First things first ...
get your passport and visa

When I first planned my trip to China, I didn't have a passport, so that was the first thing on my agenda.

PassportI went to my local post office and got the application. I saw that I needed to get two photographs of myself, and here in my small town, there was a packaging/shipping/passport-photo shop that handled that. I got my pictures, which have to be a certain size with your face taking up a certain percentage of that frame (they're very particular about such things). And I took my photos and the money required, along with my application, to the U.S. Post Office. The post office acts on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, which alone has the authority to grant, issue or verify U.S. passports.

For those 16 and older, the passport application fee is $67. The execution fee is $30. The total is $97.

Your passport is recognized internationally and verifies your identity and nationality. It's required for entering most foreign countries.

If this is your first time, you need to go in person to one of the passport acceptance facilities in the U.S., such as a post office, probate court, some public libraries, and county and municipal offices, and you must have those two photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of ID with a photo, such as a driver's license. Be sure to check for the exact requirements. Here's the official government site: http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

Application for China travel visa

Laughing boy in Dali, ChinaOnce you have your passport, you need to fill out an application for a China travel visa. There are many places online where you can obtain a China travel visa, and that's what I did -- searched online for a place that looked reputable and secure. Here's one that offers regular, as well as express and emergency visas: Travel Visa Pro.

The scariest part about getting your China travel visa is that you have to send your ACTUAL PASSPORT to them for processing! You just paid almost $100 for that passport, and it's a very important document, and now you have to send it somewhere else! And if you dilly-dallied around before you got your passport for China travel, you may be in a bit of a time crunch.

So DON'T DILLY-DALLY! Get this stuff taken care of with plenty of time.

The China travel visa will be stamped on a page in your passport. Your passport must have at least 6 months of validity left beyond your intended stay in China, and must have at least two blank visa pages side by side. 

Then the real fun begins ... planning your travel to China!

 

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