Chinese Visa Application Guidelines
Source: China Briefing - Written by Arendse Huld
China has fully reopened its borders, promising recovery of international tourism and travel. Many of the visa-free travel policies that were in place prior to the pandemic have therefore come back into effect, enabling people from a wide range of countries to visit China on a short-term basis. In this article, we provide an overview of all of the China visa-free travel policies currently available and explain who is eligible to enjoy them.
UPDATE (December 8, 2023): On December 8, 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the Notice on Temporary Reduction of Fees for Applying Visa to China. According to this notice, during the period from December 11, 2023, to December 31, 2024, China shall cut visa fees by 25 percent across the board for foreign travelers. For more details, please consult with your local Chinese embassy or consulate.
UPDATE (December 7, 2023): China and Singapore are seeking to establish a mutual 30-day visa-free travel arrangement to boost people exchanges between the two countries, according to Reuters. At the time of writing, no further details have been released regarding the timeline or the eligibility, requirement, and application procedures of this new arrangement.
UPDATES (November 24, 2023): According to the official announcement on the website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China will grant unilateral visa-free travel for holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, during the period from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024. Holders of ordinary passports from the above countries may enter China visa-free for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit for no more than 15 days.
UPDATES (November 17, 2023): According to an official announcement from the China National Immigration Administration (NIA), China has added Norway to the list of applicable countries that qualify for the 72/144-hour visa-free transit on arrival. Starting from November 17, 2023, Norwegian citizens will be able to enjoy the 72/144-hour visa-free transit policy offered in 23 Chinese cities, covering 20 cities and 29 entry and exit ports.
After almost three years, China has finally reopened its borders to international travelers and tourists, and in March 2023, it resumed issuing all types of visas to foreigners. This means China has begun permitting people with valid travel documents that allow visa-free entry back into the country and has once again started issuing its short-stay entry permits that are available on arrival for citizens of certain countries.
Below we provide an overview of all the visa-free options that are currently available for people traveling to China, and who is eligible to enjoy these policies.
Countries with mutual visa exemption agreements with China
China has also signed agreements on mutual visa exemption with over 150 countries, which enables certain citizens to travel to China without a visa. However, for the majority of countries, visa-free arrangements apply only to diplomatic or official passports.
A few countries do enable visa-free travel to China for citizens holding ordinary passports. Citizens from these countries are allowed to travel to China without a visa for up to 30 days for the purposes of tourism, travel, business, and visiting family or friends.
These countries are:
- > Armenia
- > The Bahamas
- > Barbados
- > Belarus
- > Bosnia and Herzegovina
- > Dominica
- > Fiji
- > Grenada
- > The Maldives
- > Mauritius
- > San Marino
- > Serbia
- > Seychelles
- > Suriname
- > The United Arab Emirates
Citizens from the above countries will still need to apply for a corresponding visa to China if they intend to work, study, or settle in China, or intend to stay for longer than 30 days.
Countries with 15-day visa-free travel to China
In the past, citizens with a valid ordinary passport from Japan, Brunei, and Singapore have been permitted to travel to China for a period of up to 15 days without applying for a visa for the purposes of tourism, business, visiting relatives and friends, or transiting to a third country. However, this policy was suspended since the end of COVID-19 restrictions in China.
On July 26, 2023, the 15-day visa-free travel to China policy was resumed for citizens of Brunei and Singapore, while at the time of writing, it’s still not clear when this policy will be resumed for citizens of Japan. This means citizens from Japan still need to apply for a Chinese tourist, business, or another type of visa to enter China at this time.
Then on November 24, 2023, China announced that its 15-day visa-free travel policy was expanded to five European countries and Malaysia. During the period from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024, Holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia may enter China visa-free for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit for no more than 15 days.
To note, citizens from these countries would previously also have had to apply for a visa in advance if they:
- > Expect to stay in China for more than 15 days; or
- > Intend to study, work, settle down, or attend an interview in China.
24/72/144-hour China visa-free transit
China allows eligible travelers from certain countries to enter and stay in certain areas of China for 24, 72, and 144-hour periods without prior application for a visa when transiting to a third country.
Note that people are excluded from this policy if they are:
- > Not permitted to enter the country as stipulated by laws and administrative regulations (such as people who have been subject to sanctions or travel bans);
- > Hold a passport or other international travel document that is valid for less than three months upon the time of arrival, or which has a refusal stamp from a Chinese visa issuing agency;
- > Have records of illegal entry and exit, illegal residence, and illegal employment in China in the last five years; and/or
- > Have violated accommodation registration regulations in the last two years and the circumstances are deemed serious.
144-hour visa-free transit
Under the 144-hour visa-free transit policy, foreign travelers can apply for a six-day entry permit to certain Chinese cities upon arrival at the port of entry, provided they hold a passport from one of the 54 eligible countries. They also must show that they are traveling to a third country after leaving China, which means they must show a connecting ticket to a third country when arriving in China. This is a great option for people who want to make a short stop-over to explore various areas of the country.
The 54 countries are:
> 25 countries in the Europe Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
> 15 other countries in Europe: Russia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Monaco, and Belarus.
> Six countries in the Americas: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile.
> Two countries in Oceania: Australia and New Zealand.
> Six countries in Asia: South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
Eligible travelers can only apply for the 144-hour visa-free transit if they enter through one of the 29 designated ports of entry in 20 mainland Chinese cities. In addition, travelers are only allowed to travel within a certain area on the entry permit and exit the country through designated ports as well. People who travel outside the permitted area and exit the country through a non-designated port may face certain penalties.
For more information on eligibility requirements, permitted ports of entry and exit, and permitted scope of travel, see our dedicated article: 144-hour Visa-Free Transit Policy for Foreigners.
72-hour visa-free transit
Travelers from the 54 countries that are eligible for the 144-hour entry permit are also eligible for the 72-hour visa-free policy. However, there are currently only three entry ports in China that offer 72-hour visa-free entry, as the majority of ports that previously offered it now offer the 144-hour permit instead. The ports are Guilin Liangjiang International Airport, Harbin Taiping International Airport, and Changsha Huanghua International Airport.
Travelers who enter through Guiling and Harbin are only allowed to travel within the scope of the cities themselves, whereas travelers who enter through Changsha are permitted to travel within the whole of Hunan Province.
All the same requirements and restrictions for the 144-hour entry permit apply to the 72-hour entry permit.
24-hour visa-free transit
All international travelers (except those exempted due to special circumstances) that are transiting through China are permitted to apply for a 24-hour visa-free entry permit upon arrival. As with the other two visa-free transit policies, travelers must provide a connecting ticket to a third country. They are not permitted to leave the city in which they arrived during their 24-hour stay and must leave the country within 24 hours.
China visa-free policies for individual travelers and tour groups
Pearl River Delta
People from countries that have established diplomatic relations with China and are traveling in a tourist group organized by a travel agency registered in Hong Kong or Macao can travel to the nine mainland Chinese cities of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing, and Huizhou) for up to six days without a visa. The same policy also applies to tour groups visiting Shantou in Guangdong Province, as long as their activities do not extend beyond the administrative area of Shantou.
To be eligible for this policy, the tour group must depart from Hong Kong or Macao.
International tour groups of two and above who arrive on a cruise ship at Shanghai Cruise Port can get 15 days of visa-free travel to Shanghai and other coastal provinces, regions, and municipalities in which the cruise ship berths. These are Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan.
The tourists are allowed to travel around the cities in which the cruise has berthed, as well as neighboring cities. This includes Beijing but otherwise does not include any cities or regions outside the above-mentioned provinces and regions.
The tour groups must be organized by travel agencies that have registered with the Shanghai Tourism Administration and Shanghai Customs.
Citizens of 59 countries are now eligible for 30 days of visa-free travel to the province of Hainan. This policy was previously only applicable to tour groups but has now been expanded to individual travel as well. Eligible travelers are free to travel around the whole province of Hainan and can travel from Hong Kong or any other place outside Mainland China with a direct flight to the island.
The eligible countries are Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Norway, Ukraine, Italy, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, UAE, Qatar, Monaco, and Belarus.
Tour groups consisting of a minimum of two people from the 10 ASEAN countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines) that are organized and hosted by a travel agency registered and approved by the tourism authority of Guilin, Guangxi Province, can enter and exit through Guilin airport port and stay in Guilin for up to six days without a visa.
Visa-free travel for tour groups from six countries
Some of the agreements on mutual visa exemption also enable visa-free travel for tour groups. These countries are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Moldova, and Turkmenistan.
The requirements for the tour groups differ slightly between the different countries’ agreements and may include having a minimum of five people in the tour group, and in general, the trip can last up to 30 days. There are no limits placed on where the tour group can travel, but the tours must be organized by certain designated agencies.
Special cards enabling China visa-free entry
APEC Business Travel Card holders
Holders of a valid Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card (ABTC) can enter China multiple times within the card’s validity period for business purposes for periods of up to 60 days at a time. The ABTC is valid for five years and thus functions as a five-year multi-entry visa.
Only citizens of the 21 APEC member economies are eligible for the ABTC (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia; Singapore; Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam).
Note that although Canada and the US do offer ABTCs, they only provide fast-track immigration processing and do not offer reciprocal entry arrangements, meaning that ABTC holders from the US and Canada are not eligible to enter China directly without a visa, and vice versa.
In addition, candidates must engage in regular business travel through the APEC member economies and not hold a criminal record.
Entry to China with the ABTC was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed on August 24, 2022.
Permanent residence card holders
It goes without saying that holders of a Chinese permanent residence card do not need to apply for a visa to travel to China, and can freely leave and enter the country through all passenger ports for work, business, family visits, and travel.
To be eligible for the permanent residency card, foreigners must meet a relatively high bar of work and liquidity requirements, which vary from region to region. For more information on this topic, see our articles on applying for a permanent residence card in Shanghai, Guangdong, and Beijing.
Residence permit holders
Foreigners with residence permits issued by Chinese public security organs who are in China for work or study are permitted to leave and enter the country as many times as they wish without applying for a visa each time, provided it is during the validity period of the residence permit.
Foreigners and foreign journalists who come to China for work or study are required to apply for a residence permit after first entering the country.
Note that the residence permit will be provided as a sticker in the passport with the word “residence” on it, rather than as a separate residence card.
* Regarding the detailed requirement and policies of specific countries or regions, please refer to Chinese Visa Application Service Center: https://www.visaforchina.cn/globle/