China has very strict visa requirements that must be followed precisely in order to visit the country. American passport holders must get a visa for China before arriving. The exception to this is if you are only visiting Hong Kong. No visa is required for stays in Hong Kong for 90 days or less. For all other destinations within China, a valid passport and visa are required.
Applicants for a visa to China are required to first fill out a visa application. The can be easily downloaded from the Chinese Embassy website: china-embassy.org. The application must be filled out completely, signed and dated. Failure to do so can result in rejection. Be sure to designate the length of the visa you need and how many entries you want. Visas to China can be for 3, 6 or 12 months. They can also be for single, double or multiple entries. Applicants are required to include a passport sized photo, a copy of a round trip plane ticket and proof of lodging within China.
A valid passport with at least one empty page is required to obtain a China visa. The passport is required to be valid for at least 6 months after the trip to China is over. The visa will be denied or entry refused if the passport is not valid for this extra length of time. The Chinese government does not want passports expiring while foreigners are in their country. Naturalized US citizens who were born in China are required to include their last Chinese passport or last China visa with their application.
Those applying for a work visa for China are required to attach a copy of a Foreign Experts Work Permit or an Alien Employment License. Those applying for business visas are asked to include the original visa notification issued by an authorized Chinese unit. If you don't have a visa notification, you can apply for a tourist visa and still conduct business in China as long as you adhere to the terms of your visa and don't stay past its expiration date.
Once you have accumulated all the required documents for a China visa, you can submit the package through the mail, in person at a Chinese embassy or consulate, or pay a visa service to do it for you. Visa services stand in line for you, but if you have time to wait for processing it is quite easy to just drop it in the mail. If it is delivered, it is required to be sent by registered mail or a courier service that tracks the package.
Applicants are required to pay for the visa and any expediting fees with a money order or check if applying through the mail. If they apply in person at an embassy or consulate they can also pay in cash or with a credit card. The visa fee varies depending on the type of visa requested. The China embassy website has updated rates. Standard processing takes about 4 days once the application is received. Express service processes it in 2 or 3 days. Rush service does it in one day.