I’m going to China in a few weeks on a qazi mileage run. Stay tuned for the trip report. I booked the tickets as part of a black Friday deal flying Cathay Pacific in Premium Economy roundtrip to Hong Kong and a second business class deal from Shanghai, China back to the US on a combination of Cathay Pacific and American Airlines.
I’ve not written about these trips but stay tuned for the trip report once I start my adventure later this month. Over the past 12 years I’ve been through Shanghai and Beijing Airport about six or seven times either as a transit point of a larger trip or back in the day of cheap cheap cheap plane tickets just a pure mileage run. Which the main goal is to collect miles for redemption on grander adventures when earning redeemable miles by flying was still a lucrative way to get them. Yet I digress. Google Mileage Run it’s fascinating.
When traveling to the People’s Republic of China as a US citizen you’re required to have a Visa prior to arrival. There are some exceptions, such as a transit without visa program (TWOV) based on staying there for less than six days in specific cities and your also required to transit a third country. So, for example flying roundtrip US-China-US would NOT make you eligible for TWOV but flying US-Third Country-China-US or US-China- Third Country-US would. Now this is where it gets tricky. Besides needing to transit a third country you sometimes must convince the check in agents here in the US of this rule and other times they don’t care. You must decide if you’re in a gambling mood or not. I find it best to have a printed copy of the rules and your itinerary just in case you need to prove all of this. If doing the TWOV. If you’re applying for a traditional visitor’s visa you now have the option of a multi-entry 10-year visa. Which if you’re going through all this effort is the best option. The price difference between one year and 10 is minor.
So, when choosing to go to China, and wanting to stay more than six days, visit more than one city or not find a third country to visit your best bet is a visa. That’s what I finally decided to do. Back in 2013 I applied and received a three month visa from the San Francisco consulate, but it was a bit of an ordeal. Besides filling out this form, bringing a copy of my itinerary and a standard passport photo I had to pay $140 too. For the pleasure of this stamp, I trekked to SF waited in longs lines dropped off my stuff and then was forced to come back three days later to pick it up. They do offer an expedited same day service, but apparently, I didn’t qualify for that for some unknown reason. That’s why I had chosen to not waste my time and go there again. Getting a visa is a time suck. Period. Don’t waste your own time doing this it’s just not worth it. Oh, and back then the best you could get was a one-year visa with multiple entries. Imagine having to go back again and do this hamster wheel of a process one to two years later. No thank you.
This time around I did things differently. I finally realized that no one needs to get their visa themselves ever. Hire a company to do this. The time savings alone is worth it, trust me. I had initially found a service based out of Washington D.C. recommend by several blogs. They had a great website good review too. Their website walked you through all the steps to get your visa. China has an extensive list of items you need to fill out and provide so having a checklist and a sample of a filled-out visa form was really helpful. My biggest trepidation was that I had to mail my passport to a stranger. What if it got lost or took too long to come back to me etc. Somehow, I checked those fears at the door and still pressed on. I overnighted my packet, they notified me immediately after receiving that they had it and had a webpage for me to track status etc. This added a bit more reassurance, so I knew what was going on etc. Unfortunately, two days after receiving my passport and one day after submitting it to the embassy, they were sending it back to me with my request unfilled. They sent me an email with tracking information of my passport and proceeded to let me know that in some unusual situations the Washington D.C. embassy will not complete a visa request. Apparently in my case I needed to visit the consulates closest to San Francisco (my home) or Houston (work) address. Go figure, one week wasted and a few dollars spent on shipping. That being said the agency refunded me for their expenses which was really great. Especially since they did their job but could not fulfill my request.
So now it was back to square one. In this case I asked my wife what visa service she’s had people at work use, which I’m still wondering why I didn’t do initially. This time around I used CIBTvisa which has locations throughout the US, but specifically here in San Francisco so I was hoping for none of the runaround. Again, in this case there was a ton of forms to fill out. Here’s their list which was about 10 items longer then will Allied Visa.
- Visa application
- Invitation letter or proof of travel (within 90 days)
- Copy of driver’s license
- CIBT order document
- Document preparation service
- Copy of old passport if older then 2015
- Passport photo, that could be scanned into CIBT website
- List of all countries visited, dates and purpose in the last four years
- This was 31 for me and didn’t include all the trips to Canada (maybe 12) that weren’t stamped in my passport due to having NEXUS
After getting all the items together filling out the paperwork and shipping again to the local office, I was in a waiting game. Within a few hours after receiving my package I was able to inquire online what status my visa was in. This was a really great way to track progress and keep my fears of sending off to a stranger. In this case I had requested expedited three-day service since my trip was one week closer and I didn’t feel comfortable without a passport for too long. Because you never know when you’ll need to jet out of the county.
This time around the agency did find a mistake that I was able to correct electronically so that it didn’t impede my visa request. Thank you for that! One again my paperwork was being delivered to the consulate, and I was on pins and needles in a wait and see pattern. Will they deny my request, or will it be approved? It’s like watching Friends and wondering if Ross and Rachel will get together.
Again, the best part of this whole process was that someone else was going to the agency for me. I only had to fill out a ton of paperwork and drop it off at FedEx. Some other lucky person was doing all the legwork for me. Three days later they had my passport back and had already processed it for shipment back to me. Now I just had to wait to see if I got my visa approved and for how long.
SUCCESS! The next day I had this one very important stamp in my passport, and now I can go on any length of trip to any and all cities I so desire in the most populated country in the world. Although this time around it’s two roundtrips with no more then five hours on the ground.