If you are planning a trip abroad, you typically only need a passport for entry into most countries. When traveling to China, however, you will need more than just your passport. Visiting China's mainland requires travelers to apply for an entry visa ahead of time.
Depending on your country of citizenship, your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate General will require certain documentation from you in order to issue the visa. The easiest way to understand what you'll need is to check with the embassy or consulate nearest to you. Visitor visa information can also be found online. For example, traveling from the United States requires a visa that depends on the nature of your visit, according to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington, D.C.
A passport is required for most international travel, so make sure you have one and pay attention to its expiration date. The expiration date is especially important, as visitors to mainland China require a passport that is valid for at least six months prior to the date of entry into the country. If your passport is about to expire, you will be denied entry.
You can visit the U.S. State Department website to understand how to obtain a new U.S. passport or renew your current passport. Once you have your passport ready, you can begin applying for a visa.
What is a Visa?
A visa is an authorization by the country you are visiting that allows entry to the country for a certain amount of time. In China, there are various visas that are based on the reason for visiting. There are visas for those who are on vacation, known as a tourist visa, and there are student and business visas. For more details, the Chinese Embassy website keeps a complete list of visa types and their specific requirements.
Tourist visas, or "L" visas, are usually valid for 3 months prior to travel and are then valid for a 30-day stay.
How Do I Get a Visa?
Visas can only be obtained in person at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate General in your area. If visiting one of these government agencies is not convenient or possible, travel and visa tourism agencies also handle the visa process for a fee.
When you apply for your visa, you will need to mail in or hand over your passport. Your passport has to be in the hands of the Chinese authorities for a period of time so they can approve your visa application and attach the visa documentation to your passport. The visa comes in the form of a sticker that is roughly equal to the size of one passport page. The authorities will place the sticker in your passport and it can't be removed.
Where Do I Get a Visa?
You can acquire a visa at the embassy or consulate office in the U.S. nearest to you. Note that the embassy and consulate are generally closed on U.S. and Chinese holidays, so check hours of operation before you go. Keep in mind that applying for a visa will be more expensive if you use the help of a travel or tourism agency.