So my "photo" blog has turned more into a "travel blog" lately. Through my Google Analytics I can see how people end up on my website. I noticed that my blog post about the overnight bus from Bogota to Medellin has gotten a lot of hits. This makes me happy because I purposely wrote that post in order to help other travelers find useful and first hand information. If you currently search "Bus Bogota to Medellin" my website comes up within the top 10 search results, which is pretty amazing.
So once again I find myself packing my bags (well not exactly I'm not leaving for another 3 weeks) for a trip to China. Unlike most countries I have been to in the past, China requires ALL travelers to obtain a visa before entering the country. When I first started researching visas I had many questions and was trying to find first person accounts. Just like with the Bogota to Medellin Bus blog post, hopefully the info below will give travelers useful information.
In order to get a Visa you must either apply in Person at one of the consulates (here is a map) or you must use an authorized 3rd party company to apply for you. There are only 6 locations (The Embassy in DC and 5 Consulates) in the country so depending on where you live you might have to use a third party source to get your visa. Luckily for me I'm in Manhattan all the time for work so I decided to apply in person at the NYC Consulate at 42nd and 12 Ave.
When you call for info ( (212) 868-2078 is the direct line to an automated service with information regarding visa info or here is a link to a FAQ section) they say you need the following:
1) Passport (with blank pages and an expiration date 6 months after you planned trip) 2) Completed Application form (currently downloadable from here, make sure to use CAPITAL letters) 3) Passport Photo 4) Airline Reservation 5) Hotel Reservation 6) Letter of invitation
This had me a little worried because although I had #1 - #4 taken care of, I did not have hotel reservations or a letter of invitation. I decided to take the chance and apply without #5 or #6. So I headed down to the Consulate not really sure what to expect.
The website / phone info says to avoid Mondays, Tuesdays, and all afternoons. I decided to go Wednesday morning right at 9am. I got to the consulate a few minutes after 9am and there was already about 20 people ahead of me. The line was moving fairly quickly and they had seats you could sit in which was nice. I'm glad I got there at 9am because the line quickly double behind me. I think I got up to the window within 15 to 20 minutes.
I handed the girl behind the counter my passport and application form. I then tried to hand her my airline reservation and some Hostel information I printed off. She refused the extra info and instead had me write in the hostel info into the "friend/relative" section on the application form. She didn’t even look at my airline info.
I’m glad I printed off some hostel / hotel information ahead of time. I just picked one of the hostels I had (one that I probably won’t end up staying at) and wrote down the address. I did not have the number printed off but luckily I was able to use my Blackberry to look it up. If you are not staying with someone make sure to have an address and local Chinese number handy, even if it’s a hostel that you may or may not stay at.
I was only in NYC for the day so I decided to pay the extra $30 for the rush service (the regular Visa fee is $130, so I paid $160 total). If you get your application in early (I'm not exactly sure when the cut off is) the 1 business day rush service is actually "same day" service. After checking over my application one more time, the agent told me to return at 2pm.
Applying for the visa in the morning was very straightforward. When I returned things were a little more confusing. First, you need to wait in line #9 in order to be handed another number and told to either wait in line #8 or line #10. I ended up with line #10. After about a total of 20 minutes I was at the counter picking up my visa. It is important to note that they do not take American Express and it also seemed line #8 only took cash.
Although I applied for a 30-day tourist visa, I ended up with a 6-month double entry visa with each stay being up to 60-days. This surprised me but is nice incase I want to return to China within the next six months. I would not count on having them just give you extra time, but remember all visas (30 days, 60 days, 6 months, double entry, unlimited entry, etc) all cost the same price ($130). So if you think you might make two trips or plan on leaving/re-entering (including crossing over to Hong Kong) that make sure you apply for exactly what you need. (How to read a visas)
All and all I have to say the process was less stressful and less bureaucratic then I thought it would be. I'm just happy to finally have a visa in hand. Now I'm counting down my days until I leave. Make sure to check back towards the end of August to see how my trip is going.