Do I need a passport or visa to enter?
BEFORE YOU GO: To enter China, you need a visa as well as six months' validity remaining on your passport. If you do not have a valid passport and the appropriate Chinese visa, you will not be allowed to enter China, you will be fined, and you will be subject to immediate deportation. U.S. citizens traveling to China may apply for up to a one-year multiple-entry visa. Check your U.S. passport before applying for a visa to make sure that it has one year or more validity remaining; otherwise, you may be issued a visa for less than the time you request. The Chinese embassy and consulates general in the United States do not always issue maximum validity visas even if requested to do so. A multiple-entry visa is essential if you plan to re-enter China, especially if you plan to visit either Hong Kong or Macau and return to China. China has recently instituted new supporting document requirements for tourist (L) visas. Visit the website of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China for the most current visa information.
Many regions, such as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other remote areas, require special permits for tourist travel. Permits are not always granted, as during certain times the PRC may not allow foreigners to enter an area it deems restricted. The easiest way to apply for the appropriate permit is through a local Chinese travel agent. Permits usually cost approximately RMB 200, are single-entry, and are valid for a maximum of three months. The TAR remains a sensitive area for travel, and even when travel to Tibet is allowed, usually only Lhasa and part of Shan Nan are open to foreigners. If you do enter a restricted area without the requisite permit, you could be fined, taken into custody, and deported for illegal entry. A Border Travel Permit (bianfangzheng) is required for travel in and around the TAR and the Nepal border area. Applications for the permit are made at the Public Security Bureau's office in Lhasa. To learn more about specific entry requirements for restricted areas, check with the Visa Office of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States by telephone (202) 338-6688 between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday, fax (202) 588-9760, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
China no longer restricts tourists with HIV from visiting, but will not issue them residence permits. Please verify the restrictions with the Embassy of the People's Republic of China before you travel.
The Embassy of the People's Republic of China's website also has a list of other available services and frequently-asked visa questions with links to their consulates general in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.
UPON ARRIVAL: Once you are in China, the PRC expects you to comply with the requirements of your visa. For example, if you are on a tourist visa, you are not allowed to work; if you are on a work visa, you typically cannot become a full-time student. It is difficult to change or renew your visa within China. Visitors cannot change tourist (L) and exchange (F) visas to other visa types. Entry and exit requirements are strictly enforced. Police, school administrators, airline and train officials, and hotel staff may check your visa to make sure you have not overstayed. You will typically not be allowed to check into a hotel or travel by plane or on some trains if your visa has expired, and you may be taken into custody. If you intentionally or inadvertently violate the terms of your Chinese visa, including staying after your visa has expired, you may be charged a RMB 500 fine per day up to a maximum of RMB 10,000, experience departure delays, and face possible detention.
Whether you are traveling to or living in China, you must register with the police within 24 hours of your arrival in the country. Even foreigners with residence permits are required to register after each re-entry. If you are staying in a hotel, the staff will automatically register you. However, if you are staying in a private home with family or friends, you should take your passport to the local police station to register. Failure to do so could result in fines and detention. Chinese law requires that you carry a valid U.S. passport and Chinese visa or residence permit at all times. If you are visiting China, you should carry your passport with you, out of reach of pickpockets. If you live in China and have a residence permit, you should carry that document and leave your passport in a secure location, except when traveling.
Some parts of China are off limits or accessible only if you travel with an organized tour. You should always use common sense and avoid unlawful entry to sensitive areas, including military zones or bases and places where there is current civil unrest. If problems arise, the U.S. Embassy and consulates have limited ability to provide assistance. The Chinese government does not usually authorize the travel of U.S. government personnel to Tibet or areas where there is civil unrest, even to provide consular assistance to U.S. citizens. As recently as October 2013, the Chinese government delayed consular access to Tibet for 48 hours, despite an emergency situation involving multiple U.S. citizens.
LEAVING CHINA: You must have a valid visa not only to enter China, but also to leave China. If your visa has expired or if you lose your passport while you are in China, immigration authorities will not permit you to exit the country until you receive a new visa. The time it takes to get a visa replaced varies depending on where you are in China; however, in Beijing, it can take at least one week from the date of application, regardless of your previously-scheduled departure date. You should not expect the Chinese visa renewal or replacement process to be expedited to meet your travel schedule.
When you overstay in China, you may be detained for various amounts of time, as well as fined up to RMB 10,000. You must apply for a visa extension from the Entry/Exit Bureau before attempting to leave the country.
If your passport is lost or stolen in China, you will need to replace both the U.S. passport and the Chinese visa. The first step in this process is to immediately report the loss or theft of your passport to the Chinese authorities and obtain a report. Reporting regulations vary from place to place in China. For instance, if you lose your passport in Beijing, the local authorities will require you to file a police report at the local police station before they will issue a replacement visa in your new passport, while in Shanghai you must report the loss to the Entry/Exit Bureau. In Chengdu and Chongqing, the local authorities will require you to file a report first with your local police station and then with your local Entry/Exit Bureau. Once you report the loss and are given a copy of the report, you will need to come into the U.S.Embassy or a consulate general to apply for a new U.S. passport. Once you have the passport, you will need to take it to the local Entry and Exit Bureau to obtain a replacement Chinese visa.
U.S. citizens named (or whose businesses are named) as respondents in civil suits are often barred from leaving China pending resolution of the case.
TRANSITING CHINA: In general, if you are traveling through China en route to another country, you do not need a visa, as long as you stay in China less than 24 hours and do not leave the airport. If, however, you are a transit passenger and have more than one stopover in China, you must exit the transit lounge at the first stop to apply for an endorsement in your passport that permits multiple stops in China. As long as you have a ticket that continues on to an international destination, the endorsement should be routine.
If Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou Baiyun, or Chengdu Shuangliu airport is your international transit point, you may stay in mainland China for 72 hours without a Chinese visa if you have: a valid passport, a visa for your third country destination, an onward plane ticket departing from the same airport, and you remain in the same municipality/province in which you entered,. Make sure you get an endorsement stamp at the immigration desk before you leave the airport.
DUAL NATIONALITY: China does not recognize dual nationality. For the purposes of allowing the U.S. government to provide consular assistance to U.S. citizens in China, Chinese authorities recognize the U.S. citizenship only of persons who enter China using a Chinese visa in a U.S. passport. If you use any other type of travel document to enter China, the Chinese government will likely not permit the U.S. Embassy or consulates general in China to provide you with consular assistance. For example, when U.S. citizens who have entered China using travel documents other than a U.S. passport are arrested, the Government of China will neither notify the U.S. mission of their detention, nor allow U.S. consular officers to visit them while they are detained. If you are a dual national with valid U.S. and Chinese passports, you should take care in determining which passport to use to enter and exit China.
Chinese authorities generally consider a child born in China to be a Chinese citizen if one parent is a Chinese national, even if the child is issued a U.S. passport while in China. In such cases, prior to departing China with your child, you should contact the local Public Security Bureau and/or Entry-Exit Bureau for information on obtaining a travel document.