There are certain countries where in order to be granted a visa you must submit your intended itinerary. My friend tells me that he thinks China is one of those countries.

What do independent travellers do? We're thinking of hitch-hiking across China without a precise plan. But if we have to submit an itinerary for the visa, does it then lock us in to a planned route after all?

Is it just bureaucracy where they make it look complicated but in practice it turns out to be easy?

(If it makes a difference we will have Australia or UK passports.)

7 Answers 7


Yes, you are usually required to submit flight and hotel reservations. They do not have to be paid reservations, so you can cancel them afterwards. (VisaRite has some handy samples of what is accepted.)

Nobody will care once you're in China as long as you stay out of sensitive regions in western China (Tibet, Tibetan bits of other provinces, Xinjiang, etc) and don't go out of your way to attract the attention of the local constabulary.

Update: Several years after writing this answer, I visited Tibet. To get the Chinese visa, my travel agency provided a fake itinerary (which did not include Tibet), and once the visa was granted booked an entirely different set of flights/trains. Apparently this is standard operating procedure!

  • 1
    That's interesting. I had a Catalan friend a few years ago who told me he travelled freely in the Tibetan areas which were not part of the "official Tibet" specifically to avoid having to obtain a special permit. Should I ask a question specifically about that? Commented May 10, 2013 at 0:49
  • 4
    Permits are a different bucket of fish, this question is about visas. The point is that nobody cares about your declared itinerary unless you go to places where you're not supposed to be without official permission. Commented May 10, 2013 at 1:54
  • 1
    If you don't have a hotel reservation, you still need to mention the places where you will be staying. Then, once you arrive in the country, you will have 24 hours to go to a local police station, to get registered. This is a quite complicated procedure...
    – Bernhard
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 11:12

It primarily depends on where you apply for a visa and secondarily on what your nationality is.

Visa requirements for China differ from embassy to embassy. Typically, in 'the west' they are less strict. You will, most likely be asked to hand over your flight plan, with proof, for entering and leaving the country and you might be asked to show some proof of having reserved some accommodation. You will most likely not be asked to show proof of having reserved accommodation for every single night of your journey.

I'm currently in China and visited for a friend's wedding. Friends literally came from all over the world to attend the wedding in Shanghai. I live in Uganda (but have an EU passport). Visa requirements in Uganda were VERY strict, though we were treated somewhat leniently. Friends from some countries underwent a very simple visa process.


I assume you are applying for your first tourist (L) visa. I did provide my hotel for my very first visa (a double entry), however for subsequent visas (such as the one-year version) I have not been asked by my agent to provide any itinerary at all.

Also note that the Chinese visa requirements can change at short notice. My experience is current, and other people in the past were likely to have been asked more detailed itinerary information.


Kind of, but not really.

At least not for citizens of some countries. At least not when applying at some consulates.

I'm Australian and applied for my visa in Vientiane, Laos in October 2013.

I provided only details of a flight into China, a flight out of China, and a hotel booking for my first night. I don't know if I could have submitted even less, but I didn't have to submit more.

In fact I applied for and received a double-entry visa and only submitted details for the first entry. I submitted nothing at all about the second entry.

So if proof of a flight in, a flight out, and a hotel booking for one night counts as an itinerary then yes you need such a minimal itinerary. But I wouldn't count it as an intinerary.

Also I did not fly in, I did not stay at that hotel, and I don't intend to fly out. Nobody asked about any of that when I crossed the land border from Laos to China, and nobody has mentioned anything in the three weeks I've been in China so far.


You're expected to submit your itinerary with your visa application but we certainly have never been asked for any itinerary for later visits when we have a multiple-entry visa. We've never even had more than vague plans for later visits when we do the application.

We also generally do some short (and occasionally not so short) side trips off our original plans and nobody's said anything about that. Admittedly we lave a long track record of going there and not having any trouble with the authorities.

A bigger problem I would think would be time. As first-time visitors you're probably only going to get a 30 day stay.

I will also throw out there the fact that China is one of these countries where you're expected to register with the police where you're staying. Your hotel does this for you but if you camp out that's going to leave a hole in your data. These days the data is computerized, they certainly could check it. Whether they do or not I have no idea.


Slightly more recent update: depending on where you apply, the itinerary requirement is there but not always strict. Chinese consulates and visa centres tend to have their own little set of rules. Some require reservations, some don't (the US in particular). In HK, you need an itinerary, even a BS one, and it has to be accounting for all days of your first trip (in the case of a multiple-entry visa), with addresses, be it a shopping mall or museum. But the employees at the Visa Centre made it very clear that it was perfunctory. Bureaucracy at its finest.

Once in Mainland China, do as you please: you have access to the whole country, except Tibet, which you can only visit on tour groups, and it requires a separate permit. The only other requirement is to register your temporary residence, which hotels do for you – unless you're staying with friends, in which case you have to register directly with the PSB.


Short answer: No

You have at least 4 options:

  1. For those who have an inviter in China: For UK passport holder. If you know someone in China, (anyone with a Chinese residence permit) and they are able to write you an invitation letter, together with their copy of Chinese residence permit, you do not need any flight or hotel itinerary.

  2. For those who have flight and hotel confirmation: Even if you don't have any inviter, you can apply for the Chinese visa with the flight and hotel booking, after you get the visa, honestly you can just cancel the hotel booking if you want. They won't check if you will go to the place that you said on the application form.

  3. For those who are going to China for a cruise trip

  4. For those who are going to China via on an organized tour

I have a friend with UK passport, she booked a Beijing return flight from UK and a hotel in Beijing for just 5 days. Then she got a one entry tourist visa to China that allowed her to stay for a maximum 30 days. She later delayed her flight for a week and then she ended up staying in China for 20 days and went to Shanghai, Beijing and Xian. She said she's pretty sure that you are free to change your itinerary after you get the visa. As the visa is quite flexible, allowing you to enter China within 3 months after the issue date and allows you to stay a maximum 30 days normally.

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