Most travellers need a visa (签证 qiānzhèng) to visit mainland China. In most cases, a visa should be applied for at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate prior to departure. Citizens of most Western countries do not require a visa to visit Hong Kong and Macau and can stay for up to 90 days.Those who do need a visa for Hong Kong and Macau can obtain one from a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must apply for it separately from the visa for mainland China.
30-day single or double entry visas to the mainland can sometimes be obtained in Hong Kong or Macau. This means that you can usually fly from overseas to Hong Kong without a visa and then travel on to the mainland from there after spending a few days in Hong Kong to acquire a mainland visa. However, it is unwise to rely on this as the official rule is that only residents of Hong Kong or Macau can obtain a mainland visa there. There are often exceptions, but they change over time, apparently for political reasons. Nigerian citizens can no longer get visas in Hong Kong since Nigeria extended diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, US citizens were denied entry after the US started requiring fingerprints from Chinese travellers, and around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics visas became difficult for almost everyone. In general, it is safer to apply for the visa either before leaving for China, or from a third country such as Japan or South Korea.
Nationals of Brunei, Japan and Singapore do not require a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 15 days, regardless of the reason for the visit. Nationals of the Bahamas, Fiji, Grenada, Mauritius and Seychelles do not require a visa to visit China for up to 30 days, regardless of the reason for the visit.
To visit mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents with Chinese citizenship must apply to the China Travel Service, the only authorised issuing agency, for a Home Return Permit (回乡证), a credit-card-sized ID card that allows multiple entries and unlimited stay for 10 years without restrictions, including on employment. Taiwanese citizens must apply for a Taiwan Compatriot Pass (台胞证 táibāozhèng), which is usually valid for 5 years, and can live in mainland China indefinitely for the duration of the permit’s validity without restrictions, including on employment. Travellers should check the latest information before travelling.
Overview of visa policy
China offers the following visas for citizens of most countries:
- L visa – tourism, family visits
- F visa – business trips, internships, short-term studies
- Z-Visa – Working, 30 days during which you should receive a residence permit
- X-Visa – Study more than 6 months
- S1 visa – dependent family members of a Z visa (work visa)
- Q1 / Q2 Visa – For foreign nationals married to Chinese citizens or green card holders.
- G visa – transit
In addition, the following nationalities are exempt from the visa requirement for entry into China, provided that the stay is limited to the specified duration:
- 15 days for Japanese, Singaporean and Bruneian citizens
- 30 days for citizens of the Bahamas, Fiji, Grenada, Mauritius and Seychelles
- 90 days for citizens of San Marino
- Indefinite for Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan
For more information, contact the nearest Chineseembassyorconsulate
Transit without visa
Although entry to China requires a visa for citizens of most countries, there is an exception whentransiting throughsomeairports; this can be used for short visits to many metropolitan areas of the country. These rules are subject to sudden change and you should check with your airline just before attempting this method of entry.
Since 1 January 2014, citizens of the above countries arriving at the airports in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang can stay in the city of arrival for up to 72 hours, provided they depart from an airport in the same city. The onward ticket must be to a country other than the country from which their arrival flight came and they must have the required third country or third country entry documents.
Passengers without visas who want to leave the transit area are usually instructed by an immigration officer to wait in an office for about 20 minutes while other officers check the passengers’ onward flight documents.
A more generous policy for the city of Shanghai and the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang was introduced with effect from 30 January 2016. Visa-free entries via Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou airports and Shanghai seaport or railway station (direct train from Hong Kong) are allowed; once admitted, passengers can travel anywhere within the three provincial-level units and must depart within 144 hours (6 days). Translation: 144-hour Visa Free Transit PolicyforShanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang
Types of visas
Getting a tourist visa is quite easy for most passports, as you do not need an invitation, which is required for business or work visas. The usual single-entry tourist visa is valid for a 30-day visit and must be used within three months of the date of issue. Double-entry tourist visas have to be used up to 6 months following the date they were issued. It is possible to obtain a single or double entry tourist visa for up to 60 days or, less frequently, 90 days for some citizens who apply for it in their home country.
Consulates and travel agencies have been known to occasionally ask for proof of onward travel when applying for a visa.
Tourist visa extensions can be applied for at the local Entry & Exit Bureau or Public Security Bureau (公安局 Gōng’ānjú) after submitting the following documents: valid passport, visa extension application form including a passport photo, a copy of the temporary residence registration form you received from the local police station during registration. Tourist visas can only be extended once. Processing time is usually five working days and costs ¥160. See city article to find out the local office.
Some travellers need a visa for double or multiple entry. For example, if you enter China on a single entry visa and then go to Hong Kong or Macau, you will need a new visa to re-enter mainland China. In Hong Kong, multiple entry visas are officially only available to HKID holders, but the authorities are willing to bend the rules a bit and can approve three-month multiple entry visas for short-term qualified Hong Kong residents, including exchange students. It is recommended that you apply directly to the Chinese government in this case, as some agents may be unwilling to make such an application on your behalf.
Obtaining a visa on arrival is normally only possible for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and such visas are limited to these areas. When entering Shenzhen from Hong Kong at Lo Wu station, and especially not at Lok Ma Chau station, a five-day Shenzhen-only visa can be obtained locally during extended office hours for ¥160 (October 2007 price) for passport holders of many nationalities, such as Irish or New Zealanders or Canadians. Americans are not eligible, while British nationals must pay ¥450. The office now only accepts Chinese yuan as payment, so be sure to bring plenty of cash.
Some nationalities may have visa restrictions that change over time. For example:
- The visa fee for American nationals has been increased to USD140 (or USD110 as part of a group tour) in return for increased fees for Chinese nationals visiting America.
- Indian nationals are limited to 10- or 15-day tourist visas and must present USD100 in travellers’ cheques per day of visa validity. (USD1,000 and USD1,500 respectively)
- Foreigners in South Korea who do not have an alien registration card must now apply to the Chinese Consulate in Busan, as the Chinese Embassy in Seoul does not issue visas to non-residents in Korea. In addition, applications must be made through an official travel agency.
The current Z visa only allows you to stay in the country for 30 days; once you are there, the employer will get you a residence permit. This is effectively a multiple entry visa and you can use it to leave and return to China. Some local visa offices refuse to issue a residence permit if you entered China on a tourist visa (L). In these cases, you must enter with a Z visa. These are only issued outside China, so you may need to travel outside China to obtain one, for example to Hong Kong or South Korea. You will also need a letter of invitation from your employer. In other cases, it is possible to convert an L visa into a residence permit; it depends on which office you are dealing with and perhaps your employer’s connections.
For family members of a Z visa holder, there is now a dependent S1 visa that can be applied for outside China with the original birth and/or marriage certificates.
Foreigners married to Chinese nationals have the option of obtaining a family visit visa for a period of 6 to 12 months.(探亲 tànqīn). A kinship visit visa is actually a tourist visa (L) that allows people to stay in China continuously for the duration of the visa without the visa holder having to leave China and re-enter to maintain the validity of the visa. Those who wish to apply for a relative visit visa should first enter the country on another visa and then apply for a relative visit visa at the local Public Security Bureau in the city where your marriage is registered, which is usually the hometown of your Chinese spouse. Be sure to bring your marriage certificate and your spouse’s identity card (身份证 shēnfènzhèng).
It is possible for most foreigners to obtain a visa at the ChineseEmbassyin Ulaanbaatar,Mongolia. During peak periods, entrance to the office can be refused after 11am.Also note that on major Chinese holidays, the consular section may be closed for several days.
Those wishing to apply for a visa in South Korea must usually either present an Alien Registration Card showing that they have a few more months of residence in South Korea, or prove that they have obtained a Chinese visa within the last two years. One cannot apply directly to a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must proceed through a travel agency. As a rule, only 30-day entry visas are available.
Registering the residence
Chinese law requires hotels, guesthouses and hostels to register their guests with the local police when they check in. Staff will scan your passport, including visa and entry stamps. Help the staff if they don’t know where the last stamp is – immigration officers are sometimes known to stamp in the wrong order.
Some of the lower-end hotels are not set up for this and will turn away foreign guests. This used to be a legal requirement; no hotel could accept foreigners without a licence from the local police. It is not clear if this law is still in force, but some hotels still refuse foreigners.
If you are staying in private accommodation, you are theoretically (and by law) obliged to register your stay with the local police within 24 (urban) to 72 (rural) hours of your arrival, although in practice the law is rarely if ever enforced as long as you don’t cause any trouble. The police will ask for a copy of the photo page of your passport, a copy of your visa, a copy of your entry stamp, a photograph and a copy of the tenancy agreement or other document relating to the flat where you are staying. This contract does not necessarily have to be in your name, but it will still be requested.
You should always carry this temporary residence permit with you, especially if you are staying in larger cities or where controls are strict.
You need to re-register if your visa or residence permit changes – extensions or changes in passport (again, it is ideal to re-register when you get a new passport, regardless of whether you have transferred the visa or residence permit to the new passport).