China: New visa rules may trip up tourists, business travelers

If you’re planning a trip to China and don’t have an up-to-date visa in hand, you may encounter some additional red tape.

On Aug. 1, the Chinese government started requiring that travelers seeking tourist visas, officially known as L visas, submit a letter of invitation and photocopies of the traveler’s round-trip ticket and hotel reservations.

To obtain a business, or F Visa, applicants must now have an invitation letter or “confirmation letter of invitation” issued by an authorized Chinese agency. This is in addition to an invitation letter issued by a Chinese local government, company, corporation or institution.

For tourists, the invitation letter can come from a “duly authorized tourism unit” or it can be issued by a company, corporation, institution or individual in China. If the letter comes from an individual, a photocopy of her or his identification must also be provided.


The new, more complicated rules, unfortunately, don’t completely spell out what is considered a “duly authorized tourism unit” or what constitutes a “letter of invitation.” Consulate officials did not respond to our request for additional clarification.

The new requirements have thrown many travelers for a loop, especially those who filled out the four-page visa application form in July but whose documents didn’t reach the consulate until August. The result has been confusion, communication challenges and, in some cases, a scramble to meet deadlines and travel itineraries.

“We’ve been having this problem every day,” said Lillian Li of Ritz Tours USA, an Alhambra travel agency that specializes in tours for English-speaking clientele. “Before, they could easily get their visa to China. Now they have to fax us a lot of things.”

Ritz Tours learned of the new requirements a week before they took effect. Others weren’t as fortunate.

Yvonne Zhang, a Texas travel consultant, said her employer, China Travel Service Houston, was tipped off to the changes just one day before by a messenger who was delivering visa applications to the Chinese consulate in Houston.

The new requirements were posted on the English language website of the People’s Republic of China’s Washington, D.C., consulate on July 19. They were posted on Houston’s site on July 31. As of late last week, we couldn’t find the updates on the L.A. Consulate’s English-language website.

Letters of invitation may be a photocopy, fax or printout, but consular officers may ask for the original letter or additional documents in some cases, according to the Washington embassy’s Web page. Information on the purpose of the visit, the relationships of the inviter and invitee, address, contact information and signature are also required.

From a practical standpoint, using a tour company is now even more attractive, because the touring company’s staff -- whether they’re in the States or China -- can not only issue the letter of invitation, but can help with various other matters. Tour operators and other travel services routinely submit visa applications, for an extra fee or as part of the package.


Travelers arranging their own trips, however, must lock in their travel dates, purchase their airline tickets and make hotel reservations before they know whether their visa applications will be approved.