If you are traveling to China and hold a US passport you are going to need a Chinese Visa. In the past year I have traveled to China 2 times and have used different services to get my visa. Hopefully this blog post will help you as I share my experiences.
WHAT IS A CHINESE VISA ?
Until the Chinese and American governments can start seeing eye to eye on things, as an American, you will need permission from the Chinese government to enter their country. This is called a Chinese visa. To make the process easy China has embassy’s setup in a few major US cities to accommodate these requests. A typical visa will give you 30 days to travel through China. (you can apply for more days, (see my tips for getting a Chinese visa below), The visa is basically a sticker the put in of the pages of your passport. On the visa will include our visa number, your allowed length of stay and who issued the visa. They will check this closely as you enter China.
HOW DO APPLY FOR A CHINESE VISA?
There are two options here. You can either go yourself, to one of the Chinese embassy locations in the U.S., or you can pay a third-party service to do it for you. I have done it both ways. obviously doing it yourself is the best. It’s the safest and cheapest, but these Chinese Embassy locations are only located in a few major cities. If you are in one of the these cities, and have a day to spare, you are in luck. If not. you may need to use a third party.
Doing it yourself? My wife and I live in Las Vegas and had a few days to travel so we drove to the embassy in Los Angeles. If you do this make sure you have all the documents you need. The embassy does not take appointments. We arrived the night before and woke up bright and early (LA traffic is a dumpster fire, so I would strongly suggest getting a hotel that is near the embassy.) The embassy is located in an older part of town and is basically a small 3 story office building. (They recently moved across the street from the location google maps will give you). We arrived just before 8 and there was already a line forming outside. I imagine lines can be long depending on the season. If you are traveling during Christmas, Chinese New Year, or when schools starts and ends the lines will be longer. Once the doors opened you basically took the elevator to the 3rd floor and people lined up down the hall. When you get in you in the security guard will ask if you are here to apply for a visa or pickup. Once you get in there is a different line for each. Once your number is called you basically go to the window, give the officer your info, they ask a few questions and you are done. Got there around 8am, the line wasn’t bad and I was out by 9am. I paid for rush service so the visa was ready the next day. Same thing, waiting in line, told the guard I was there to pickup my visa and I was in and out in 5 minutes. I was surprised with how quick the process was.
Using a third-party? If you are unable to go to the embassy yourself, this method is for you. When you google “Apply Chinese Visa” you are bombarded with results for companies who provide this service. They all say the same thing and make the same promises. Basically you send them your visa application, passport and all the other supporting documents and they take your info to the embassy, get your visa and mail it back to you. About 2 months ago I started planning for a trip with my wife to China. We didn’t have time to drive to LA this time, so I researched the third-party option, it seemed confusion and scared the living heck out of me. I was sending my actual passport, in the mail, to someone I don’t know? My trip to China was just a month or so away and I would have time to get another passport in time if it was lost in the mail. This is the risk you take by using a third party service. I did my research and I suggest you do the same. I called three different third party companies and asked questions. Of the three companies I called 2 of them had a phone number listed, the other had a chat service. Don’t know about you, but if I am sending my passport to someone I want to be able to talk with them on the phone and ask questions. After a few days of calling around and looking at reviews I settled on a company. Filled out the required info and sent my passport off to them. Companies usually will not include the price of shipping when they give you the cost for their service. Shipping is going to be extra and you want to make sure you do it right. Don’t send it normal Priority mail, the post office is terrible about tracking numbers and updating info. I would strongly suggest using FedEx or UPS, they are going to be more money, but, in my option, when it comes to time sensitive material, they are the best. Would suggest using the overnight service, with FedEx or UPS you should be okay. You will need both a shipping label to send them the materials and provide them with a shipping label to return your visa. Again, I would suggest getting your own return label and include it when you send your info in. That way you have the tracking number and you know the service with which it will ship. A few months back I used http://www.oasischinavisa.com and I was very happy with the service. They answered the phone when I called, provided me daily updates on the status of my visa and were very reasonably priced. They also called to verify some information on my application, which I thought was great. I chose the standard processing method and it took about a week from the time I mailed them my info to when I got my visa back. I am not paid to endorse any certain company here so do your research and choose a company you are comfortable with.
HOW MUCH DOES A CHINESE VISA COST?
A Chinese visa is going to set you back $140 for regular processing time, which takes 4 business days. For an extra $20 you can get express service (2-3 business days) and for an extra $30 you can get rush service (1 day), but according to the Chinese Embassy website to get the rush service you have to go through some red tape, so don’t save this until the last second. When we picked up our my visa in LA we made a trip of it and stayed for a few days, you can do the same!
If you are using a third-party service you are going to need to pay a premium to have someone wait in line at the embassy for you. (when I went in person more than 1/2 of the people in line had a suitcase full of passports needing visas, they were third party companies) Rates differ from company to company. Most companies will have a regular charge, express charge and rush charge. If you are in a hurry its going to cost you more than double the price of the regular service. With Oasis (the company I used) they charged the standard $140 and their standard processing fee was $100. If you need it quicker they charge $190. So my visa cost around $240. Plus I paid for my own overnight shipping to and from, with FedEx, which cost another $60. So I was around $300 total for my visa and it took about a week from the time I sent it in to the time I got it back. If you are in a rush (needing it within 3-4 days) you are looking at $400 or so. Again, pricing with third party companies will differ and some of them have hidden charges, like shipping, that they don’t include, so ask questions before you give them your hard earned money!
WHAT DOCUMENTS DO I NEED FOR A CHINESE VISA?
- You are going to need a valid US Passport with at least 6 months remaining and at least 2 blank passport pages.
- One passport photo (if you go to Walgreen’s or a quick photo place make sure they know how to do it correctly. Your visa will be returned if it’s not correct, they are very strict on this. Needs to be a plain white background.
- Photocopy of your main passport page. This is the page that has your photo and passport number on it. (I actually forgot this when I went to the embassy myself to do the visa. There is a small office within the embassy that will charge you $0.25 to make a copy. I am sure they make bank on this!)
- Visa application form filled out. There are quite a few questions on there about what type of visa you need. For most instances you will just need a standard tourist visa. If you are confused, call the third party office or embassy and ask questions. If it’s filled out wrong it will be returned.
TIPS FOR GETTING A CHINESE VISA
- Get your visa immediately after your renew your passport. Even if you still have 1 year left on your passport, renew it and apply for your Chinese visa. Whether you are getting a 1 month visa to china or a 10 year visa the cost is the same, $140. Your visa duration cannot surpass the time you have left before your passport expires. I recently renewed my passport and shortly after applied for a Chinese visa. I was able to get a 1o year visa, with a maximum of 60 days per visit. Pretty nice.
- Go personally to the embassy to get your visa if you can. It’s going to save your money and anxiety while you are hoping your passport doesn’t get lost in the mail.
- If you are using a third-party company do your research. Make sure they have a working phone number and call it to get answers to any questions.
- Make sure you fill out the forms correctly, double-check everything.
- Finally and most important, DON’T WAIT FOR THE LAST MINUTE! It’s going to again save you money and worrying.
When I am not blogging my real job is a fortune cookie maker. We make custom fortune cookies, with your personalized message inside. Visit us at http://www.tankinz.com or http://www.fortunecookieplanet.com!
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