How to Apply for a Chinese Visitor’s Visa

Beijing President Mao's Tomb

Visiting China is such an unmatched experience! While living there, I traveled within the country to 5 provinces and 15+ cities visiting the major attractions like The Great Wall and The Pearl Tower. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without a Chinese visitor’s visa.

There’s nothing else I’ve found that quite compares to handmade dumplings, red roof architecture, and of course the panic and following growth of culture shock. But getting my work visa was probably the most difficult experiences of the whole year.

Here, I’ve made you some guidelines for visitor’s visas to cut down on your research time and make the process less hectic for you!

Buddhist Temple in Lincang

China Visitor’s Visa Rules

If you’re going to China purely for tourism purposes, you should consider a 72 hour (3 day) or 144 hour (6 day) TWOV (Transit Without Visa) visit. These temporary visas allow you to travel within certain large cities in China as long as you depart the country in the required amount of time AND fly to ANOTHER country before returning to your original departure point.

For example, USA to China to the UK = good . USA to China to USA = not allowed. Layovers count for this rule, even if it is just a flight transfer in Hong Kong. You are not required to leave the airport to qualify for these short term visas.

Cities You Can See While on a Visitor’s Visa

These temporary passes are valid in the following cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Dalian, Shenyang, Xiamen, Qingdao, Wuhan, Chengdu and Kunming. The 144 hour (6 day) pass allows you to travel between those cities, the 72 hour (3 day) visa does not. 

Megan on Great Wall of China
Shanghai Tienzefeng streets
Megan and friends at the Yellow River

Where to Apply for a 72 Hour Visa

You will apply for these visas AT the airport in China when you arrive. When you buy your plane ticket to China, the airline will ask if you have a visa to enter the country. You will need to indicate you plan on applying for a TWOV upon arrival.

Necessary Application Documents:

  1. A passport that is valid for more than 6 months after arrival date 
  2. An exit ticket to another country within 72 or 144 hours
  3. The address of your accommodation(s) while in China
  4. 2 passport-size photos

Final Steps for the 72 Hour Visa

Once you land in China, you will fill out the arrival and departure cards given to you by the flight attendants or the customs officers. Then, proceed to the customs area with the other passengers and get into the line for the service counter that says 72- hour- visa-free services. Once you get your visa pass, go through the customs security check, claim your baggage, and exit the airport. 

Additional Options for a Visa to China

If you are staying for longer than 6 days, you will need to apply for a visitor’s visa at one of the Chinese consulates in the US. There are only 6 consulate locations in the US: Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Most travel agents are also able to complete this process for you for a fee of about $100-$150. It will save you a lot of time and effort if you don’t mind the extra cost and plan on staying longer than 72 hours.

If you have more questions, here is a great resource link that break down the areas and rules of visas in China: 

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