Many people ask us how long it takes to get a Chinese tourist visa and what they need for the process.  Here is everything you need to know when applying for your visa into China

Here is information from our Chinese visa partner,

This shows, in detail, what you will need to apply correctly for your Chinese tourist visa.

For more information on how to apply for a Chinese Visa and how to get a Tibet Travel Permit see here.


Brief Introduction of Chinese Tourist Visa

A Chinese visa is a permit issued by the Chinese visa authorities to an alien for entry into, exit from or transit through China. The Chinese visa authorities issue a Diplomatic, Courtesy, Official or Regular Visa to an alien according to his/her status, purpose of visit or passport type. The overseas Chinese visa authorities are Chinese embassies, consulates and other offices authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.


1. Visa-free entry for visitors: No visa is required for ordinary passport holders from Singapore, Brunei and Japan to visit China for up to 15 days for business, sightseeing, visiting relatives and friends or transit.

2. Visa-free transit
A: Visas are not required of aliens who hold air tickets to the final destination and have booked seats on international airlines flying directly through China, and will stay in a transit city for less than 24 hours without leaving the airport.
B: Visas are not required of passport holders of the following countries, who transit through Pudong Airport or Hongqiao Airport of Shanghai, provided they hold valid passports, visas for the onward countries, final destination tickets and have booked seats, and stay in Shanghai for less than 48 hours: Republic of Korea, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland.

If you do not follow into one of the above categories (and if you are traveling more than 2 days in China you probably do not) then you WILL need to apply for a Chinese Tourist Visa and you should start the application process 1-2 months before your planned travel dates.


Applying for a Chinese Tourist Visa

If you already have a US passport, applying for a Chinese tourist visa can be a lot simpler than you think and the materials you need are not super complicated.

You can probably gather most of these materials in one to two days.  All you really need is your international flight plans booked, some hotel information in China, and a trip to Walgreens or CVS to get your official passport pictures.

Please gather, prepare, and send the following documents

1. Your Passport

You must send your actual passport, which must have at least 8 months of validity remaining and at least two blank visa pages.
Note: The last three pages on the US passport are amendment and endorsement pages. They cannot be used for visa stamp. If your passport doesn’t meet the requirement, click here to see our passport services.
If you are ethnically Chinese, a minor, or a non-US citizen, you must also meet these Special Requirements.


Chinese and Tibet Visas
Chinese and Tibet Visas and Permits

2. Photocopy of Passport

You must provide a CLEAR copy of the information page of your passport in addition to your original passport.

3. China Visa Application Form

Click here to download application form, which must be completely filled, signed and dated. One form per applicant. Do not leave any areas blank but instead write “N/A” if you don’t have an answer to a question, or if the question does not apply to you.  Print the form out single-sided pages.  REMEMBER to sign your application on the 4th page with blue or black pen.

LOS ANGELES CONSULATE has its own application form and will not accept the standard form above. If you live in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, or Northern Mariana Islands then you must use this form instead. Click here to download Los Angeles consulate application form.

For help completing your application form, please view our Sample Pre-filled application.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Hand-written application forms ARE NOT accepted by Chinese Embassy/Consulates. You must TYPE your answers in our fill-able PDF form using Adobe reader. If your application form is not typed, CVSC will type it for you for a service fee of $20, AND your application will be delayed by at least 1 business day or longer.

4. Photograph

Attention applicant: the Chinese embassy has issued strict requirements for passport photos. Your application will not be accepted if these requirements are not met.
One passport type photo, with a white background, taken by a professional passport photo service, such as Walgreens, CVS, CostCo, or Kinko’s, etc. You may print out the requirement and bring it to the photographer for reference.  A 2″ x 2″ photo is acceptable; we will trim it to meet the China consulate size requirement.

Please see the official requirements of the Chinese Embassy here.

5. Proof of Residency (SF and DC Embassy only)

Applicants residing in Alaska, Northern California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and those in the DC jurisdiction (see map) must provide a copy of their driver’s license or state issued ID card. Under-aged applicants who do not have a Driver’s License can submit parent’s driver’s license instead, along with a copy of the birth certificate.  Images of the front and back side of the ID are required.

6. Job Description (Houston Consulate only)

Applicants residing within AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, OK, MS, Puerto Rico, and TX who are currently employed or attend college in the USA must complete the “Job Description” form. Please download and complete this form. Please type your answers on the fill-able PDF document.

7. Employment Letter (Washington DC Embassy only)

Applicants residing within the Washington DC jurisdiction (see map) who are employed must provide a letter on company letterhead stating:

-Your China trip is not related to your job in the USA.

-You will resume working when you return home from China.

The letter must be signed and dated for you to obtain a Chinese tourist visa for your visit.  Click here to view a sample employment letter.

8. Supporting Documents

You must provide one of the following documents for a Chinese tourist visa to visit China.

  • Photocopy of round-trip airline reservation (full name MUST be shown on reservation) AND hotel reservation; OR
  • Invitation Letter for Tourist Group issued by a Duly Authorized Tourism Unit; OR
  • Invitation Letter issued by an individual. For letters from individuals, a photocopy of the inviter’s Chinese ID card (front & back) is required. For a non-Chinese inviter, please include copy of their passport (main info. page) and China resident permit.


Invitation letter issued by individuals in China shall include the following items:

  • Personal information of China tourist visa applicant: name, gender, date of birth, passport number, etc.
  • Information concerning applicant’s visit: purpose of visit, date of arrival and departure, places to visit, relationship between the applicant and the inviter, and who will bear the cost of the applicant’s accommodations in China.
  • Information of inviter: name of the unit or individual, phone number, address, and if applicable, seal and signature of the legal representative.

You can click here for a Sample Invitation Letter. Your China tourist visa invitation letter can be submitted as a photocopy. However, original invitation and/or personal interview may be requested at visa officer’s discretion.

Important Reminder: The Chinese Embassy and Consulates randomly checks the authenticity of applicants’ invitation letters by contacting the inviting party in China. When that happens, your China travel visa will be delayed, or denied if the letter is not authentic.

NOTE: Print all supporting documents on single-sided pages.  The Consulate of China will not accept double-sided documents.

9. The China Visa Order Form

Click here to apply online for your China visa and follow the steps to fill out the China Visa Service Center order form. You will receive payment and mailing instructions when completing the form. After submitting your order, the system will indicate where to mail your materials.



Do I Need a Visa for Tibet?

If you are going to the Lhasa region of Central Tibet (anything involving the Tibet side of Everest Base Camp, Mount Kailash, Lhasa city, Shigatse, Gyantse, Yamdrok Lake, Yumtso Lake, Guge Kingdom, and the area that crosses the Friendship Highway into Nepal) then you will be traveling to an area that is officially named the “Tibet Autonomous Region” or TAR for short (in Chinese this area is called 西藏 or XiZang which translates to “western Tibet” in Chinese characters).

Politically the TAR is under the administration of China and is technically considered as something like an autonomous province under China. Tourists never leave the national territory of China when traveling to Tibet. Therefore if you enter Beijing or Shanghai or Chengdu and then continue onwards to Tibet and the TAR you can use your same tourist visa that you entered China with and technically you are still in China.

But while you do not need a separate visa for both China and Tibet (as they are considered the same country) you WILL need to have a Tibet Travel Permit in your hand before you board a train to enter the TAR.

So the answer to your question, “Do I need a special visa for Tibet?” is no if you already have your Chinese visa and 6 months validity left on your passport.

But the secondary answer is  that you will need a Tibet Travel Permit in addition to your China visa to enter the TAR. Please note that if you are traveling to Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, or Sichuan Province you may encounter authentic Tibetan culture but these are considered as normal provinces under China and you will NOT need a special Tibet Travel Permit in these areas as travel here is less regulated.  If you are not flying or training in and out of Lhasa but are staying within one of these 4 provinces you will not need a special Tibet Travel Permit and your Chinese visa will be enough on it’s own.

Some foreign travelers ask us this question, “If I enter Tibet from Mainland China and return to Mainland China after travel, do I need to apply for a Chinese visa in Tibet, or should I get a multiple entry visa before entering China?” No. There is no need, because Tibet is considered as part of China.

Alternatively, many foreign travelers mistakenly think that the Tibet Travel Permit is the only document they need to prepare when planning a tour to Tibet. Actually, it’s a big misunderstanding. If a foreigner wants to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), they should get a Chinese visa first, and then apply  through a reputable Lhasa-based travel agent to get the necessary Tibet entry permit from the local Lhasa government.

Read below for brief introduction of the different types of Chinese visas as well as how and where to apply for a Chinese Visas for a tour to Tibet

Classification of Visa

This is a brief introduction of Chinese Regular Visa.

Tourists will travel on a tourist visa which will be labeled “L” for LvYou or 旅游 (which just literally translates to “tourism” in Chinese).


The Types of Chinese Visas
Purpose of Visit Visa Categories Description of Visa
As a crew member or a motor vehicle driver C Issued to crewmembers to perform duties on board an international train, airline or other vessel, and their accompanying family members.
Permanent residence D Issued to an alien who comes to reside permanently in China.
Exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities F Issued to an alien who is invited to China for a visit, an investigation, a lecture, to do business, scientific-technological and culture exchange, short-term advanced studies or internship for a period of no more than 6 months.
Transit G Issued to an alien who transit through China.
As a journalist J1 Issued to foreign journalists who make correspondents in China.
J2 Issued to foreign journalists who make short trips to China on reporting tasks.
As a tourist L Issued to an alien who comes to China for sightseeing, family visiting or other private purposes.
As a student X1 Issued to an alien who intends to study in China for a period of more than 6 months.
X2 Issued to an alien who intends to study in China for a period of no more than 6 months.
Issued to an alien who comes to China for a post or employment, and his or her accompanying family members.
Commercial performances
Commerce & Trade M Issued to an alien who is invited to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities.
Family reunion, foster care or visiting relatives with permanent residence in China Q1 Issued to an alien who is family member of Chinese citizens or of foreigners with Chinese permanent residence and intend to go to China for a long-term family reunion, or to an alien who intends to go to China for the purposes of foster care for a period of more than 6 months.
Family member refers to spouse, parent, son, daughter, spouse of son or daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, grandson, granddaughter and parent-in-law.
Q2 Issued to an alien who intends to visit relatives who are Chinese citizens residing in China or foreigners with permanent residence in China for a period of no more than 6 months.
Visiting relatives working or studying in China or other private affairs S1 Issued to a relative of foreigners working or studying in China for the purpose of long-term visit, or to an alien who intends to visit China for other private reasons for a period of more than 6 months.
Relative refers to spouse, parent, son or daughter under the age of 18 years and parent-in-law.
S2 Issued to an alien who wish to visit family members that are foreigners working or studying in China, or to an alien who intends to go to China for other private reasons for a period of no more than 6 months.
Family member refers to spouse, parent, son, daughter, spouse of son or daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, grandson, granddaughter and parent-in-law.
As an introduced talent R Issued to an alien who intends to study in China for a period of no more than 6 months.

How Do I Apply for Chinese Visa for Tibet Travel?

Generally speaking, you should apply for your Chinese visa in your home country or in a third country at least 1-2 months before entering Tibet. If you enter Tibet from Mainland China, DO NOT list Tibet as the travel destination when filling the visa application form as this may red flag your application. Otherwise, you might be rejected. It is wise to list cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu as your travel destination. We also recommend that you do NOT list journalism on your application.

If you enter Tibet from Nepal, it is not necessary to apply for the Chinese visa in your home country because you need to apply for the visa through Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. Whether you’ve already got Chinese visa in your country or not, you must get a new one in Kathmandu, which is regulated in an official memo between China and Nepal. Once you get Chinese visa in Nepal, your visa obtained before becomes invalid automatically.

All individuals entering China must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months for a single or double entry visa and at least nine months for a multiple entry visa.

Obtaining a Chinese visa is the first step. Then the next step is that you need to apply through a trusted travel for the Tibet entry permit.

Tourists should provide the necessary documents to a Tibet travel agency to apply for the Tibet Travel Permit and only when you are in possession of the permit, are they allowed to visit Tibet by train or by flight. See detailed application information at Apply for Tibet Visa for Travel, Permit to Visit Tibet.