How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to China
No matter who you are, you’re going to need it. Possibly even if you’re Chinese.
So the time has come, you’ve made plans to visit China and you’ve discovered that you’ll need a visa for the trip; even though you’ll be travelling as a mere tourist. Before you take your trip you’ll need a Category L Chinese Tourist Visa. It’s not expensive, but getting it can be a bit of a bother. Different Consulates work differently, however they all need either a written or typed application form together with proof of your flights (not always), accommodation, and planned activities in China.
Checklist for Success
Consider your jaunt to the Consulate as training for the off-kilter and labyrythine experiences you’ll no doubt experience during your time spent in China. The first time I acquired this visa I did so at the Chinese Consulate in Melbourne, which required you make an appointment to go inside and make your in-person application. However, for my second visit a couple years later I went to the Consulate in Auckland, which does not take appointments and is instead a manic Game of Thrones event. It was a winner take all, mad dash, first-come, first-served experience.
My encounter wasn’t as bad as it could have been because I followed the five unspoken rules of the Auckland Chinese Consulate:
- I was there two hours ahead of opening time to be first in line.
- I had exact change for the photocopy machine (it turns out you need a photocopy of your passport – something I didn’t know far enough ahead of time to have one done, so I brought change to use the photocopier in the Consulate. It’s not free).
- I took one of the only five available car parks. If you’re one of the several hundred people to arrive after the first five people you basically park in Mordor. You’ll have quite the walk ahead of you unless you’re an Olympic level runner.
- I had everything that I needed. All the proof, the forms they wanted, sufficient money, space in my passport, and the six months buffer time they require between the expiry of your upcoming Chinese visa and the expiry of your passport. Anyone who turns up without everything is cast out visa-less and alone.
- I was not gentle when the gates opened and the masses started surging inside. If you have waited for hours and were first then damn it, get to that ticket machine – do not go to a seat! Get a ticket! Ticket!!! So many have missed it!! It’s like a deli – if you don’t grab that sweet ticket as soon as you enter and they run out then it’s all over. Get a ticket and don’t be shy. People tend to push and jostle so be strong and make it happen – it’s good practice for when you arrive in China.
What you’re competing against are the many Chinese folks who’ve given up their Chinese passports to be citizens elsewhere, in this case New Zealand, and they want to go home and see their families. So they now need visas like everyone else (China does not do dual citizenship). This is a particularly intense process approaching Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) in late January as many people want to get back to their hometowns across China for the holidays.
Only the Strong Survive
Once inside, with ticket firmly in grasp, the system is pretty straight forward. Wait for your number, shove your paperwork through the little hole on the bottom of the glass at a bored-looking bureaucrat who glances at it, enters your data into a computer, wraps everything up into a rubber band, hands you a receipt, and points you to the payment window. Keep the receipt safe because you’ll need it in the coming days when you return to pick up your passport.
Bear in mind that the Consulates have very specific hours. Certain hours are for applying for a visa; different hours (in my experience in the afternoon) are for people returning to collect their passport containing their fresh new visa. You do have the option (for prepared people who have done this well ahead of time) to have your passport returned to you by mail.
This being said, I have faith in neither the Consulate nor the mail system enough to trust them with my most valuable document so I always collect it in person.
A Call to Adventure
That’s the thing about adventure in the twenty-first century – we start with the fantastical image of some faraway land, imagining steamy noodle joints, Blade Runner-esque street scenes, and romantic interludes. But this is cut short by the need for evidence, proof, and paperwork in a sterile office.
Collecting the visa is easy enough. The consulate will give you a return date on the receipt, and collection time is likely to be in the afternoon. By then the herd of cars should be gone and parking shouldn’t be so difficult.
The first hurdle is complete, your bookings are made and your passport contains the correct visa. Now your jaunts in another continent can begin.