Many companies, especially large companies, conduct some parts of their business abroad, and China's colossal economy makes it a top spot. But business travelers to China can't just hop on a plane and arrive. Before you go, you need to make sure you have the right documents, as business travelers will need a visa in addition to a passport for a trip to mainland China.
The whole application process may take about a week, and that's not including the time required to hear back on your application. For an extra fee, you can select same-day or rush services. It's good to make sure you're planning in advance for any trip.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region that does not follow the same visa policy as mainland China. American tourists in Hong Kong do not need a visa, but if you're traveling there for business, you'll need to obtain a business visa for Hong Kong.
Business travelers to China usually obtain an "M"-type visa. M visas are issued to travelers who are visiting China for business reasons, such as trade shows, meeting with clients, visiting factories, and other commercial purposes.
There are various options for the validity period of the visa and the number of entries you're permitted to make during that period of time. U.S. citizens pay the same amount regardless of the validity period and number of entries, so it makes sense to choose the most generous option—multiple entries over a 10 year period.
Complete the Paperwork
The place to start is by making sure you have a valid U.S. passport with at least six months remaining on it and at least one blank page. You should also make a photocopy of the page with your photo on it.
The first step in applying for a visa for travel to mainland China is to download the visa application from the Chinese Embassy website. Once you've downloaded it, you'll need to fill it out. When selecting the purpose of your visit, you should choose "Business and Trade." The "Work" option is for someone moving to China to work for a Chinese company.
You'll also need to attach one passport photo (2 inches by 2 inches in color) to the application, and submit a copy of your hotel and roundtrip flight information as well.
You will also need to include an invitation letter from an authorized Chinese business or a letter of introduction from your U.S.-based company, that includes information on the traveler, the purpose of the visit, and contact information for the inviting party in China.
Application fees can be paid by credit card, money order, or cashier's check. Check on the consulate webpage for updated fees. Some consulates outsource their visa processing to a third-party company, which may incur an extra cost.
If you need express or same-day processing, you'll need to pay an extra fee as well as provide justification for the urgency.
Submitting the Paperwork
Visa applications must be submitted in person. Mailed applications are not accepted.
Once you have all your materials assembled (visa application, passport, passport photo, a copy of hotel and flight information, and invitation letter), you should deliver them to the nearest Chinese consulate. You will have to leave your passport with the consulate, since the visa is attached to a page inside.
If you can't make it to a Chinese consulate in person, you can hire an authorized agent to do it for you or entrust a family member or friend. You can also ask a travel agent for assistance.
Obtaining the Visa
Once your materials are submitted, all you have to do is wait. Processing times vary, so it's best to leave plenty of time before your trip to obtain the visa. The regular processing time is four days. If all goes well, you—or an authorized person—will have to return to the consulate to pick up your passport with the newly attached visa inside.