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China Visa Guide for UK passport holders

| Words by Zoe Crane | ,

A China tourist visa guide for British passport holders.

UK passport holders require a visa to travel to China. We recommend that you apply for your visa roughly four to six weeks prior to travel, leaving you ample time before your trip to receive your visa without running the risk of your visa expiring before you leave home.

You can apply in person or by mail through the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre in London Manchester or Edinburgh. You must make an appointment online before applying in person. If you have booked through a travel agent, they may be able to assist in obtaining a visa. Travellers booking directly through Travel Indochina should refer to the 'before you go' section of the China travel tips information page.

The great wall of China travel, BeijingThe Great Wall of China, Beijing

Which visa to get

Travellers wishing to visit China for tourism purposes require an “L” visa. If you plan to study or work, go on a student exchange or study tour, visit family that are residents in China or are a foreign journalists you need a different class of visa. The information below relates to the China tourist visa only.

If you are transiting in the airport for less than 24 hours, or if you visit Hong Kong for less than 90 days, and not mainland china you do not need a visa.

Travellers that spend less than 72 hours in China on a transit through Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao or Pudong International Airport, Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou or Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu can apply for a visa exemption, but restrictions apply to your stay. This must be applied for through your airline.

If you enter as a transit passenger, but require a visa for a second entry into mainland China (or vice versa), you will require a double entry visa. If you travel from mainland China to Hong Kong and then re-enter mainland China, a double entry visa is also required. A multiple entry visa is required if you are entering mainland China more than twice.

Giant Panda, ChengduGiant Panda, Chengdu

What you need to apply

  • Passport with at least six months validity from your return date and blank visa pages.
  • Photocopy of your passports data page (the page with your name and photo).
  • Your fight and hotel details on a confirmed travel itinerary. If you are planning on staying somewhere other than a hotel, you will need an invitation letter with your details, your planned itinerary and the details of the person inviting you.
  • Visa Application Form.
  • One passport-sized colour photo.
  • Visa fee (single entry tourist visa is £66 GBP).
  • Signed declaration.
  • If you are a UK citizen applying from outside the UK, you will also need to show proof of residence or legal stay in the country where you apply.

Fisherman on the Li river, Guilin Fisherman on the Li river, Guilin

Applying in person

China tourist visa applications must be made either in person or by mail through the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre and not the Embassy or Consulate General. In the UK there is a service centre in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Applications made in person should take 4 business days to process. You need to make an appointment online prior to visiting the centre and can complete your application form online. Payments at the centre can only be made in cash or by debit card.

Applying by mail

The fee for a mail application is £84. Payments can be made by debit card only using the payment authorisation form. Postal applications take approximately two weeks to process. Rush and express visas cannot be applied for by post. Posting applications to the Edinburgh branch will result in the fastest processing time. When applying by post you should also include a pre-paid, self-addressed envelope. It is highly recommended that you use tracking through the post.

In a hurry?

An express service is available and it will return your visa in 3 business days. This can only be applied for in person. Approval for such services may or may not be provided. The fee for an express visa is £93 GBP.

Note: All details above are correct at time of writing; however we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information. You will need to check the most up to date information with the Foreign Travel Service or the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.