3 Ways of Getting a Chinese L Visa (Tourist Visa) to Visit China 🇨🇳 (中华人民共和国)
Applying for a Chinese L Visa wasn’t something I was looking forward to. In my mind, it was going to be an unnecessary hassle with very much paperwork. And I wondered if it would be worth it. But I wanted to visit China for more than 3 days (U.S. citizens can only stay in China for 72 hours, visa-free, at specific cities). So I decided to make the jump and get this application process over with. As a U.S. citizen, there are essentially three ways for you to obtain a Chinese L Visa to explore the vast country of China. Here it is, below:
In order to apply for an L Visa, you’ll need to apply at one of the 5 Chinese Consulates, which are located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston. BUT, you can’t simply choose which Consulate you’re going to apply at. Basically, your state is assigned to one of these locations. For example, I live in Alaska. The state of Alaska is assigned to the Consulate in San Francisco. So even though there’s a Consulate in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and New York (and an Embassy in Washington D.C.), I wouldn’t be able to apply for an L Visa in any of those locations. This can be a real pain. And, no, you’re unable to send in mail-in applications to the Chinese Consulate. And you can’t apply for an L Visa in China during your 72-hour visa-free duration. But if you live, or are near, any of these locations, then you can simply apply for a Chinese L Visa.
You’ll need to fill out the application form (which you can print here, for convenience). And yes, I know, it’s 4 pages. But it’s not as intimidating as it looks. After you fill out the application, you’ll need to provide the Consulate with your passport, a photocopy of your passport, a 2×2 photo of yourself (which you can get done at the UPS store), proof of roundtrip (or on-going) airline reservation and your accommodation reservations. As of this post, the cost of the L Visa is $140.
Here are the two other routes you can take for obtaining a Chinese L Visa:
If you so happen to be in another country, say Japan, you’ll be able to go to the Chinese Embassy and apply for the L Visa without having to fly to the U.S. to apply for it. Granted, this option is only best if you’re already abroad. And if so, it’s likely the best option. Honestly, I should’ve taken this route when I was in Japan, but I didn’t. So, unfortunately, the route I took is my least preferred option.
You can get a travel agency, or someone you trust, to apply on your behalf. Personally, I don’t know anyone in San Francisco, so I decided to go with a travel agency. But I was concerned, as I didn’t want to get scammed. So I decided to call the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and ask for their recommendation on a trusted travel agency that I can use to apply for the L Visa. If anyone is going to know which travel agencies are legit, it’s going to be the Consulate.
Over an hour had passed…
They didn’t pick up the phone. I called the Consulate in LA…
They also didn’t pick up the phone. I called the Consulate in NY…
…why wasn’t I surprised? They also didn’t pick up the phone.
I then e-mailed the Consulate in San Francisco regarding my question. Honestly, I had n0 expectation of getting a response. So I searched for travel agencies on my own. And while I did find quite a handful, there were only two that caught my attention: FreeChinaVisa & MyChinaVisa
Originally, I leaned towards FreeChinaVisa. They specifically serve U.S. citizens who are assigned to the San Francisco Chinese Consulate, which includes Alaska. Their website was also very informative. And they charged a service fee of $30 for regular processing + $25 shipping. But I didn’t find enough reviews about them nor did I see much of an online presence. And I wasn’t sure if they had a P.O. Box or an office. Thus, I was a bit hesitant.
I then began to lean towards MyChinaVisa (or China Visa Service Center). And there were a few things that immediately got my attention. First, they have an office in each city that the Consulate/Embassy is located in, along with a video message from the CEO, which added a human/transparent element to the company. They also had a little more of an online presence, along with reviews, and an actual phone number that had the local area code rather than an 800 number. But here was the downside: they charged a service fee of $99 for regular processing + $29 shipping.
I wanted to go with FreeChinaVisa, but MyChinaVisa checked off more boxes that established a greater level of trust, so I decided to go with them.
I had to mail them my application, along with all the required pieces of documents that I mentioned earlier in this post. But I’ll reiterate it since I understand the pain of having to scroll up and re-read unnecessary text just to find what you’re looking for. And sometimes, you miss it, somehow. So I mailed in my application, along with my passport, a photocopy of my passport, a 2×2 photo of myself (which you can get done at the UPS store), proof of roundtrip (or on-going) airline reservation and accommodation reservations.
Here’s what’s interesting, though. The day after I sent in my application, I received an e-mail. Guess who it was from? Fan Bing Bing.
Okay. Not true. Since we were guessing, I figured I reach to near-impossible. Come to think of it, the impossible answer would be receiving an e-mail from the Consulate in San Francisco. Well, I guess things are possible. I received an e-mail from the Consulate of San Francisco regarding my question of what travel agency they would recommend. They suggested FreeChinaVisa.
The ultimate face palm occurred.
I would’ve gone with FreeChinaVisa originally, but they didn’t have enough check marks to establish enough confidence for me, personally. But a recommendation from the Consulate itself is a huge confidence booster. But regardless, it is what it is. After 9 days, I received my passport back and a great conclusion – my L Visa to China! I was ecstatic and happy.
So here’s my suggestion: If you live in one of these cities or can simply take a trip there, then go for it. There’s no middle man and you deal directly with the Consulate or Embassy. If that’s going to be an issue and you’re already in another country where you can apply for the visa, then go for it. Again, no middle man and you deal directly with the Consulate or Embassy. Or lastly, if the cost/time of traveling to another city/country is too troublesome to conceive, then you can go with a travel agency to apply on your behalf (or someone you trust). If you’re in this situation, you can go with the agency I went with (MyChinaVisa), the one the Consulate recommended (FreeChinaVisa), or choose another travel agency.
Nonetheless, this was my experience with getting a Chinese L Visa to explore China. Let me know why you’re interested in China and the places you’ll be exploring. As for me, I’m excited to visit Beijing and Xi’an for their immense history. Additionally, one of my favorite Chinese shows, titled Wǔ Mèi Niáng Chuán Qí ( 武媚娘传奇), or simply put, The Empress of China, was based during the Tang Dynasty. The story, outfits, palaces, and traditional elements that were captured throughout the show truly looked as if I were transported to the Tang Dynasty. So I would love to see the visit the location in which they filmed the show. Actually, the female you saw above (Fan Bing Bing) plays a lead role in the show and is quite an amazing actress. Thankfully, I found out that the show was filmed in Hengdian World Studios, which is located in Dongyang, Jinhua, Zhejiang Province. This is a place that I’m extremely interested in visiting. What about you?
Thus, I would love to see the visit the location in which they filmed the show. Actually, the female you saw above (Fan Bing Bing) plays a lead role in the show and is quite an amazing actress. Thankfully, I found out that the show was filmed in Hengdian World Studios, which is located in Dongyang, Jinhua, Zhejiang Province. This is a place that I’m extremely interested in visiting. What about you? And which option will you ultimately decide to go with to get your Chinese L Visa?
Until next time,