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What is the fastest way for a US citizen to get a Chinese tourist visa?

Whether you have a China-based emergency or just hate to wait, this is the page for any American citizen who wants to get their Chinese tourist L-visa fast. 

Many of these rules will apply to people from other countries too, though details, including prices, will differ depending on reciprocal agreements between their countries and China.


Getting prepped

First off, know that you’ll always be limited by how fast your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate can turn around requests. Generally that should be four working days for the ordinary application, two-to-three if you choose the ‘express service’ for $20 more, or a one-day ‘rush service’ turnaround for $30 more.


Top tips

Here are some tips for making the process as painless as possible:

  1. Get all the papers or documents needed (see “Documents required for a tourist visa”, below) prepared before you go to the embassy/consulate. Don’t miss any of the items or you’ll just be adding to the time taken.
  2. As mentioned above, the $30 ‘rush service’ can get the visa sorted in a day. However, you must get the document into the embassy or consulate before 12 noon, and it may not be available in all areas. Call to check first.  
  3. Many travel agents offer same-day services and even out-of-hours emergency services, though these will come at a premium. It does, however, save you time on filling in paperwork and waiting around at the embassy.


Applying from Hong Kong

If you are near Hong Kong or live there, you may be able to get a tourist visa within 24 hours; also, American citizens do not need to apply for a visa to enter Hong Kong. However, according to the HK Foreign Ministry office website, “Applicants without HK resident status cannot apply for multi-entry-visa at our office, and they are required to provide their Chinese visa records during the submission.” 

That means you can only get a single-entry or double-entry visa from Hong Kong, and that they may turn you away if your passport has many Chinese mainland stamps, as it may look like you are just using Hong Kong to get a succession of L-visas, rather than applying for a more permanent visa (this practice is known as a ‘visa run’). 

This shouldn’t affect you if you haven’t been to the mainland much before, but generally, it’s safer to apply from your home country.


Documents required to apply for a Chinese tourist visa

  1. Your passport, with at least six months’ validity from the date of your proposed arrival in China.
  2. A photocopy of your passport’s data and photo pages (these may be the same page on some passports).
  3. One completed Visa Application Form. You can download the form here and print it. The application form must be fully completed on a computer – no handwriting at all except for the signature – and clearly printed out. The application must also be printed single-sided and on white paper only. 
  4. A recently taken color passport photo, meeting all the usual requirements (no hats, sunglasses, etc) against a light background.
  5. Documents showing your holiday itinerary, such as the air ticket booking record (including your ticket out of the country) and hotel reservation (where applicable), or the itinerary your travel agency made, if you are using one.
  6. An invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China. This could be a travel agency, or a friend in China (if the latter, they must have an X or Z visa, or be a Chinese citizen with a mainland ID card). If a friend is sending you one, the invitation letter should contain:
  • Information on the applicant (full name, gender, date of birth, relationship to person writing letter etc).
  • Information on the planned visit (purpose of visit, arrival and departure dates, place(s) to be visited etc).
  • Information on the inviting person (name, contact telephone number, address, signature). They must also provide a photocopy of their passport data page and their residence permit, or their Chinese ID.
  • The invitation letter can usually be a fax, a photocopy or a printout from a scanned image, but the consular officer may still ask for the original, so get the physical copy sent over just in case. 



Within the US:

Entry  US citizen
Single entry $140
Double entry $140
Multiple (six-month validity) $140


From HK, average agent price:

Entry US citizen
Single entry HK$ 1,650 ($213)
Double entry HK$ 1,650 ($213)
Multiple (six-month validity) HK$ 1,750 ($226)


Useful phrases

加急签证 jiā jí qiān zhèng Rush visa service
加急费 jiā jí fèi Rush fee
附加费 fù jiā fèi Surcharge
一次入境 yī cì rù jìng Single entry
二次入境 èr cì rù jìng Double entry
多次入境 duō cì rù jìng Multiple entry
港币 gǎng bì Hong Kong dollar
美元 měi yuán Dollar
大使馆 dà shǐ guǎn Embassy
领事馆 lǐng shìguǎn Consulate





Useful links
Application forms for Tourist L-visa
Beijing Tourism visa page
Hong Kong Commissioner’s Office advice on mainland visa applications


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