It’s become increasingly difficult for Westerners to get a China visa outside of their home country. Even when you can get a visa they won’t always issue you the duration you’d prefer and you often have to provide a mountain of supporting paperwork to get it. We skip all these issues and pick up a 3 month China visa in Hong Kong by filling in one side of A4 and handing over 1 passport photo and our passport – 8 hours later we have a shiny new visa!
Background: When China Visa Applications Go Bad.
We read some horror stories about China visa applications before we applied in Hong Kong. For a start, depending on your nationality, if you apply in your home country it can set you back over $100 just for a single entry 30 day tourist (L) visa – more if you are a US passport holder.
If you are already travelling, like us, then applying at home is not an option anyway. The tourist visa generally requires you to provide evidence of booked flights in and out of China, confirmed hotel bookings at least for the first few days, if not longer, and often evidence of funds in a bank account showing at least $100 per day available. Many a desperate budget traveller who can’t pre-plan, afford or prove such things (especially couchsurfers!), may go to great lengths to falsify documents in order to get around this list of requirements, with varying success.
By booking hotels that have a free cancellation policy it is possible to build a fake itinerary. This was one of our original plans, we even got most of the way through the process and then… disaster!
We were about to head into the Chinese embassy in Bangkok but just a few days before, we got an update of a traveller following our planned system as having some shocking problems. Normally the embassy would issue a 30 day tourist visa as standard. Rather than spending extra time planning a massive 30 day itinerary, the traveller in question had put together a simpler 14 day trip. On receiving his visa he found that his standard 30 day visa had been downgraded to 16 days, allowing him just enough time to complete the fake itinerary and nothing more! He still had to pay full price for this short visa.
With our plans to spend a few months in China and also visit Mongolia (and hence need a double entry visa) we were a little concerned that planing out a massive itinerary might not even be enough to insure we got what we wanted. With various other stories of travellers being outright refused we decided we wanted a more full-proof plan.
We had heard that Hong Kong was the easiest place to get approved for a Chinese visa, so we decided to investigate for ourselves.
Hong Kong is China
Although Hong Kong is autonomous, China considers it to be China. Hong Kong may feel a little differently about this arrangement but for better or worse their diplomatic relations are excellent and this bodes well for those of us in search of a China visa.
Hong Kong, as a major hub, has some very competitive prices on flights. We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong for $70 per person on Air Asia. There are many other routes with cheap prices like this, especially via the Philippines. Staying in Hong Kong is known to be expensive, we actually couch-surfed the whole week we were there, though we were told that finding a host can be difficult, we didn’t have any problems. However, given that you can normally get your visa “same day” there is no need to stay long in Hong Kong as you can go straight to the Chinese border.
If you head to the actual Chinese Consulate in Hong Kong you will save money on your visa price but you will be bound by all the same rules as any other consulates around the world. The simple way around this problem is to us a visa agent. There are numerous agents in HK so choosing one that is legitimate but will also make the process simple is essential.
After finding a few recommendations online we opted for “Forever Bright” Agency.
We arrived at the agency at about 9.30am. We had our 3 month Business visa by 6.30pm. We were cutting it a little fine with the times as it is better to arrive before 9am, and the cut off time for same day is supposedly 9.45am.
The agent gives you one form (A4, one sided), you fill in basic details such as name, home address, passport numbers. You give them the form back along with your passport and one passport photo with a blue background (if your photo has a white background they will charge you $12HK to convert it, if you have no photo at all they will charge you $30HK – about $4.50US – to take one).
Thats it. It took about 10 minutes or less and we provided no supporting documentation whatsoever! When you come to collect your visa you pay the fee.
Depending on the visa duration you want there are some further considerations to be aware of. If you only need a single-entry, 30 day tourist visa then you are done, easy. For a double entry visa they insist you get the business (F) visa as the double entry tourist (L) visa is hard to get. The double entry business visa allows you an unlimited 3 month stay in China from the day of issue, unlike the tourist double entry visa which would be 2 x 30 day visit starting within 3 months of issue.
As you are applying for a business visa you will need to supply some details about your “business”, which you can make up but it’s worth having a realistic story that is credible, just in case you get questioned at the border – we never got questioned but it could happen.
Other visas for 6 months or 1 year are also available at a higher cost and sometimes with a longer wait.
We discovered later when we came to pick up the visas that there were a lot of people in the office that arriving late in the morning had mean we had missed the rush.
Be aware that with a growing number of clients the visas are often late now. They may quote that the visa will arrive around 4pm but it could be nearer 7pm. Some other people in the office had pre-booked trains back to China and were not going to make it to the station on time.
It is also worth noting, if it is your first time applying for a China visa it is easy. If you have already spent months in China and are coming back to Hong Kong on a visa run then it becomes more difficult. One American client was getting particularly irate when the agent refused to put in yet another 12 month business visa for him, he claimed he had important ongoing business in China… I’d say if he’d been involved in such important business for so long why did he still not have a sponsor? and why was he coming to a “no questions asked” agent?
Bring with you: Your Passport, 1 passport photo (with blue background), a pen! Fees must be paid in Hong Kong Dollars when you get the visa back.
Prices: These vary depending on your passport and the length of visa you want. For a 3 month business visa in June 2013 we paid HK$650 for an Australian passport and HK$905 for a UK passport. US passports will always be charged at a higher rate.
Wait time: If you apply before 9.45am you normally get you visa by 7pm the same day. Waits of up to 4 days for more complicated visas are possible.
It’s worth emailing the agent a few days before you intend to apply to check on the latest changes to rules and availability of certain types of visas.
Forever Bright Trading Limited
Room 916-917, New mandarin Plaza, Tower B, 14 Science museum Road, Kowloon.
tel: (852) 2369 3188. Fax: (852) 2312 2989
Office hours: Mon-Fri 8am – 6.30pm. Sat 8am – 1.30pm
Directions: The easiest access is via Hong Hum metro station. The south-west raised walk way takes you from the station to just a few metres around the corner of the Mandarin plaza building. Once inside, find the elevators and head up to the 9th floor, the agency is to the left as you exit the lift.