Passports and Visas
All U.S. citizens, even infants, need a valid passport with a tourist visa stamped in it to enter China (except for Hong Kong, where you only need a valid passport). It's always best to have at least six months' validity on your passport before traveling to Asia.
Getting a tourist visa to China (known as an "L" visa) in the United States is straightforward. Standard visas are for single-entry stays of up to 30 days, and are valid for 90 days from the day of issue (not the day of entry), so don't get your visa too far in advance. The cost for a tourist visa issued to a U.S. citizen is $140; citizens of other countries can expect to pay between $30 and $90.
Travel agents in Hong Kong can also issue visas to visit mainland China—though regulations can change during times of unrest. Note: The visa application will ask your occupation. The Chinese government doesn't look favorably upon those who work in publishing or the media. People in these professions routinely give "teacher" as their occupation. Before you go, contact the embassy or consulate of the People's Republic of China to gauge the current mood. If you want to go to Tibet, every foreign visitor must have a Tibet Travel Permit and travel with an organized tour approved by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Travel agencies in China can arrange this.
Hong Kong Travel Agents
China Travel Service. China Travel Service has 34 branches in Hong Kong and Macau. 78-83 Connaught Rd., Hong Kong, n/a Hong Kong. 852/2998–7888; ctshk.com/english/index.htm.
Children traveling with only one parent do not need a notarized letter of permission to enter China. However, as these kinds of policies can change, being overprepared isn't a bad idea.
Under no circumstances should you overstay your visa. To extend your visa, stop by the Entry and Exit Administration Office of the local branch of the Public Security Bureau a week before your visa expires. The office is known as the PSB or the Foreigner's Police; most are open weekdays 9 to 11:30 and 1:30 to 4:30. The process is extremely bureaucratic, but it's usually no problem to get a month's extension on a tourist visa. You need to bring your registration of temporary residency from your hotel and your passport, which you generally need to leave for five to seven days (so do any transactions requiring it beforehand). If you are trying to extend a business visa, you'll need the above items as well as a letter from the business that originally invited you to China saying it would like to extend your stay for work reasons. Rules are always changing, so you will probably need to go to the office at least twice to get all your papers in order.
Chinese Visa Information
Chinese Consulate. 212/868–2078; www.nyconsulate.prchina.org.
Chinese Embassy Visa Office. 202/495–2266; www.china-embassy.org/eng.