For residents of most countries, a visa is required for visits to the People’s Republic of China, although 144-hour visa-free transit in Shànghǎi (and Běijīng, plus five other cities with international airports) is available.
Visas are easily obtainable from Chinese embassies, consulates or Chinese Visa Application Service Centres abroad. Getting a visa in Hong Kong is also an option. Most tourists are issued with a single-entry visa for a 30-day stay, valid for three months from the date of issue. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa (nine months for a double-entry visa) and you’ll need at least two entire blank pages in your passport for the visa. For children under the age of 18, a parent must sign the application form on their behalf.
In many countries, the visa service has been outsourced from the Chinese embassy to a Chinese Visa Application Service Centre (www.visaforchina.org), which levies an extra administration fee.
A 30-day visa is activated on the date you enter China, and must be used within three months of the date of issue. Longer-stay visas are also activated upon entry into China. Officials in China are sometimes confused over the validity of the visa and look at the ‘valid until’ date. On most 30-day visas, however, this is actually the date by which you must have entered the country, not left. Although a 30-day length of stay is standard for tourist visas, 60-day, 90-day, six-month and 12-month multiple-entry visas are also available. If you have trouble getting more than 30 days or a multiple-entry visa, try a local visa-arranging service or a travel agency in Hong Kong. Note that if you go to China, on to Hong Kong or Macau and then to Shànghǎi, you will need a double-entry visa to get ‘back’ into China from Hong Kong or Macau, or you will need to reapply for a fresh visa in Hong Kong.