From Prickly To Foreigner-Friendly – The Accelerating Revolution In China’s Tourist Visa Policy

  • Guy Rubin I
  • January 25, 2024

How To Sort Out Your China Tourist Visa

From 2018, in the years leading to the Covid pandemic, China unfurled in step-wise fashion a global tourist visa application program that was as bureaucratic as it was prickly. But since the end of the pandemic, coinciding with her rising economic woes, China’s been accelerating in the exact opposite direction. Recently, it’s become far more flexible and welcoming to foreign travelers. Read on to find out how.

China Loosens Its Visa Rules For Western Europe and Asia

China’s visa loosening began in July 2023 when it resumed visa free travel for citizens from Singapore, Brunei and Japan. Then, on December 1, 2023 it extended this in a total first, allowing citizens from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia to travel under the same conditions – namely for up to 15 days visa-free in the country.

A month later, on January 1, 2024, China relaxed considerably the documentation that US-based travelers need to provide with their tourist (L) visa application and they also shortened the online application by about two pages.

Then, on January 11, China made it possible to get a visa on arrival at the airport, as described below, and – as if that wasn’t enough – a few days later, it qualified Swiss and Irish passport-holders also for visa-free travel!

China Makes It Easier For US Residents To Get A Tourist Visa

The process now in the USA is for travelers to fill out an online application and take this together with their passport, a passport photo, driver’s license (proof of address), an application fee and a “where you stay” form to the Chinese consulate responsible for their state. Although the online application form at 9 pages is shorter than it used to be, it is still pretty detailed. One section asks about travelers’ intended itinerary. Previously, applicants had to provide plane tickets and hotel confirmations attesting to this itinerary. However, this requirement is now removed and all applicants need do is describe their intended itinerary with no commitment whatsoever to performing it, i.e. you can change your itinerary as needed after the fact. If all the forms have been completed correctly, after 9 – 12 business days, a 10 year multi-entry L visa will be provided to you.

A Quick Note For All Business Travelers – New Possibility of Visas on Arrival!

On January 11, 2024, China relaxed its visa rules a little more, but it only offers an advantage for non-leisure travelers, principally business travelers and so I include only a brief mention here. If a traveler has an urgent need to visit China, say for business, and not enough time to sort out a business visa, what they can do now is jump on an international flight to China and make their case to the customs police at the airport once landed. (They will likely need a detailed, stamped letter from a Chinese company attesting to their situation effectively acting as an invitation letter.) If you can provide the right documentation, depending on your circumstances, then the airport customs police now have the latitude and authority to issue you with a 24, 72 or 144 hour visa so that business people can take care of urgent affairs in China.

It Remains Onerous To Get A China Visa In The UK, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico

To get an idea of how favourable the new policy is for US residents, compare it with how unfavourable the policy remains for UK residents. British applicants must still travel to a visa centre – whether Manchester, Edinburgh or London – to have their finger prints scanned, the policy since 2018. As well as a completed application form, a photo and an application fee, they continue to be required to provide hotel and plane confirmations coinciding with the itinerary they outline in the application form. The requirement to undergo the finger print scan together with the requirement for plane and hotel confirmations means that the UK application process is more onerous than the one in the US, and of course many western European countries don’t even require a visa now. We are hopeful that the visa application process will loosen in the UK, Mexico, Brazil and other countries in the next couple of months. Should this happen, we’ll update agents in an email blast.

Should You Use a Visa Service?

I find myself baffled by seemingly pointless bureaucracy, and so find the visa application process tremendously off-putting. As a result, I always get an agency to deal with my visa applications and I would recommend others do the same. In the US, Imperial Tours has co-operated with Passport Visa Express for many years. (Back in the day, I used to be able to phone them up and get VIP’s next day China tourist visas, but those times have now sadly passed.) In the UK, we work with Cultural Tours, an outfit informally linked through the Chinese network to CTS (UK), a state-owned travel company.

The advantage of using a visa agency in the US is manifold. Most practically, they will “walk” your application into the consulate for you so that you don’t have to go there yourself. Secondly, you can choose between one of two services. Either (i) you get them on the phone and they fill in the form for you (heaven sent!) or (ii) after you fill in your online form but before submitting it into the consulate’s computer system you save a copy onto your PC and email this version to them so that they can check it to ensure you’ve answered all the questions correctly before submitting it, thereby saving you the complications and delay of an incorrect or incomplete application. The third benefit of working with them is in eliminating much of the back and forth in the application process, giving you both more confidence in the visa system and in getting your visa back in good time for your travels.

These days, Passport Visa Express‘ normal service takes 9 – 12 business days and their premium service takes from 6 – 8 business days. (The super-fast 1 – 2 day turnaround time is currently unavailable.)

Cut To The Chase Already!

Long short, if you live in much of western Europe or the US, getting a tourist visa to China is pretty straightforward these days.