Visiting China soon? Start here

Visiting China soon? Start here

China visa information

Getting a visa for China isn’t as hard as it used to be.

In some cases you don’t even need one.

But if you do need one, it’s best to be prepared and apply for it early.

So, whether you’re planning a trip to China or moving there for work or study, here’s a summary on visas and what you need to do.

Do I need a visa for China?

Most foreigners need a visa when they go to China, but there are some exceptions, so make sure you read all the way down.

Here are the most common scenarios.

1. Layover

Are you on a connecting flight in China?

As long as you stay in the airport, and have a confirmed seat on an international flight within 24 hours, you don’t need a visa.

2. Stopover

You can now see many parts of China for a few days without getting a visa before you leave home.

Known as Visa-Free Transit, it’s a great way of seeing China without the hassle or expense of a traditional visa.

You simply apply for it when you arrive in China, e.g. at the airport.

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There are some rules with this visa exemption. For example:

  • You need to be transiting through China on the way to another country (e.g. your itinerary is Los Angeles – Shanghai – Tokyo – Los Angeles)
  • You can stay for up to 144 hours (six days) depending on where you arrive in China
  • And you must be from an approved country.

To find out if you’re eligible for Visa-Free Transit, tap on the button below:

Note: it’s a Chinese government website and will open up in a new window.

If your country or stopover location isn’t listed, it means you’re ineligible.

3. Travel

L visa for China

The L visa is for travel in China. Image by i viewfinder on Shutterstock.

If Visa-Free Transit doesn’t apply to you, or you want to check out China for more than six days, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa.

This is the most common visa for China, and is known as the L visa.

With an L visa, you can travel throughout China for 30 days. The exception is Tibet, which requires a separate, special permit.

If you’re travelling with a tour group, then your tour agent may get a group tourist visa. This means that you won’t have an individual visa in your passport.

Instead, your tour leader will have a group visa with your name on it. This is a fairly easy way to travel, as you just leave all the visa details to your tour agent.

However, if you want to travel solo in China then you’ll need to apply for your own L visa.

Special visa arrangement for certain countries

German passport on China map

Germans are among the lucky few who can travel visa-free to China in 2024. Image by Wirestock Creators on Shutterstock.

If you’re from countries including Singapore and Brunei, you can enjoy visa-free travel for tourism, as well as business, visiting relatives and friends, or transiting for up to 15 days.

This visa-free arrangement is also being trialed for another group of countries until November 30, 2024.

So, you’re in luck if you’re from one of these countries:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Malaysia

Make sure you come and visit China before the trial finishes!

4. Work

If you want to live and work in China, then you’ll need a Z visa.

You must be invited from an employer to apply for a Z visa.

You can get a Z visa for anywhere between 90 days and five years. It depends on the length of your work contract and the discretion of the Chinese consulate you apply to.

You need to be younger than age 60 to work in China as a foreigner, and most employers will need you to enter the country by the time you’re 55.

Once you arrive in China, your employer will help you get a temporary residence permit.

5. Study

Want to study in China? Then you’ll need an X visa.

An X2 visa is for a study period of up to six months, while an X1 visa is for more than six months.

You’ll need to grab a special form from the school, as well as a letter of admission.

How to apply for a China visa


Canada is one of the participating countries for easy visa processing. Image by Jaimie Harmsen on Unsplash.

In many countries, the China Visa Application Service Center processes visa applications.

It means you don’t have to visit or post your application to the nearest Chinese consulate or embassy.

So, if you’re from the UK, Canada or Australia (or another one of the 40+ participating countries), simply apply directly at the China Visa Application Service Center.

A notable exception to the list of participating countries is the United States.

If you are American and want a Chinese visa, you’ll need to visit your nearest consulate in person. The locations are Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If you don’t live anywhere near one of these cities, then you need to pay a visa agent to get the visa on your behalf. Some reputable agents include:

Residents of all other countries not serviced by the China Visa Application Service Center should contact their nearest consulate or embassy.

China tourist visa requirements

For a tourist (L) visa, here are the main things you usually need:

  • Valid passport (at least 6 months remaining on it)
  • Passport-sized photo with a white background
  • Proof of your trip, like return airfare and China hotel bookings
  • A completed application form.

The requirements may differ slightly depending on where you’re from. Follow the instructions on the application carefully or enlist the help of a visa agent.

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If you submit incorrect or incomplete information, your application may be rejected or delayed.

That’s why it’s important to get your application right the first time, especially if you’re traveling in a few weeks’ time.

How much does a Chinese visa cost?

It varies depending on your nationality and the kind of visa you’re applying for.

For example, you can get a tourist (L) visa starting from:

  • $140 for US citizens
  • £151 for UK citizens
  • $109.50 for Australian citizens

You can also pay a rush fee to get your visa expedited.

Visa exceptions

Visa-Free Transit for China

If you’re utilizing Visa-Free Transit, you don’t need to worry about a visa for China. Image by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash.

Not everyone needs a visa to go to China.

The main exceptions include:

  • Visa-Free Transit as mentioned above
  • Visa-Free Entry for certain countries as mentioned above
  • You’re traveling from Hong Kong or Macau to the Pearl River Delta region (e.g. Shenzhen or Guangzhou) for up to six days and the trip is arranged by a local Chinese travel agency
  • You’ve booked a trip to Hainan (with a local travel agency) of up to 30 days, and you’re from an approved country
  • You’re part of a tour group from an ASEAN country visiting the city of Guilin for up to six days.

You can refer to this page for more on visa-free entry into mainland China.

Get your visa early

If you do require a visa for China, make sure you apply early as the process can take some time.

The last thing you want to do is run around the week before you leave trying to get everything sorted.

Need help?

Consider getting help from a visa agent like iVisa or VisaHQ.

It may cost a bit more than if you do it yourself, but it’ll save you time, effort and worry.

A visa agent will even stand in line at the consulate for you!

Next, discover the amazing provinces in China you can visit, from Inner Mongolia in the north to Guangdong in the south.

Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info. Page last updated 12 January 2024.


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