Visas are fickle things. Well, clarification: My China visa was the first one I experienced but I’ve heard from other people that the process can vary quite widely depending on the country.
When I found out I would be a summer intern for China Daily in Beijing I knew I had to apply for a visa. But then what? My visa experience was kind of confusing so I’m here to clarify the steps and provide helpful tips for future Chinese visitors (specifically future University of Iowa students).
Your first step in the visa process is to download the application forms. If you’re from the Midwest and have to go to the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago, basically don’t refer to their website because they don’t really update it and there’s not that much information (and there’s a good chance the information is old if it’s there). That said, you should check it anyways just in case one day they decide to update it with useful information. As of right now, they do not have the most up-to-date visa application form that you need (which is currently a 2013 form). Go to the Chinese Embassy website and download the up-to-date form.
Make sure to fill out your application on the computer. When I was at the consulate in Chicago I heard some people were turned away because they filled it out in pen. Just be safe and fill it out on the computer.
You’ll likely need other paperwork to turn in along with your application. The embassy website has a list of the various types of visas with the corresponding paperwork. Tourists will need to print out their flight schedules and their hotel reservations to file with the application and your passport.
For future University of Iowa interns: Someone from China Daily will send you an invitation letter formally inviting you. Include that with your flight information with your application. I applied for an F visa because it’s an “exchange” program.
Turning in my application and getting my visa was sort of a hassle that was no one’s fault just a lack of available information. That’s why I’m here to help. One of the things that made it a huge hassle was that I discovered the Chicago consulate no longer does same-day visas. Before July 2013, you could drop off something in the morning and pay a little extra to pick it up in the afternoon. THEY DO NOT DO THIS ANYMORE. I did not know that until the night before I left, thanks to a very helpful Chinese Consulate Yelp! page. Make sure you check this because people have a lot of good tips there.
[Note: if you’re not familiar with Chicago and you use Google maps to get to the consulate, the visa office is not in the same location as the consulate. Make sure you go to the right place.]
They can process your visa but it takes two days at the earliest. I dropped mine off Wednesday morning and was able to come back Friday and pick up my passport and visa. I had to pay $20 more for the expedited process. If you don’t want to pay extra then it takes four days. **Keep the pink slip they give you after you drop off your application. You need to give them it when you pick up your visa.**
The consulate is super busy so make sure to get there early and you’ll only have to wait a minimal amount of time and it gets busier towards the end of the week. The office opens for business at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday but I suggest getting there by 8:15/8:30 a.m. I got there at 8:15 a.m. and there was already a line outside the building. They let you wait inside the consulate office beginning at 8:30.
To me, it’s worth getting there early before the lines and waiting for it to open instead of waiting for people ahead of me who are arguing with officials or don’t have their paperwork together.
We’ve all been to the DMV right? Basically expect a DMV-like experience. The process is as slow as molasses and the workers are in no rush to get to you in a timely manner but you get what you need eventually. So take a deep breathe, stay calm, wait your turn, and everything will work out.
Update: Someone suggested another point I did not include. The office closes down during the middle of the day (check on the consulate website or Yelp!) around noon for an hour or two.