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Ordinary China visas are of eight sub-categories, which are denoted by letters (see below). In certain circumstances port visas can be applied for on arrival at certain entry ports.
There is also the "144-Hour Convenience Visa" or "Guangdong Convenience Visa" for entry to the Pearl River Delta area from Hong Kong and Macau. This is not really a visa, more a formality for entering a less-restricted area. See Visa Exemptions for ways into China without a visa.
Unless exempt or applying for a Port Visa on arrival in China you should apply for a China visa around six weeks before travel at a Chinese embassy/consulate or Visa Application Center in your country.
The original passport should have a validity of over 6 months, with at least two blank pages. A copy of the photo information page is needed when you apply for a visa.
Complete the Visa Application Form of the PRC (People’s Republic of China), and glue on in the appropriate place a recently-taken, color, full-face visa photo.
Legal stay and residence permits or visas are required for applicants who apply for China visas in countries outside their own countries.
Former Chinese passports and photo page copies are required for foreigners who used to hold Chinese nationality and have acquired a foreign nationality, and are applying for a Chinese visa for the first time. Notarial documents concerning name change of a foreigner are required if the name on the foreign passport and the former Chinese passport are different.
L-Visa applicants are required to provide evidence of round-trip air ticket booking and hotel booking, or an invitation letter from a Chinese institution or individual. The letter should include the following:
1. Personal information of the applicant: name, sex, and birth date
2. Itinerary information of the applicant: arrival time, departure time, and destinations.
3. Information about the host organization or individual: names, telephone number, address, official seal or corporate representative/host’s signature.
G-Visa applicants are required to show evidence of booked seats on a connecting international flight out of China.
Z-Visa applicants are required to provide one of the following sets of documents depending on the nature of their invitation.
1. An Alien Employment Permit and an invitation letter from a duly authorized unit or an invitation confirmation letter issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People's Republic of China.
2. A China Work Permit for Foreign Experts, and an invitation letter from a duly authorized unit or an invitation confirmation letter issued by the Bureau of Foreign Experts.
3. A certificate issued by the Resident Representative Office of Foreign Companies, and an invitation letter from a duly authorized unit or invitation confirmation letter issued by the Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce.
4. For applicants coming to China solely for commercial performances: an invitation letter from a duly authorized unit or invitation confirmation letter issued by the related Foreign Affairs Department (municipal/county-level), or Documents of Commercial Art Performance issued by the relevant administrative department of culture.
5. An invitation letter for foreigners engaged in offshore oil operations in the People's Republic of China issued by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
Z-Visa holders should apply for residence permits from the Public Security Entry-Exit Administration in their city of work within 30 days after entry into China.
Those applying for X1-visas are required to provide the following.
1. The original letter of admission issued by an educational unit operating in the People’s Republic of China, and a copy.
2. The original Visa Application Form for Foreigners Studying in China (JW201 or JW202), and a copy.
X1-visa holders should apply for residence permits from the Public Security Entry-Exit Administration in their city of study within 30 days after entry into China.
X2-visa applicants are required to provide the original letter of admission issued by an educational unit operating in the People’s Republic of China, and a copy.
Different visas have different validity. Single-entry China visas are usually valid for 3 months after the issue date, and will permit you to stay in China for a maximum of 30 days. This visa will allow you to travel as a tourist or conduct general business activities. Most people need only to apply for a single-entry, however double or multiple entry visas would be required if you frequently travel between mainland China and Hong Kong or Macau or Taiwan on the same tour.