How I Obtained My Tourist Visa to China

This post is about my personal experience. I don’t officially advocate lying on a visa form, but I’ll tell you that I had a long conversation with a nice man who works at a visa broker, and he gave me some tips I used and some I didn’t. I’ve listed them all for you below.

I hand delivered my documents to the Chinese Consulate so I recommend this option. Locate your Chinese Consulate first, then make the decision based on your personal circumstances. I like doing things myself and I like doing them cheaply. You can pay a visa service to take care of this for you, but you will still find the following helpful.

As a US citizen, you will likely receive a ten year tourist visa with 60 days stay allowed at a time. Plan accordingly. Also note that any other Chinese visa (Work, Student, Business) that you subsequently obtain will require the cancellation of your tourist visa. You can’t have more than one valid visa at a time.

I made four trips to the Chinese Consulate. I’m not a tourist, nor do I enjoy standing in long lines. I just needed to do a few things related to obtaining a work visa.  The journey for me was a 16 hour round-trip drive each time. I had a lot of podcasts to listen to and I planned to take care of other errands around the great state of Texas on my trips. I thought it was worth my time to make sure everything was taken care of, and also… Houston is a delightful city. It’s a personal decision. If you follow my instructions, you’ll only need to make one trip. You’re welcome in advance.

Things you’ll need for a Chinese Tourist Visa. This list is expanded from the normal checklist you’ll find on other sites to include extra details and things I was personally asked to provide.

  1. Your passport, with 6 months of validity beyond your stay in China, and at least two blank passport pages available for Chinese visa and entry stamps,
  2. At least two passport photos,
  3. A photocopy of your passport and your visas in other countries,
  4. A Chinese Visa Application, typed in ALL CAPS and printed single side,
  5. A Digital and printed copy of your Visa Application for your records and easy editing,
  6. A printout of your pre-purchased round-trip flight details,
  7. A printout of your hotel reservation(s) and travel plans in China,
  8. A $140 money order plus or minus rush fees. Wait to get this until you know your total. I left the ‘for’ section blank.

You can arrive early in the morning and request/pay for same day processing. Your consular website will tell you that this service isn’t offered and to allow 4 working days turnaround time. My luck with same day processing has varied. One time I didn’t ask for it, one time I was declined it, and one time, they gave it to me with no hesitations. If your consular official won’t provide same day processing or you’ve arrived too late in the day,  ask about having them mail it to you. Your consular website will tell you that this service isn’t offered as well. As of June 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Houston mailed my friend’s visa to her. Just ask.

The time I didn’t ask for same day processing, I actually made friends with a woman in line who got her friend to pick up our passports and mail them to us. Risky move, I know, but she was really nice, and I got my passport a week later.

Now, I struggled with numbers 6 and 7 on the list above because I knew I was moving to China, not staying there for a couple weeks.

Issues with Number 6: Flight Reservations

a) You don’t know your exact dates of travel in China yet.
b) You are actually taking a one-way flight into China and you’re not sure of how you’re leaving or when.
c) You’re taking a train or other method of transport in or out of the country and you can’t book it online too far in advance.
d) You  want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re able to obtain the visa before you drop over a thousand dollars on airfare.
e) Any other issue that you feel is valid and has you balking or doing frantic fruitless Google searches about how to combat it. I’m not one to exclude.

It doesn’t really matter why, but here are two to three workarounds that involve being less than 100% truthful. These workarounds were unofficially advocated to me the aforementioned visa broker, who employs them and/or endorses their employment regularly.

  • Use an image editing software like Photoshop to doctor up a reservation of a flight that you know exists. Do your research and make it happen. You just need the email confirmation with the dates and times.
  • Use a website that specializes in making realistic looking phony airline reservations. Again, do your research on this and use an actual airline, actual flight number, and its real time. I don’t know how hard the Chinese Consulate checks these, but it’s best to put in the time necessary to do it right.
  • Purchase actual round-trip airfare, preferably on a credit card, and cancel the reservation immediately after you receive the email with your flight details (don’t wait more than 24 hours).

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t personally like the idea of forgery. That’s why I’m not advocating it, I’m just relaying the information I was told. I went with the third option, which definitely made me nervous, but I felt like it was the least dishonest choice I had available. I researched to make sure the airline allowed cancellation of the reservation within 24 hours (most do), and bit the bullet. I received my confirmation email, printed it, then cancelled the reservation within five minutes of purchasing it. I then proceeded to compulsively check my online credit card explanation of charges until I saw that I was refunded.

Issues with Number 7: Hotel Reservation

a) You’re staying with a friend that you’re visiting.
b) You don’t know where you’re staying yet.
c) You are traveling around multiple cities in China and you don’t feel like booking everything in advance.
d) Any other issue that you feel is valid and has you balking or doing frantic fruitless Google searches about how to combat it. Again, I’m not one to exclude.

This is an easy issue to circumvent. Again, it requires you to be less than 100% truthful, but I didn’t feel as nervous or morally conflicted about this one.

Just make a reservation with the Holiday Inn in whatever Chinese city you have booked your real or fake flight to, ensuring that the dates line up. The Holiday Inn of China allows reservations to be made without providing a credit card or method of payment, and they can be cancelled at any time.

 

That’s all I know. I hope it was helpful to you. Are you encountering other issues with obtaining your Chinese Tourist Visa? Do you have questions or feedback about what I’ve written? Leave a comment or send me an email. Sharing your experience may help a peer.

 

Tips for Crushing Your Visit to the Chinese Consulate

I made four trips to the Chinese Consulate in Houston when I was preparing to move to China. I would like to impart to you the wisdom I gained through trial and error. Employ it or learn from your own mistakes, like I did.

  • Arrive first thing in the morning. Lines form very quickly. If you get your documents in early, you can plead your case and pay a little extra money for same day processing. Even if visa or courier services and the Chinese Consulate website tell you that your Consulate doesn’t do this… as of January 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Houston did it for me. Tell them you live far and you can’t come to pick up in person.*
  • Forms submitted to the Chinese consulate should be TYPED in ALL CAPS, and printed single sided. Have a copy for them and a copy for you. A digitally saved version is always nice as well.
  • Payment is typically done with a money order. I recommend leaving the payment for section blank because they want specific wording.
  • Visa or courier services can be helpful but they will likely tell you a few things that aren’t accurate. I was quoted much higher prices than the Consulate charged; I was also told that same day processing isn’t possible. I wouldn’t know these things were inaccurate had I not gone in person to handle my own documents.
  • If you are applying for a tourist visa as well as getting your documents certified, you should probably make separate trips to the Chinese Consulate. Actually, you will most definitely have to make more than one trip because the information you’re using to get the tourist visa is not going to be accurate**, and applying for document verification for working in China at the same time as you’re swearing that you’re just visiting will raise some Chinese Consular Official eyebrows.

There. That’s all I’ve got. I hope it’s helps you. I’ll update you if and when I get more information. I promise. Tell me about your Chinese Consular experience in a comment. Your experience may help a peer.

*I gave a friend this same advice when she applied for her L visa to come visit me in June 2017 and she was refused same day service. Just try. Smile a lot and if you’re frustrated and feel your eyes getting extra shiny from extended pathetic eye contact, let the tears fall and crash around you. I didn’t try it but it might work. Their website also says they don’t do mail service, but they mailed my friend’s visa to her.

**note that I would never officially endorse using inaccurate information on a visa application but I’ll tell you how I did it and why.