China visas used to be farily easy to obtain. One photo, three or four days, and US$100 was all it took to get a bright and shiny new visa for visiting the People’s Republic; multiple entry visas were a little more difficult, but that was mostly just for Americans who were here in Hong Kong. And if time was a factor, money was all it took to expedite your visa for 1-day processing.
The Olympics has changed all the rules. There has been a lot of news recently about the suspension of issuance of multiple entry visas until after the Olympics in August. In addition, the submission requirements for a standard visa have jumped up significantly. In addition to the standard information and a photograph, one now must provide a complete itinerary with hotel bookings for your travel in mainland. What really throws a fly in the ointment, however, is needing to show your on going travel tickets as proof of exit from China.
China’s a big place, and there are lots of ways to travel in and out of China. From Hong Kong, we typically ride the MTR trains from the Hong Kong side of the border, which do not require a ticket if one uses their octopus card to pay and enter. Weekend train travelers into Southern China will now be faced with additional hassels such as buying an unnecessary bus ticket for HK$60 from Shenzhen to Hong Kong to show proof of exit: stating that you live in Hong Kong will not be enough to get your visa issued.
In Northern China, one can take the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Mongolia or Russia. The problem this presents, however, for obtaining your visa is that these tickets can only be bought up to three days in advance of traveling. In addition, they appear to only be purchaseable on site in Beijing for the exit route. My friend Libby is planning on taking this journey at the end of June, and will then be flying from Moscow back to the United States. When we went down to the visa office on Thursday, she brought her flight intinerary showing her departure flight from Moscow back home. Unfortunatley, according to the agent at the counter – this was not proof that she was leaving China, though, in order to catch said flight from Moscow, one would have to leave China.
Quite forlorn, which is a polite word for the actual emotion exhibited, we went back to the MTR station. On the way we passed a China Travel Services travel agency, which was able to process the visa paperwork after selling us the HK$60 bus ticket from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. They charged HK$1180 for processing the visa, which is a might bit more than the HK$1020 across the board fee that they’re charging for USA passport holders; but it’ll save you the hassel of standing in lines, dealing with the agents, etc.
For me, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that in October, when I need to renew my visa, things will be back to normal. As for entering China from Mongolia this summer during the Olympics, I have to hope they don’t decide to close the country off completely for those two weeks.
More Information on mainland visas from Hong Kong: