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Global Citizen

How to get a Chinese visa: the Ultimate Guide

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Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia

For once, having a US passport gives its holder an advantage. US citizens have slightly less visa-free travel access than most countries in developed Europe. For example, my German friends get into Turkey visa-free while US citizens have to have an e-visa that costs $20.

For as much as the US goes around giving other countries money, extracting concessions and throwing its weight, they don’t do much for their own citizens’ travel privileges. Like many things that Americans tend to think they are the best at, US citizens do not have the most valuable passport in the world for visa-free travel.

But US passport holders do have one good thing going for them these days: visa reciprocity with China. This means that US passport holders can now obtain visas that are valid anywhere from three months to as much as ten years with the luxury of multiple entries. The change benefits businesses — including the tourism and travel industries in both countries — as well as investment and business opportunities.

This will especially benefit US and Chinese citizens who regularly travel between the two countries. Students, exchange visitors, businessmen, etc. no longer have to apply for a new visa every year and pay the annual application fee. They could, but the 10-year visas cost $160 — the same as a single entry visa.

The White House estimates that the new visa policy will create up to 440,000 US jobs by 2021 and generate almost $85 billion in revenue. But how will it impact your life as a Nomad Capitalist? For one, this does not mean you will have visa-free access to China. Very few western countries do. So you will still need to apply for a visa, what has changed is the frequency with which you will need to do so.

The good news is that it’s really not that difficult to get in as a tourist or for other reasons. In light of the fact that I’m going to China for the Canton Fair next April for several start-ups I’m investing in, participating in and in charge of, I figured it was time to figure out my visa options. And, since I am a US citizen, getting the ten-year visa instead of using another passport and getting the typical one-year multi-entry visa actually sounds like a good idea.

Plus, I really like China as a country and think that everyone should go there. As such, I wanted to share with you some of the research that my team and I have done on getting visas in China.

Available visa and residency options

To get the kind of boots-on-the-ground knowledge we value so much here at Nomad Capitalist, we reached out to Sean Weisbrot. Sean is an American entrepreneur and author who has lived in China for the past eight years. He currently works consulting Western companies on Chinese business strategy, cultural differences, market-entry, as well as finding investors for their companies, and acts as a connector and door-opener into China, introducing the right people at the right time to help your business grow and succeed quickly.

Here’s what he had to say:

What visas are available to tourists, businessmen, investors or entrepreneurs looking to stay long term?

Each government has a different relationship with each other, so, for example, Americans can get a 10-year, multiple-entry tourist or business visas for China, whereas citizens of other countries might only be eligible for a 3-month tourist visa.

  • Chinese tourist visas are called L visas.
  • Chinese business visas are called M visas.
  • Foreign investors and entrepreneurs would fall under the M category as well.

Long-term is only possible if your country has a good relationship with China.

What are you allowed to do with each visa (i.e. could someone get a tourist visa and invest in land while in China? Or would that require a different visa?)

  • Tourists (L) visas allow people to merely visit.
  • Business (M) visas allow people to conduct business in a way that does not earn a direct income (meaning, you can invest in a company or buy some products from a factory, but you aren’t earning a salary from these situations so it’s legal).
  • The final visa of importance is a Z visa, which is used for long-term employment. Under this visa, you can earn a salary, pay taxes, pay into the social security system, get social health insurance, invest in property if you wish.

Are there any residency options and what do they entail?

There are 3 residency options:

1. The Z work visa also comes with a residence permit which must be renewed every year.

2. The D permanent residence visa is more like a green card, but is nearly impossible to get, and you are basically enjoying the same exact rights as a local citizen.

3. The Q Spouse visa is for foreigners married to local Chinese citizens, but essentially you can not work or earn income.

Any other expert advice?

  • If you want to travel, apply for an L visa
  • If you want to invest, open a company, do QC, sourcing/trading, an M visa is sufficient.
  • If you want to work for others in China, you must get a Z visa.

How to get the tourist L visa

We also reached out to Nick Messina at to get more information about applying for a tourist visa. He explained:

There are many different types of visas for American citizens who want to go to China, but for tourist purposes they will require an L type visa. Chinese consulates in the U.S. are now issuing 10-year multiple entry visas where you can visit China for 60 days at a time. You cannot apply online, you must visit one of the Chinese consulates in person. You should apply at the U.S. consulate which covers where you live. You do not need to make an appointment to apply. Note that a standard L type visa does not allow you access to Tibet (you need separate additional visa/permission)

Application requirements:

  • 1 passport photo
  • Completed application (using a computer not filled in by hand)
  • Copy of flight reservations showing entry in and exit from China
  • Copy of hotel reservation
  • Copy of passport
  • You will need an invitation letter if you are staying with a Chinese citizen/resident
  • Note – they are very strict on even letting you in the consulate if you do not have all your papers in order. Cell phones are not allowed to be used inside the NYC consulate (private security will watch you turn them off).
  • Cost: $140 by credit card


  • 4 business days excluding Chinese/USA holidays
  • Can be rushed for an additional charge

After arriving

  • Carry a passport at all times
  • If you are staying with a Chinese citizen/resident you are supposed to register your presence with the police within 24 hours of arriving

The future of US-Chinese visa relations

Despite his ventures into FATCA and other draconian measures, President Obama has done several good things for the world of business and investment. For one, he pushed for a new US start-up visa. And secondly, he strengthened the visa relationship between the US and China. Whether or not this policy continues under Trump is an entirely different topic; but for now the reciprocal policy is in place so take advantage of it while you can.

The future of tourism in China is exploding and if they ever make the visa process easier, so many people will go there. The same goes for any country that makes it easier for the thousands upon thousands of Chinese tourists to visit their borders.

In fact, the only western country that has true visa-free reciprocal access to China is San Marino. Of course, it’s an impractical situation because you can’t get to San Marino without flying to Italy. But somehow the Chinese have overcome that obstacle. When I was in San Marino, interestingly enough, half the people there were Chinese. So many Chinese businessmen in San Marino are going around looking at potential investments just because of the visa-free relationship between the two countries.

Hopefully one day that scene will play out in more places than just a tiny European micro-state. For now, take advantage of this relatively new development and enjoy ten years of multiple-entry visa access to one of the biggest markets in the world.


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