My Experience Getting a Chinese Visa

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai

Since I have a trip booked to Shanghai as one of my mileage runs to reach Executive Platinum status on American Airlines, I needed to get a Chinese visa. Even though I’m only going to be in Shanghai for a little over a day, I still need a visa as the 72-hour visa-free transit only applies if I were to transit to a third country (like Japan or even Hong Kong). Since I’m flying USA to Shanghai and back to USA without stopping in a third country, I need a visa.

There’s a Chinese consulate in San Francisco, so I decided to apply for the visa myself rather than use a visa service. In retrospect, I maybe should have just used a visa service.

I applied for a 1-year multiple entry tourist visa. In order to get the tourist visa, I needed the following:
1) My passport with 6 months of validity and a blank page for the visa
2) The visa application form (note that there are new forms as of September 1, 2013; make sure your forms say “Form V.2013” in the upper right corner!)
3) A color passport photo
4) A copy of my roundtrip air itinerary
5) Proof of a hotel reservation

Anecdotally, many people forget 4) and 5) because they don’t understand why they would need to book their flights and hotels prior to getting the visa. But without this documentation (or else an invitation letter by a relevant entity or individual in China), you won’t get your visa, and I saw this happen to numerous people at the consulate when I was there.

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco is open from 9:00am to 2:30pm every weekday. I arrived at 8:15am on a Tuesday morning, and there were already six people in front of me. But the first four people in line were all people who worked for visa services, so they took quite a while at the visa counters as they were each applying for at least 10 visas. And persons 5 and 6 in line didn’t have all of the correct documentation, so they also took a while as the people at the consulate had to explain to them what they needed to bring. Once I actually got to a visa window (which was over an hour after I first arrived), it was less than 2 minutes for the woman to review my paperwork and hand me a ticket receipt. This ticket receipt was necessary to pick up the visa.

I returned to the consulate about a week later to pick up my visa. This time, I arrived shortly before 9:00am, and the line to get into the consulate was already all the way down the block. And again, the first couple of people in line for the visa pickup window worked for visa services and thus had many passports to pick up, so they took quite a while, but once they were done, the line moved relatively quickly. I gave my ticket receipt to the woman, and she gave me a card to give to a woman at a different window where I would pay for the visa ($140) and receive my passport back.

I received the 1-year multiple entry visa, even though the documents that I submitted only showed one visit for just one day, which is great as all of the tourist visas cost the same for Americans so you might as well get a 1-year multiple entry one. Assuming I like my quick visit to Shanghai, I’d love to return and spend a little more time in China at some point next year, and this visa will allow me to do so.

All told, I spent about 4 hours trekking to/from the Chinese consulate and waiting in lines. Depending on how you value your time, it might just be worth it to use a visa service. But if you do choose to do it yourself, here are my consolidated tips:
1) Make sure to have all of your documentation ready, including your proof of air tickets and hotel reservations if necessary
2) Apply for the 1-year multiple entry even if you don’t plan to go back to China, since it costs the same anyway
3) You don’t want to apply for the visa too early as the visa will be valid from the date that you applied. As an example, my 1-year visa expires one year from the date that I applied for the visa, not one year from my first entry into China.
4) Hold on to the ticket receipt that you get and remember to bring it back with you to pick up the visa
5) Get to the consulate well before it opens or else you might have a very lengthy wait to apply for your visa
6) You will likely be waiting a lot regardless of when you go, so try to stay positive and not get frustrated by the experience

5 thoughts on “My Experience Getting a Chinese Visa

  1. where is rahul

    Too funny I had almost an exact replica of your Visa trip to the SF Consulate. The amount of lost time people spend there waiting for their Visa and the amount of red tape is just crazy.

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