How to Apply for a Chinese Tourist Visa

Traveling to China is like a whirlwind – quite literally in that the cities are so much bigger and more populated than anything I’ve ever seen – but also in that the culture is so different from my own, and there are strict regulations on getting into the country.

This is the first country I’ve ever visited that required me to obtain a visa, and it was a learning process. You can’t simply fly into Beijing or Shanghai and walk through customs with your passport; the country has to approve your arrival and the host country has the right to approve or deny your visa.

Travel Tip: Hong Kong does not require a visa for a short-term visit (90 Days).

Which Consulate Do I Report To?

You get your visa through a country’s embassy (or consulate) located in your country.

The first thing you need to figure out is which Chinese Consulate you have to visit to get your visa. There are currently five Consulates in the United States and one Embassy, and depending on where you live will determine where you go.

You must apply in person or hire someone to take the documents in for you.

Washington D.C., States in Lime Green || New York, States in Grey || Chicago, States in Purple || Houston, States in Green || San Fransisco, States in Orange || Los Angeles, States in Tan

Please be advised that sending your visa application or document(s) to the incorrect office may result in complication or delay in processing or even denial of application.

Embassy and Consulates General of the People’s Republic of China

What Documents Do I Need?

There are different visas depending on why you’re traveling to China: diplomatic visa, courtesy visa, service visa and ordinary visa. There are many subcategories to an ordinary visa, but most of us will be using a Tourist Visa (L).

  • Passport

You have to bring your passport, signed and with at least 6 months of validity remaining to the consulate office.

  • Visa Application Form

You have to have this filled out before you arrive at the consulate. It is REQUIRED that all information is typed into the document and printed out. Nothing can be hand-written.

  • Passport Photo

You can get this at Walgreens for $14.00. It says the photo must be attached to the application form, but I was unsure of the best way to attach it so I simply brought it with me and someone at the consulate attached it. I believe you can use a glue stick to secure it on the form if you’d rather do it yourself.

  • Photocopy of previous Chinese Visas

This is for anyone who has applied & been approved for a visa before. You must bring a copy of your past visa with you.

  • Documents showing the itinerary of your trip:
    • Round-trip plane ticket reservations
    • Letter of Invitation – written and signed by your host – OR – Proof of hotel reservation (ask your hotel to write one for you and email it to you). The letter must contain:
      • Information on the application (you): full name, gender, birthday
      • Information on the planned visit: arrival and departure dates, places to stay, places being visited.
      • Information on the inviting entity or individual: name, contact telephone number, address, official stamp, signature of the legal representative or inviting individual.
(source)

How Do I Submit My Application?

Go to the office in-person at least 30 days before your planned trip. I went two months in advance and didn’t have any issues! There are no appointments, everything is walk-in service so be prepared to wait.

Please note that you may be required to come to the Visa Office in person to have an interview as deemed necessary by a consular officer.

Embassy and Consulates General of the People’s Republic of China

Once you drop off all the materials (including your passport), you will be given a receipt with a date on when you can pick up your visa. The processing time is 4 days unless you opt for express service, then it’s 2-3 days, or rush service in 1 day.

You MUST bring that receipt back with you to pick up your visa! When you return to pick up you’re visa you’ll pay the fee with a debit or credit card (Visa or Mastercard), money order, cashier’s check or company check.

Cash, personal checks and online payments are not accepted.

Currently a visa for a U.S. citizen is $140 whether you opt for one, two or multiple entries in the next 10 years.

(source)

Can You Non-Rev to China?

Absolutely.

If you work for an airline and you’re trying to get your paperwork in order to apply for a visa, don’t stress about needing airline tickets. Make a reservation on a flight and print out your reservation.

My non-rev tickets from ORD-BJS were accepted without question.

You can also use a visa-free transit for 144 hours with a confirmed, purchased ticket out of the country, but I recommend obtaining a visa.


While there are a lot of steps to obtaining a tourist visa, it’s not as scary as it looks! Gather one document at a time and place it in a specific folder to carry with you. Make a list and triple-check you have everything before you head to the embassy or consulate and you’ll be fine.

I am very excited for my trip and everything with my visa process went smoothly! Even the employees at the Chicago Consulate were friendly. Now it’s time for adventure!

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