If you are traveling independently (without an official tour group) to China, you may need to get an invitation letter when applying for a Chinese Tourist Visa or "L" type visa. The letter is a document inviting the person applying for the visa to visit China. There is specific information required for the invitation letter. It is a little bit trickier for the independent traveler than those traveling with a group or for business. Tour agencies supply the letters for their travelers and business travelers can obtain invitation letters from one of the companies they are visiting. Tour groups are often issued a combined visa for those on their tour to China.
The China Tourist visa (L Visa) is issued to those who intend to go to China for touring, sightseeing, or visiting friends. It is usually issued for up to a 60-day stay per visit. Visas can be obtained for a single entry or multiple entries and the cost is $140 for U.S. citizens.
What to Include in the Invitation Letter
If you are visiting someone, or know someone, in China, this person can write you an invitation letter. The letter will need to include dates of travel and intended time of stay. It should be noted that you can change your plans after getting your visa. The letter is a statement of intent, but Chinese officials don't check back on the information after the visa is issued. So, even if you are just in the planning stages, you can have your friend write you an invitation letter stating you will be staying with him or her and then you can change your mind about the details after the visa is issued.
Using a Visa Agency
If you are backpacking or traveling on your own and don’t have anyone to write you a letter, you can use an agency to help you get an acceptable letter. One agency that is recommended is Panda Visa (this agency can also process the China visa for you).
Submitting the Visa Application and Letter
If you are not using an agency to obtain your visa, the visa application will be submitted to the Chinese Embassy/ Consulate General based on your State of residence (list of visa offices by state). You can submit your application in person, or use an agent (legal Power of Attorney not necessary). The Chinese embassy does not accept mailed-in applications. You may be required to come to the Visa Office in person to have an interview as deemed necessary by a consular officer.
It normally takes 4 working days for processing the China travel visa. For express service, an additional fee of $20 is charged for two or three working days service. For rush service, an additional fee of $37 is charged for same-day service which is only approved for extreme emergencies.
The Chinese consulate requires that you pay by money order, cashier's check, or Credit Card (Visa or Mastercard only). Cash or a personal/company check is not accepted. Cashier's checks or money orders should be made payable to "Chinese Embassy."