So, you're craving dumplings? Or maybe you just want to take a really long walk on some really long wall. Either way, you're in the right place because whether you fly or dig your way to China, you'll need a visa in your passport. Below you'll find a comprehensive overview on how to coordinate your travel affairs for China.
The first thing you need to know when applying for a Chinese visa from within the U.S. is that there are currently six locations in the country where you can apply and pick up your visa: Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, mailing in your application to one of the locations is not an option at the moment. You can, however, pay a supplemental fee to a third party service or, if you have family or friends who are willing and able, he or she can submit your application for you in person.
Please note that Americans traveling to Hong Kong or Macao do not need a visa. If you are traveling to mainland China as a tourist, you will need to apply for a L visa. For the tourist visa, you need to bring a passport with at least six months of validity, several blank pages, and your signature on the data page (in case you've forgotten to sign it.) If you are applying for a 10 year visa, which we highly suggest, you will need a passport with at a least 12 months of remaining validity. Besides the physical passport, you must bring a printed copy of your passport's photo/data page.
You will need to complete the Chinese Visa Application Form and bring it with you, as well. The visa application must be filled out in a very specific manner, or you will be turned away at the embassy door by the security guard who checks each application. The application must be typed. Do not print out the form and then handwrite the responses. Each typed response must be in capital letters; no lower case letters throughout the entire form. Additionally, no inquiries may be left unanswered. Even if something is not applicable to you, such as 'Name in Chinese,' type in N/A or NONE. Please note that the applicant's signature at the end of the form is to be signed by hand, after you have printed out the form.
Here you will find an example of a completed visa form, so you may best understand how to fill out the application.
Where the form asks 'Intended Number of Entries,' we suggest checking off 'Other' and specifying by typing '10 YEAR VISA.' The cost of a one time entry visa is the same as the cost of a 10 year visa, $140. If you are indeed granted a 10 year visa, you will have a multiple entry visa with a maximum stay of 60 days during each visit. If your passport expires within the 10 years, do not fret. You may may provide both your old passport (with the valid visa) and your new passport at customs.
For the itinerary portion of the form, you do not need to know all of your travel plans in advance. We don't usually plan our trips until last minute, so we booked a refundable room at an SPG property, typed it on the form, and then after our visas were approved, we cancelled the reservation and booked our final-decision hotels. Of course, if you know your plans in advance, you should respond to the itinerary section accordingly. It is okay to visit cities on your trip that you did not type onto the form.
When you buy train tickets within China (it is not easy to purchase from abroad), you must show your passport, which is how your whereabouts are recorded. You will see that when you stay at a hotel, the concierge will register your passport online with the local authorities. This process is done to record your location, and only takes several minutes. If you are not staying in a hotel, but at a friend's home or in a home share accommodation, you must go to the local authorities with your passport and register your address within the first 24 hours of your stay. This may all sound rather complicated, but it really is no inconvenience.
Once you have printed your completed application form and have handwritten your signature, you must attach (via tape or glue) your visa application photo to the appropriate spot. You will find the exact requirements for the photo here. The photo is much like a passport photo, just make sure the dimensions match up with the corresponding box on the form. It is okay if it goes slightly over the perimeters. We went to two different pharmacies to get our photos taken, and found that CVS has the best printing options for the sizing of the photo.
You will need to print out and bring documents supporting your proof of travel. Bring printed versions of your flight booking and your hotel reservation(s). If you are traveling with others and you will all be applying for visas together, you must each have a printed copy of your air travel and hotel booking. Each application is treated individually, although you may approach the counter together if you are traveling as a family.
Overview of what you physically need to bring with you to the embassy/consulate:
2-Copy of passport photo/data page
3-Completed visa application form with signature and attached photo
4-Air travel booking/confirmation document
5-Hotel reservation document
It would not be excessive to have copies of each document you are bringing. We suggest staying organized by paper clipping each applicant's documents, and placing everything in a folder. If anything is amiss, there are pay-per-copy machines in the embassy.
If you are a non-U.S. citizen, had a previous Chinese visa or passport, are a U.S. born child to a Chinese parent, or invited by an individual or a company in China, please note that there are some additional requirements you will need to fulfill for your application.
As mentioned previously, when you arrive to the embassy, you will most likely wait in line outside, before a guard will check your documents. If approved, you will proceed through security. Phones must be on silent, and large bags are not allowed. You should then enter the visa application line where an embassy employee will check your documents and then hand you a number. We waited about 20 minutes for our number to be illuminated on the screen. Once your number is called and you approach the corresponding counter, your documents will again be checked, and assuming everything is complete, you will be handed a pick-up slip. You do not pre-pay for the visa, but you do leave your passport at the embassy. Most likely, you will be asked to return in three days to get your passport and visa. For example, if you come on Monday you can return on Thursday, although you may return at a later date if it is more convenient.
This may all seem daunting, but your trip to China will be more than worthwhile. Our vacation in Shanghai and Hangzhou was one of our all time favorites, and we are excited to return to the country. It is incredibly clean and safe, which made our travels virtually worry free. You will not regret a trip to China! Don't ya yuan to go?