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Generally speaking, visitors traveling to mainland China require a China visa, which should be obtained in advance. The type of visa you should apply for depends on your reasons for traveling.
There are 12 major visa types, which are denoted by letters (see below):
Read detailed information about How to Apply for a Tourist/Business/Work Visa in China.
Single-entry visas allow you to enter China once during the period of the visa's validity. Double-entry visas allow two entries into the country. Multiple-entry visas allow you to come and go at will during the time when the visa is valid.
Each type is valid for 3, 6, or 12 months. The duration of each stay is normally 30–60 days.
Since 2014, citizens of five countries are possible to apply for a 10-year multiple-entry visa in the following categories: tourist (L), business (M), and family visits (Q2 and S2). The countries include Argentina, Canada, Israel, United Kingdom, and United States.
This visa allows you to enter and leave China as many times as you want within the 10-year period. Read the detailed information about the 10-year China visa.
In certain circumstances, port visas can be applied for on arrival at certain entry ports.
China’s ports of entry offering port visas include Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Guilin, Haikou, Hangzhou, Heihe, Jinan, Kunming, Manchuria, Nanjing, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Suifenhe, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen, Xi’an, Weihai, Yantai, and Zhuhai.
See more information about China port visas.
There is also the "72/144-hour convenience visa". 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.