Red tape can be such a wonderful thing, no I don’t think so. The hoops you have to go through to get a visa for China are a bit over the top. Let me start off by saying I’ve been to over 40 countries and I can count maybe two other countries that I’ve been to with so many hoops to acquire that greatly desired visa. The process to enter China is rather complicated for a US citizen, first off you must fill out a four page form available at the consulate or online, with questions like where will you be staying how many days and exact address. As well the names ages and addresses of your family regardless of whether they are travelling with you or not. Additionally they want copies of your hotel and plane tickets, a passport size photo and about the answer to about 40 other questions. Although I only needed a single entry visa the cost of a multi entry one year visa was the same price so I had requested one of these instead. I’ve been through China two other times on transit to other countries and if you don’t have a visa you can get a transit visa, but there are complications here too, so I figured getting an actual visa was worth the effort. For those interested the travel without visa waiver to china works if you’re travelling to a third country before or after arriving in Chia and prior to coming back to the US. It also allows you 72 hours in China as well, as long as you arrive in Beijing, Shanghai or now Chengdu. Since my trip was all of about 3 hours, the TWOV was not an option for me. Yes I know I’m crazy but at least I know that. Finally I finished my paperwork, and by the time I was done filling it out, and compelling all the other hoops I was exhausted, and I haven’t even travelled to the consulate yet.
Once I got my act together and found an opening in my schedule I took BART (the local train system) to San Francisco, then I walked the mile from the Civic Center station to the embassy. It’s open Monday to Friday from 9-2:30 and I just knew lines would be long long long, so I endeavored to be there at 9 am. I was able to make it there at about 9:15, walked in the door and saw a sea of people, I took a number and sat down. I was number 58, and they were only on 10, but apparently had three windows open for visa applications, so there was hope this would be fast. I can’t believe that being there 15 minutes late and I was 58, holly crap. During my wait I was able to people watch, this was not the DMV but it sure was a close second or third in the interesting people department. Thankfully I ended up sitting next to a really nice guy who was a United Airlines pilot and was here to get his Visa too, shocker. He was a super nice guy and it was fun to talk about the airline industry, UA and all the fun since the merger. I love talking shop. He was in a bigger pickle than I was, in that he needed to get his passport returned ASAP, because he was working that week and could not be without his passport. Apparently the consulate will do same day visa’s but they are rare and the normal turnaround time is four days. You have to get approval from some nebulous consulate official to get the same day approval, and sadly I was not successful in that regard.
Finally I hit the lotto, and my number was finally called I was nervous of the process. I mean with so many items to check off the list just to get one, I was afraid I may have missed something, let alone, the potential for some mysterious criteria that I had not included in my packet. So I walked up to the window, hand the lady all of my information my forms, my photo, my plane ticket and she quickly scanned through the docs gave me a receipt and said come back in four days. This part of the transaction took all of about 30 seconds, man all this effort and about 45 minutes of waiting and they summarily took my paperwork and sent me off in 30 seconds. Wow how crazy now I just had to wait the four days come back and hope all was well and I was visa approved.
The following week, when I had a free morning, I did the return trip to the consulate. This time I was again not on time, but was hoping the pickup process would be faster and thankfully it was, but not by much. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a process to have to go through. The first of which was a line to turn in your ticket to get your visa and passport, this line took about 10 minutes. Once you had turned in your ticket stub you got another ticket, this time laminated and then were sent to yet another line, this time to pay and actually get your passport. This line was crazy, I got in front of a woman who had a rather large transaction it appeared, after waiting and waiting she finally walked away with like 20 plus passports, it seems she was an agent and getting them for a tour or something, but since each one had to be validated, it took a ton of time. Since I was assigned to this line I had to wait, seriously. Finally my turn arrived I gave them my $140 hard earned dollars got my coveted visa and off I went into the night. Ha really I just hoofed it back to BART hoped on the train and made my way home.
What a trip, now I’m all set for my very very quick trip to China, but since I have it I might just have to find other opportunities to use it.