When you read some of the Chinese regulations for validity of tourist visas in China, much of them sound intimidating and a bit scary. Official language tends to point out a lot of “don’t do this-es and don’t do that’s” but, honestly, most sound much scarier than they actually are. When staying in China on a valid tourist visa though, you do need to know how long your tourist visa is valid for and the date you must leave by. China takes overstays on visas extremely seriously (more so than many other Asian countries, I would say), so you don’t want to end up in a Chinese jail for overstaying your welcome. With several other rules for valid tourist visas too, make sure you understand everything that applies to you before you enter China.
Applying For a Tourist Visa For China – China is quite backward in how you’re allowed to apply for a tourist visa. Unlike many countries where, if you need a tourist visa, you can mail in an application along with your passport, for a tourist visa to China you have to appear at a Chinese embassy in person or send an agent to represent you. You also have to go back and pick up your passport a few days later.
This is possibly why not as many westerners go to China as might like to. For many people, it’s too far to a Chinese embassy and, if they’re not booking through a travel agent, it’s difficult to find someone to represent them. China is in the 21st century on many issues, but not on this.
Cost of Tourist Visa to China – Also, the cost of a tourist visa to China is high for American citizens, compared to visas for most other Asian countries which issue them free or for a nominal $30 fee. For China, the cost of a tourist visa is $140 for US citizens, yet only $30-$40 for citizens of many other countries. Again, probably why few Americans visit China. When I traveled to China, I traveled on my British passport (my first nationality) as the cost for a British citizen was only $30. No way was I paying $140 for a tourist visa to China. If I’d been forced to, I probably would have gone to Hong Kong instead, where I can go for free.
Type of Tourist Visas Available For China – Depending on how long you are going to be traveling as a tourist in China, you have several options of tourist visas available to you.
Single Entry – This visa allows you only one entry into China and is valid up to a maximum of three months. When you leave, the visa expires, even if you’ve only been in China for a week.
Double Entry – This tourist visa allows you two entries into China. So you can enter China once, then leave, then enter again (within a certain amount of time) and leave again. Each entry is valid for two months.
Multiple Entry – On a multiple entry tourist visa (which not every Chinese embassy will give you), you are allowed to come in and out as many times as you like, but it will normally expire in two months.
Leaving China For a Day Trip To Hong Kong or Macau – One thing many tourists don’t seem to understand is, even though both Hong Kong and Macau are Chinese territories, they are looked at almost as different countries when it comes to having visas for them.
This is why, if there is any chance you are going to visit Hong Kong or Macau from China, you must get a double or multiple entry visa. If you don’t and only have a single entry visa, you will not be allowed entry back into China – a huge problem for you and your tour group if you’re traveling with one.
Check Your Visa Once Stamped Into China – To ensure you know how long your visa is valid, as soon as you’ve entered China, before clearing immigration, check the date stamp to make sure you know when. If there’s a mistake with the date or the immigration officer has given you less time than you expected (he/she may have a valid reason), you must question it before leaving immigration. Once through and in China, you are stuck with the date on that visa, even if a mistake has been made.
If You Must Overstay Your Visa – If there’s a problem and you find you’ll have to overstay your tourist visa, you must go to a local public security bureau in the town you’re in before the visa expires and apply for an extension. There will be a fee and, it is up to the discretion of the official whether you get approval or not, so don’t count on it.
All in all, the main hassle with a Chinese tourist visas is applying for one. Once you have the tourist visa in your passport, it’s no more difficult than other countries. You just need to make sure you know what date your visa expires and exit China before midnight on that date. If you do not, be prepared to pay a fee or possibly spend a few nights in jail.
Chinese Embassy, Washington DC
China – Tourist Visa – Travel China Guide