Getting a Visa for China

Since we’re going to a couple of ports in China on our next cruise, we are required to get a visa.  I even read somewhere that they won’t let us on the cruise ship without the visa, since you can’t just stay on board in China if you don’t get the visa.  You *must* have the visa to be in port – even on the ship.  That being the case, we needed to head down to the Chinese Consulate General to get our visas.  Today was the day.

We had to drag ourselves out of bed this morning because everyone except Fred has a virus right now.  It’s one of the perks of traveling in close contact with so many people.  I knew we were in trouble when the lady behind me was sneezing and coughing nonstop on our flight home, but I’m going off on a tangent.  Let’s get back to the visa issue.

We got ourselves down to the office and were prepared for the worst.  Apparently Monday is one of the busiest days of the week, so we weren’t surprised to see so many people.

Part of the crowd getting visas at the Chinese Consulate General

When you first arrive, you have to go through a metal detector and your bags are scanned.  After this process, there is a ticket machine immediately to your right.  Everyone is required to grab a ticket (one per family) – otherwise you could sit there all day long without anyone even noticing that you’re there.  Unfortunately, the ticket machine wasn’t working when we arrived, so Fred had to stand in a long line waiting for the thing to be repaired.  It took about 10 minutes.  Needless to say, we were initially worried about efficiency.

Waiting at the Chinese Consul General visa office

I read horror stories online while I was preparing our applications.  I was almost expecting them to find some random mistake on our applications or tell me that I had forgotten some document that I didn’t know about, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Here’s what we needed to bring:

  1. The application, which needs to be typed in all caps.
  2. Your passports
  3. A photocopy of the information page on your passport
  4. photos that are the proper size – not typical US passport photos (more on this later)
  5. An itinerary (with your name on it) for your upcoming trip or a letter of invitation to China
Fred is even smiling in the hot, crowded Chinese Consulate General’s office!

Our ticket number showed that we had to wait for about 43 people to be called before us.  On the busiest day of the week and at the busiest time of the day, that took a little over an hour.  It was actually a fairly efficient process after all.  Also, when we got to the window, the representative just quickly looked over our materials, secured our photos to the application (which we should have done beforehand), gave us a slip, and sent us on our way.  There were no issues whatsoever.  In four days, I will go back and pick up the passports with our freshly stamped visas intact.  I just need to make certain to bring the slip that she gave us, stand in a dedicated pickup line, and pay.  That’s it!  Job done 🙂

As far as the photos go, they are not standard passport size.  For info on the photo details, check out their website.  I don’t want to post them on here because they might change.  I usually go to the local passport office or a FedEx Office to get any passport photos taken, but with the non-standard Chinese visa photos, this is not an option.  After calling around all over town, I found out that Costco’s photo center does it!  They have settings on their equipment for a bunch of different countries.  Since we’re members, we stopped by there and had them done in about 30 minutes for $5 each.  Apparently, you can also order them online, but I have no experience with that process, so I can’t speak for or against it.

My advice to anyone going through the process of getting a visa is to check your application several times before you leave home and make sure you arrive with all of the materials that you need.  If you bring everything and have your application filled out correctly, the process should go smoothly.