What is the application process of a China visa for US citizens in 2023? So much has changed now that China has re-opened post pandemic. What do you need to do? How long will this take? What kind of visas are available? You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know as a US citizen applying for a Chinese visa.
If you’re like most people, you have multiple questions about applying for your China visa. Everything from what documents you need to apply to whether or not you can send in your application by mail (hint…you can’t mail in a China visa). To make matters worse, the Chinese embassy website is a mess. Frankly, it’s hard to find any organized, useful information on there.
As a citizen of the United States myself, I’ve applied for over a dozen different visas ranging from tourist visas to student visas to dependent visas to business visas.
I’ve learned a lot through the process and I’m hoping I’ll be able to provide you with guidance and answer some of your most pressing questions.
Use the navigation links above to jump to a specific section, or continue to scroll to read more about getting a China visa for US citizens.
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, and I appreciate your support!
Covid Requirements & Restrictions
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room: the global pandemic known as Covid-19.
Despite the fact that Covid first appeared in China back in December of 2019, it wasn’t until 2023 that the country officially re-opened to new visa applications.
Now, for a US citizen trying to get into China right now, the process has changed quite a bit, which includes a new online application and appointment system. Here are a few of the requirements and restrictions you’ll face:
- New Online Application: Before applying for any China visa, you will now be required to submit an online application to get an ID number. You can’t make an appointment without an ID, and if even one bit of the application has an error or was filled out wrong, you will need to submit a new application to get a new ID.
- Limited Appointments: In an effort to create efficiency, China implemented a new process whereby an appointment was required to apply for a visa. Unfortunately, this creates a huge bottleneck since there are limited appointments (the embassy seems to be trying to add more slots).
Thankfully, visitors are no longer required to quarantine upon entering China. This policy, of course, can change at any moment and it’s impossible for me to keep this article updated with daily changes. This is why I always suggest using a reputable China visa agency to help you with the process since they usually have the most up-to-date knowledge of what’s happening.
China Visa Requirements for US Citizens
The China Visa requirements for US citizens is slightly different for each type of China visa.
I’ll go over the variances below, but first, here are the items that are the same no matter what kind of China visa you’re applying for.
- China Visa Application ID: Every China visa requires that the applicant go through the China Online Visa Application (COVA). BUT…before you go filling out this form, be sure that you’re ready with everything you need. One of the reasons I recommend using Passport Visas Express is because they coach you through filling this out so you don’t make any errors. Any errors result in an immediate rejection!
- U.S. Passport: The passport must have 6 months of validity, measured from the date at which you are scheduled to land in China. It also needs to have at least two (2) blank pages in the passport – one for the visa and one for the customs stamps.
- Proper Headshot Photo: This photo must follow the general requirements of all passport visa photos: no head covering, no smile, nothing covering the eyes (regular glasses allowed, not sunglasses). The background should be pure white.
- Itinerary with Hotel and Flight Confirmations: China requires that you present your travel itinerary, which includes confirmed hotels and flights. These are annoying requirements that have a creative workaround if you’re not able to present these easily. Keep in mind that once you are issued your visa, you are not required to maintain that same itinerary. Nobody anywhere in China will check your visa against your submitted itinerary as you travel.
These are the requirements of all visa applicants, no matter you’re a student, a tourist or a person doing business.
If you’re planning to apply for a specific visa other than a tourist (L) visa, check the following requirements:
- China C Visa (Crew): You’ll also need to present a letter of guarantee issued by your transportation company.
- China J Visa (Journalist): You will need to present a Visa Notification letter issued by China’s Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. This is in addition to an official letter from your media organization.
- China M Visa (Business): For those doing business, you will need to present the invitation letter issued by your Chinese trade partner or fair organizer on the Chinese side.
- China Q1 & Q2 Visas (Family Visitation): You will need an invitation letter from the Chinese citizen that includes their residence permit, copies of their passport and other documentation.
- China S1 & S2 Visas (Student): Students will need to submit a JW202 form to the institution where they intend to study. Once this has been approved, they will be given a letter of invitation that they will need to submit with their China visa application.
- China Z Visa (Work Visa): If you will be teaching English in China or some other form of business, you will need to submit a Foreigners Employment Permit and a letter of invitation from the company with whom you will work. Your school or company should supply these.
The problem here is that these requirements can be very confusing and one wrong document can mean your Chinese visa application is rejected. It’s a huge waste of time and money!
This is why I always recommend people use a professional visa service to help the process. I’ve personally used Passport Visas Express many times from here in the United States and it’s been a great experience. I highly recommend them.
No-Hassle China Visa Service!
Get 10% off service fees with this link:
BONUS: I’ve negotiated an exclusive discount for TravelChinaCheaper readers that means when you use my link for Passport Visas Express, you’ll get a 10% discount on their services!
Cost & Time | China Visa for US Citizens
For those interested in a China visa for US citizens, the two most common questions have to do with the cost and the timing of the visa.
Let me address both of those questions here.
How much does a China visa cost for a US passport holder?
For 2023, the cost of a China visa for US citizens remains US$145. This is the same whether you apply for a 6-month visa, a 1-year visa or even a 10-year visa.
This visa service fee for US citizens can be paid by Visa, Mastercard, Money Order or Cashier’s Check (make check payable to “Chinese Embassy”). The Chinese embassy does not accept cash or personal checks.
**Note**: This cost is accurate as of April 2023. While visa application fees don’t change often, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Check with your nearest Chinese consulate in the United States to find out the most current visa fees.
How long does it take to receive a China visa in the United States?
Processing times prior to the pandemic were 4 business days, but Covid has made things a bit less “normal”. Because of the new appointment system, you should expect that processing will take somewhere between 26-29 business days.
That’s right…it will take more than a month to get your visa approved.
There are expedited services available, but so far they don’t seem to speed up any part of the process except the mailing of documents (using next-day mail). It’s best to just plan for this process to take a while.
How to Apply for a China Visa for US Citizens
The application process to get a China visa for US citizens is pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Another unfortunate reality is that not every China consulate follows the same rules, so keep that in mind.
Step 1: Submit a COVA (China Online Visa Application)
Before you can visit the China embassy/consulate or submit your visa application, you will first need to fill out the COVA, or China Online Visa Application, to receive a visa ID number.
Step 2: Make Appointment at the China Embassy/Consulate
Unfortunately, you can’t just apply to any Chinese embassy. You must apply to the embassy that serves the state which is your legal residence (i.e. the state listed on your driver’s license).
Based on this map, you’ll see that if your legal residence is Tennessee, you will have to apply for your Chinese visa in Washington D.C. If you try to apply in Los Angeles, your application will be rejected.
Note: Due to ongoing political tensions, China was order to close the China consulate in Houston. Residents of the southern states are now directed to the embassy in Washington D.C..
You will need to use the ID from the COVA in step 1 to make an appointment at the embassy.
Step 3: Bring Documents & Passport to Consulate for Appointment
Once you have your COVA ID and an appointment, you have to wait for that time to physically bring your passport and all of the required documentation with you to the consulte.
You cannot mail this in!
Unless you live next to a consular office, this is on reason why it’s best to work with a visa service like Passport Visas Express. Somebody has to bring your passport and documents to the appointment, and it’s usually easier to have a trusted service do it for you.
The last thing you want it to show up for an appointment only to find out that you didn’t bring the right documents or you filled out the COVA incorrectly. A visa service helps to prevent that.
They will pick up your passport once the visa has been issued and mail it back to you.
The link above includes a 10% discount on your visa service fee, so make sure you take advantage of the savings!
Frequently Asked Questions | China Visa for US Citizens
In addition to all the information I’ve shared above, I get a number of other questions from travelers about getting a China visa for US citizens. Hopefully this can answer some of your questions as well.
Right now, no. These visa-free policies are slowly being re-opened, but for now they’re still suspended. There are a number of specific requirements to get a transit visa and very few people fit them. Read more about the China transit visa to get up-to-date information.
Yes. The crazy thing is, China’s 10-year visa is the same price as any other visa available to Chinese citizens, so there’s no reason not to apply for the 10-year China visa for US citizens.
No. While an invitation letter might make the process easier, it’s not necessary. Instead of a letter of invitation, you can submit an itinerary that details all your flights and hotels. This also means you must include confirmations for all these flights and hotels (an annoyance which has workarounds).
No. There is no point in the China visa process when the embassy or customs will ask for proof of immunizations or check your health. This only happens if you apply to stay long-term. Still, I recommend you check what vaccinations are recommended for US citizens in China.
At this time, there aren’t. While the relationship of the two countries isn’t great, there are no travel restrictions for US citizens in China. That said, you might want to check the US State Department China travel page for any warnings prior to your China travel.
Final Thoughts | Getting a Chinese Visa as a US Citizens
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the process for a US citizen to get a Chinese visa is pretty straight forward. There are no major hoops to jump through and no big pitfalls you need to watch out for.
That said, the application form can be a bit confusing at times and the act of turning in the application to the right consulate is inconvenient for some.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a reliable China visa service to handle the process. You ship your passport and application to them, they’ll look it over for any mistakes and then submit it on your behalf.
If you’re needing a recommendation, I’ve used Passport Visas Express for many different kinds of visas and it’s been a great process. I highly recommend them.