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Traveling to China - Which Visa?

I’m planning a trip to China in a few months to work on a story and I’ve been navigating the Chinese Embassy site. It looks like my Visa options are:
J-2 Visa: Issued to foreign correspondents who make short trips to China on reporting tasks.
L Visa: Issued to an alien who comes to China for sightseeing, family visiting or other private purposes.

Has anyone gone through this before? I’ll be traveling with a lot of equipment, so I probably will look like a journalist, but I’m wondering if there’s any added hassle with the ‘foreign correspondent’ visa in terms of getting the visa and traveling throughout the country?


by Stephen Voss at 2005-01-20 17:34:17 UTC (ed. Sep 1 2008 ) | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I would avoid the J visa unless you need it to get into some kind of officially restricted area, or to work officially as a journalist. otherwise, you’re just going to get a shorter period of stay, and lot of hassle at the consulate.

by teru kuwayama | 21 Jan 2005 07:01 | | Report spam→
I concur Teru, I heard to get a multi entry 1 year tourist visa in the US is a piece of cake, where as a J visa will be a lot of jumping through hoops.

by Nayan Sthankiya | 21 Jan 2005 18:01 | | Report spam→
im interested in this issue as well

on the L visa application, what do you put for occupation? do you put “photojournalist” or “photographer” or something else? in other words, does putting “photojournalist” make the visa application more arduous?



by Kenneth Dickerman | 21 Jan 2005 19:01 | | Report spam→
definately DO NOT put photographer, or photojournalist. even “artist” is likely to be a problem.
Carpenter, english teacher, computer programmer, bicycle mechanic, etc are all good career choices. This goes for countries like china, india, and similarly uptight bureaucratic regimes. another issue is if your passport is clean — Does it already have other J visas in it, or visas for suspicious countries like iraq, afghanistan, etc? I carry two passports — one with J visas, one with tourist visas.

by teru kuwayama | 21 Jan 2005 20:01 | | Report spam→
thanks teru

good info



by Kenneth Dickerman | 21 Jan 2005 21:01 | | Report spam→
Thanks guys, glad to have the info.


by Stephen Voss | 21 Jan 2005 22:01 | | Report spam→
Try to avoid lying on the apps though…. in worst case scenarios it will come back to haunt you.

by [former member] | 22 Jan 2005 00:01 | | Report spam→
Nelson does have a point there a South Korean photojournalist, friend of mine was arrested and spent a year in jail while documenting North Korean refugee’s in China. He was caught along with the refugee’s, accused of being a broker, when he said he was a journalist they asked why he didn’t have a journalists visa, blah,blah, blah.
However South Koreans, journalists or not don’t carry much wait in China. Americans, Canadians, Europeans on the other hand can generally get away with a lot more.

by Nayan Sthankiya | 22 Jan 2005 00:01 | | Report spam→
I am curious -

Teru, you mentioned you have two passportsone with J visas, one with tourist visas.
Can you legally have two US Passports? Do you ever have to carry both at the same time?

Thanks for the info,
Logan MB

by Logan Mock-Bunting | 22 Jan 2005 10:01 (ed. Jan 22 2005) | | Report spam→
for my last trip to china i said i was a visual consultant thereby explaining if asked- computers and gear. if you are not doing politically sensitive work- a j visa is not always needed. in the end it would have to be your call.

as for passports- u.s. journalists are allowed to have 2 passports because of the necessity of getting 2 visas at the same time and having visas from countries at war in the same passport is dangerous. you can find this information at the passport web site.


ron haviv

by [former member] | 22 Jan 2005 12:01 | | Report spam→
When applying for a visa to China the best possible one to have is an “F” visa for business or research. I have heard from folks in the Shanghai expat community that they are quite easy to get through HK and they provide the least amount of official hassle while in country, though I haven’t yet tried the HK way myself. The F visa represents $$$ and foreign investment to local authorities, which are most likely going to give you problems. Here’s some more info on getting the visa: http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/Article106.phtml

by [former member] | 13 Jun 2005 02:06 | Shanghai, China | | Report spam→
I am a Chinese photojournalist. If you need more suggestions please let me know. Generally speaking, I agree with Ron that if you are not photographing extremely sensitive issues and in officially restricted areas, then J visa is not necessary. And even if you got J visa for sensitive issues, it does not really help that much.

by Alexander F. Yuan | 05 Nov 2007 08:11 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
a few months ago when i was in china, i bought a visa from kathmandu and they officially wrote that they would issue any visa’s to journalist, media people etc.

all the best rich

by Richard Greaves | 05 Nov 2007 17:11 | birmingham, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
In August I got into China through Hong Kong. Seems like everywhere you turn there is a licensed visa agent. All you need to do is pay the money in the morning and you’ll have a visa that night. Following advice elsewhere on lightstalkers, I used Forever Bright Trading Limited and got a 3 month tourist visa; no problems at the agency, no problems at the border; anytime they asked for occupation I said “consultant” “graphic designer” or “small business owner.” The only times my bags have been xrayed or inspected was at the front door of train stations or going through security at an airport, and nobody batted an eye at the equipment. Knowing your work, Steven, you’ll probably have some lights which is more than I travel with, so you’ll likely have a different experience.

One thing to worry about with a tourist visa, however, is that you’ll probably need to leave the country after 30 days and re-enter if you have a visa good for longer than a month. I’ve heard it’s possible to get visa extensions, but I don’t know if that is for the 30-day limit or the entire length of the visa.

by M. Scott Brauer | 05 Nov 2007 23:11 | Nanjing, China | | Report spam→
I would avoid the J visa if possible, you may be restricted in travel, or have other issues. Also visa controls are getting stricter in China with the upcoming olympics, especially if you are an american passport holder. How long will you come for? if under 30 days then a Tourist L visa should be fine, but an extension is possible once you are in.

by Nick May | 06 Nov 2007 14:11 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
sorry i meant would not issue any visa to journalist, photographers or media people.

all the best rich

by Richard Greaves | 06 Nov 2007 17:11 | birmingham, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I currently work in China as a photographer with a work permit but used to have an ‘F’ visa, which is in effect a business visa, and that has worked pretty well. If coming from the US, it’s rather easy to get a 1 year multiple entry visa which allows you to stay a maximum of 60 days per entry. Hong Kong is also a good place to get an ‘F’ visa and the ‘worse case’ scenario is a tourist ‘L’ visa. AVOID the ‘J’ visa at all cost despite the Chinese government proclaiming a relaxation on control of foreign journalists. Tibet, for example, is one place where the government is very wary of the presence of journalists. Nick is right about tighter controls with the upcoming Games. Police has been known to question foreigners in residential areas and demand to see identification papers, etc. Good luck!

by simon lim | 18 Jan 2008 11:01 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
I agree with Ron. “Consultant” is the all time thing for anything official in non-democratic states. It can mean anything an so you are not lying.

by Ty Stange | 19 Jan 2008 09:01 | Copenhagen, Denmark | | Report spam→
I recently got a tourist visa for China at the Embassy in DC. When I told them I was a photographer (I did not say photojournalist), they made me write a statement on a piece of paper saying that I would not work while in China. I wrote that I would not work but that I would take pictures for myself.

by Dennis Drenner | 19 Jan 2008 22:01 | Baltimore, United States | | Report spam→
totally agree with katharina – only get a J if you need it. i go to china as a construction worker and always with a tourist visa. if you get a tourist visa now (got one in nyc recently) it’s $100 for one year with multiples entries. which means you can come/go as much as you like and i believe max stay at one time is 2 months…

by michael christopher brown | 20 Jan 2008 15:01 | Tallahassee, United States | | Report spam→
Get a tourist visa. I’ve been two times and spent a few months traveling through Guizhou province with an M7, 5D, laptop, 200 rolls of 220 film, lightmeter, wires etc. No hassels and btw, film will be hand checked if you ask.
If you like, please feel free to ask more about shooting and what to be aware of.

by John Francis Peters | 21 Jan 2008 05:01 | New Paltz, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Hey John, I’d be interested to hear about that “what to be aware of” you just mentioned.

by M. Scott Brauer | 21 Jan 2008 05:01 | Nanjing, China | | Report spam→
I have travelled to China twice with a large amount of camera gear and both times on a L-Visa. I seem to attract more curiosity than anything else such as why I’d want a Maglite [torch] hanging from my belt! Never had any problems travelling around, photographing almost anything and everything. Visa restrictions are very tight this year 2008 though having a Chinese wife and being able to provide a suitable reason of visiting relatives did help acquiring the visa this time round. Contrary to the earlier advice, I hve always put down ‘photographer’ on the Visa application, though this time I did put self-employed, rather than freelance, and added wedding/commercial. One will have to wait and see if there are any differences to the behaviour of customs and officials when I arrive in July. Of course anyone wanting to cover official events and hard news such as the Sichuan earthquake would find that without a J-Visa photography would be highly restricted, if not impossible. Even accredited journalists and crews in Sichuan found problems with authorities. Additionally, obtaining a J-Visa is probably impossible as a freelance. One would probably need to prove employment with an organisation or paper. Though if anyone has acquired a J-Visa as a freelance I’d be very interested.

by Rob Welham | 18 Jun 2008 17:06 | London, United States | | Report spam→
DO NOT get a “J” stamp in your passport if at all possible. This will only open up a can of worms that you don’t want now and in the future when you go to apply for another visa. If you do need a “J” visa then I would concur with others and suggest you get a second passport. But even with that they will know who you are, trust me. I find I can do just about everything needed with a mulit-entry tourist visa. Unless you are going to photograph heads of state, military operations or other sensitive issues you wont need it and trust me you wont want it. “J” in your passport only makes you a marked man and you’ll be watched for sure. Also, just a heads up, you should double check with your travel agent regarding visas until after the olympics. From what I have heard China has stopped giving out multi-entry tourist and business visas until after September when the olympics are done. You’ll most likely be able to get a single entry tourist visa and that will be good for 30 days only. I have also heard that with your application you will need to provide round trip ticket information along with proof of hotel reservations…this is something I have never had to do in the past, and would be interested to hear if this is true. Good luck!

by David Paul Morris | 19 Jun 2008 08:06 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Applying right now, and yes, it’s true, you either need to give them a copy of your ticket or the confirmation of the travel agency if you go through one. Also you need to fill out the exact travel itinerary on the application form. But for what I know/read, written on the papers, a single entry tourist visa is valabel for 3 months.

by eva mbk | 19 Jun 2008 08:06 | Tuscany, Italy | | Report spam→
Make sure you read the fine print on that time frame. The visa might be good for 90 days and must be used within that 90 day period but once you get into China you are only allowed to stay for 30. Let us know if that is any different. Cheers, DPM

by David Paul Morris | 19 Jun 2008 08:06 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
No fine print, I’ll ask at the embassy, thanks for the heads up (in my case it doesn’t really matter as I’ll stay a shorter time), but perhaps it’s something others haven’t been aware of.

by eva mbk | 19 Jun 2008 09:06 | Tuscany, Italy | | Report spam→
David, you were right. No fine print, but very clearly stated in the visa, which we got in less than one week: one entry, and valid for 30 days after the entry.

by eva mbk | 03 Jul 2008 18:07 | Tuscany, Italy | | Report spam→
Can anyone help. I am just beginning the process of attempting to move to Beijing and work as a photojournalist there. My boyfriend was offered a position and a two year work visa for a Landscape Architecture firm in Beijing, however his visa does not include me. I am attempting to find a way to get myself there, stay, and also find work. I am not sure how to find someone to sponsor a visa for me or where I might find work opportunities all together. II am also concerned with details such as health insurance and the basics that go along with a move of this type. If anyone has any suggestions, I would be forever grateful.

by Amanda Voisard | 01 Sep 2008 19:09 | West Palm Beach, Fl, United States | | Report spam→
I lived there four years ago and at the time it was very easy to go in on a tourist visa and then buy a multi-entry business visa via a shady ad in the back of an expat magazine. I have heard that those grey market visas are much harder to get now, so prob best to hold out for more recent information. That was my experience though… good luck.

by [former member] | 01 Sep 2008 19:09 | Grand Canyon, AZ, United States | | Report spam→
Any one got any up to date information about China Visa?

by Sam Faulkner | 30 May 2013 14:05 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Well, I’ve been into China twice in the last year, doing photography work on a personal project. I got a one-year tourist visa with multiple entries. I listed Chinese friends as my domestic address (and actually stayed there on the first trip).

Both times I carried a fair amount of camera equipment (at some point they make you take all cameras and lenses out of your bag), including a very large case for a backdrop (it looked like a big, hard-case golf bag). I entered each time from Indochina (Thailand and Vietnam). I had no problems with entry or exit.

by Neal Jackson | 30 May 2013 15:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Sam
I’m living here (Guangzhou) and working as a photographer.Please send me a mail and perhaps I can give you some info.The multiple entry visa has been made a little harder to get, but as Neal said if you can get an invite from a friend living here it is much easier.If you are looking to get one in Hong Kong from an agency the price for Multiple has increased to over 2000 HKD (1 day turnaround).They also may not issue multiple entry unless you have one previous multiple entry visa in your passport.The Chinese Embassy in HK will not issue multiple unless you have HK residency. I heard the visa rules for French citizens has changed also in the last few months. The best thing and easiest is to apply in your home country.Rules for Jurno visa are here: http://ipc.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wgjzzhznx/fj/t541164.htm

by Phil Behan | 31 May 2013 02:05 (ed. May 31 2013) | Guangzhou, China | | Report spam→
BTW, I got my visa from the PRC consulate in DC, and had previously received a transit visa (to connect thru Beijing to Ulanbaatar) a couple of years ago. I must be in their database, in part because of some of the people I have visited.

Someone mentioned recently that the PRC may be doing away with a visa requirement for some tourists traveling exclusively in and around Shanghai and Beijing (maybe Quangzhou too). You might check that rumor out, if that could work for you.

by Neal Jackson | 01 Jun 2013 18:06 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Neal,that one is already in Beijing and Shanghai since Jan 2013.There was a news release in April saying it had being introduced into Guangzhou also,but I have yet to hear of anyone who has used it yet.

by Phil Behan | 02 Jun 2013 01:06 | Guangzhou, China | | Report spam→
Thanks for your replies.
I am pretty clear what I need to do now. Thanks.

by Sam Faulkner | 04 Jun 2013 22:06 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Thanks for your replies.
I am pretty clear what I need to do now. Thanks.

by Sam Faulkner | 04 Jun 2013 22:06 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→

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Stephen Voss, Photojournalist Stephen Voss
Washington, Dc , United States
teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
New York , United States
Nayan Sthankiya, Visual Journalist Nayan Sthankiya
Visual Journalist
Saskatoon , Canada
Kenneth Dickerman, Photographer Kenneth Dickerman
Nyc , United States
Logan Mock-Bunting, Logan Mock-Bunting
Coastal Carolina, Nc , United States
Alexander F. Yuan, Photojournalist Alexander F. Yuan
Beijing , China
Richard Greaves, Photography & Social / Ed Richard Greaves
Photography & Social / Ed
(keep on truckin!!!)
Birmingham , United Kingdom
M. Scott Brauer, Photographer M. Scott Brauer
Boston, Massachusetts , United States ( BOS )
Nick May, Photographer Nick May
Beijing , China
simon lim, Freelance Photographer, W simon lim
Freelance Photographer, W
Beijing , China
Ty Stange, Photographer Ty Stange
Copenhagen , Denmark
Dennis Drenner, Freelance Photgrapher Dennis Drenner
Freelance Photgrapher
Phnom Penh , Cambodia ( PNP )
michael christopher brown, Photographer michael christopher brown
China , China
John Francis Peters, Photographer John Francis Peters
Karachi , Pakistan
Rob Welham, Photographer Rob Welham
London , United Kingdom
David Paul Morris, Photojournaliist David Paul Morris
San Francisco , United States ( SFO )
eva mbk, cabby eva mbk
Tuscany , Italy ( SAY )
Amanda Voisard, Photojournalist Amanda Voisard
Southwest , United States
Sam Faulkner, Photographer Sam Faulkner
(reportage phtotographer)
London , United Kingdom ( LHR )
Neal Jackson, Neal Jackson
(Flaneur, Savant and Scapegrace)
Washington, Dc , United States ( IAD )
Phil Behan, Photographer Phil Behan
Urumqi , China


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