Well, it’s been over 2 years since I last got a visa to China and mine expired 4 months ago, so I had to go back again. Luckily, since that time, there is a new agreement in place that allows me to apply for a 10 year visa! Thank goodness I will only have to deal with this process once a decade. Here are some lessons from this time, building from my previous experience.
First of all, if you are applying for a visa in the DMV (DC metro area), make sure you’re going to the visa office on Wisconsin. The visa office is not in the embassy! I recommend parking over on 35th or Whitehaven – if you go down beyond the first block you’ll get past metered parking and find free 2-hour spots. Be sure to go in the morning or you might find yourself wasting an extra hour waiting for them to get back from lunch and/or not even getting serviced once they run out of time in the afternoon. They shut the doors at 2:30 so no new people come in, but from what I hear they keep on working through the line that has built up until 4 or later.
This time I am going during tourist season, so oh my gosh it was waaaaaaay worse than last time. 20-40 minutes in line?! Please. Think more like 3-4 hours! In light of that, bring a snack. I nearly fainted the first time I was there since I was there until nearly 2 without any food all day. They do have a remodeled area that was under construction last time I was there. There are a lot of seats, but even more people and typically most of them are taken.
By the way, yes, you need to give them your passport. Your original, physical passport. It’ll come back with a giant sticker on one page containing your visa! Even though they have your passport at hand, you still need to provide a printed copy of your passport photo page and most recent visa (if you ever had one before). I think a lot people don’t realize that.
I was super paranoid this time because last time was not easy, so I actually came over-prepared. I had copies of my passport, visa, driver’s license (front and back), email with travel details, invitation letter from my dad, his passport, his visa (proof he lives and works in China), and the application form. I ended up only needing my passport copy, visa copy, and 2 pages of the flight confirmation email (which was like 10 pages long), in addition to the application.
I read online that they only accept typed forms, so thank goodness I didn’t try to fill it out by hand. I actually prepared two versions – one for the L visa, for general tourists, and one for the Q2 visa, for visiting relatives. I ended up going with the L visa application and all they needed was the part of my itinerary showing my name, which matches my passport, and my departure dates.
While I had been worried that I had a Chinese address instead of a hotel for the place I’d be staying, that didn’t end up being an issue. That’s why I also had my dad’s info, to prove that he knew I was coming and had “invited” me to join him. Luckily, they didn’t seem to need any proof that I could stay at the Beijing address I gave.
Last Friday, we had a morning All Hands that ended around 10 and I headed out to apply for my visa. I arrived at 10:59 and got a ticket for the B numbers, which are for non-Chinese passport holders applying for a visa. A is for Chinese passport holders who are renewing their passport or processing other needs. C is for diplomats and other special folks, I believe. D is for those picking up something and gets you to the payment window. Windows are distributed by function too. Window 1 seems to be for travel agents and others with special scenarios. Window 2 is often vacant. Window 3-7 are for visa processing, with Window 5 being for diplomats. Window 8 & 9 are for Chinese citizens. Window 10 is for payment, and Window 11 is for pickup.
I sat for nearly 3 hours before getting called and for all that… my time at the window was around 2 minutes. I had managed to take a nap, do a lot of staring, and go move my car in that time. They seriously need to streamline this process. Add on the hour to get there and hour back and that was 5 hours just to submit my application. Thankfully, I was prepared and had everything I needed. There were no hiccups this time, no getting sent upstairs and having to spend money to fill out a form at a travel agency, no rejections at the window after a long wait. I was told I could come back on Wednesday to pick up my visa.
This past Friday, I was able to return. This time I came earlier, arriving before 10:30. As it was approaching 12:30, I started to get really nervous that I would not get in before the lunch break. The payment window closes 12:30-1:30 for lunch and it’s the only place you can pay before reclaiming your passport with your new visa. I was so relieved when I got called at 12:20, with time to spare! It was about a minute to pay (I wonder what all the other people did and why they were much slower) and then a brief wait for the person at the next window to come back and find my passport. Within 2 hours, I was happily on my way back to the car!
I’m glad this won’t have to happen again for a long, long time.