Getting there – Traveling to China from the U.S.
As we were preparing for our trip to China, I was frustrated by the lack of information on the visa process. The info is either scattered over the internet, incomplete, out of date, or just not detailed enough. When dealing with the Chinese government, it pays to be as detailed and thorough as possible. An incorrectly filled out visa application means a rejection of the application and a possible delay in your trip, if it ends up happening at all. I resolved to document what I learned when going through the visa process and share it with the hopes that it would be helpful to someone else.
The information and process detailed in this blog post are for obtaining a tourist visa, and accurate as of the end of April 2013. Changes were made to the Chinese visa process mid-2012, and those changes are taken into account here. Please reference the Chinese Embassy visa page for the most recent requirements. That is also where you will find the visa application.
A few things need to happen before you even begin filling out your visa application. You will see on the Chinese Embassy website that for a tourist visa you need either a letter of invitation, or a copy of your flight and hotel reservations when applying. If you are traveling with a tour group they will most likely take care of this, whether they provide the letter of invite, or book your flights and hotels for you. If you are arranging everything yourself, it gets a little more involved. When making any flight or hotel reservations, it is important that the name on the reservations matches that on your passport exactly. We ran into a problem with our hostel reservation in Beijing, because only my sister’s name was on it, since she made the reservation. When my mom took their visa applications to the consulate in Houston, they were rejected because not everyone’s name was on the reservation. This was solved by obtaining a letter of invitation from one of my sister’s co-workers, a Chinese citizen. Since we then had a letter of invite, we did not need to provide our flight or hotel information.
Now that you have your letter of invitation, or your flight and hotel booked, you can start on the actual visa application, found here, under item #2. You will most likely have to download the Adobe Chinese Reader support pack, found for free here (make sure your download corresponds to the version of Adobe you are running). Most of the visa application is fairly straightforward. Something MUST be written in EVERY field. For example, under item 1.5, Name in Ethnic Script, you would need to put NONE, or N/A, assuming you are American and the only form of your name is in English. Skipping down to item 3.6, I put down my husband as my only immediate family member, and put NONE in all the leftover boxes.
Going through the application there were a few things that I had to look up, or get advice on from our visa agent.
Item 1.11, Local ID Number, put your driver’s license number. Ex: TXDL 123456
For current occupation, item 1.13, do not select Government Official, Staff of Media, Religious Worker, or Active Duty Military Personnel if you can avoid it. I am the secretary at our church, and I selected Company Employee. However, in item 3.5 I had to fill out where I worked, and because it said “church” I had to write a personal letter promising I would not be preaching on the street corners or bringing religious materials into the country.
1.17, Place of Passport Issuance. If it is an American passport, put US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
2.2, Number of Entries. This is how many times you need to enter China. Be advised that the Chinese Embassy will assign you whatever number of entries they feel like. We only needed one, so we selected One Entry, valid for 3 months. That is what I ended up getting, but my husband (along with my parents and sister) were all approved for multiple entries. I’m fairly certain the only reason for this is because I work at a church.
2.8, Name of Inviter. This section is mainly if you are travelling for business reasons, so if you are going purely for tourism, put N/A in all the boxes and move on.
Once you are done filling out the visa application, have you letter of invite, passport, flight info, etc, you will need to apply at the Chinese Consulate that serves your state. This must be done IN PERSON. There is no online or mail-in option. If it is not possible or convenient for you to go yourself, you can entrust your documents to a friend, family member, or visa or travel agent. My parents live in Texas and the nearest Chinese Consulate is in Houston. However, I could not send our documents with my mom when she took theirs, because the consulate that serves our state (North Carolina) is the Chinese Embassy in D.C. We ended up paying a visa agent to represent us. The company we used was A. Briggs Passport and Visa Expediters, and I highly recommend them. I emailed them our docs to look over, they called me with corrections, told me I needed to write the personal letter because I worked for a church, and were very helpful overall. They have a local office, should I have needed to speak face-to-face, but it wasn’t necessary for us.
If your application is approved, you will get a fancy sticker put in your passport. That is your visa. Congratulations! You may now travel to China.
I hope this information has been useful, please let me know if you have any questions.