U.S. passport holders are required to obtain visas to enter China. These visas are available from the Chinese authorities and are not issued by the U.S. Embassy or Consulates in China.
Before Entering China
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 and will be fined and subject to immediate deportation. U.S. citizens traveling to China may apply for up to a ten-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. 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. Please see Embassy of the People’s Republic of China for the most current information.
Many regions, such as Tibet 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 around RMB 100, are single-entry, and are valid for a maximum of three months. Tibet 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.
For more information on services provided by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Frequently Asked Visa Questions and links to the Chinese Consulates in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, please visit Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.
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 5,000, 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 passport or residence permit at all times; Chinese authorities will not accept a photocopy. Additionally, Chinese authorities are entitled to carry out random checks for these documents. If you are not in compliance, you will be subject to fines, detention, and/or deportation. 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 has limited ability to provide assistance. The Chinese government will 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.
You must have a valid visa to leave China. If your visa has expired while you are in China, Chinese immigration authorities will not permit you to exit the country. You must apply for an exit or replacement visa from the Entry & Exit Bureau Administration of the Public Security Bureau before attempting to leave the country. The time it take to get a visa replaced varies depending on where you are in China, however, in Guangzhou, it usually takes five business days from the date of application, regardless of any previously-scheduled departure dates you may have arranged. Although you may request expedite service for your exit or replacement visa, granting this service is solely at the discretion of the Public Security official assisting you. Be prepared to present your travel itinerary to support your expedite request.
If your passport is lost or stolen in China, you will need to replace both the U.S. passport and the Chinese visa, which may take 3 – 5 days. Please see Lost or Stolen Passports for additional information.