From the Great Wall to the Terracotta Army, China is truly an amazing and mysterious place.  In 2008, China hosted the summer Olympics in Beijing where they announced to the world that they were open for business. 

The world responded with a record number of visitors travelling to China, but oddly enough, the biggest obstacle for tourists wasn’t communism, safety, or pollution; it was the China visa application.  Getting a visa for China is notoriously difficult and the requirements listed on the China Visa Application Center website seem to be open for interpretation. This guide will help you go through the application process with a lot less stress.

trip cancellation insurance visa

Where to get a visa for China

Canadians can’t get visas at consulates anymore. They must be obtained at one of the Chinese Visa Service Application Centres located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.  If you can’t go in person, your application can be sent via post.

Addresses can be found here:

Chinese Visa Application Service Centers
Chinese Visa Vancouver
250-999 West Broadway
V5Z 1K5

Chinese Visa Toronto

Suite 1501
393 University Avenue
Toronto, ON
M5G 1E6
Chinese Visa Calgary
855, 8th Avenue
SW Calgary
T2P 3P1
Chinese Visa Ottawa
Suite 1450
220 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5Z9
China Visa Montreal
Suite 1450
220 Laurier Avenue Wes
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5Z9

There are companies online that you can pay to process your visa for you, but they’re literally just mailing your documents to the application centres–you might as well do it yourself.

China Visa Application Cost

This is the complete fee chart for China visa applications.

China visa Toronto

Basic documents required for a Chinese visa application

  1. A valid passport with at least 2 blank pages and at least six months of validity from the expiry date of your visa.
  2. A completed China visa application form.  This can be filled out online and then printed; handwritten forms are not accepted.
  3. One recent colour passport photo measuring 48mm x 33mm – This is not a standard Canadian passport size photo, so be sure the measurements are correct when having the photo cut.
  4. Proof of legal status – This mainly applies to non-residents; they are looking for documents to prove you are legally allowed to be in Canada.  I should note that if you’re applying for a visa to China from Canada with a passport that is not Canadian, there’s a good chance they’ll flag you.

If you have dual citizenship, but haven’t applied for your Canadian passport yet, it’s probably a good idea to get it before applying for your visa.

5) Original copy of previous Chinese passport – This only applies to people who used to reside in Hong Kong or China, and entered Canada using this document. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in Canada or if you’re now a landed immigrant or citizen; China still requires you to show this documentation. There are some exceptions, but they are made on a case-by-case basis. If you’re a former resident, it’s best to bring any documentation you still have.

China visa Toronto
Yu Garden, Shanghai

Last year, when I applied for visas for my parents along with my own, the China visa centre in Toronto wanted to see all of my parent’s original documentation from when they entered Canada.  My parents came to Canada almost 40 years ago, and have been Canadian citizens for more than 30 years, yet the application centre still insisted on seeing the original documents.  Fortunately, they kept everything so it wasn’t a problem, but you can see why this frustrates many.

If you’re a former resident of China or Hong Kong, I advise you to bring all and any supporting materials that you may have e.g., birth certificates, citizenship cards, marriage certificates/affidavit (if you changed your name since entering Canada).  Having these documents handy will definitely help with your application.

Oddly enough, as a born Canadian, I had no real problems with my China visa application.

Supporting Documents Required for a China Visa

  1. Booked airlines tickets showing your entry and departure dates.
  2. Booked accommodations for the duration of your stay in China.
  3. An invitation letter from a relevant individual—if you’re staying at a hotel you don’t need this.

You are not reading this wrong, China requires you to have EVERYTHING booked and confirmed before they will issue you a visa.  China is very strict about this and they require the names of all travellers to be on the reservation regardless of what accommodations you book.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a family; they expect to see every name on the reservation.

The invitation letter is required if you’re staying with friends or family.  It’s basically a letter saying that you’re invited (again all names need to be on this letter), the purpose of your trip, the address of where you’ll be staying and a photocopy of the inviter’s identification.

Why You Need China Visa Trip Cancellation Insurance

If your visa doesn’t get approved, what should you do with the airfare? It’s actually pretty easy to protect yourself; if you’re applying for a tourist or student visa, just purchase trip cancellation insurance prior to applying for your visa. You will be fully covered assuming you are not denied a visa due to something within your control e.g. not submitting your visa application on time. Also note that if you booked with Air Canada, the ticket is fully refundable if the visa was denied.

Coverage for non-issuance of travel visas is pretty common among trip cancellation policies but if you’re looking for more comprehensive coverage consider TuGo’s Traveller Policy.  Regardless of which plan you decide to go with, always read the fine print before making your purchase.

What are some China visa exemptions?

Surprisingly enough there are a few situations where visas are not required for entering China.

China has adopted a visa-free policy of 72 hours for those who are flying directly to any of the following cities: Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Xian.  Additional Chinese cities plan on implementing this policy and certain restrictions do apply, so be sure to check online for updates.  You technically still need a 72-hour visa but this is obtained in the airport for free with proof of your outbound flight.

Hong Kong and Macau are both Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China but neither require a visa to enter.

If your flight is stopping over in China and you’re in the airport for less than 24 hours then no visa is required.
Final Word
Although not the official site of China Tourism, I find has the most up-to-date information on all things China.

As long as you have all the proper documentation, getting approved for a visa is a simple process. So get ready to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of China.

Barry Choi is a budget travel and personal finance expert. You can visit his blog at

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  • Roxanne Manzo

    Hi M. Choi,

    I have a simple question for you regarding the chinese visa. We travel from Montreal, Canada to Beijing this winter, transiting to Vietnam then Thailand and then heading back to Beijing for our flight back home. I know some visas are free for thansitinf 24h or 72h. My question is: what visa do I need to get if:
    1) we arrive in beijing jan 9th 3:20pm (from canada), leave to vietnam jan10th 3:30pm (transit: 24h10min)
    2) we arrive in beijing feb 20th 8:05am (from thailand), leave to canada feb 23rd 11:55am (transit: 76h)

    Thank you!
    Roxanne, Canada.

    • Barry @ Moneywehave


      For your first stopover in Beijing you would just need the 72 hour free visa. Basically when you land at immigration you’ll see a counter to pick up the 72hour visa.

      As for your 2nd stopover to me it sounds like you require the standard 30 day tourist visa. I know it’s only a 4 hour difference but China is pretty strict with their rules.

  • Lisa

    Hi I just found your link I am travelling to China this March 2015 I booked through gadventures I initially thought I needed a letter of invitation so I requested one through their website now I’m reading that it probably will not be needed my flight is booked and so is my trip do you think any harm if i just go ahead and apply for this visa now without it?

    • Barry @ Moneywehave

      Hey Lisa,

      If you have your flights in and out of China are booked as well as your tour with gadventures then you’re probably fine. If you booked any extra days at the hotel with before/after your trip, I would advise bringing that along with you.

      You’re probably fine with all that paperwork in hand. If you’re going in person to get your visa, it’s better to make an online appointment as lines can get long at times. Well at least in Toronto they do.

  • shaun

    What if i am planning on backpacking China? I don’t want to pre book all my accommodations and don’t really have a route that I am following. What do i do regarding my itenariry?

    • Barry @ Moneywehave

      Hey Shaun,

      China is very strict and having accommodations booked as a requirement. That being said, many backpackers will usually book fully refundable accommodations and then cancel as soon as they have their visa.

  • Julie Bernal

    Hi Barry,
    With the news that came out last weekend re: 10yr multiple entry visits for China and Canadian citizens, do you know if there is an additional requirement to get multiple entry visa to China or should we just indicate our request on the Chinese Visa application form?

    Appreciate it.


    • Barry @ Moneywehave

      Hey Julie,

      In theory it should be easier to get a visa now since obviously you can’t have 10 years of travel plans ready in advance. I’m assuming when you apply you just tell them you want the 10 year visa. Personally I would still have my relevant info ready for the first trip since in the end its up the individual visa officer to approve you.

      The full details haven’t been released yet but I’m going to assume that our new 10 year China visa will be similar to the 10 Year U.S. visa. e.g. you need at least 1 year of validity left on your passport. the 10 year China visa would carry over to your new passport also but you would need to bring your old one also.

      Note that since this was just introduced I wouldn’t be surprised if the visa application centres aren’t 100% sure of the new processes.

  • bustrainboatwalk

    I’m very happy to find your guide. I seem to have a special case, which even the consulate had difficulty understanding. Because I will be traveling by boat, I’m not sure how many of these rules apply. I cannot provide airport info, since I’ll be arriving and departing by sea port. The clerk at the consulate told me I can provide the equivalent info regarding the ship reservation. Unfortunately, this is a container ship, and the exact date of departure or arrival is never for certain. I can give an approximation and the clerk seemed fine with that. Where things got confusing is when I asked if I should get a 72-hour visa or even just abide by the 24-hour rule (free to come and go with no visa). She told me I should get a regular visitor visa (classified as a tourism visa). I’m only using Shanghai as a transit city, but from what the boat company tells me, Chinese immigration needs to see a visa no matter what.

    To brief you on my itinerary, I’ll be leaving from Canada toward Korea and Japan. I will ONLY reach China on my way home. Japan to Shanghai by ferry, then board a freight ship to Canada. Literally, I’ll be in Shanghai for whatever amount of time it takes to transit from ferry to ship, with maybe a couple of sightseeing hours.

    I realize you don’t work for the consulate or immigration, but if you have any clues or info I could read up on, that would be very appreciated!

China Visa Application Guide for Canadians

Sep 2 2014