I picked up my China visa today, and ohhh how lucky I am!
For those avid readers, you may remember this note from You Can’t Do THAT In China!: “If you are an American, you can get into Hong Kong for 90 days on a standard tourist entry. It’ll cost HK$780 to get a single or double entry visa to go North from Hong Kong into China.” However, despite these stringent regulations, this afternoon, armed with my new Hong Kong resident’s I.D. card, I walked out of the Wan Chai Visa office with a twelve month, multiple entry visa for mainland China in hand: all for just HK$780.
The Back Story
Once one arrives in Hong Kong it is fairly easy, and reasonably priced, to get a multiple entry visa for mainland China. HK$400 can get most nationalities a 6 month multiple entry visa in three to four days. Single-entry can be obtained for just HK$150, and double-entry for HK$220.
There are a handful of nationalities that have reciprocal visa schemes, which means they charge the same amount to their citizens for a China Visa as Chinese citizens are charged for a visa to travel to the other country. Some of these are beneficial, as with the waived reciprocal visas for citizens of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Herzegovina, Maldives, Micronesia, Pakistan, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Others charge varying fees, typically based on the “you charge us, we charge you” policy of international diplomacy. For example, Ethiopians pay HK$790 for a single entry, HK$1070 for a double, HK$1340 and HK$1890 for six and twelve month multiple entry visas, respectively. <click for the full listing>
For US citizens, things get a little bit tricky. There’s no tiered scheme for visa duration: the price for a visa into China, be it single, double, or multiple entry for a period of six or twelve months, is HK$780. Prima facie, this seems like a pretty good deal; however, six and twelve month visas are not available for purchase by US citizens traveling here in Hong Kong. That means for US$100, you get at most two visits into China.
If you plan to travel in and out of China on an extended Asian trip, your best bet is to apply for a multiple entry visa for mainland China from one of the Chinese embassies or consulate offices in the United States. The price will still be the same $100, but at least you’ll have a greater deal of flexibility while traveling: assuming you are into that sort of thing. I would highly recommend any potential exchange students coming to Hong Kong in January/February to take the time and apply for a multiple entry China visa four to six weeks prior to your arrival in Hong Kong. This will save you time, hassles and money, enabling you to take that train trip into southern China before your classes begin.
This does take a bit of planning and forethought, however, that not all of us have the luxury of maintaining during the run-up to an Asian adventure. In fact, some of us are just thankful enough to have one’s student visa arrive prior to departure – let alone thinking about visas for other countries months before leaving. If it wasn’t for the good graces bestowed upon Hong Kong Residents, I would most likely be stuck using double entry visas, spending US$50 per trip into China.
Even with the residence card, twelve month multiple entry visas are not something the Chinese government just throws around. In fact, they are discouraging the issuance of such long term transit passes. My friend Libby recently went to the same visa office in Wan Chai, and was told that she would only be able to purchase a six month multiple entry visa, even though her HKID card is issued with the same 12 month student visa for Hong Kong that I have. I assume that my luck is aided by the fact that when I was here in 2003 I visited the Shenzen special economic zone just north of the Hong Kong territory several times, and those visas and proof of prior visitation to China aided my case. Whatever the source of my luck, this new visa is my golden ticket in and out of China until next October.
Where does all this hullabaloo come from? One can simply read the excerpt regarding US visa fees for Chinese citizens:
General Information: What are the fees?
If money is important to you, and you or somebody you know needs a United States visa, it is important to understand the distinction between a visa “issuance” fee and a visa “application” fee.
Most non-diplomatic and non-official visas issued by United States consular officers abroad require a visa “application” (machine-readable visa – MRV) fee that recovers for the United States the costs associated with manufacturing, processing, and printing the visa. The current visa “application” fee is $100.00.
Most visa applicants (visitors, students, temporary workers, etc.) are charged this $100.00 visa “application” fee even if there is no visa “issuance” fee. All applicants applying for nonimmigrant visas in China must pay a non-refundable application fee of RMB 780 payable at designated branches of CITIC Bank. Both copies of the CITIC Bank fee receipt must be included with all visa applications. Please note that the application fee is non-refundable regardless of whether or not a visa is issued. Applicants who have paid the application fee but fail to submit applications within the expiration date of the receipt for the application fee will not have their application fee refunded.
Visa “issuance” fees are based on “reciprocity,” (what another country charges a United States citizen for a similar-type of visa). The United States strives to eliminate visa issuance fees whenever possible; however, when a foreign government imposes such fees on U.S. citizens for certain types of visas, the United States will impose a “reciprocal” fee to nationals of that country for similar-type of visas. Visa “issuance” fees are paid in U.S. or Chinese currency at the Embassy or Consulate when the visa is approved and issued. For more detailed information about fees and reciprocity agreements>>
As usual, it appears that the U.S. is once again the source of the prevailing animosity. In Hong Kong, I did not need to pay anything to apply for my visa, and my HK$780 was only charged today when I picked up my visa.