What is the application process of a China visa for US citizens? If you find yourself asking questions such as how much it will cost, how long it will take or 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 a host of 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.
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.
While I’ve already published a complete China visa guide here on TravelChinaCheaper, I’d like to give some specific thoughts and advice in regards to a China visa for US citizens.
China Visa Requirements for US Passport Holders
The China visa requirements for US passport holders 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 Form: You can download a copy of the form here.
- 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. For dimensions of the photo, see below:
- 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 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 China visa application is rejected. It’s a huge waste of time and money!
This is why I always recommend people use a professional China visa service to help the process. I’ve personally used Passport Visa Express many times from here in the United States and it’s been a great experience. I highly recommend them.
Cost & Time | China Visa for US Citizens
How much does a China visa cost for a US passport holder? As of late 2018, the cost of a China visa for US citizens is US$140. This is the same whether you apply for a 6-month visa, a 1-year visa or even a 10-year visa.
This China visa fee 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 October 2018. 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? According to the Chinese embassy website, normal visa processing time should be 4 business days. In my experience, that’s more like 5-7 business days.
You can pay extra for Express Service (additional $20/visa, returned in 2-3 business days) or a Rush Service (additional $30/visa, returned in 1 business day). Rush service is only allowed under extreme circumstances approved by the consular.
How to Apply for a China Visa for US Citizens
The China visa application process for a US citizen is pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Step 1: Identify the Appropriate 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.
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 Houston, your application will be rejected.
Step 2: Fill Out Application & Gather Appropriate Documents
The next step is to fill out the China visa application form and gather all other necessary documentation as described above. Honestly, this is easier said than done. You’ll probably find yourself asking very specific questions about what you should write in what box, or what documents you absolutely need.
There are two ways you can go about this:
- You can try to do it all yourself and maybe ask some knowledgable friends for help. I’ve done this a couple times. Once it worked; twice my application was rejected for some minor error. It’s frustrating, I can tell you that much.
- You can work with a visa service like Passport Visa Express. They will look over your application as well as all the documentation to make sure that you’ve done it correctly. If you’ve missed something, they’ll let you know.
Step 3: Submit Your China Visa Application
It’s important to note that the Chinese embassies in the United States do not accept mailed visa applications. You’re not able to apply online or fax in your application either.
This means that you will have to personally submit your application to the appropriate Chinese embassy and then wait for 2-7 days to pick it up from the embassy.
If you live in a city that hosts a Chinese embassy (Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C.) then this might work out. However, if you live out of state, this could be extremely inconvenient.
Again, I point you toward a China visa service like Passport Visa Express. There are a number of them to choose from, but they are allowed to submit your application on your behalf (no power of attorney required). They will also pick up your visa and mail it back to you.
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 China travelers. Hopefully this can answer some of your questions as well.
Are US Citizens Eligible for the China Transit Visa? (72 & 144 hr visas)
Yes. If you are a US passport holder who is eligible for a transit visa, you will not need to apply for a China visa prior to your arrival. Be very careful though! 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 make sure it’s the right method for you.
Are US Citizens Eligible for the China 10-year Visa?
Yes! The crazy thing is, the 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.
Do Solo Travelers Need a Letter of Invitation from a Travel Agency?
Thankfully, no. While an invitation letter does 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).
Do US Citizens Need to Have any Special Vaccinations to Apply for a Chinese Visa?
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.
Are There any Travel Restrictions 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 Visa Express for many different kinds of visas and it’s been a great process. I highly recommend them.
Are there any other questions about China visas for US passport holders that aren’t answered here? Leave a comment with your question!