This is the first part of our guide for budget travellers trying to get from China to mongolia. For most passport holders (USA excluded, lucky bastards!) you will need to get a visa for Mongolia. There are 3 places in mainland China to do this: Beijing, Hohhot and Erlian. In July 2013 we chose Hohhot, a city in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, to get our same day visa.
Getting your Mongolian visa in China is not known for being a simple process and our experience reflected this. However, we did get it, though it took a little patience and some tenacity! Here is our story.
We’d heard mixed stories of travellers trying to get Mongolian visas in Beijing. Although the majority will be successful, one Polish couple who recently tried sat at the office the whole morning waiting to submit their application and the office closed before they got their turn… a wasted day!
As a general rule we’ve found that the major embassy for any country, being the most popular, seems to be stricter with both rules and times. On top of this, we don’t like Beijing, it’s horribly polluted and less friendly than the rest of China… We didn’t really want to be stuck there for days trying to get a visa. In Hohhot it turns out you can get the express visa same-day, in Beijing, we are told, the express visa is normally next day – for the same price.
Hohhot is not exactly a major tourist destination, but it’s a decent enough city and a good stopping off point which has daily busses and trains to the Mongolian border – much cheaper than the international train from Beijing. Read more about getting to the Mongolian border in part 2 of this guide (Coming Soon!).
If you are travelling from West or South-West China and have no inclination to detour to Beijing then it is a quicker and cheaper option to travel via Hohhot.
We stayed at the “Anda guesthouse”, which we do not recommend. It’s very poor value for money, as one of the most expensive guesthouses we have stayed in for all our time in Asia (180 RMB for a private double with shared bathroom – about $32) and the standard is a long way below much cheaper places. However, it is one of the only guesthouses that is easy to find online and the staff are friendly…
If you have the time, take a look on elong.com for some cheaper options, though not all of these will accept foreigners so you may have to contact them before making a booking.
What you need to apply
- Your Passport
- A photocopy of the ID page of your passport (Photocopies cost 1 yuan at the copy shop right next to the consulate)
- One passport photo
- A completed visa application form (Costs 2 yuan at the copy shop, or is free inside the embassy – once you get in!)
- The fee in Chinese currency (Table Below)
Although the words are partly Chinese you can figure out the type of visa you need, and then the higher price is the express service, the lower price is for the slow service. So we paid 465 yuan (about $80) for the express entry/exit visa, 30 days as a tourist. For longer stays you apparently need an invitation letter. Some nationalities will need an invitation letter regardless, so double check with your local embassy to be sure. If you need one, most guesthouses in UB will give you one if you make a booking.
Once you arrive outside the consulate you need to get the security guard to give you a number for waiting in line. They speak no English so it is worth having the phrase: “We need a 30 day tourist visa” (in Chinese “我们需要一个30天的旅游签证”) as one Australian we met said it took him over 20 minutes to get a number! We got ours straight away using the above phrase.
Once you have the number you have to wait outside (rain or shine!) until they call your number (in Chinese). So, its worth having an umbrella and also worth working out who has the number before you so that you can see when they go in and know you are next. The earlier you arrive, the shorter your wait time should be as they get a bit backed up. We arrived at 9.20am and got in at 11.10am.
Once your number is called they let you through the security gates. Inside the office you line up again for a short while to submit your documents, confirm that you want a tourist visa and then move to a second window to pay. They will confirm again that you want a tourist visa and ask if you want the express service (Which should be same day), you can say no and get the slow service (much cheaper, but could be up to 5 working days).
After this they give you a receipt and a collection time. It all seemed pretty standard up until this point…
We returned at 6pm that day, as instructed, to learn that due to a system failure no visas could be issued until the following day. They needed us to come back at 11am the following day. We have come to understand that this was a genuine anomaly and that same day visas will almost always be issued same day but it is worth being aware that this sort of thing could happen and not to book onward travel until you are actually holding the visa!
We returned at 11am, after a short wait we got one passport back… hmmm, expecting two! Firstly, there had been some confusion as to whether “UK” and “GBR” were the same, so that delayed my passport. The Australian passport that came back had only been issued as 10 days!!! It was supposed to be 30!
We pointed at the mistake and said “San shi tian” – which means “30 days” in Chinese – and fortunately, they were happy to change it, using a ball point pen! They did stamp it over the change though, so it should be ok. After almost a 1 hour wait my UK passport was returned with the full 30 days!
So this taught us an important lesson: be specific. Just ticking “tourist visa” on the form is apparently not enough! We’d suggest also saying to the staff that you need 30 days as well as writing it on the form next to the tick box. We also learnt once again that provincial offices are much more flexible, they were happy to fix the errors rather than just telling us we get what we get.
The official opening times are 8.30am til 12.30pm and 15:00 to 17:00, Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays. Visa applications should be done in the morning.
The address information we found online seemed to be incorrect (or at least, very confusing!). The exact location where we visited the embassy is marked on the map below.
Tel: 86-471-4303254, 86-471-4303266, 86-471-4923819
E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org (Do not expect a response, especially if you write in English!)
View Hohhot in a larger map