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I have read that a Chinese single-entry tourist visa is valid for about 3 months after issued and that one should send copies of flight reservations when applying. I guess one could cancel those tickets after getting the tourist visa and change to other dates within the 3 months range.

Can you get a Chinese tourist visa without flight tickets and just say "I want to go next week"? Shouldn't a bank statement be enough?

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    The length of validity of the visa is country-specific. For instance US citizens can get multiple entry visas valid up to 10 years. – Michael Hampton Dec 2 '19 at 0:04
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Chinese visa validity is different for every country, currently for the US you can get up to a 10 year visa depending on circumstances.

As for tickets, yes if you are applying for a tourist visa your first trip must be scheduled as the application form will require you to fill in the travel dates.

If you are applying for a business visa the rules are slightly different and there are ways to get business visa without a specific first travel date.

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