Visitors must have a valid passport with a 6-month validity beyond the date of arrival and two consecutive blank pages remaining to allow for visas and stamps that need to appear together.
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, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (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). Children under age 3 must apply for a €15 3-year passport; children ages 3 to 17 must apply for a €25 5-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525), or at most main post offices.
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 United Kingdom: 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 United States: 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.
All visitors to mainland China (but not the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau) are required to have a visa. Tour groups are usually issued a group visa, with the paperwork handled by the travel agency (check with your agent). Individual travelers should apply for visas from your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate. Contact information for all Chinese embassies and consulates can be found at www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng. Some consulates require in-person applications while others allow applications by post or courier with extra charges. Visas are typically processed in 3 to 5 business days, though 1-day service is possible if you apply in person and pay extra fees.
The most common type of visa is the single-entry "L" tourist visa, usually good for 30 days, though you can request a longer validity period. Your request may not always be granted, and in some cases, you may be asked to produce supporting documentation (such as a travel agent-issued itinerary or an airline ticket with a return date). If you're going to be leaving and then returning to mainland China (even if you're just making a short trip to Hong Kong), apply for a double-entry visa. There are also multiple-entry 6-month or 1-year visas, which are now increasingly easy to come by. Visas are typically valid for 1 to 3 months after the date of issue.
To apply for a visa, you must complete an application form, which you can request by mail or download from the various consular websites. Also required is one passport photo per individual traveler (including a child traveling on a parent's passport). Though the visa is valid for the entire country (with a few exceptions that may require special permits), in general, avoid mentioning Tibet or Xinjiang on your application.
Following is a list of embassy addresses and visa fees for some countries, along with their respective Web pages that link to the appropriate consular sites and downloadable visa application forms. Warning: Visa fees listed are accurate as of press time, but are subject to change at any time.
- United States: 2201 Wisconsin Ave., Room 110, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202/338-6688; fax 202/588-9760; www.china-embassy.org). All visas, whether single or multiple-entry visas are US$130. Applications must be delivered and collected by hand, or sent via a visa agency.
- Canada: 515 St. Patrick St., Ottawa, ON K1N 5H3 (tel. 613/789-3434; fax 613/789-1911; www.chinaembassycanada.org). Single-entry visas are C$50; double-entry C$75. Applications must be delivered and collected by hand, or sent via a visa agency.
- United Kingdom: 31 Portland Place, London W1N 3AG (tel. 020/7631-1430; fax 020/7588-2500; www.chinese-embassy.org.uk). Single-entry visas are £30, double-entry £45, with an extra charge of £20 for each package received through the mail.
- Australia: 15 Coronation Dr., Yarralumla, ACT 2600 Canberra (tel. 02/6273-4780; fax 02/6273-5848; http://au.china-embassy.org/eng). Single-entry visas are A$40; double-entry A$60, with an extra charge of A$50 for each package processed by mail or courier.
- New Zealand: 2-6 Glenmore St., Wellington (tel. 04/472-1382; fax 04/499-0419; www.chinaembassy.org.nz; www.chinaconsulate.org.nz). Single-entry visas are NZ$140, double-entry NZ$210, with an extra charge of NZ$15 for each package processed by mail or courier.
Getting a Visa in Hong Kong -- Nationals of most developed nations require only a valid passport to enter Hong Kong, even though it's a part of China. Chinese visas (single- and double-entry only; multiple-entry visas have to be obtained in your home country) can be easily secured at countless Hong Kong travel agencies, but they are cheapest at the Visa Office of the PRC, 26 Harbour Rd., China Resources Building, Lower Block, seventh floor, Wanchai (tel. 852/3413-2424; www.fmcoprc.gov.hk; Mon-Fri 9am-noon and 2-5pm), where single-entry visas costs HK$1,020 for U.S. citizens, HK$450 for U.K. citizens, HK$150 for Canadians and Australians. At press time, the office was accepting HK$ cash only. Another outlet to get visas is at the Hong Kong operation of CTS (China Travel Service), with a popular branch at 27-33 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui (tel. 852/2315-7188; fax 852/2315-7292; www.ctshk.com). Or try Grand Profit International Travel Agency, 705AA, seventh floor, New East Ocean Centre, 9 Science Museum Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui (tel. 852/2723-3288).
Visa Extensions -- As a rule, single-entry tourist visas may be extended once for a maximum of 30 days at the local PSB (Public Security Bureau, gong'an ju) in most cities. In Shanghai, head to the Foreign Affairs Section of the PSB (chujing guanliju) which has been relocated to Pudong, at Minsheng Lu 1500 (tel. 021/2895-1900, ext. 2; Metro: Shanghai Kejiguan/Science and Technology Museum, exit 3). Office hours are Monday through Saturday 9am to 5pm. Extensions usually require 5 business days. Bring your passport and two passport photos.
What You Can Bring into China -- In general, you can bring in anything for personal use that you will take with you when you leave, including laptops, GPS devices, cameras, video recorders, and other electronic equipment. You're also allowed four bottles of alcoholic beverages and three cartons of cigarettes. Travelers are prohibited from bringing in firearms, drugs, plant material, animals, and food from diseased areas, as well as "printed matter, magnetic media, films, or photographs which are deemed to be detrimental to the political, economic, cultural, and moral interests of China." This last section covers pornography, overtly political and religious material, and anything related to Tibet. In practice, however, small amounts of personal reading material in non-Chinese languages have yet to present a problem. Currency in excess of US$5,000 is supposed to be declared on Customs forms, though most major points of entry seem to have dispensed with the Customs declaration form entirely.
What You Can Take Home from China -- Upon departure, antiques purchased in China, defined as any item created between 1795 and 1949, must be accompanied by an official red wax seal before being taken out of the country. Any item created before 1795 is prohibited for export. For information on what you're allowed to bring home, contact one of the following agencies:
U.S. Citizens: U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667; www.cbp.gov).
Canadian Citizens: Canada Border Services Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0L8 (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
U.K. Citizens: HM Customs & Excise, Crownhill Court, Tailyour Road, Plymouth, PL6 5BZ (tel. 0845/010-9000; from outside the U.K., 020/8929-0152; www.hmce.gov.uk).
Australian Citizens: Australian Customs Service, Customs House, 5 Constitution Ave., Canberra City, ACT 2601 (tel. 1300/363-263; from outside Australia, 612/6275-6666; www.customs.gov.au).
New Zealand Citizens: New Zealand Customs, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington, 6140 (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).
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, when there isn't a health crisis, is 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.