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If you want to visit China, chances are you’ll need a visa (签证 – qiān zhèng) to do so. With so many different types of visas, a bunch of rules and regulations, and a handful of exemptions, it can be a difficult and frustrating process. In an effort to simplify things for you, here’s a rough guide to Chinese visas:
The best way to get a visa is to visit the Chinese Embassy or Consulate that is nearest you. The details of Chinese Consulates in the USA can be found here. A more extensive lists of China’s diplomatic missions around the globe can be found on Wikipedia. You’ll want to fill out these forms in advance of your visit – the Visa Application Form of PRC and Supplementary Visa Application Form of PRC. It’s best to arrive there early in the morning, as large crowds tend to accumulate. It usually takes four business days for a visa to be processed, but it can also be done in two to three or even the same day (for an extra fee, of course). If getting to an embassy or consulate in person simply isn’t an option, you can entrust your passport to someone else (family member, friend, travel agency, etc.), but you’ll have to make sure that you have personally signed the application form. As far as requirements go, you need a passport that is valid for at least six months and has two blank pages, one passport sized photo, and of course the form. You may also need the information of where you’re staying and/or your onward transportation details. Those are just the basic requirements; for some types of visas you of course need to provide more documents.
The cost of a visa differs depending on where you are from, the type of visa you want to get, the processing time, and the number of entries. It’s best to check with your local consulate or embassy before you go to know the exact cost. Speaking from experience, any kind of visa costs $140 in the US. If you want to speed up the process and pick it up that same day, you can tack an extra $30 to that. People from Japan, Singapore, and Brunei are free to travel in China for 15 days without a visa. In an effort to help more tourists visit the sights in Beijing and Shanghai, a new 72-hour visa has been instated as of this year for 45 nationalities free of charge.
There are many different types of visas for China. Here’s a list with some additional information that should help you in your visa process:
As previously mentioned, your visa will be valid for anywhere from one month to a year. This means that you will have that amount of time to enter China. For example, if you get an L visa valid for one year on Feb. 25th 2013, you will have until Feb. 25th 2013 to enter the country. You will have either a single, double, or multiple entry visa. A single entry visa means you can come into China once in the time that your visa is valid. With the others, you can come in twice or as many times as you want. Finally, there is the duration of your stay. This may be 30, 60, or 90 days, and it says how long you can stay in China at one time. To get the most bang for your buck, I recommend the multiple entry, year-long, 90-day L visa. That way, you can basically live here for 90 days at a time, take a short trip to Hong Kong, Seoul, or somewhere else, and come back for another three months. If you time it right, you can get a total of 15 months out of this visa.
Many people come to China on an L visa and end up doing some sort of work here. If you meet someone who has a part time job, teaches English, is a freelancer, or a handful of other jobs, chances are they are just working on an L visa. Technically, this is illegal and you can get deported and/or fined if the authorities find out. That being said, myself and many people I know have done this with no problems. Just be smart about it.
Overstaying your visa is a big no-no. You can get fined up to 500 RMB/day, will be hassled at the airport, may not be allowed to return to China, and can even be thrown in jail. Make sure you have a ticket to get out before your visa expires to save yourself the headache.
Many foreigners who live here and often need to change visas do so by going to Hong Kong, Bangkok, or various other Asian cities where there is a Chinese embassy or consulate.