Getting a Chinese Travel Visa
It’s great that you are planning on traveling in China, it will be a really incredible experience. From Beijing to Tibet, China has so much to offer to new or even experienced travelers. With landscapes ranging from ice caves to thick jungle, you could spend a lifetime here and not see everything there is to see.
The L Visa application process can be a hassle for new travelers or those who aren’t familiar with China. In this article I want to first explain the documents involved in this process, then explain how to get each one of them with detailed links and resources. Then finally, I will provide you with some tools and services to help you properly submit your materials so you can get on the plane as soon as possible.
First let’s look at the visa itself.
About the Tourist (L) Visa
The L Visa is a single-entry or double-entry visa type (meaning you can fly into China only one or two times).
For citizens of most countries, the validity of a Single Entry or Double Entry “L” Visa is 90 days (3 months) or 180 days (6 months) from the date of issue.
For most travelers, the visa type that most suits you is the single entry visa with 6 months validity.
There is also a “Multiple Entry” (essentially unlimited entry) L Visa type, that is valid for 6, 12, or 24 months depending on the applicant. These visa types are only available to Ethnic Chinese living abroad, spouses of those living in China, and American Citizens (as of 4/2018 the political climate makes it unlikely for American citizens to receive this visa type).
So now that you know what the L visa is, and you’ve decided on the type you will be applying for, what are the documents that you will need to provide?
Below is a list for the average traveler.
- Passport with 6 months of validity past your travel date
- Chinese L Visa application form
- Proof of Travel OR Letter of invitation
- One passport-sized color photo (45mm x 35mm)
Optional or Situational
- Proof of legal stay or residence status (if you are not applying in your country of citizenship)
- A personal statement of purpose (if you have traveled to China before)
- Proof of employment (on a case-by-case basis)
1. Valid Passport
This is fairly straightforward, you will need to compare the expiration date on your passport with the date that you plan to travel. You need to have a 6 month buffer to be eligible to apply.
Ex. if you are traveling from Jan 1 to Feb 1, your passport will need to have an expiration date after August 1.
If your passport needs to be renewed, you can use this site to do it conveniently and quickly.
Note: You will also need at least two blank passport pages available for Chinese visa and entry stamps.
2. Chinese Visa Application Form
If you are hardcore, you can print out the original form from the Chinese embassy here, fill it out and scan it, but I recommend you don’t. TravelChinaGuide.com offers a great PDF tool for filling out your application form. You can use this to fill out your form and print it out.
Make sure to fill out the form in all capital letters, you can be rejected for using lower-case letters in your application.
3. Proof of Travel or a Letter of Invitation
You are supposed to provide one or the other of these to the Chinese consulate when you apply, but I recommend providing both, as it will lower your chances of having to submit again (don’t worry, it probably won’t happen).
The Travel Documents are fairly straightforward: If you are visiting China on your own, you should provide a copy of your round trip airline ticket and hotel confirmation(s). If you are traveling with a tour, you must additionally include your tour itinerary.
The Invitation Letter needs to be issued by a “relevant entity or individual in China” with the 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 (if applicable), signature of the individual
You can ask a friend or family member in China to write this letter for you, or if you use a visa agency to apply, they may offer to write this letter for you from their office in China.
4. Passport-Sized Photo
Different local governments have their own standards or the passport photo size, but this example photo (below) from the UK government should cover most if not all cases.
You can go to most post offices and copy shops to have this photo taken, or in America you can even have it taken in many convenience stores.
Proof of Legal Stay or Residence (if applicable)
Proof of residence must include your name as it appears on your passport and displays your current address.
This can include a copy of your valid driver’s license, a copy of your valid state issued ID or a copy of your current Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) car registration. The more of these you can provide with your application, the better.
How to Apply
You can come to the Chinese Embassies, Consulates and other Chinese diplomatic missions to submit application in person. Applications by mailing are not acceptable and will be refused at most of Chinese embassies or consulates.
If you can’t/don’t want to come personally, you can entrust someone else, a travel agency or a visa agency to act on your behalf. No appointment is required.
The vast majority of applicants will take this second option and entrust a visa agency to do the application for them.
I will recommend a couple well-known Chinese visa services here for your convenience. I also highly recommend this Wikihow Article on applying for your Chinese Visa. Safe Travels!
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