If you still don’t have any contacts in the country, your best option for visiting for reconnaissance is getting a basic tourist (L) visa. It will allow you to move freely through China, except for Tibet, where a special permission is required and usually handled through a tourist agency.
A L visa is valid for one month, but can be extended two times, for one more month each. Bear in mind that all conditions can change depending of the “mood” of the immigration authorities.
If you are in good relations with any Chinese company or WOFE (a business in China which is owned by a foreign company), you can ask them for a invitation letter that will allow you to get a six months multi-entry business visa (F). This way you will not have to worry about visa extensions, but the maximum stay in the country with this visa is 90 days. You will have to leave and come back again each three months maximum. The good news is that Macau and Hong Kong count as foreigner territory for this purpose.
All foreigners need a visa to stay in China, except Hong Kong and Macau citizens. Be sure to contact your local Chinese embassy or consulate for the latest information and procedures, but following is a list of documents normally required and information about each type of visa:
Tourist Visa (L)
- Original copy of a valid passport
- You need to give an address at immigration when you arrive; so you must have an intended address arranged before you travel.
- Completed Foreigner Visa and Residence Permit Application Form
- Passport-size photo- no more than 6 months old.
- Single/multiple entry visa available
- It depends of each embassy, but generally it takes 4 working days to process
- No health check required
- Maximum validity – 6 months
Business Visa (F)
- original copy of a passport with at least six more months’ validity and one blank page
- completed Visa Application Form
- one passport-size photo
- letter of invitation (in Chinese) from an authorized Chinese Government Department, or invitation letters from the host company, meeting or exhibition organizers in China, known as an “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit” or “Confirmation Letter of Invitation”
- multiple/single entry visa available
- 4 working days to process
Note that persons who have serious psychiatric or contagious diseases could be denied a visa. Generally speaking, this also applies to journalists, unless the journalist is visiting on official business. As China tries to control information in and out of the country, they do not encourage individuals reporting and/or writing stories that they cannot control. If any of these situations apply to you, the best course of action is to be discreet and not forthcoming with the information.
For more information, visit the Shanghai Municipal Government website.