How to Get a Chinese Visa

Global From Asia   |   August 29, 2021

This article is originally found here:

Looking to visit Mainland China? Maybe you’re going to attend our Cross Border Summit (if so, thank you – you rock!) or maybe you’re coming for the Canton Fair trade show or to visit factories. Whatever the case, 99% sure your passport will require you to file and pay for a passport visa in advance.

So What Is a China Visa, Or a Passport Visa in General?

Before we get into the “how”, some of you may not even know what or why. I have to admit, as an American, I had traveled to Europe, Canada, Mexico while I was younger. I never had to even think about getting a visa to enter those countries, no one even mentioned it to me.

What happens for US passport holders (and many others) in many countries is you just go to the country (by plane, train, or automobile) and when entering the country you go to the border patrol. They will review your papers (passport, sometimes even just a driver’s license) and allow you to enter. Many will get a stamp on their passport that shows the date you entered and the maximum amount of days you can stay in the country before having to leave.

That is called “visa on entry”

But for China, you need to apply for a Chinese visa before you come to the border. They are opening up more and have a visa on arrival office at the Luo Ho border station (check our Hong Kong / China border crossing guide for details) – but it is still safer to be prepared and have it ahead of time.

You need to turn in your passport, fill out some forms, maybe get an invitation letter from a Chinese person or company on what your trip is for, and pay a fee to the government. They will review your application and put a full page sticker in your passport showing what the terms of the visa are.

With this Chinese passport visa (not the credit card!) you can now go to the China border and enter. That is flying directly into China by plane, or crossing over from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Visa Different From China Visa

I won’t get into politics – but in this case – China and Hong Kong are different when it comes to visas. As Hong Kong is a SAR (Special Administrative Region) they have special rules and are much more open to foreigners / visitors.

So almost any passport holder can enter Hong Kong without a visa beforehand. For some countries, the border patrol may inquiry why you are coming – as certain countries have the reputation of having illegal workers overstaying in Hong Kong. The visa on arrival is not for getting a job in Hong Kong – it is for visiting on business or a short term vacation.

Many people I know first come into Hong Kong for their business trip – do the Global Source trade show and then go into Mainland China. You can have the China visa first, or you can apply from Hong Kong.

Now that you get the basic idea, let’s get into some of the how and details for a China visa.

Are You Traveling For Business or Pleasure?

Is this trip for your company or for your holiday? I know many digital nomads say a mix of both. And it is cute and fun to say at a bar with friends. But when choosing your passport visa, you need to decide on one or the other.

I would suggest going for the business visa. The fee is a bit higher and you will need an invitation letter from a Chinese company, yet it is just “safer”. Sure, I haven’t heard stories of people getting in trouble on a tourist visa in China, but it is always better safe than sorry and pay the slightly higher fee.

There are people I know that want to save some money or for whatever reason and opt for a tourist visa. It isn’t something I recommend and could raise eyebrows at hotels when checking in or if you were ever stopped by the police. When you check into a hotel, they will take your visa number down and it will be registered with the local police department as they want to know where the visitors of their country are staying.

Things To Consider In Your China Visa

The rules and policies of visas are always traveling, so it is hard to give the exact price and terms of every country passport holder, how much, and what you’ll get. So instead, I will outline some of the variables so when you are talking to a visa agent, you get the big decision points.

Length of Visa (Expiration Date)

How long will the visa last for? A low length is three months, average is 1 year. But some amazing news is that recently US passport holders get a 10 year business visa now! So you can apply this visa one time, and use it again and again for 10 years from date of issue.

The price of the visa will be more the longer the length of visit. But you also need to factor in how often you will be going into China, as having one visa that can last a long time will just save you the hassle of applying over and over again.

Depending on your passport, you may or may not have options. Now, USA passport holders only can apply for the 10 year visa, which is a few hundred dollars. There used to be shorter term visa options that were a lot cheaper – now no choice.

Number of Entries

Will the visa let you leave China and enter again? There are single entry visas where you can only come into China one time.

What does a single entry mean? It means if you fly into China, say to Shanghai, and enter at the airport – you can not leave the country and re-enter on the same visa. So if you went down to Hong Kong for a trade show and then wanted to go to Shenzhen or another Chinese city after, you’d need to apply for a new visa.

There are normally 3 options or choices here – single entry, dual entry, or multiple entry. Titles are pretty self explanatory. It is just worth noting that the entries must be done before the Chinese visa expiration date (earlier point).

How long can you stay per entry? That leads to the next point.

Length of Stay

This is not the same as the length of the visa. This means when you enter China with your visa, how many days, months, years, can you stay in the country without needing to leave.

Let’s put this in context. You have a 1 year business visa with dual entry. It was issued on Feb 1, 2016 and you entered on Feb 14, 2016. You CANNOT stay until the visa expires in 1 year (Jan 31, 2017), you MUST look at the length of stay. Probably it will be a 30 day or 90 day stay.

If it’s a 30 day stay, and you entered on Feb 14, 2016 – you can stay inside Mainland China until Mar 13, 2016 (about 1 month) and you need to LEAVE! Maybe you can hop over to Hong Kong by train or MTR. Or fly out to Philippines or Korea. You can then re-enter the country (and use your 2nd and final entry) to stay for another 30 days.

After those 30 days on the second stay are up, even though your Chinese visa hasn’t expired, you cannot re-enter. Why? Because you used up both of your 2 entries on previous trips.

Make sense?

Many people seem to get confused here. The date of entry is stamped on your passport, so that is where you need to look first. Then look at your Chinese visa page in your passport and look for the length of stay. Add those amount of days and you have the last day you can stay.

I always leave a few days earlier than the last possible day, just to be safe. What happens if you overstay your visit? It isn’t a fun time, when you go to the China border to leave, they will look up in the computer and see you have overstayed. They’ll pull you to the office and calculate the fine you need to pay, on a per day basis. The first time is this fee, and the 2nd time you may even not be allowed back into China. I have had friends miss this a couple times and not been accepted for a new China visa. It isn’t worth it – put a calendar reminder on your phone and leave China a few days earlier!

Applying for a China Visa – Option 1 – From Your Home Country

Most likely you are living in the country you have your passport in. Search for agencies that help you process your China visa for your country and talk to them.

You can also go direct and find the Chinese embassy in your country.

What is the difference with a agency and going direct to the embassy? Of course the agency adds their fee, but you can also avoid waiting in lines and making mistakes in your application form and process. Depends on how much trouble you want to go through – most business executives just pay a visa agent and get it done.

Option 2 – Apply from Hong Kong

As mentioned earlier in the article, you can apply from Hong Kong. Though it may cost more than doing it from your home country, and you may not get as good of a length of stay or number of entries – you can do it.

If you are applying from Hong Kong, allow at least a couple days to have them process the visa.

You will need to turn in your passport and wait for it to be process. So without a passport you won’t be able to change hotels or leave the country!

There are tons of visa agencies in Hong Kong who will be more than happy to help you – you can see a sign all over the place and random people on street corners giving your flyers for Chinese visa. Of course it is best to go with an agency you can trust – as you give them money and your passport!

There are rush visas that can be processed same day (turn in first thing in the morning, pick up in late afternoon) or overnight visa processing as well. What an agency does is basically take your passport, your application form, and fee – and goes to the Chinese embassy for you. Wait in line, take care of the headache and deliver it back to you.

Applying From Thailand

Many of our readers are in Thailand (nice place to work from!) and are coming to the Canton Fair. Often they ask how to get a Chinese Visa while they are stationed there. As with everything, there are a couple ways

1) Go to the Chinese Embassy in Thailand. Apply there directly.
2) Use a Travel Agency / Visa agency in Thailand. Tell them you are traveling to China and need a visa for your passport to enter. They normally provide such services.
3) Apply from Hong Kong – if you’re in a rush or don’t want to be bothered with applying from Thailand, come over to Hong Kong first. Flights are cheap to HK from Bangkok, and you can spend a few days at the Hong Kong shows like Global Sources and HKTDC. Once they finish processing your visa, you can enter Mainland China via the many land borders (check our Hong Kong border crossing post)

In a Big Rush In Hong Kong? Pick Up Visa At Border

I’ve been with friends and clients who are rushing to get to Mainland China for their factory visit. And soon, rushing in for our Cross Border Summit, Ha! So if you are in a big rush – the visa agency can often have your passport held right at the Luo Ho border.

It’s on the second floor on the China side of the border. You can take the MTR right up to Lo Wu. Fill out your exit Hong Kong paper form. Many times you will forget it in the passport, so take a new paper at the border to fill out. You then exit Hong Kong – without your passport! This is because the passport is on the China border side. Don’t worry, you’ll have special papers to show them.

Once you left Hong Kong side, you’ll be in what I joke as “purgatory” (between heaven and hell) and to enter China you will need to get your passport upstairs. Walk across the border (you’ll see the line) and then there is an escalator on the left side. There are teller booths and you will show them your papers the visa agency gave you. They’ll take the documents and give you a number.

Take a seat and normally within just a few minutes they will call your number. Pick it up, and voila – you can go back downstairs to cross into China. Make sure to fill out a yellow “China entry” card before getting in line, else they will make you go back to the end of the line later.

Some Passport Holders Can Even Apply At the China Border

In an even bigger rush? You can go to that 2nd floor office at Luo HO border without applying beforehand. You can fill out the paperwork, and pay the fee and wait in the seating area until they process the visa.

This visa at the border service notes that it only works for within the Shenzhen city – if you want to take a train or plane to another city, you need to show the ticket booth and if you have this shenzhen only visa, they won’t sell you a ticket.

Only applies to certain countries. And as everything with China and international business – things can change due to political tensions or friendliness.

I asked them if an American passport holder can apply at the border, and he simply shook his head no.

Flying into China without a visa? There are China visa offices in airports, but safer to check beforehand. But the airlines are supposed to check your visa before they let you check into the flight, as they are liable to take care of you if you get rejected at the border.

Good Luck Getting Your China Visa!

So I hope today’s guide gave you the full understanding of getting a Chinese visa. Whether you apply at the Chinese embassy in your home country, or an agency, or fly to Hong Kong and process here – decide how long and how often you plan to come to China.

Maybe someday you won’t need a visa to enter China. And you may wonder why they even require it now? Many times it’s because your home country makes Chinese citizens apply for a visa to enter your country – so the governments equalize the rules. It is a balancing act of political relations, and hopefully your country is at good terms with China for your business trip!

So how has your experience been at applying for a China visa? Easy? Headache? Now it’s your turn to share in the comments below. Let’s crowdsource some suggestions and ideas – I’ll be replying as best I can and updating the guide as we go.

We Can Help You Apply From Hong Kong!

Our Global From Asia agency division can help you apply from here in HK if you’d like. We can accept Paypal, Credit card, Bitcoin, whatever – to make it as smooth and easy for you as possible. We have a sales offer at China visa applicants here, and would love to work with you! No pressure, you may have an agency you found on a forum – this is a secondary service we like to offer our clients to be an all in one provider.