Monday, March 7, 2016

Getting to China - The Visa Process

China was always on my travel bucket list, but I never thought that I would make my way there. It's such an overwhelming trip to plan! China is about the same size as The United States and just as diverse. Well, culturally diverse. The population itself is approximately 90% Han Chinese. As a 5'9" blonde American, I was expecting that I would not be blending in with the crowd.

Last year I finally had the opportunity to go to China. My company has a Shanghai office and it was finally time to visit the team over there. Unlike most of my vacations, this one took a little pre-planning. As citizen of the USA, you can't just buy a plane ticket and then fly to China tomorrow. You actually need to procure a visa to enter China!

I have heard horror stories about sending documents to the consulate multiple times, only to be denied time and time again. I started the visa process about six weeks ahead of time. Since we live near New York City, I have the benefit of being close to the Chinese consulate and going in person to drop off my documents. Since I was going to China for work (and play), all I needed to present was the invitation letter from my company and my completed form.  The boyfriend was applying for a travel visa and needed to bring a lot more documents (flight itinerary, hotel reservation, etc).

I headed to the Chinese consulate right around opening time, only to discover a line nearly 50 people long. Good thing I brought a book. You stand in line, wait for the (not so cheerful) security guard to invite you inside, but be sure to you the in door and not the exit. You will get yelled at. Be prepared to wait for another hour while they call number after number, somehow skip your number, then get back to your group of numbers. If you have all of the correct paperwork then you can be on your way. Turnaround time was about 5 days (you'll be given a pickup ticket with the date).

(not my visa, stock image!)

Returning a few days later, I got back in line and waited. People must arrive much before the opening hour! Luckily pickup is much easier. You head inside and get in line at the far windows. Pay the nice lady (all of the tellers seemed to be women) and she'll hand over your passport with the new Chinese visa inside! These days they are giving out 10 year visas, so at least it's worth the $140.

The boyfriend had to go back twice. He completed the form by hand the first go around. That's a faux pas. Be sure to type the form. Also, I've had friends that have sent their paperwork to the consulate (since there wasn't one near their hometown), but you need to be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get it back. You could also have one of those visa services complete all the legwork for you, but be prepared to pay between $75-150 for the service.

With my new visa in hand, along with a 15-hour plane ticket, I was ready to head to China for the first time. Luckily the boyfriend was able to tag along on my business trip and it was a much easier trip with him at my side.

Next up... our time in Shanghai!

1 comment:

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