woman completing online China visa application

How to Save Money on Your China Travel Visa Application

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A step-by-step comprehensive guide to applying for your China travel visa from the UK.

After you book a trip to China, your next step is to sort out your China travel visa. You don’t need to shell out a small fortune to a visa service agent/company for assistance (unless you want to). It’s easy to apply by yourself: all you need to know is what to do and set time aside to go through all the (virtual) paperwork.

In this post, I’ll show you EXACTLY what you need to do and when to complete your China visa travel application. Plus, I’ve included full details about what a China visa costs.

You can only organise your visa until AFTER you’ve booked your travel. You will need proof of travel and accommodation as part of the visa application process.

How to Get Your China Travel Visa (UK Citizens)

Reasons to Hire a Private Tour Guide in China

Regardless of whether you decide to go through an agent, or to follow these DIY tips, everyone going on your trip will need to visit a visa centre IN PERSON. No exceptions!

China visa centres in the UK are located in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast.

Your Options:

Go To An Agent

These cost upwards of £250 per person (!!) on top of the price of your visa (approx £160-£186 per person).

You may need to use this route if you’ve ever, for example, overstayed on a visitor visa anywhere in the world, if you have any criminal convictions, work in journalism or have political affiliations that might cause the Chinese Government concern. You should expect the fee to be higher in these cases to reflect the extra work involved. 

If you’d rather not pay an agent’s fee, you don’t want to miss the next option…

DIY China Travel Visa Application

First, choose the visa centre which will be the easiest for you to visit. There are four centres in the UK, In London, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Belfast.

  1. Read the step-by-step guide
  2. Download your Chinese visa application form and fill it in.

PRO TIP: Usually, you’ll choose the option to travel as a tourist, which is the first option on the application form. You’ll need your travel documentation to hand in when completing your application form. You need to detail your travel arrangements, including flight numbers and all the accommodations where you will stay.

Taking time to work through the process to apply for a China travel visa

Choose the option to “submit in person“.

Ignore the ‘by post’ option on the form; this is now disabled as China amended their rules in May 2018 (the Visa Centre haven’t changed the form as at the time of writing).  Apart from your personal and travel details, you will need to select the service type you wish for your visa processing.

The options are:
  1. Express – Collect from Visa Centre: You may collect your passport, with your visa in it if approved, from the centre in three working days if your submission appointment was before 12 pm, and four working days if after midday.  You can currently authorise a third party to do this for you.
  2. Express – Return by post: You’ll get your passport, with your visa in it if approved, within five working days by registered post.  Passports will only be posted to one address if you’re travelling as a group.
  3. Standard/Regular – Collect from Visa Centre: As Option 1 above, your passport will be ready for collection two weeks from the date of submission
  4. Standard/Regular – Return by post: As Option 2 above, you’ll get your passport by post in 15 working days.

PRO TIP: Keep your browser window open because you need to book your appointment next.  At the time of writing, tourist visas are only valid for 90 days. Visa centres advise you to make an appointment no more than four weeks before your travel date.

Book Your Visa Appointment Online:

Progress to Section 2: ‘Submit at the Centre’, (3) Make an appointment and select the ‘click here’ link to confirm your booking.

Appointments are available up to two months from your log-on date.  Choose your preferred date and book it!  You can book individually or as a party travelling together.

PRO TIP: If the link is playing up for booking your appointment (this happened to me), phone the centre, and you will get to speak to a helpful, understanding person who will make the appointment for you.

What to Take to Your Visa Appointment

  1. Your passport: the expiry date must be more than six months after the date you will depart from China.
  2. Two passport-size photos: taken no more than six months before your planned travel date.
  3. A photocopy of the personal details page of your passport (the one with your photo). Either colour or black and white is acceptable.
  4. A letter of invitation from the China-based link of your travel firm.
  5. A copy of your itinerary, including all (hotel or other) addresses where you will stay during your visit.
  6. Copies of your airline e-tickets to prove you have booked a return flight.
  7. Method of payment.  The Chinese Visa Application Service Centre will accept cash, debit card or credit cards (VISA or Mastercard). One little quirk is that visa centres will not take a mix of payment methods if you make a joint/group application. This is not accepted if one wants to pay cash while others want to pay by card(s).

PRO TIP: You will have quite a large pack of documents to take to your China travel visa appointment. Keeping everything in a single plastic wallet and ‘grouping’ documents together is a good idea.

What Happens at Your China Travel Visa Appointment

PRO TIP: If you’re going to be late for your appointment, you should telephone the centre to make them aware.  If you can make it to the centre by 3 pm, you’ll still be seen that day, but you should expect to wait longer.  If you can’t get there by 3 pm, the centre will try to see you but won’t guarantee it; they will help you reschedule your appointment for another day.

On arrival at the Visa Centre

The reception clerk will ask to see your passport – you should hand your passport photocopy over at the same time. The clerk will give you a ticket with your appointment number, return your passport and keep the copy. Then you sit and wait (and wait…) until your number comes up.

Our appointment was scheduled for 1.30 pm, but it was closer to 2.30 pm when we were called forward for the clerk to check our China tourist visa requirements.

PRO TIP: Bring a book/kindle/anything that will entertain you while you wait, as you may have to wait some time. You might also want to pack a bottle of water and a snack as there is an onsite vending machine, but it’s expensive, and the selection is poor.

At The Desk

When your number comes up, take your documents and present them to the clerk in the cubicle, which matches your number. The clerk will check that you’ve completed your form correctly and submitted all the right documents before they process it for you.

Depending on the service you’ve chosen for your travel visa for China, the clerk may ask you to fill in your details on the registered post envelope and will ask you to make a note of the number and ask you to take a photo of the envelope. Then the clerk will hand you a bill and send you to another area to wait and pay your visa fee.

PRO TIP: The visa centre will retain your passports for three days if you choose the express service or two weeks if you opt for the standard service.

The Cost of your China Travel Visa

At the time of writing (updated July 2022), China travel visa costs are:

  • £151 per person for a standard/regular application
  • £182 per person for express applications
  • £175 per person for your passport(s) to be posted back to you

Check the up-to-date fee schedule here (the fees are the same at all UK centres)

And Finally

Wait for your travel visa for China to arrive/be ready for collection, and congratulate yourself on saving ££s by taking the DIY option.

What it all boils down to is you could more than double the cost of your China travel visa if you use a visa application agent!

Further Reading

Now that your travel visa for China is sorted, why not check out some China posts for inspiration? It’s good to be prepared!

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