Foreigners travelling to China first need to apply for a visa at the Chinese embassy or consulate in their home country. Depending on the status of your passport and the purpose of your visit to China, Chinese authorities will issue the specific visa. Diplomatic visas, tourist visas, transit visas, business visit visas, student visas and work visas are issued depending on the category the visitor falls in. A separate journalist visa is also issued to journalists.
China has also signed agreements with 64 countries on Mutual Visa Exemption. Normally the mutually visa-free agreements allow a stay of less than 30 days. The basic documents necessary for a Chinese visa are a valid passport, completed visa application form along with a recent 2-inch (4cm x 6cm) full-face photograph and visa processing fee.
To visit Tibet, you will need consent from the Tibet Tourism Administration before you are issued a valid visa. To visit China’s five special economic zones – which include Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong Province, Xiamen in east China's, Fujian Province and southern China's Hainan Province.
If you are entering China in your own vehicle (be it a cycle, motorcycle, car or aircraft), prior approval is mandatory. If a visitor wants to extend his/her stay beyond the approved term, then permission from the local security organization is required for the extension.
US citizens who do not wish to go through the trouble of dealing with the red tape themselves can count on the professional services of Travel Visa Pro to speed things up: Apply for China Visa Online (service starts from $39). If you need to renew, add pages, change name, or just get a new US passport, you can Apply for a New US Passport here.