30 days, you must make it clear in the application form and ask for the visa officer’s approval when you submit your application.

If you have any extra questions, there is actually quite a decent amount of help on the government’s official website.

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