Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to Apply for a Chinese Tourist Visa

blmurch on Flickr, used via Creative Commons license
Hi, everyone, I just sent off my visa application today! Whooo! I should be hearing back from the visa center within 3-4 days on how long/often I get to stay in Beijing, if all goes well. I thought you all might find it interesting/relevant to get a quick run-down on how to apply for a tourist visa for China these days. Note that this is from the perspective of someone who lives in the USA.

What is a Visa?
According to a Google search, one definition of a visa is:
An endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.
To my knowledge, you can apply for a 30, 60, or 90-day visa. This means that you can stay in a country for that set amount of time.

So if you're in China on a 90-day visa (which is what I hope to get), you are legally allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, if you want to continue staying in the country, you must leave the country, get your passport stamped saying that you've left, and then re-enter the country and get your passport stamped upon re-entry.

The last time I stayed in Beijing, I was on a 90-day visa. A common method of leaving and reentering China, which is the one I took, was taking a train to Hong Kong and back. The total length of time to get to Hong Kong and back to Beijing was around 24 hours, give or take.

90-day visas are ideal since that means if you're staying in a country for a year, like I plan to, you'll only have to leave and re-enter 3-4 times, as opposed to more often. And trains aren't that comfortable, especially if you're stuck in a compartment with a family whose young daughter is singing along, very loudly, to "I Just Can't Wait to be King" over... and over... and over... Ask me how I know this.

How Do You Apply?

A few things have changed about the visa process from the last time I applied (which was a little over a year ago). This time around, my sister and brother-in-law had to write up an invitation letter basically inviting me into China. If you don't have someone inviting you into a country, you must provide a copy of your round-trip airline ticket and hotel reservation.

Then you fill out the visa application and the order form for the visa. You can choose to get the application processed at the regular speed, which is 3-4 days, or pay extra to get it processed faster. You also need a small passport-style color photo of whoever the visa is for; I got mine taken at a CVS drugstore. 2 of these passport photos cost around $5.

Since I had already filled out the visa paperwork last time I went to China, my sister just re-did it for me and sent it to me to look over. I then signed the visa application, took the invitation letter and the visa order form (which my sister sent to me) and mailed those, along with my passport, to the visa application center.

Oh, and an important thing to remember is to send it all through Certified Mail. Basically with Certified Mail you can check on the US Postal Service site and track the mail you sent... it's an added form of security. Certified Mail ships at the rate of whatever shipping service you choose; I chose to send it Priority.

Now it's Waiting Time...

That was just a brief, informal explanation of the visa application process. In my experience, it's been pretty smooth and uneventful, which is a good thing! Hopefully this time around it will be the same way. I'm estimating it will take a  little over a week for everything to get done and my passport to be sent back; but if it's more, I won't be surprised.

I hope you all found that informative! If you have any questions about this that I didn't address, please feel free to ask me.

Did I omit something important? Do you have a question about this, or something to add from a different perspective? Share in the comments!

If this doesn't apply to you, well then; I told you about the singing kid on the train. Do you have any travel stories that are only funny in hindsight, or to people who weren't there with you?

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