One of our perennially popular articles is for travelers looking to obtain a visa to China. The policy changes constantly, seemingly monthly and we’ve updated our previous article about getting a China visa so many times, it’s time for a complete 2018 update! (Comments after Jan 24th, 2018 are new.)
To give you a little bit of background, there is no China Embassy or Consulate office in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is legally part of China, therefore the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will handle visa services for the mainland (website is a piece of rubbish.) But if you say consulate/embassy people will still know what you’re talking about.
Generally speaking, this office is meant to handle affairs for Hong Kong residents. They will almost always ask for Hong Kong identity (HKID) card to provide services, however tourists from other countries can still obtain a visa, albeit more difficultly. Most certainly you will need to have entered Hong Kong legally and have entry paperwork, stamps, etc.
Suggest you read this article in full as there are many particulars.
How to get your visa to China
Few options, namely:
- Traditional China visa, for which the application is submitted and visa & passport returned to you before you go to China. (this article.)
- Visa-on-arrival available at the Hong Kong / Shenzhen border.
- Transit-without-visa available at many airports in mainland China (TWOV)
This article will cover item 1 and the China visa application process has changed quite a bit recently. We want to thank our reader Peter for informing and sharing his experience with the HKTravelBlog community.
Where do I go?
As of January 2018, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has moved it’s visa processing and is now processed at the following address:
Chinese Visa Application Center
151 Gloucester Road (20th Floor)
Wanchai, Hong Kong Island
Apparently there are wonderful harbour views from the 20th floor! If a reader can go and snap some pics around of the place we’d appreciate it including the waiting area and facilities such as photo booth and reception area.
Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Hong Kong Public Holidays.
Submission of applications and Payment:
- 9:00 to 16:00.(Urgent service before 12:00)
- Express and Urgent Service: 12:00 to 17:00.
- Regular Service: 10:00 to 17:00
Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.
Visa application form
You can print and complete the visa application form for the People’s Republic of China beforehand: v2013 is current as of Jan 2018.
Update December 2018: several readers have told us that applications must now be accompanied by a print out proving accommodation for all nights you propose to spend in China. Typically this could be a hotel reservation, but if you plan to stay with friends you will likely need an invitation from them and may need a copy of their address proof/visa or passport. If you do not want to go through this – for example because your itnerary is not fixed – you will likely find it easier to use a visa agent who may be able to navigate the accommodation details requirement for you,
You can use the photo booths at the visa center if you so choose, but obviously easier to have it before you arrive.
Process is fairly straightforward, and as long as you don’t mind the wait times (often many hours), you can get it done yourself there.
How much time do I need / best times
I will give you a tip, avoid early in the week if possible. Almost always Monday will be the busiest and wait times will decrease as the week goes on. Apply Wed-Fri certainly will be easier and less crowded. However, you will have to wait past the weekend to retrieve your passport and visa if you use normal 3-day processing.
Also try to go in the afternoon or very early. There will be a queue in the am so if you arrive a bit later than the first bunch, you’ll need to wait awhile. Arriving late morning you’d think would help, but Chinese tend to take a long and extended lunch hour so there’ll be very few window agents around 12pm – 2pm.
Generally speaking if you arrive by 4pm the application center will process your visa unless they get slammed and then they’ll limit the number of applicants earlier based on demand, try to arrive earlier if you anticipate it being busy.
Timing is calculated on the day of submission. e.g. if submitted on Monday, that is day 1. You can pick up 3 days later, on the 4th day, Thursday.
[a] Hong Kong Identity Card holders
- Go to the office and pass through the x-ray scanners. If taking MTR, exit A1 is closest and is roughly a 10 minute walk. Easiest it to talk to Gloucester Road and walk east towards Causeway Bay.
- Take the lift/elevator upstairs, visa processing is on the 20th floor. Toilets located there and clean too.
- Fill out the visa form available, if you have not already done so. Also bring copies of everything. Your HKID, passport details page, current HK visa, anything else you think might be relevant. Otherwise they will make you copy them for $1 HKD each and there’s lines to use those machines too. You can get change if needed, but I suggest bringing change.
- Once forms are fully completed, hand them to the clerk standing by the window who will check whether you filled it completely, at that point only will he provide you a ticket with queue number.
- Wait, probably a long time and hand the forms to the processing agent when your number is called. I suggest bringing a book or iPad to watch a movie.
- Submit documents to the clerk. Clerks usually are not particularly friendly so I’d suggest just having everything easily ready so they don’t get perturbed and you can minimize any disputes with them. I learned from experience there’s no point arguing, they’re sticklers for whatever they say even if it makes no sense. You could always try to get another number and try your luck with another clerk. Some people have reported friendly clerks. (One clerk told me I couldn’t get a new visa because my old one fell out, due to bad quality Chinese glue, and had to get a brand new passport. I’ve since gotten two China visas in the same original passport.)
- If all is ok, they’ll tell you what visa you’re eligible for and provide you a receipt and queue number for payment.
- Payment is made after visa application submittal. (Payment in the past was done upon collection, this is no more. China wants their money ASAP now.)
- Pick-up is in 4 business days (3 days later), including day of submission. (e.g. Monday submit is a Thursday pickup.)
[b] HK Non-residents / Tourists
The process to apply for the visa is the same as above, except you won’t have a HKID card, but you will need more documentation. Be sure to bring your Hong Kong entry slip with you if you do not receive a stamp in your passport!
You may be asked for proof of return airline tickets and hotel bookings. If headed to Guangdong province, usually you don’t need transportation proof. Feel free to book cancellable reservations.
Make copies of these for your submission. You will probably want to have a solid reason why you could not, or did not apply for a visa in your home country. I have seen people denied for visa and asked to apply in their home country if they don’t have solid reasoning & documentation. To avoid all of this, you may want to think about applying for a China visa by mail through your home country if you are not physically there.
My guess would be a lot of students and other individuals who are “teaching English” in China are trying to extend and renew their visas in Hong Kong. It’s a lot cheaper to come into Hong Kong than go back to Australia, Europe, or North America. Basically the office knows they’re illegally working in China and trying to discourage overstays. That’s a big reason I think the HK office only provides a 30 day duration of stay rather than 90 days you can get overseas.
Important items to note
- Turkey: popular topic of conversation. If you have a stamp from Turkey, you may be denied a visa upon application submission. You’ve been forewarned, do not be surprised and bother arguing. Many a reader have been denied because they went to Turkey.
- Old / previous passports: if you have a relatively new passport (issued after Jan 2015), especially issued within the last year, and have a previously expired passport…I would highly suggest bringing the old passport with you as China will want to see that and make sure you haven’t gone to any countries they’ve deemed risky.
- Appearance: racism and prejudice is alive and rampant when apply for visas to China. If the agent doesn’t like what you’re wearing, your looks, color of your skin, etc.; they will flatly reject you on the spot. Would suggest trying to dress and present yourself as conservatively and nicely as possible if you feel you may be targeted. You can get around this by applying again and try to get a different window agent, but it’s time consuming. Try using a visa agent or apply via mail.
Everyone don’t forget:
- Visa pricing here. (USA is same price no matter length of visa. Good as of Jan 2018, subject to change at ANY time.) Make sure to look at page too if you country falls under “List of Countries on Reciprocal Basis of Visa Fees”
- Fill out the application form completely. Include your parent’s names, dates of when and where you’ll be in China, including a physical address.
- You must have a single or double entry visa before they will provide a multi-entry visa.
- One-year multi-entry is usually the max length they will provide.
- Your HK visa expiration date should be as far out as possible. If it expires soon they might use that as a reason to provide a shorter duration China visa to you.
- Express and urgent service is available at an additional cost, same-day visas are not available. If you need to visit China urgently, read our article Getting into China Without a Visa, which includes information on same day visas.
- Max stay is 30 days if you get a visa from the HK office. (I’ve received 90 day stays when applying in the USA.)
- Try to go to the office during the afternoon time blocks, there tends to be less people. I’ve always seen a line-up outside the building earlier in the day. Towards the end of the week is good too.
Using a visa agent
If you want to avoid all of this, you can use an agent to apply the visa for you. They will charge a fee but save a HUGE time & headache. Highly suggested if you can afford to spare the extra bucks. We partner with Asia Visas and many of our readers have successfully obtained visas through them.
There’s plenty of others also in your home country or Hong Kong as well.
Obtaining a China visa yourself is a time-consuming process, but certainly can be done. Hundreds of people do it each day. It’s a bit easier if you are a citizen from a country that isn’t majority Muslim or on the terrorism radar. It’s sad, but that is how it is currently.
Follow the steps and be prepared to wait, a lot.
There are many comments of reader’s experiences on our previous article linked here. We’ve copied comments from the previous post, any prior to Jan 24th, 2018 are copied from the previous post. Please add your own experiences below to help keep this page current and help other travellers!