How to apply for a tourist visa to China

travelling to China
Updated 2022-09-17 20:15

Ready to visit China? This big and versatile country offers a lot to see and experience: from exciting business opportunities to a variety of cultural, historical and natural sights. However, before you can hop into a plane and fly over the Great Wall, you will need to check whether you need a tourist visa to visit China. In this article, learn about entry requirements to China and how to apply for a tourist visa if you need one.

Traveling to China

While China is lifting certain travel bans and restrictions that were imposed during the pandemic, the country still remains closed to most travel.

At this point, foreign nationals can only travel to China for work, family reunion and emergency situations. There have been no updates as to when the country may be opening up to tourism.

Currently, you can travel to China if:

  • You hold a valid residence permit in China for work, personal matters or family reunion
  • You hold a diplomatic, service, courtesy or C visa
  • You have applied for and received a new visa to China. At this point, you can apply for visa types Z (work visa), M (business visa), R (high-level talent work visa), Q (private visit visa), S (family visa)

The restrictions regarding travel to China do change frequently — so it's essential that you check with the Chinese consulate or embassy in your home country about the latest travel regulations.

You should also check with the relevant local authorities in your home country regarding whether travel to China is currently considered safe.

Entry requirements for China during the pandemic

As of May 2022, travelers from some countries (including the United States and Canada) are no longer required to take a PCR test seven days prior to traveling to the country. Travelers from select countries are now only required to take two PCR tests one to two days before arriving in China as well as a pre-flight antigen test. You will also need to have received two doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines at least two weeks before entry into China.

You must also travel to China via a direct flight from the country where you hold residency. This means that even if you have found a direct flight, for instance, from Dubai to Beijing — but if you are not a permanent resident in Dubai — you won't be able to take the flight to travel to China.

Naturally, this makes traveling to the country at this point very complicated. And, even if you have managed to secure a workable itinerary, there will still be conditions to your stay once you've arrived.

Upon arrival, you will be tested for COVID-19 again. If your COVID-19 test is positive, you will be sent to a government facility until you have fully recovered. In some cases, you may be allowed to quarantine in a designated hotel.

If your COVID-19 test is negative, you will need to go through quarantine. Depending on which area of the country you are traveling to, the quarantine may last from 14 to 21 days — and even more.

You should also be aware that the pandemic situation in China is frequently changing. With the zero COVID policy in place, some of the country's major cities, such as Shanghai, have experienced full-scale lockdowns. The anti-COVID measures have also resulted in disruptions in transportation, closures of schools, and more.

Who can travel to China visa-free?

Generally, most foreign travelers to China require a tourist (or other) visa that needs to be obtained before traveling. However, as China is entering into more mutual visa-free agreements with other countries, the situation may be changing.

One of the most recent changes concerned the citizens of the Republic of Belarus who were granted visa-free travel to China (up to 30 days per stay, no more than 90 days per year) as of August 10, 2018.

Currently, citizens of the following countries can travel to China visa-free:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina and San Marino (90 days);
  • Mauritius (60 days);
  • The Bahamas, Barbados, Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Qatar, Serbia, Seychelles, Tonga, United Arab Emirates and Belarus (30 days);
  • Brunei, Japan, and Singapore (15 days).

There are a few other options for visa-free travel to China.

As of January 1, 2016, citizens of 53 countries can benefit from the Transit Without a Visa (TWOV) scheme. This allows travelers to stay in certain cities in China for up to 72 hours (3 days) or 144 hours (6 days) when transiting to another destination. However, under the TWOC scheme, you are not allowed to travel between cities in China and will be required to leave from the same airport you arrived at. Other conditions apply, and it's best to consult a Chinese Embassy or Consulate in your country for details. The Chinese government has also created an online tool that lets you check whether you are eligible for the TWOC scheme depending on your country of origin and port of entry.

If you arrive in Hong Kong and hold a European, American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand passport, you can apply for a five-day Chinese visa right at the Chinese border. Note that this type of visa, called 'Tourist visa to Shenzhen Special Economic Zone', is limited to the neighboring city of Shenzhen and the factories in the surrounding suburbs.

Another option to travel to China without a visa is limited to Hainan Island, which you can visit visa-free provided you join an organized tour from a local travel agency with a minimum of five participants.

Tourist visas to China

If you need a visa to visit China, you will need to apply for a tourist visa. It is also known as an L visa.

This type of visa is issued for those who travel to China for sightseeing, in group tours or to visit friends and family. It is typically valid for 90-180 days from the date of issue and allows up to 60 days of stay per visit. Most visas will be first issued for 30 days and can be further extended. If you wish to stay in the country for longer than 30 days, it's recommended to make it clear in the application. You may get a single entry or multiple entry visas.

Good to know:

US passport holders are eligible for tourist visas valid for up to ten years with a maximum of 60 days per visit (a ten year-visa is not a guarantee).

The Chinese Consulate reserves the right to issue visas with limited entry or shorter periods of stay and validity, depending on various factors.

Travel visa checklist for individual travelers in China

To apply for a tourist visa to China, you will be required to submit the following documents to the Chinese Embassy in your country:

  • A passport valid for six months after the return date
  • A duly completed visa application form
  • A passport-sized photo
  • A letter of invitation (when visiting friends and family)
  • Return plane tickets and itinerary
  • A visa application fee (varies depending on the country of origin)
  • Additional documents may be required.
  • Travel visa checklist for tour groups
  • A collective tourist visa (or Tourist Group Visa) is issued to a group of at least five travelers organized by a travel agency who will enter and exit the country together.


The Tourist Group Visa will be stamped onto the Group Tourist Form and not into individual passports.

The documents needed to apply for the collective visa to China include:

  • a letter of invitation from the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), from a region or a municipality under the Chinese central government, or a travel agency accredited by the Chinese authorities;
  • completed Tourist Group Visa Form in triplicate (forms are available online or at Chinese embassies and consulates);
  • and original passports arranged in the same order as the travelers' names appear on the Group Tourist Visa Form.

Note that fees will apply.


Please note that all the information provided above is for reference only. We strongly recommend that you contact your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate for up-to-date information and visa requirements and procedures before arranging your travels to China.

Other types of short-term visas for China

There are other short-term visa options you can consider when traveling to China.

F visa (non-commercial visa)

F visa used to be known as a business visa. But since the introduction of the M visa, F visa has been changed to a non-commercial visit visa. This type of visa is now issued to those who plan to travel to China for research, lecturing, scientific or cultural exchange, study tours, etc. For instance, you can ask a company you are cooperating with in China to send you an invitation for a consultation or a project overview. With this invitation, you can potentially apply for the F Visa.

F visas are issued for a single or double entry and allow 30 to 90 days' stay.

S2 (private short-term visa)

If you are traveling to China to visit your family members who are foreign nationals working or studying in China, you can apply for an S2 visa. You can also apply for this type of visa if you have other private matters to settle in China: visit friends, get divorced, receive medical treatment, adopt a child, etc.

The duration of stay granted under the S2 visa is typically 30 to 90 days per visit. To apply for an S2 visa for a family visit, you will need to provide proof of kinship.

Q2 visa (short-term family visa)

Q2 visa is meant for the descendants of Chinese citizens or foreign nationals married to Chinese citizens. You can apply for this type of visa if you want to visit your relatives who are Chinese citizens or relatives with permanent residence status in China. The duration of stay under the Q2 visa is typically granted for up to 120 days per visit.


Note that you can only work in China legally on a work visa. If you hold any of the short-term visas above, you can't seek employment in China. While you may find job offers that will allow you to make money "under the table” while on a tourist or business visa, this is illegal. If found out, you will need to pay a heavy fine, or you may even be deported from the country.

If you are interested in working in China, check out our article about professional visas for China.

As we've mentioned at the beginning of this article, traveling to China in 2022 is complicated. You can only travel to the country if you hold a valid residence permit, and visa applications are open to only a few specific visa types. You will also need to fly into China on a direct flight and comply with the strict zero-COVID 19 policies and probably undergo quarantine measures at your destination and transit cities.

If you want to travel to China, you need to monitor the situation closely. We are doing our best to keep this article updated. But as the entry requirements to China change frequently, make sure to check with a Chinese consulate or embassy in your home country before making any travel plans.

Useful link:

China Visa Application Center

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.