After booking a trip to China, your next step is to sort out your China travel visa, and while it’s not difficult, you will need to set time aside for this.
BUT – you don’t need to shell out £££s to a visa service agent/company for assistance (unless you want to) as it’s easy to apply by yourself.
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Note: You won’t be able to organise your visa until AFTER you’ve booked your travel and you’ll need to produce proof of travel and accommodation as part of the visa application process.
How to Get Your China Travel Visa (UK Citizens)
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.
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Go To An Agent
These cost upwards from £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
- Read the step by step guide
- Download your Chinese visa application form and fill it in. Here are the links you need for different centres: London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast.
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 all of your travel documentation to hand when completing your application form, as you need to detail your travel arrangements including flight numbers and detail all the accommodation where you will be staying.
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:
- Express – Collect from Visa Centre: You may collect your passport, with visa in it if approved, from the centre in three working days, if your submission appointment was before 12 pm, four working days if after midday. You can currently authorise a third party to do this for you.
- Express – Return by post: You’ll get your passport, with visa in it if approved, within five working days by registered post. Please note, if you’re travelling as a group, passports will only be posted to one address.
- Standard/Regular – Collect from Visa Centre: As Option 1 above, but your passport will be ready for collection two weeks from date of submission
- Standard/Regular – Return by post: As Option 2 above, but 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 date of travel.
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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
- Your passport: the expiry date must be more than six months after the date you will depart from China.
- Two passport size photos: taken no more than six months before your planned date of travel.
- A photocopy of the personal details page of your passport (the one with your photo). Either colour or black and white is acceptable.
- A letter of invitation from the China-based link of your travel firm.
- A copy of your itinerary, including all (hotel or other) addresses where you will be staying during your visit.
- Copies of your airline e-tickets, to prove you have booked a return flight.
- 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 are making a joint/group application. If one wants to pay cash, while others want to pay by card(s), this is not accepted.
Pro Tip: You will end up with quite a large pack of documents to take to your appointment. We recommend organising everything into a single plastic wallet and ‘grouping’ documents together.
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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. As long as you can make it to the centre by 3 pm, you’ll still be seen on 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 be able to guarantee it; they will, however, help you reschedule your appointment for another day.
On Arrival at the Visa Centre
The reception clerk will ask to see your passport and 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 of your passport. Then it’s a bit like waiting at a deli or jobcentre as 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.
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 that you’ve submitted all the right documents, before they process it for you.
Depending on the service you’ve chosen, 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 November 2019) Chinese visa application fees are:
- £151 per person for a standard/regular application
- £178 per person for express applications
- £175 per person for your passport(s) to be posted back to you
Wait for your visa for China to arrive/be ready for collection and congratulate yourself on saving ££s by taking the DIY option.
If you go to the London Centre to arrange your visa, there’s a lovely pub directly across the road with excellent food and friendly staff. Perfect for a little refreshment after waiting for your visa!
What it all boils down to is you could more than double the cost of your visa if you use a visa application agent!
Now that your China travel visa is sorted, why not check out some China posts for inspiration. It’s good to be prepared!
- Our unmissable 35 tips for your trip to China
- The only way to visit the Great Wall of China
- A complete 2-day itinerary for Xi’an
- An introduction to China’s UNESCO World Heritage Gardens at Suzhou
- 7 Myths about China that are just myths
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Have you been to China? What was your experience with your China travel visa application? Did you apply yourself or via an agent? I’d love to hear about how it worked for you.