Visas for China

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Visas for China

Most travelers will need a visa (签证 qiānzhèng) to visit mainland China. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. Visas for Hong Kong and Macau can be obtained through a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese visa. However, citizens from most Western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau.

The most notable exception to this rule is transit through certain airports. Most airports allow a 12-hour stay without a visa so long as you do not leave the airport, but Shanghai Pu Dong International and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airports permit a forty-eight hour stay without a visa.

Nationals of Brunei, Japan and Singapore do not need a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 15 days, regardless of the reason of visit. Nationals of San Marino do not need a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 90 days, regardless of the reason of visit.

To visit mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents of Chinese nationality need to apply at the China Travel Service, the sole authorized issuing agent, to obtain a Home Return Permit (回乡证), a credit card sized ID allowing multiple entries and unlimited stay for 10 years with no restrictions including on employment. Taiwan residents may obtain an entry permit (valid for 3 months) at airports in Dalian, Fuhzou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Wuhan, Xiamen and China Travel Services in Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors must hold a Republic of China passport, Taiwanese Identity Card and Taiwan Compatriot Pass (台胞证 táibāozhèng). The Compatriot Pass may be obtained for single use at airports in Fuzhou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Wuhan and Xiamen. The entry permit fee is ¥100 plus ¥50 for issuing a single use Taiwan Compatriot Pass. Travellers should check the most up-to-date information before traveling.

Visa overview

  • G visa - transit
  • L visa - tourism, family visits
  • F visa - business trips, internships, short study
  • Z visa - working, multi-entry
  • X visa - study more than 6 months

Getting a tourist visa is fairly easy for most passports as you don't need an invitation, which is required for business or working visas. The usual tourist single-entry visa is valid for a visit of 30 days and must be used within three months of the date of issue. A double-entry tourist visa must be used within six months of the date of issue. It is possible to secure a tourist visa for up to 90 days for citizens of some countries.

Tourist visa extensions can be applied for at the local Entry & Exit Bureaus against handing in the following documents: valid passport, visa extension application form incl. one 2-inch-sized picture, a copy of the Registration Form of Temporary Residence which you receive from the local police station at registration. In Shanghai, the Entry & Exit Bureau is located at 1500 Mingsheng Road, Pudong District. Processing time is five working days.

Some travellers will need a dual entry or multiple entry visa. For example, if you enter China on a single entry visa, then go to Hong Kong or Macau, you need a new visa to re-enter mainland China. In Hong Kong, multiple entry visas are officially available only to HKID holders, but the authorities are willing to bend the rules somewhat and may approve three-month multiple entry visas for short-term Hong Kong qualified residents, including exchange students. It is recommended to apply directly with the Chinese government in this case, as some agents will be unwilling to submit such an application on your behalf.

Obtaining a Visa on Arrival is possible usually only for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and such visas are limited to those areas. When crossing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen at Lo Wu railway station, and notably not at Lok Ma Chau, a five day Shenzhen-only visa can be obtained during extended office hours on the spot for ¥160 (Oct 2007 price) for passport holders of many nationalities, for example Irish or New Zealand or Canadian. Americans are not eligible, while British nationals have to pay ¥450. The office now accepts only Chinese yuan as payment, so be sure to bring sufficient cash.

There may be restrictions on visas for political reasons and these vary over time. For example:

  • The visa fee for American nationals was increased to US$140 (or US$110 as part of a group tour) in reciprocation for increased fees for Chinese nationals visiting America.
  • Visas issued in Hong Kong are generally limited to 30 days, same day service is difficult to get. Multiple-entry visas have also become much harder or impossible to get.
  • Indian nationals are limited to 10 or 15 day tourist visas, and have to show US $100 per day of visa validity in the form of traveller's checks (US $1000 and US $1500, respectively), likely owing to the contested border and migration fears.

A few years ago, the Z (working) visa was a long-term visa. Now a Z visa only gets you into the country for 30 days; once you are there, the employer gets you a residence permit. This is effectively a multiple-entry visa; you can leave China and return using it. Some local visa offices will refuse to issue a residence permit if you entered China on a tourist (L) visa. In those cases, you have to enter on a Z visa. These are only issued outside China, so getting one may require a trip to Hong Kong or Korea. (Note that in Korea, tourists not holding an alien registration card must now travel to Busan, as the Chinese consulate in Seoul does not issue visas to non-residents in Korea.) They also usually require an invitation letter from the employer. In other cases it is possible to convert an L visa to a residence permit; it depends upon which office you are dealing with and perhaps on your employer's connections.

One option for foreigners married to Chinese citizens is to obtain a six to twelve month visting relatives (探亲 tànqīn) visa. A visting relatives visa is actually a tourist (L) visa that permits individuals to remain in China continuously for the duration of their visa and does not require the visa holder to exit and reenter the country to maintain the validity of the visa. Individuals seeking to apply for a visting relatives visa should first enter the country on a different visa and then apply for a visting relatives visa at the local Public Security bureau in the city that your marriage was registered in, which is usually your Chinese spouse's hometown. Make sure to bring your marriage certificate and spouse's identification card (身份证 shēnfènzhèng).

It is possible for most foreigners to get a visa in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Here is the consular website [3]. . At this time December, 2010, reservations for travel and hotel are acceptable. During busy periods, they may refuse entry after 11:00 am. There can be long lines so come early. Also be aware of major Chinese holidays, the Consular Section may be closed for several days.

Registering your abode:

If staying in a hotel, guest house or hostel, the staff will request to see, and often scan, your passport, visa, and entry stamps at check-in.

If you are staying in a private residence, you are in theory required to register your abode with the local police within 24 (city) to 72 (countryside) hours of arrival, though in practice the law is rarely if ever enforced so long as you don't cause any trouble. The police will ask for (1) a copy of the photograph page of your passport, (2) a copy of your visa, (3) a copy of your immigration entry stamp, (4) a photograph, (5) a copy of the tenancy agreement or other document concerning the place you are staying in. That agreement might not be in your name but it will still be asked for.

As a result of the H1N1-flu pandemic there are some kinds of health-checks currently in effect. These may be as simple as a customs person judging your appearance to IR-cameras checking for elevated body temperature. If there is a suspicion of flu, you will be quarantined for seven days.

Getting to China

By Plane

The main international gateways to mainland China are Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Almost every sizable city will have an international airport, but options are usually limited to flights from Hong Kong, neighbouring countries such as South Korea and Japan, and sometimes South East Asia.

Transiting Hong Kong and Macau


If arriving in Hong Kong or Macau there are ferries that can shuttle passengers straight to another destination such as Shekou or Bao'an Airport in Shenzhen, Macau Airport, Zhuhai and elsewhere without actually "entering" Hong Kong or Macau. A shuttle bus takes transit passengers to the ferry terminal so their official entry point, where they clear immigration, will be the ferry destination rather than the airport. Please note that the ferries do have different hours so landing late at night may make it necessary to enter either territory to catch another bus or ferry to one's ultimate destination. For example, it would be necessary to clear immigration if going from HK Int'l Airport to Macau via the Macau Ferry Terminal. The most recent information on the ferries to Hong Kong can be found at the Hong Kong International Airport website.

While many major airlines now fly to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, budget seats are often scarce. For good offers, book as early as possible. Tickets are particularly expensive or hard to come by at the beginning or end of summer when Chinese students abroad return home or fly back to their universities around the world. As with other travel in China, tickets can be difficult to get and will be expensive around Chinese New Year.

If you live in a city with a sizable overseas Chinese community (such as Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney or London), check for cheap flights with someone in that community or visit travel agencies operated by Chinese. Sometimes flights advertised only in Chinese newspapers or travel agencies cost significantly less than posted fares in English. However if you go and ask, you can get the same discount price.

Airlines and routes:

China's carriers are growing rapidly. Airbus estimates the size of China’s passenger aircraft fleet will triple from 1,400 planes in 2009 to 4,200 planes in 2029.

They are also working hard at becoming highly competitive in both service and pricing. Airlines include China Southern, China Eastern, Air China, and Hainan Airlines.

Fliers may prefer Asian airlines as they generally have more cabin staff and quality service. Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific is an obvious possibility. Other candidates include Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia. Korean Air often has good prices on flights from various places in Asia such as Bangkok via Seoul to North America. Connecting flights may be cheaper than direct flights so keep this in mind. Korean Air also flies to more than a dozen Chinese cities, including Shanghai.

  • North America: Delta Air Lines serves Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou through its hub at Narita and directly from Detroit, Boston and Seattle. United has the most nonstop flights, serving Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai from Chicago, San Francisco, Newark, and Washington. American flies nonstop to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong from Chicago. Air Canada serves Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from Toronto and Vancouver.
  • Australia: Qantas offers direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Hong Kong. Qantas also flies to Beijing and Shanghai from Sydney but only offers a code-share service to Shanghai from Melbourne. There may be cheaper flights via Southeast Asia; some of the discount airlines there fly to Australia. China Southern Airlines now offers direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Guangzhou with ongoing connections to the major cities.
  • New Zealand: Air New Zealand is the only direct option to Mainland China. They offer direct flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
  • South East Asia: Singapore has arguably the best connections, due to its large ethnic Chinese population, with flights to all the major cities as well as some regional centers such as Xiamen, Kunming and Shenzhen. Besides Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Manila offer good connections. Tiger Airways, Jetstar, Air Asia, and Cebu Pacific offer low-priced flights from South East Asia (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila) to various destinations in southern China, including Xiamen, Jinghong, Guangzhou, Haikou and Macau.
  • Europe: Most of the major European airlines, including Air France, British Airways, and Finnair have direct flights from their hubs to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai; several fly to Guangzhou as well. A few have links to other Chinese cities. For example KLM flies direct from Amsterdam to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen and Lufthansa flies a Frankfurt to Nanjing route.
  • Taiwan: Regular direct flights between Taiwan and Mainland China resumed in 2008, after a 59 year ban. There are now daily direct flights between Taipei and major cities in China.

By Train

China can be reached by train from many of its neighboring countries and even all the way from Europe.

  • Russia & Europe - two lines of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian) run between Moscow and Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, and for the Trans-Mongolian, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  • Kazakhstan & Central Asia - from Almaty, Kazakhstan, one can travel by rail to Urumqi in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. There are long waits at the border crossing for customs, as well as for changing the wheelbase for the next country's track.
  • Hong Kong - regular services link mainland China with Hong Kong. Direct trains run from Hong Kong's Hung Hom direct to Guangzhou East station. Immigration is done at the respective station rather that at the border. Some trains also stop at other Guangdong stations. The Hong Kong MTR runs from the city to 2 points on the Shenzhen border. The main border crossing is at Lo Wu/Luo Hu, which is next to Shenzhen's main station.
  • Vietnam - from Nanning in Guangxi province into Vietnam via the Friendship Pass. Services from Kunming have been suspended since 2002.
  • North Korea - four weekly connections between the North Korean capital Pyongyang and Beijing.

By Road

China has land borders with 14 different countries; a number matched only by its northern neighbour, Russia. In addition, mainland China also has land borders with the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which are for all practical purposes treated as international borders. Most of the border crossings in western China are located in remote mountain passes, which while difficult to reach and traverse, often reward travellers willing to make the effort with breathtaking, scenic views.

India:

Relations between the two nations are frosty, but the Nathu La Pass between Sikkim in India and Southern Tibet has recently reopened for cross-border trade. For now though, the crossing is not open to tourists, and special permits are required to visit from either side.

Myanmar (Burma):

Entering China from Myanmar is possible at the Ruili (China)-Lashio (Myanmar) border crossing, but permits need to be obtained from the Burmese authorities in advance. Generally, this would require you to join a guided tour.

Vietnam:

For most travelers Hanoi is the origin for any overland journey to China. There are currently three international crossings:

  • Dong Dang (V) - Pingxiang (C)

You can catch a local bus from Hanoi's eastern bus station (Ben Xe Street, Gia Lam District, tel: 04/827-1529) to Lang Son, where you have to switch transport to minibus or motorbike to reach the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively there are many offers from open-tour providers; for those in a hurry, they might be a good option if they offer a direct hotel to border crossing transfer.

You can change money with freelance money changers, but check the rate carefully beforehand.

Border formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, walk up past the "Friendship-gate" and catch a taxi (about ¥20, bargain hard!) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus is ¥5. There is a Bank of China branch right across the street from the main bus station; the ATM accepts Maestro cards. You can travel by bus or train to Nanning.

  • Lao Cai (V) - Hekou (C)

You can take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai for about 420,000 VND (as of 11/2011) for a soft sleeper. The trip takes about 8 hours. From there, it's a long walk (or a 5 minute ride) to the Lao Cai/Hekou border. Crossing the border is simple, fill out a customs card and wait in line. They will search your belongings (in particular your books/written material). Outside the Hekou border crossing is a variety of shops, and the bus terminal is about a 10 minute ride from the border. A ticket to Kunming from Hekou costs about ¥140; the ride is about 7 hours.

  • Mong Cai (V) - Dongxing (C)

At Dongxing, you can take a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou (approximately ¥180), or a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (approximately ¥230, 12 hours) (March 2006).

Laos:

From Luang Namtha you can get a bus leaving at around 8 a.m. going to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. You need to have a Chinese visa beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is close (about 1 hr). Customs procedures will eat up another good hour. The trip costs about 45k Kip.

Also, there is a direct Chinese sleeper bus connection from Luang Prabang to Kunming (about 32 hours). You can jump in this bus at the border, when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. Don't pay more than ¥200, though.

Pakistan:

The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan into Western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It's closed for tourists for a few months in winter. Crossing the border is relatively quick because of few overland travelers, and friendly relations between the two countries. A bus runs between Kashgar (China) and Sust (Pakistan) across the Kunerjab pass.

Nepal:

The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest, and through amazing mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours, but it is possible to travel into Nepal from Tibet

Mongolia:

There are two border crossings between Mongolia and China. The are the Erenhot (Inner Mongolia) / Zamin Uud border crossing, and the Takashiken (Xinjiang) / Bulgan border crossings.

From Zamiin Uud. Take a local train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamiin Uud. Then Bus or Jeep to Erlian in China. There are local trains leaving in the evening most days and arriving in the morning. The border opens around 8:30. From Erlian there are buses and trains to other locations in China.

Kazakhstan:

The sole border crossing to China is located at Khorgos. Buses run almost daily from Almaty to Urumqi and Yining. No visa-on arrival is available so ensure both your Chinese and Kazakh visas are in order before attempting this.

Kyrgyztan:

It is possible to cross the Torugart pass to / from Kyrgyztan, but the road is very rough and the pass is only open during the summer months (June-September) every year. It is possible to arrange crossings all the way from Kashgar, but ensure that all your visas are in order.

Alternatively, while less scenic, a smoother crossing is located at Irkeshtam to the south of Torugart. There are public (sleeper) buses taking 24 hours running this route between Kashgar and Osh, roughly 2-3 times week.

Tajikistan:

There is a single border crossing between China and Tajikistan at Kulma, which is open on weekdays from May-November. A bus operates across the border between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Khorog in Tajikistan. However, it currently remains closed to foreigners (non-Tajiks / Chinese).

Russia:

The most popular border crossing at Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia. Buses run from Manzhouli to Zabaikalsk in Russia. There are also ferries across the Amur from Heihe to Blagoveshchensk, and Fuyuan to Khabarovsk. Farther east, there are land border crossings at Suifenhe, Dongning, and Hunchun. Ensure both your Russian and Chinese visas are in order before attempting.

North Korea:

Crossing overland into North Korea is possible at the Dandong / Sinuiju border crossing, but must be pre-arranged on a guided tour from Beijing. In the reverse direction, the crossing is fairly straightforward if you have arranged it as part of your North Korean tour. Several other border crossings also exist along the Yalu and Tumen rivers, though these crossings may not be open to tourists. Ensure both your Chinese and North Korean visas are in order before attempting this.

Hong Kong:

There are four road border crossings into the mainland from Hong Kong at Lok Ma Chau, Sha Tau Kok, Man Kam To and the Shenzhen Bay Bridge. A visa on arrival is available for some nationalities at Lok Ma Chau, but visas must be arranged in advance for all other crossings.

Macau:

The two border crossings are at the Portas do Cerco and the Lotus Bridge. A visa-on-arrival can be obtained by certain nationalities at the Portas do Cerco.

Others:

It is currently not feasible for travellers to cross the borders with Afghanistan and Bhutan.

By Boat

Hong Kong and Macau:

There is regular ferry and hovercraft service between Hong Kong and Macau to the rest of the Pearl River Delta, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai. Ferry service from Hong Kong International Airport allow arriving passengers to proceed directly to the mainland without having to clear Hong Kong immigration and customs.

Japan:

There is a 2-day ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan. Service is once or twice weekly, depending on season.

A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao to Shimonoseki.

A once-weekly ferry between Shanghai and Nagasaki has recently started.

South Korea:

There is a ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Incheon, a port city very close to Seoul. Another line is from Qingdao or Weihai to Incheon or Dalian to Incheon.

Taiwan:

Hourly ferries (18 departures per day) run between Kinmen and Xiamen, with the journey time either 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on port. There is also a regular ferry between Kinmen and Quanzhou with 3 departures per day. A twice-daily ferry links Matsu with Fuzhou, with journey time about 2 hours. From the Taiwanese main island, there are weekly departures from Taichung and Keelung aboard the Cosco Star to Xiamen.

Thailand:

Golden Peacock Shipping company runs a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong river between Jinghong in Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers are not required to have visas for Laos or Myanmar, although the greater part of the trip is on the river bordering these countries. the ticket costs 650 yuan

Cruise ship:

In the fall, several cruise lines move their ships from Alaska to Asia and good connections can generally be found leaving from Anchorage, Vancouver, or Seattle. Star Cruises operates between Keelung in Taiwan and Xiamen in mainland China, stopping at one of the Japanese islands on the way.

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