How to Get a Chinese Tourist Visa for the Whole Family

The Great Wall of China

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We are headed to China in 2018! We’re especially excited because the children are learning Chinese and my Grandmother is Chinese. It will also be the longest trip we’ve taken with the kids so there is a lot of preparation to do. The most important piece of preparation was to apply for and receive our visas. China does not offer any visa upon arrival so you have to take care of this in advance!

The China Embassy website has instructions but we still ran into some unexpected requirements at the Consulate. This post is everything we learned in the process so your application process can go more smoothly than ours did.

Obviously, the Chinese government can change their requirements at any time. This is not meant to replace the information found on the China Embassy website but is meant to help make it easier to understand. Our experience was with the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, the process may vary slightly at different Consulates.

Type of Chinese Visa

First, we applied for a Tourist Visa “L”. This is because we are not Chinese passport holders and we only plan to be in China for tourism which will never exceed 60 days.

We chose to apply for a 10-year multiple-entry visa. This is the longest visa option available but it costs the same ($140/person) as a single-entry so you might as well. We hope to visit every year or two to help reinforce the children’s language learning.

Please note, the 10-year visa is not listed as an option on Form V. Check other and fill in “10-year multiple-entry.”

Form V Chinese Visa
Chinese Visa Application, Form V

Supporting Documentation

The following are requirements that were listed online as well as additional documents I was required to produce when I reached the consulate.

  • Form V
    • Filled in completely and signed.
    • Each individual will need this form completed. There is a section to include people who share your passport, but this wouldn’t apply to Americans.
  • Daily itinerary as required by Form V section 2.6
    • If your trip is longer than 5 days you will need to include your itinerary on a separate piece of paper. I made ours with 3 columns: date, address, itinerary.
    • For the itinerary column, I kept it simple with categories like “Travel Day”, “Recovery Day”, “Sightseeing Day.”
    • I made copies for each person so there was one copy for every Form V.
  • Passport
    • You must have 6 months of validity remaining on your passport. They will also keep your passport and it will be 7 days before you can get it back. Make sure you time this to correspond with any other travel you have coming up.
  • Black and white photocopy of passport
    • I didn’t see this requirement online so I had to make this copies at the consulate. They have copy machines and I recommend you bring quarters (even if you think you have everything) just in case.
  • For adults, black and white photocopy of Driver’s License or other Government Issued ID.
    • Another requirement I couldn’t find online.
  • For children, copy of birth certificate
    • Again, not listed online, but required.
  • Flight receipt. Must show everyone’s names as well as entry/exit dates.
    • This is a big one, you cannot get a visa without flight details.
    • We booked nonrefundable tickets and then made sure to start the visa process well in advance in case we got rejected and needed to reapply.
    • I have heard of people getting refundable tickets and then canceling and rebooking cheaper tickets once their visa is approved. I’m not sure how the Chinese Embassy feels about this, so I cannot recommend this. If your trip is coming up quickly, it is certainly a way to ensure against a visa rejection.
    • Only one copy is required for the family only if all names are listed on the reservation.
  • Photos meeting all requirements.
    • Walgreens was not able to take pictures that met China’s size requirements. I ended up taking these at home with a tripod and then editing them in Photoshop.
    • There is a photo station inside the Consulate. This is a good back up option if your photos get rejected. Just make sure you are not wearing a white shirt.
  • Copy of hotel reservations or a letter of intent from your host.
    • Per the instructions online, I brought our hotel reservations but they did not end up asking for them.
    • Only one copy is required for the family only if all names are listed on the reservation.
  • Payment (due on pickup)
    • They accept Visa, Mastercard, Certified Check, or Money Order.

The Process

I showed up at the San Francisco Consulate at 1 pm on a Tuesday. The line was out the door and wrapped down the sidewalk. A security guard was handing out numbers so we grabbed ours and left to eat some ice cream.

We returned at 2 pm and waited for an hour before our number was called. Once our number was called we waited in another line for half an hour before speaking to a representative. She reviewed our documentation and informed us of what we were missing. After making some photocopies we got back into a shorter line to speak to the same representative again. This line took quite a while and we finally left at 4 pm.

When she accepted our paperwork she gave me a receipt and instructions to come back 7 days later. The security guard had suggested 2 pm as the best time for pickups.

I waited in line for half an hour to pay for and pick up our visas. There were no mistakes with any of the 4 visas I had applied for.

Although I’m very happy to have received our visa, I am definitely going to make sure to have copies of our itinerary, exits flights, and hotel reservations when we arrive at customs in Beijing. You just never know!

If all of this just sounds like too much, or if you don’t live near an Embassy, you can pay a travel agent or service to submit everything for you. Plan on it taking an extra couple weeks and costing roughly $100/person.

I hope this helps! We can’t wait for our trip to China!


Find hotel reservations in China here!

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