For an up-to-date, country-by-country listing of passport requirements around the world, go to the "Foreign Entry Requirement" Web page of the U. S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov.
Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.
For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 can only apply for a 3-year passport.
For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand, or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
For Residents of the U.K.: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0300/222-0000 or search its website at www.ips.gov.uk.
For Residents of the U.S.: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
Mainland China -- All visitors to mainland China must acquire a visa in advance. Long-term visas are generally not granted at the border. Visitors to mainland China must have a valid passport with at least 6 months' validity and two blank pages remaining. Visa applications typically take 3 to 5 working days to process, although this can be sped up to as little as 1 day if you apply in person and pay an additional fee. "L" (tourist) visas are valid for between 1 and 3 months. Usually 1 month is granted unless you request more, which you may or may not get according to events in China at the time. Double and multiple entry tourist visas are also available at some consulates.
You should apply to your nearest consulate. It varies, but typically your visit must begin within 3 months of the date of issue. Note that although postal addresses are given below, some consulates (including all those in the U.S. and Canada) will only accept applications in person, and applications by post or courier must go through an agent, with further fees to be paid. Telephone numbers are given, but many systems are automated, and getting a human to speak to can be next to impossible; faxes and e-mail rarely get a reply.
Applying for a visa requires completion of an application form that can be downloaded from many consular websites or acquired by mail. Temporary restrictions may be placed, sometimes for years at a time, on areas where there is unrest, and a further permit may be required. This is currently the case with Tibet where travelers are required to book a tour with guide and driver to secure a permit. Do not mention Tibet or Xinjiang on your visa application, or it may be turned down.
Some consulates indicate that sight of an airline ticket or itinerary is required, or that you give proof of sufficient funds, or that you must be traveling with a group, while they happily carry on business with individuals who have none of this supporting documentation. Such statements provide a face-saving excuse for refusing a visa should there be unrest or political difficulties, or should Tibet or Xinjiang appear on the application.
One passport photograph is required, as well as one for any child traveling on a parent's passport.
The visa fees quoted below by country are the current rates for nationals of that country, and can change at any time. U.S. citizens applying for a double-entry visa in the U.K., for instance, are charged more than British citizens. Regulations may also vary. In addition to the visa fees quoted, there may be supplementary fees for postage, and higher fees can often be paid for speedier service. Payment must always be in cash or by money order.
Once you're inside China visas can usually be extended once for a maximum of 30 days at the Aliens Entry-Exit department of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in most major towns and cities. Again visa extension processing times and requirements vary from place to place, and while some PSBs will issue an extension on the spot, others will take up to five working days to process. A passport photo, completed application form (available at the PSB), and the hotel receipt for that night are usually required, and some PSBs will only grant an extension if you have less than a week (or sometimes only three days) left on your current visa. See individual PSB listings for details. Extension costs also vary, but typically U.S. citizens pay ¥940, U.K. citizens ¥469, Canadians and Australians ¥160. If you have trouble getting an extension, local agencies can sometimes help, although they will charge a hefty fee.
Consulates in Australia -- Single-entry visas are A$40; double-entry A$60. Add A$50 per package dealt with by mail or courier, and a prepaid return envelope. Go to au.china-embassy.org for more information.
Consulates in Canada -- Single-entry visas are C$50; double-entry C$75. Visit www.chinaembassycanada.org for an application form. Applications must be delivered and collected by hand, or sent via a visa agency.
Consulates in New Zealand -- Single-entry visas are NZ$140; double-entry NZ$210. Add NZ$15 per package dealt with by mail or courier, and a prepaid return envelope. Go to www.chinaembassy.org.nz for more information.
Consulates in the United Kingdom -- Single-entry visas are £30; double-entry £45. There's a supplementary charge of £35 for each package dealt with by mail. Visit www.chinese-embassy.org.uk for an application.
Consulates in the United States -- Single-entry and double-entry visas are $130. Visit www.china-embassy.org, which has links to all U.S. consular sites and a downloadable application form. Applications must be delivered and collected by hand, or sent via a visa agency.
Consulates Elsewhere -- A complete list of all Chinese embassies and consulates can be found at the Chinese foreign ministry's website: www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng (or various mirror sites around the world). Click on "Missions Overseas."
Buying Visas in Countries Bordering China -- Note that the Chinese Consulate in Katmandu, Nepal, will not sell visas to individual travelers wanting to enter Tibet overland, or they may stamp the visa to prohibit overland entry via the Friendship Highway. The consulate in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, will usually refuse visas to those not holding a fax or telex from a Chinese state-registered travel agency, or they will stamp the visa to prohibit overland entry via the Torugart Pass. Obtaining visas at the consulate in Almaty can also sometimes be difficult for non-residents of Kazakhstan.
Buying Visas in Hong Kong -- The easiest place to apply for a mainland visa is Hong Kong, where there are several China visa options. Single-entry tourist "L" visas valid for 30 days are easily obtainable, as is the double-entry version. Multiple-entry "F" visas are also easy to obtain via visa agents and without the letter of invitation required to obtain them at home. Single-entry visas bought through Hong Kong agents typically cost HK$300, double-entry "F" visas around HK$500. Expect fees of twice this for British citizens and up to four times as much for US citizens.
Entering the Mainland from Hong Kong & Macau -- It is possible to buy a HK$100 5-day permit from the visa office on the second floor of the Chinese side of the Lo Wu border crossing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, but this is valid for travel in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone only. Similar short-term travel permits can also be arranged at Guangzhou East station if you arrive by direct express railway from Hong Kong, and on the mainland side of the crossing from Macau to Zhuhai.
Hong Kong Visas -- U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand citizens, and those of most other developed nations, are granted 90-day stays free on arrival. British citizens are granted 180 days. Passports should be valid for 1 month longer than the planned return date. In theory, proof of sufficient funds and an onward ticket may be demanded, but this request is almost unheard of.
Macau Visas -- U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand citizens are granted 30-day stays free on arrival. British and most other E.U. nationals can stay up to 90 days without a visa. Passports should have at least 30 days of remaining validity upon your arrival.
What You Can Bring Into China -- Generally, you can bring into China anything for personal use that you plan to take away with you when you leave, with the usual exceptions of arms and drugs, or plant materials, animals, and foods from diseased areas. There are no problems with cameras or video recorders, GPS equipment, laptops, or any other standard electronic equipment. Two unusual prohibitions are "old/used garments" and "printed matter, magnetic media, films, or photographs which are deemed to be detrimental to the political, economic, cultural and moral interests of China," as the regulations put it. Large quantities of religious literature, overtly political materials, or books on Tibet might cause you difficulties (having a pile of pictures of the Dalai Lama certainly will, if discovered), but in general, small amounts of personal reading matter in non-Chinese languages do not present problems. Customs officers are for the most part easygoing, and foreign visitors are very rarely searched. Customs declaration forms have now vanished from all major points of entry, but if you are importing more than $5,000 in cash, you should declare it, or theoretically you could face difficulties at the time of departure, although once again, this would be highly unlikely. Importing or exporting more than ¥6,000 in yuan is also theoretically prohibited, but again, it's never checked. Chinese currency is anyway best obtained within China (or in Hong Kong), and is of no use once you leave.
What You Can Take Home from China -- An official seal must be attached to any item created between 1795 and 1949 that is taken out of China; older items cannot be exported. But in fact you are highly unlikely to find any genuine antiques, so this is a moot point (and if the antiques dealer is genuine, then he'll know all about how to get the seal). There are no such prohibitions on exporting items from Hong Kong, where you can find reliable dealers with authentic pieces and a willingness to allow thermo-luminescence testing to prove it. Almost everybody is amazed at the number of cheap DVDs on sale in China. They are extremely tempting, especially compared to the prices at home. If discovered on arrival in your home country these may be confiscated, but more importantly, you should be aware that the producers of these discs are often the same gangsters who smuggle undocumented migrants in containers and sell females into sexual slavery; don't give them your money.
Australian Citizens -- A helpful brochure available from Australian consulates or Customs offices is Know Before You Go. For more information, call the Australian Customs Service at tel. 1300/363-263, or log onto www.customs.gov.au.
Canadian Citizens -- For a clear summary of Canadian rules, write for the booklet I Declare, issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
New Zealand Citizens -- Most questions are answered in a free pamphlet available at New Zealand consulates and Customs offices: New Zealand Customs Guide for Travellers, Notice no. 4. For more information, contact New Zealand Customs, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington (tel. 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).
U.K. Citizens -- For information, contact HM Customs & Excise at tel. 0845/010-9000 (from outside the U.K., 020/8929-0152), or consult their website at www.hmce.gov.uk.
U.S. Citizens -- For specifics on what you can bring back and the corresponding fees, download the invaluable free pamphlet Know Before You Go online at www.cbp.gov. (Click on "Travel," and then click on "Know Before You Go").
If you will be arriving in mainland China from a country with yellow fever, you may be asked for proof of vaccination, although border health inspections are cursory at best.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.