If sunning yourself in the Costa del Sol is no longer doing it for you, a couple of weeks in the Far East might be just the kind of experience to set your pulses racing. Here's everything you need to know about getting a Chinese travel visa.
Before you start your application, it's useful to keep in mind the finer points of the various territorial caveats that surround the region. As a British passport holder, you do not require a visa if you are travelling to Hong Kong or Macao, provided you don't plan on crossing over to mainland China at any point during your trip. Equally, if you are using the mainland as your hub and planning a shopping spree in Hong Kong, you need to ensure your visa permits at least two entries for use on the return leg.
As is customary, there are two basic visa types for which you can apply: tourism and business. The former permits stays of up to 30 days, with the latter occasionally allowing longer periods (though this is strictly at the discretion of the approving bodies - journalists and reporters are typically only afforded the standard one month). If you plan on attending conferences, liaising with clients or finalising deals, you need to apply for a business visa.
Once you have everything figured out, you can download an application form and gather all of the required support documents in preparation for your appointment with the Chinese consulate. For evidence of your impending trip, you will need to request an invitation from your host company in China - be it the airline you are flying with, the hotel you are staying at, or in some cases, the business associates with whom you will be meeting. You will also need to present a full passport with at least six months validity remaining from the date of your projected arrival in China, as well as a separate passport-size photograph (try to make it a recent one).
There are designated Chinese visa centres in London, Manchester and Edinburgh (personal attendance is compulsory outside of extraordinary circumstances), where you can submit your completed application form and hand in your passport. Generally, you can expect a waiting period of no longer than a week, but you can request that you are fast-tracked through the system at some additional cost if your trip is an urgent one.
Travel agents tend to operate under the same mantra as those in the real estate game, demanding a premium go-between rate where it's much more advantageous for their clients to go directly to the source. If you do enlist their help, you will probably pay upwards of £120, as compared with the £100 or so you can expect if you are prepared to do the legwork yourself (which is, as this article suggests, a relatively hassle-free endeavour). This price includes the cost of the support evidence and the postage fee required to safely return your stamped passport.
Congratulations - your dream Far Eastern vacation is one step closer to becoming a reality. Remember: Chinese visas are valid for whichever kind of entry you choose, whether it be flying in at Shanghai International or crossing over from the Russian border while on your global backpacking expedition.