Travelers from almost every country in the world need visas to enter China. Although in some cases the visa can be obtained at the point of entry it’s advisable to obtain it from the Chinese Embassies or Consulates before leaving for China.
Visa-free entry and visa-free transit
Ordinary passport holders from Singapore, Brunei and Japan are not required a visa to visit China if they plan to stay for up to 15 days.
If any traveler holds airplane tickets and has booked a seat on an international flight through China and will stay for less than 24 hours in China, there is no need for a transit visa. If transiting through Pudong Airport or Hongqiao Airport of Shanghai and the traveler has a valid passport and visa for the onward countries and final destination tickets and they will stay in China for less than 48 hours, the citizens of the following countries do not need a transit visa: Republic of Korea, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
With the exception of the three countries mentioned above, all other foreign citizens require a tourist visa when traveling to China.
The tourist visas can be single entry, double entry or multiple entries (valid for 6, 12 or 24 months).
Documents needed to apply for a tourist visa:
- passport valid for at least 6 months and having at least one blank visa page
- application form
- one passport photo
In general, it takes up to 4 days to obtain the visa. Fees differ from country to country (for example a US citizen would pay $130 for a single entry visa, while the citizens of other countries would pay $30 for the same type of visa).
If you plan to visit Tibet please note that permits are required in order to enter the remote areas. The permits can be obtained from any local travel agent and cost 100 RMB*. The permits are single-entry and are valid for up to 90 days.
Most areas in Tibet are not open for foreigners except Lhasa City and part of Shan Nan. If a foreigner is caught in the forbidden areas, the fine is 500 RMB and there will be a jail cell with your name on it.
If you plan to transit China on the way to North Korea or Mongolia or plan to re-enter the country from Hong Kong or Macau, you will need a visa allowing multiple entries.
*writer’s note: RMB = Chinese Yuan