Guide to China Visa for U.S. Citizens

Fancy a trip to China to explore its unique culture, world-class cities and spectacular wonders such as Beijing’s Great Wall of China, Xi An’s Terracotta Army and Sichuan’s Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park? There is perhaps no better time than now for you to embark on a brand new journey to China, as China have just expanded visa validity for U.S. citizens from 1 year to 10 years since last November. But before you hop on a plane and fly straight off to this mysterious land of wonder, here is a brief guide to help you through the application process for a China tourist visa.

10 year china_visa

Wait, I Don’t Really Know If I Need a China Visa or Not…
If you are a U.S. citizen travelling to China, then YES, you have to obtain a visa before arrival in China as U.S. citizens are not eligible for a landing visa.

If you are transiting to your final destination within 24 hours and have no plans to leave the airport, then NO, you do not have to hold a visa.

But you have an exceptionally long layover and want to spend the time outside the airport, you can apply for a temporary transit permit and even a 72-hour Transit Visa at certain airports, which will allow you to leave for city sightseeing. That will give you ample time to explore the city you are stopping at! For procedures, eligibility and other details, please refer to our China Transit Visa piece which I’ll post in a few days.

An extra piece of good news, if you are a U.S. citizen, you can also visit Hong Kong and Macau with your China visa and do not need to apply for an extra HKSAR/Macao SAR visa.

Type of Visa

Like all countries, China issues a gazillion types of visa for visits of different purposes. If you are a tourist, there are only a few things you need to know:

L Visa is the type of visa you need for all tourist-related activities.

Number of Entries:

Most U.S. passport holders eligible for Chinese short term business (M) and tourist (L) visas will be issued multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years.  Each duration of stay is usually 30 or 90 days. In order to be eligible for 10 year visas, US passport holders must have more than 1 year validity remaining on their passport.  US passport holders with 1 year or less remaining on their passport will be issued a China visa with less than 1 year validity.  The Chinese Consulate will make the final decision about the length of the visa.  Once a 10 year visa has been issued, the validity of the visa does not expire if the holder renews his/her passport.  The visa holder can travel carrying the old passport with valid Chinese visa along with the new passport.

Once you arrive in China, it is very difficult to change your visa, so think before you visit if you need a visa other than a tourist visa.

What Do You Need

Here is the list of what you need for your visa application:

  • Completed visa application form
  • Valid passport with a least six months’ validity
  • If you are applying for 10-year multiple entry visa, your passport should be valid for another 12 months minimum.
  • Passport photo
  • Documents supporting your reason of visiting e.g. your travel itinerary and proof of a hotel reservation, an invitation letter by your relatives in China etc.
  • Payment for your Chinese visa

Using an Agent

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of going to the China Embassy or have the time, you can get the visa through a streamlined process through a visa agent. The agent will handle the whole process for you and you can do it through the mail. Could be helpful if you live somewhere without a consulate/embassy as well.

We recommend using Asia Visas in Hong Kong.


Regardless of the number of entries or validity length, all L visas are $140 for U.S. citizens. Express and rush services are available for an extra $20 and $30 per visa respectively.

You will have to pay your visa fee upon collection of your visa. Only MasterCard, Visa, money order, company check or cashier’s check is accepted, so no personal checks or cash! Checks and money order should be payable to “Chinese Embassy” (for applications submitted to the Embassy), or to “Chinese Consulate in XXX”(for applications submitted to the Consulate General in XXX city)

The Procedures

  • Submit application to Chinese Embassy/ Consulate General in your state. No appointment is needed and walk-in service is available during office hour.
  • Though not mandatory, you may be required to come to the visa office in person for an interview.
  • You will be given a Pick-up slip with the date your passport with visa is ready printed on it.
  • Pay your visa fee when you pick up your passport with approved visa.
  • Go to China!

If you wish to use a visa agent, we recommend Asia Visas in Hong Kong.

How Long Does It Take

Normally, regular service takes about 4 business days; express service 2-3 business days; and rush service (needs approval by consular officer and available in extreme emergencies) one business day to process your visa.

For further questions, you can always check the FAQ page of the Chinese Embassy.

Blogger: Frances Sit

2 Responses

  1. Josh says:

    Great writeup, Frances. It can be quite frustrating trying to figure out the China visa stuff before you arrive. I wrote up a similar guide that you can find here that goes into a little bit more detail:

    Another China visa guide

    I agree with you that it makes sense to use an agent – it often saves a lot of time and headache in the end. I also made note of the 72-hour transit visas that are available in many Chinese cities.

  1. May 14, 2015

    […] If you plan on staying in China and need a regular visa, refer to our other article. […]

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