How to get a Chinese Tourist Visa

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Australians are pretty blessed in many regards, and one of these is the fact that it’s rare that we have to put in the hard yards to arrange a visa before we get to a country. While we lag behind the US and the UK with regard to how many countries we can enter with a visa on arrival, we still have access to more countries than most.

Alas, China is not one of the countries that does visas on arrival. We’re also lucky we’re not American, as our cousins in the US of A have to pay double what everybody else does for their Chinese visas.

The process of getting a Chinese tourism visa (otherwise known as an L Visa) isn’t terribly difficult, but it can be a little confusing. Having just tackled the task in preparation for my upcoming visit to Beijing & Nanjing, I thought I’d share what I learned.

While the tips below are specific to Australia, most of what’s said is applicable to any country.

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How to Get a Chinese Tourist Visa

It’s important to note that the process of getting your visa takes up to five business days if you deliver it to the consulate in person, or up to ten business days (plus postage time) if you want to mail it in.

Given I was a six hour drive/nine hour train ride from the Sydney consulate, I decided to submit my application by mail.

What You Need

  • A valid passport with at least six months validity and a blank passport page;
  • The completed visa application form;
  • One passport style photo to be affixed to the form.

If you’ve previously held a Chinese visa and it is not in the passport you are applying with, you’ll also need a photocopy of your old passport’s information page and the most recent Chinese visa you were issued.

You’ll also need either:

  • A copy of your return ticket
    OR
  • A copy of your outgoing ticket.

In addition to this, you’ll need one of the following supporting documents:

  • A detailed itinerary of the hotels you’ll be staying in, complete with addresses and booking confirmation
    OR
  • A letter of invitation from a Chinese resident.

Supporting Documents

The supporting documents can be a bit daunting to some. I’ve spoken to a few people who feared that you needed both a detailed itinerary and a letter of invitation. This is not the case. One or the other will suffice.

Letters of Invitation

If you’re lucky enough to have friends on the ground in China already, this is probably the easiest route to go down. They’ll need to provide you with a brief letter that details who you are (your full name, date of birth, and gender must be included) as well as your plans for the trip. These need not be specific, but should state whether you or the person inviting you is funding the trip. This letter does not need to be a hard copy. It can be an email, a Word document, or a scan of a real letter.

You’ll find an example letter below:

To whom it may concern,

This is HOST’S NAME. I am writing this letter to invite my friend YOUR NAME (DoB: YOUR BIRTHDATE, Passport No: YOUR PASSPORT NUMBER) to visit China in the near future.

YOUR NAME has planned to arrive in China on ARRIVAL DATE and will spend AMOUNT OF TIME visiting LIST OF CITIES YOU INTEND TO VISIT. He/She will cover all the expenses of the trip.

Please check the enclosed documentation and I will appreciate if you could help issue the visa to China at your convenience. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions concerning the visa application. My cell phone number is HOST’S PHONE NUMBER, and my Chinese address is HOST’S ADDRESS.

Your host need not be the person you are staying with for all (or even any) of your trip. They’re simply vouching for you as a guest.

They will also need to send you scanned copies of their identification to include with your application.

Detailed Itinerary

If you don’t have a friend in China who can write you a letter, the slightly more complicated route is to provide a detailed itinerary. This should include your outbound flight as well as details of your hotels while you’re staying in China.

If you’re on a tour or are just a very organised individual, chances are you’ll have your return/outgoing flight details and hotel reservations already prepared. You can simply print these out and submit them with your application.

If, like me, you don’t yet know the details of your outbound flight or your hotels, there are a few cheats you can employ.

Flights

As my trip to Africa starts from China on an as yet undisclosed date, I didn’t have a flight confirmed at the time of applying for my visa.

Instead, I went onto Skyscanner and did a search for flights from China to ‘Everywhere’. This showed me cheap ($50) flights to Manila. I went ahead and booked this, knowing I’d lose the money but that it would secure my visa.

If I had a bit more money on my credit card, I could have booked a full price flight that was refundable, but I was happy to take a $50 bath for the sake of getting my visa approved.

I don’t intend on taking the flight (although returning to a country I loved so much I wrote 10 Reasons I Love the Philippines is tempting), but it was the best I could do when I was still waiting on my boss to confirm my flights to Africa.

Accommodation

If you’re itinerary isn’t set in stone and you’re planning to just play it by ear, no problem!

You can book accommodation using Ctrip (a Chinese accommodation site) without having to pay anything up front. Just make a few bookings in the cities you’re planning to visit and provide the confirmation details with your application.

You’re under no obligation to stay at these places (financial or otherwise), and can make alternate arrangements once you’re on the ground.

Applying By Post

The process for applying via mail is exactly the same as the above with two exceptions.

  • You’ll also need to print off and fill out a payment authorization form;
  • You’ll need to include a paid, addressed return envelope.

You cannot pay with cash or cheque.

Payment is taken out when your application is completed, so make sure you’ve got the money in your account until you receive your passport back.

You cannot mail your application in but pick up your passport from the visa office. A mail application is a mail application from start to finish.

Your application must be mailed to the consulate in the state which you would like it returned to. If you’re applying from NSW but are closer to Brisbane, you still need to apply through Sydney!

Cost

At present, the cost for a Chinese tourist visa is as follows:

  • Single Entry: $98.50
  • Double Entry: $128.50
  • Multiple Entry (Six Months): $158.50
  • Multiple Entry (Twelve Months): $128.50

Those applying in person can also pay for an express or rushed processing, which cuts the processing time down from approximately 5 business days. This is not an option for postal applications.

In additional, postal applications cost extra (in addition to whatever the postage sets you back).

  • Single Entry: $115
  • Double Entry: $145
  • Multiple Entry (Six Months): $175
  • Multiple Entry (Twelve Months): $235

This might seem steep, but (at least for me) a return train trip + the 4-5 nights accommodation I’d have needed to pay for didn’t seem worth it.

These prices are, of course, subject to change. Check the Schedule of Fees for up to date information.

Useful Links

A big part of the reason I wrote this post is that the official sites are either difficult to navigate, poorly written, or both. Still, I’ve included them below for your convenience.

Hope this helps! Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message if you have any other questions!

Featured image by barockschloss

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for posting these tips! It seems like it takes a lot of preparation to get a Chinese tourist visa, even for Australians. You mentioned that I’ll need letters of invitation to make it easier to get a visa to travel to China. I have a few friends in Hong Kong, so I was wondering if the Chinese government would count letters from my friends as legitimate letters of invitation. If not, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to enclose a detailed itinerary of what I’ll be doing in China instead of having invitation letters written.

    https://thinkcedar.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/copper-vs-pre-painted-steel/

    • You know, I’m really not sure how they would feel about a Hong Kong invitation letter. Technically, Hong Kong is a part of China and therefore it should suffice, but they can be rather prickly on that front.

      If you’ve got your onward flights booked, you’ll be fine without the letter. The guy at immigration was confused as to why I sent both.

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