San Francisco: A Guide for Chinese Travelers

San Francisco: A Guide for Chinese Travelers

San Francisco is a popular destination among Chinese tourists, drawn to the city by its famous landmarks, beautiful landscapes, and a vibrant cultural offering. The mild Californian climate is an added attraction.

The number of Chinese tourists traveling to the U.S., and San Francisco in particular, is high. In 2018, China was one of the top 5 markets in San Francisco in terms of visitor volume, making up 23% of spending by foreigners in the city, evidence of its popularity.

Chinese citizens planning a trip to San Francisco must first ensure they have all the required paperwork and documentation including a valid visa and EVUS registration.

Sightseers can also find information below about some of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco plus practical travel advice.

Documents Required to Travel from China to San Francisco

Chinese nationals must apply for a visitor visa for the United States of America. Travelers should select the correct type of visa depending on their reason for trip.

The B1 is a business visa for Chinese citizens conducting business-related activities in the U.S.

Activities covered by the B1 Business visa include:

  • Attending conventions and conferences
  • Settling an estate
  • Negotiating contracts
  • Consulting with business associates

Chinese travelers visiting San Francisco for tourism and leisure purposes are required to apply for the B2 Tourism visa.

A B2 tourist visa is suitable for:

  • Tourism / holidays including visiting friends and family
  • Medical treatment
  • Participation in amateur sports / music events provided no payment for participation
  • Short recreational courses which do not count towards a degree

Chinese nationals must fill in the visa application form and schedule an interview at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in order to obtain the travel permit.

Visitor visas for Chinese passport holders are valid for 10 years.

Registering with EVUS to travel to San Francisco

Chinese citizens in possession of a valid 10-year B1 or B2 visa must register with EVUS before departing for San Francisco.

EVUS is the Electronic Visa Update System that allows Chinese visa holders to update their details prior to departure.

Even if the information has not changed, it is essential that Chinese nationals complete the online EVUS registration in order to be granted access to San Francisco.

Applicants are required to fill in some personal details and visa information. Once approved, the EVUS is valid for 2 consecutive years for multiple trips to the United States.

Travelers including San Francisco on a trip around the U.S. only need to register with EVUS once.

San Francisco Airports and Border Control

Most Chinese arrivals land at one of the international airports. To be granted access at the airport, Chinese nationals must be in possession of a valid passport and visitor visa as well as having enrolled with EVUS.

The two best options for flights from China to San Francisco are San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and San Jose International Airport (SJC).

Flying from China to San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport welcomes daily flights from various Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Dalian.

As an indication of prices and flight times, the following is relevant when traveling from Beijing Capital International Airport to San Francisco:

  • Number of stops: 1, various locations
  • Minimum flight time: 15 hours 40 minutes
  • Ticket price: depending on the season and demand, from $500 (USD)

San Francisco airport is situated around 13km from the center of the city and can be reached by taxi in under 30 minutes costing in the region of $50.

Alternatively, travelers can use the economical BART rapid transport system which reaches the city center in approximately half an hour and costs in the region of $10.

Passengers can enjoy scenic views across the bay when flying into San Francisco International Airport.

Flying from China to San Jose International Airport (SJC)

Located around 60 miles south of San Francisco, San Jose International Airport is also convenient.

A taxi to the center of the city takes around 45 minutes and the fare is approximately $100. To go by public transportation, travelers are recommended to use the free VTA Airport flyer shuttle to Santa Clara Station of the Metro Light Rail Station.

The following is an indication of flight times and fares from Beijing:

  • Number of stops: 1, various locations
  • Minimum flight time: 16 hours 40 minutes
  • Ticket price: depending on the season and demand, from $500 (USD)

Although slightly further from the urban center, San Jose International Airport is a convenient choice for those visiting Silicon Valley.

The airport is smaller and less crowded that SFO and is also less susceptible to the fog which can often cause delays.

Border control at San Francisco airports

When crossing the border at either of these airports Chinese citizens must abide by U.S. customs regulations. The valid Chinese passport and visa are presented to border officials, and a health declaration and arrivals form are completed.

People in possession of any of the items specified on the form, such as food, must be sure to declare it.

Chinese passport holders must declare currency or monetary instruments exceeding $10,000. Monetary instruments include:

  • U.S. or foreign currency
  • Travelers’ checks
  • Money orders
  • Negotiable instruments
  • Investment securities in bearer form

Visitors may also be asked some basic questions by officials regarding the purpose and duration of the visit.

Chinese passport holders should experience a hassle-free U.S. border crossing provided they comply with the border crossing regulations.

Popular Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

San Francisco is a relatively small city, measuring approximately 49 square miles, yet offers a great deal to see and do.

These are some of the most popular attractions and sites amongst Chinese tourists:

The Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most famous bridges in the world, The Golden Gate Bridge features at the top of most San Francisco travel itineraries.

The structure spans an impressive 1.7 miles, 120,000 vehicles cross it every day. It is also possible to walk across the bridge offering fantastic photo opportunities.

Alcatraz: a former prison on a rock

Operational until 1960, some of the most notorious criminals in the United States were imprisoned at Alcatraz. Stories of attempted bids for freedom have become famous, although none succeeded.

Tourists can visit the island by taking the Alcatraz ferry. Tours of the site are very popular and should be booked in advance.

Walking Tours of San Francisco

To see all the main sites in a limited time frame, walking tours of the city are highly recommendable. A number of Chinese speaking tour guides work in the city and most will cover key sites such as:

  • Jackson Square Historic District: art galleries, boutique stores, and designer shopping
  • Chinatown: the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. with Chinese shops and restaurants
  • Lombard Street: the world’s most crooked road
  • Coit tower: offering panoramic views over the city

Food and Drink in San Francisco

Chinese tourists can experience a cuisine and dining culture quite different from what they are accustomed to back home.

Travelers are encouraged to try brunch at one of the specialist cafes and restaurants. Sweet and savory dishes are always on offer including omelets, stacks of pancakes and french toast.

San Francisco has one of the widest restaurant selections in the whole of the U.S. and its great variety of international restaurants is notable. Some typical foods which Chinese visitors may like to try include:

  • Cioppino, a rich fish stew in a tomato broth, usually served with bread
  • Clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl
  • Mission burrito, large flour tortilla wrap filled with several ingredients and wrapped in foil

For a taste of home, visitors can dine at the many Chinese establishments located in the city’s famous Chinatown.

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