How to get a Chinese Tourist Visa for US Citizens

Updated February 2024How to get a Chinese Tourist for US Citizens was originally written in July 2018

Have you tried to get a visa for China and had to navigate or make sense of anything on the Chinese Consulate or Embassy websites in the USA?

Have you tried to call any of them for clarification?

Well, if you haven’t I’ll save you the ball-ache by telling you that their websites suck and they do not (okay, rarely) answer emails or pick up the phone.

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Here’s What You Need To Know

Chinese consulates, as well as the Chinese embassy in DC, do not accept applications by mail.

They do however accept applications by walk-in. Applications can be brought in by you, by someone you know and trust with the task, or by an agent.

You must apply at the consulate for the jurisdiction you live in. A little on that later.

When Applying (Yourself, Your Representative Or Your Hired Agent) You Must Bring:

  • Your passport with at least 6 months validity and at least one blank visa page
  • Filled in application x2
  • Passport photo 33mm wide x 48mm high in dimensions
  • A copy of your passport info page
  • An itinerary of your outlined trip and airline tickets showing your arrival and departure from China. Alternatively, you can submit an invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China and photocopy of the Chinese Resident ID of the inviting individual
  • Payment in the amount of $140 in money order or cashier’s check payable to China Consulate General (there will be additional charges for those that will use the service of a visa agent). Note that rushed visas issued in 3 days will cost $160, and emergency visas issued in 24 hours will cost $170
  • For those applying through San Francisco, you will need proof of residency. You will need to send a copy of your driver’s license, state ID, or a utility bill in your name
  • For those applying through Houston, you will need to submit a job description form if you are employed or attending a university. You can download the form here
  • For those applying through the embassy in Washington DC, you will need to submit a letter on company letterhead from your employer, if you are employed. It must state that your travel in China IS NOT related to your job in the USA and that you will resume working when you return home from China. This letter must be signed and dated

What To Do If You Live Very Far From Your Consulate

As most you regular readers know, I live in Alaska (if you’re new here: Hi, I’m Nicole and I’m from/still live in Alaska). My jurisdiction falls into the hands of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, only a mere 3,053 miles from my home, including a casual drive through Canada?

Or an expensive flight.

That’s where hiring an agent comes in

Which Agents Do I Recommend?

From my personal experience, I 100% recommend Free China Visa for those that fall within the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Consulate.

For a standard tourist visa, they charge a $30 service fee for standard 7 day processing, $60 for those needing express 4 day processing, and $25-$45 for FedEx shipping depending on speed.

I mailed my passport off to him and once received it was brought to the consulate the next morning. 4 days later it was approved, picked up, and sent back to me. My grand total was $195, not too bad

*Note that Free China Visa only services those who fall under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Consulate.

For everyone else in the USA, I recommend My China Visa. My China Visa is a little more expensive but has a good reputation.

Fees for standard tourist visas issued in 6+ days are $99, for express in 4-6 days $149, rush service in 3 days $199, and emergency visas issued in 24 hours are $259.

Shipping to My China Visa headquarters can be arranged yourself or via their Fed Ex service, for shipping back to you prices range from $29-$75.

Check out this YouTube video from Lindo Korchi (he’s another travel blogger from Alaska). He used My China Visa.

*Note that My China Visa services all consulates in the USA.

Consulates & Jurisdictions

San Francisco

Northern California

Washington DC

Washington DC
North Carolina
North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Los Angeles

New Mexico
Pacific Islands
Southern California



New York

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island


Puerto Rico

*Note that some states do have visa offices that do have authorization to issue visas, so call to check if it’s possible in your state to save yourself the trip to your consulate. 

Other Useful Advice

  • On the visa application, check the box ‘other’ under Section 2.2 Intended Number of Entries, and write in: Multiple entries valid for 10 years from the date of issue.
  • Even if your passport expires, or you fill it up you can continue to travel on your Chinese visa for the duration of its validity. When returning to China on a new passport you will need to bring your old passport with the valid visa in it to enter the country.
  • Travelers wanting to visit Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) will need to arrange permits to travel Tibet through authorized Chinese tour agents.
  • Visas are sometimes denied for travelers that submit itineraries that include travel in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). If planning to visit the Xinjiang region, it’s best not to include it on your visa application.
  • US citizens are allowed stays up to 72 hours to 144 hours in transit in Mainland China without a Chinese visa arriving and departing at certain airports. Those arriving into airports in Guangzhou, Chengdu, Qingdao, or Changsha allow for travel in their entire provinces 72 hours, visa free. Travelers arriving by air to Chongqing, Harbin, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, or Xiamen are allowed to travel only within the arrival city for 72 hours. Passengers arriving at Xian Xianyang Airport are permitted to travel within Xian and Xianyang cities only for up to 72 hours. Passengers transiting in Shanghai, Zhejiang, or Jiangsu can move around the three places for up to 144 hours. Those transiting in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei can also move around the three places freely for up to 144 hours. Travelers stopping over in Dalian or Shenyang can travel in the whole of Liaoning Province for up to 144 hours.
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Tuyoq, China

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