China (中国; Zhōngguó), officially known as the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is a huge country in Eastern Asia (about the same size as the United States of America) with the world’s largest population.

Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg

With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, in total it borders 14 nations. It borders Afghanistan, Pakistan (through the disputed territory of Kashmir), India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the west; Russia and Mongolia to the north and North Korea to the east. This number of neighbouring states is equalled only by China’s vast neighbour to the north, Russia.
This article only covers mainland China. For Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, please see separate articles.


Most travellers will need a visa (签证 qiānzhèng) to visit mainland China. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. Visas for Hong Kong and Macau can be obtained through a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese visa. However, citizens from most Western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors from most western countries can stay in Hong Kong with free visa for 7 to 90 day. The time duration should depend on which country you are from. However, people from Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cuba and Ethiopia have to apply for a visa for Hong Kong before they travel to HK.

The most notable exception to this rule is transit through certain airports. Most airports allow a 12- to 24-hour stay without a visa so long as you do do not pass through immigration and customs (stay airside) and are en-route to a different country.

For citizens of 45 countries (including U.S., Canada, most EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan), you are allowed a visa-free, 72-hour stopover in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing provided you meet several conditions including:

You must have a confirmed, onward ticket to a third country before you board your flight to China. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are “international flights” so you may fly there on a non-stop flight after your time in China.

You cannot have a return ticket to the country you came from, even if the cities are different (i.e. New York-Beijing-Los Angeles would not work).

You also must fly into and fly out of the same city and airport. Note: In Shanghai you can fly into or out of either airport, I.e. into Pudong and out of Hongqiao or vice-versa.

You may not leave the metropolitan area of the city you arrive in. For example: You cannot fly into Beijing, take another flight to Shanghai or Guangzhou and leave China from there under the 72-hour transit rule.

Nationals of Brunei, Japan and Singapore do not need a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 15 days, regardless of the reason of visit. Nationals of San Marino, Mauritus, Bahama do not need a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 90 days, regardless of the reason of visit.

To visit mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents of Chinese nationality need to apply at the China Travel Service, the sole authorized issuing agent, to obtain a Home Return Permit (回乡证), a credit card sized ID allowing multiple entries and unlimited stay for 10 years with no restrictions including on employment. Taiwan residents may obtain an entry permit (valid for 3 months) at airports in Dalian, Fuhzou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Wuhan, Xiamen and China Travel Services in Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors must hold a Republic of China passport, Taiwanese Identity Card and Taiwan Compatriot Pass (台胞证 táibāozhèng). The Compatriot Pass may be obtained for single use at airports in Fuzhou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Wuhan and Xiamen. The entry permit fee is ¥100 plus ¥50 for issuing a single-use Taiwan Compatriot Pass. Travellers should check the most up-to-date information before traveling.

Visa overview
  • C visa – international flight crews
  • D visa – permanent residents
  • F visa – business trips, exchanges, and study trips
  • G visa – transit
  • J visa – journalists, incl. J-1 and J-2 visa types
  • L visa – for general visitors
  • M visa – trade and commercial activities
  • Q visa – overseas Chinese visiting for family reunions, incl. Q-1 and Q-2 visa types
  • R visa – foreigner workers urgently needed within the mainland
  • S visa – foreigners visiting for family reunions, incl. S-1 and S-2 visa types
  • X visa – for students, incl. X-1 and X-1 visa types
  • Z visa – foreign workers

Getting a tourist visa is fairly easy for most passports as you don’t need an invitation, which is required for business or working visas. The usual tourist single-entry visa is valid for a visit of 30 days and must be used within three months of the date of issue. A double-entry tourist visa must be used within six months of the date of issue. It is possible to secure a tourist visa for up to 90 days for citizens of some countries.

Tourist visa extensions can be applied for at the local Entry & Exit Bureaus against handing in the following documents: valid passport, visa extension application form including one 2-inch-sized picture, a copy of the Registration Form of Temporary Residence which you receive from the local police station at registration.

Some travellers will need a dual entry or multiple entry visa. For example, if you enter China on a single entry visa, then depart the mainland to Hong Kong or Macau, you need a new visa to re-enter the mainland. In Hong Kong, multiple entry visas are officially available only to HKID holders, but the authorities are willing to bend the rules somewhat and may approve three-month multiple entry visas for short-term Hong Kong qualified residents, including exchange students. It is recommended to apply directly with the Chinese government in this case, as some agents will be unwilling to submit such an application on your behalf. For holders of multiple entry visas to renew your visa you must leave China. The easist way was to go to hong kong, seoul or some other country, cross the border and reenter China. A new way is to go to Xiamen and cross to Jinmen island. Jinmen is held by Taiwan and iike Hong Kong is offically considered leaving China. See details of below on boats to China. Obtaining a Visa on Arrival is possible usually only for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and such visas are limited to those areas. When crossing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen at Lo Wu railway station, and notably not at Lok Ma Chau, a five day Shenzhen-only visa can be obtained during extended office hours on the spot for ¥160 (Oct 2007 price) for passport holders of many nationalities, for example Irish or New Zealand or Canadian. Americans are not eligible, while the fee for UK nationals is ¥450. The office accepts only Chinese yuan.

There may be restrictions on visas for political reasons and these vary over time. For example:

  • The visa fee for American nationals was increased to US$140 (or US$110 as part of a group tour) in reciprocation for increased fees for Chinese nationals visiting America.
  • Visas issued in Hong Kong are generally limited to 30 days, same day service is difficult to get. Multiple-entry visas have also become much harder or impossible to get.
  • Indian nationals are limited to 10- or 15-day tourist visas, and are required to show US$100 per day of visa validity in the form of traveller’s checks (US $1,000 and $1,500, respectively).

A few years ago, the Z (working) visa was a long-term visa. Now a Z-visa only gets you into the country for 30 days; once you are there, the employer gets you a residence permit. This is effectively a multiple-entry visa; you can leave China and return using it. Some local visa offices will refuse to issue a residence permit if you entered China on a tourist (L) visa. In those cases, you have to enter on a Z-visa. These are only issued outside China, so obtaining one will likely require a departure from the mainland, for example to a neighbouring country. (Note that in Korea, tourists not holding an alien registration card must now travel to Busan, as the Chinese consulate in Seoul does not issue visas to non-residents in Korea.) They also usually require an invitation letter from the employer. In other cases it is possible to convert an L visa to a residence permit; it depends upon which office you are dealing with and perhaps on your employer’s connections.

It is possible for most foreigners to get a visa in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  (Dec 2010) Reservations for travel and hotel are acceptable. During busy periods, they may refuse entry after 11:00. There can be long queues so arrive early. Also be aware of major Chinese holidays, the Consular Section may be closed for several days.

Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License    Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 


Leave a comment