The information in this article is subject to rapid change, requirements vary in months or a few years time and according to the applicant’s nationality. These are the procedures to obtain it as of July 2018 for citizens of 51 countries: Austria, Belgium, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile. Australia, New Zealand. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
To enter China you ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS need a passport valid for more than 6 months since entering the country. It must be carried at all times.
SITUATIONS WHERE NO VISA IS REQUIRED
There are several Chinese cities and their surroundings that can be visited without a visa for a limited time if we are on a long stop over to another country, NOT A RETURN TICKET. They are granted at the airports (in Shanghai also at the ports) upon arrival if we show that we have a paid and confirmed departure ticket from China to a different country from where we came in the next few days. They are called “transit visa“. It is advisable to notify our airline/s in advance of the intention to spend several days in the country:
- Hong Kong and Macau: they are the exception, since no visa is required, not even the “in transit”, for stays shorter than 90 days in each city, and it is not obligatory to present an exit ticket either. They don’t even stamp your passport, they just give you a receipt.
- Beijing and surroundings (Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality): from December 28, 2017 up to 144 hours (6 days) of stay are allowed without requiring a visa. Therefore, on a long scale to another country, we can see Beijing and the Great Wall of China, but you can not go to other nearby places in Hebei or Tianjin; we will not have permission to visit sites such as Datong Caves, the Hanging Monastery or Pingyao, as they are in the neighboring Shanxi Province.
- Shanghai and surroundings (bordering provinces Zhejiang and Jiangsu): from 2016, up to 144 hours (6 days) of stay are allowed without requiring a visa. They are granted, in addition to the airports, at the Main Train Station, Wusongkou Port and the International Cruise Port of Shanghai. Therefore, we will have time enough to be able to visit Suzhou, Nanjing and Hangzhou (it is also granted if it lands in the airports of these two cities), we could even go diving to the submerged town of Qiandao Lake, but we can not go to Mount Huangshan.
- The rest of the cities that allow it only do so for a maximum of 72 hours (3 days) and you can not move around in the province, ONLY BY MUNICIPALITY. Tourist interest places are:
- Xi’an. Great to see the city and Terracotta Warriors. We can not go to Mount Hua.
- Guilin. Its municipality is very large, including Yangshuo and Longji rice fields, so you can see practically everything interesting in the area. We hope that in the future they will also extend the permit to 6 days, because 3 are no time enough.
- Harbin. Interesting only while its annual ice-sculptures festival. It usually starts on January the 5th and last for one month.
- Guangzhou. It allows to see the city, although it is not a big thing. It does not allow to go to Hong Kong.
- Chengdu. In this case it is not worth it, since the city has little interest and we can not go to see the best attractions in Sichuan province: neither Leshan Buddha, nor Jiuzhaigou National Park, nor the sections close to Tibet.
- Chongqing. Apart from this creepy city, we can vist Wulong Karst, but we can not cruise through the Three Gorges, because it last longer than three days and also because it finishes in the adjacent Hubei province.
- Kunming. Likewise, we can not visit the best places in Yunnan province: neither Yuanyang rice fields, nor the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
- Others without tourist interest are the cities of Shenyang, Dalian, Xiamen, and Wuhan.
- Hainan Island. This beach destination allows you to enter without a visa for up to 15 days if you are part of a trip organized by an agency, with a minimum of 5 people. You cannot leave the island.
FOR ALL OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES: VISA
There are many types, we will focus on the tourist visa (L):
- Single entry: lasts 30 days. It is the one that is more easily granted. There is conflicting information about whether the first day is considered the one when you land or the next day. Just for a day, I recommend not taking the risk of being fined, it is better to consider the first day of arrival.
- Two or more entries: each entry lasts 30 days. Before the 30th day you have to leave the country, either abroad or to Hong Kong or Macau, and then you can re-enter for another 30 days.
Price in 2018. The price is the same whether one, two or multiple entries. It depends on our country of origin and the haste that we have. For Schengen area:
- Normal visa: € 126.55. 5 days. Several more days by mail.
- Express Visa: € 175.75. 3 days. Only in person.
- Urgent visa: € 197.85. 2 days. Only in person.
Price of normal visa in:
- USA: $ 186.55.
- Canada: $ 136.55.
- Most countries: € 106.55.
To see the full price list by country, go to this link (Spanish).
Once granted, you must enter China within 90 days from the date of issue or it will expire.
- For this, it is recommended to process it between 90 and 45 days before traveling, never before 90 days.
- We can enter China and the visa may expire while we are there without problem, but if we have a visa for more than one entry and it expires while there, if we leave the country for example to Hong Kong, we will not be able to re-enter, even if we have only spent one entry.
- Deliver your passport, valid for at least 6 months prior to entering China, with at least two blank pages, where the visa is pasted.
- Deliver the old passport expired. It is not mandatory, but sometimes, if it is not sent, they can refuse the visa. It’s more recommended if our passport is new, if it’s not and has been used for some years, it shouldn’t be necessary.
- A recent color ID-card-size valid photo.
- The application form. You can download or fill in the official website and print later: www.visaforchina.org. Notice that many details are requested, including THE ADDRESS OF AT LEAST HALF OF OUR ACCOMMODATIONS IN CHINA. Those travelers who like to improvise their route, mainly backpackers, will have to make hotel reservations online with free cancellation, and once they have the visa granted, they can modify them. You have to sign at the end ensuring that all data is true.
- For minors, you must present the family book or birth certificate.
- It is recommended to send a copy of our round trip air ticket and copies of hotel reservations.
- If we say that we are going to visit friends or relatives, we have to give many more papers: the data of those we are going to visit, letter of invitation, etc.
All this duly filled in:
- It is brought by yourself at the Chinese office (probably not an embassy nor a consulate, just an attached office). There are not in all countries. You can authorize someone to bring it on your behalf.
- It is sent there by courier, which in addition to the price of the shipment, will charge us “management expenses” for the time that according to them the courier loses in delivering the documentation in official buildings.
- Or it is delivered to an authorized travel agency, which will charge a commission; the references that I have are that they approximately charge € 130 per passport, plus the price of the visa and the courier.
A voucher will be given to us or to the courier company. Once received, the office will contact us (or the courier company) and send instructions; we will have to pay the visa (and the return courier if we have requested it) by bank transfer. If any documents are missing, they will also contact us.
For deliveries, the official website will recommend an urgent courier company. In America there are no offices in USA, but there are 5 in Canada. The address are shown in the official website.
REQUEST THE VISA FROM OTHER ORIGINS
- It is very common for independent travelers to arrive in Hong Kong or Macau and apply for a visa from there. The most advisable thing is to do it through official agencies, since the commission is not as high as in western countries and the process is similar. However, it presents a tremendous inconvenience that harmed us the second I visited Hong Kong: the majority of countries subsidiary to get a visa can not request express, only ordinary, which takes 5 working days, so if you also get a weekend in between, we could perfectly spend 7 days in one of these two cities waiting for the visa. In our case, not only did this happen, but also coincided with a national day holiday, which added to the day we had already spent in Hong Kong, we would have stayed there 9 days out of the 21 we had saved for China on our trip to Asia in 2016. So we changed plans, found a cheap flight to Copenhagen, and finished the trip through Central Europe.
- Requesting the visa in any country different from our home, Hong Kong, or Macau, is much more complex in bureaucratic issues. On my first trip to Japan, I considered going to China from there, and one of the reasons why I ended up choosing another destination was that the visa could take almost 20 days and could only be managed in Osaka.
GO TO TIBET
Requires a separate special permit, which is only granted through trips organized by agencies. There are agencies that register the tourist in a fictitious organized trip, mainly in Chengdu, with which they receive the permit. This is illegal and the traveler risks being rejected on the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, being fined and having to return to the point of origin.
THE SCAM OF EXPRESS DELIVERIES COMPANIES
The next paragraph is not necesary to be read, but it’s recommended. It has nothing to do with the visa application itself, but it is an annoying and inevitable procedure for all those who do not live in the same city where it is processed.
All courier companies, at least all those that I have consulted, charge an extra claiming that in embassies, consulates, official buildings, etc, the courier can spend even hours to give the documentation and hours to pick it up:
- My bad experience with MRW:
- I delivered our documentation in an office in Malaga. They charged me € 11.92 for the shipment, and they asked me if I wanted to order the return, to which I said no, since I did not even know if they were going to accept the request. The person who attended me said that she informed me that there could be additional costs for processing, but that she did not know if they were to appliy nor their price. I would swear she did not mention it, and I am sure that I was not informed of any supplement, or if I had agreed, I would have been charged.
- The next day I receive a call urging me to contact MRW office in Madrid. There they indicate that all the papers have been delivered successfully and that they are going to make the payment of the visas (applying a commission of € 10) and a commission of € 20 for the delivery of passports ( € 10 for each) and another € 10 to collect both, but after a while he says that they are € 10 to deliver and 20 to collect, and that is reflected in the MRW website. They told me as if it were the only option or at least the usual one. I answered that at Malaga office I was not informed of any surcharge and that I refuse MRW to pay for my visa nor I want them to collect our passports back.
- Then I call the office in Malaga and another employee different from the one who delivered the documents tells me that the charge for delivery and collection are € 17.70 regardless of the number of passports, that commission for paying visas them is € 10 + 6% of the total to be paid, and that is shown on the MRW website.
- I check the MRW website from top to bottom and what it says is “additional costs for management should be consulted in each office”… So three employees from two offices have given me each a different information.
- I call and write to the Chinese visa office and they tell me that I can actually order the wire transfer myself, but that I need the receipt that was given to the delivery boy, with a key number, which must be included in the concept.
- I call MRW Madrid, and without problems they send me a pdf with the receipt with my name… but take the opportunity to tell me that the two expired passports I sent were checked, but they did not keep them in the visa office, but they are at the MRW headquarters. So if I want our old passports, which for me are a reminder of other trips, I have to pay the return shipping, either with MRW or with another company that goes to the visa office, then to the MRW and then I sent everything to my address.
- So I call Envialia: it charges € 10 for bringing back passports and € 6 extra for every half hour the courier man waits. As it is impossible to know how long you are going to be waiting, a priori they can charge us what they want, but it is true that we used it for Russian visa and they did not charge us any extra.
- SEUR: they charge nothing less than € 42 per passport in concept of “management charges” just for bringing them back.
- I call MRW Málaga again to ask for a writen budget, that happens to be € 77, because where yesterday they said each commission € 10, they say € 21 today. They also tell me that in the Madrid office they do not have the expired passports.
- I write an email to MRW Madrid and they tell me that they have returned the expired passports and the receipt of having delivered the documentation to the Visa office, since I canceled the return initially. This is an irregularity, on its website it clearly states that MRW must keep any shipment that has not been accepted by the receiver and that the customer has 15 days to notify by mail what the company should do with that shipment.
- I order the return to Envialia and I receive them several days later paying only € 10.40, but… our old passports do not come in the envelope, apparently they told the courier that they were not there. I call the visa office and a lady informs me that old passports are there, but that as MRW left them there irregularly, the person at the window could not know. So I have to order an extra pick up to Envialia to recover our expired passports.
Conclusion, take care and shop around, be aware of extras. Personally I can only recommend Envialia, they have been effective and they did not charge us any surcharge. I strongly discourage MRW.