About a year ago, I sent my friend a low-key crazy text. She knows me well, so she wasn’t shocked at all. See, I found a Groupon tour to China for a really low price. I figured we would never know if they were legit or not if we didn’t try. I read some reviews and texted Angela. Within an hour, she texted me back and said she was in. Just like that, we had a trip to China booked.
The first thing (and only thing, honestly) we knew we needed to do was get our travel visas. The process was a little overwhelming because neither of us had ever needed real deal visas before. After finishing it and getting our passports back, we were so relieved and excited for our trip!
Today, I wanted to share the step by step of how we got our visas. I would imagine the visa process varies based on what state you live in, when you get it, and what you need it for, so this won’t apply to everyone, but I hope it is helpful if you are considering traveling to China.
Which Visa we Chose
We had the opportunity to add the visa to our Groupon when we purchased them. If I’m being honest, we opted not to go through them because we thought it would be cheaper if we did it on our own. It was not cheaper and it was much more difficult to get it on our own, but looking back I wouldn’t change our decision.
From my understanding, the visa the tour company offered was a group visa, which means it was only valid for our trip dates. Our visas were tourist visas, which last up to 10 years. Having a visa that allows me to travel to China for the next 10 years was worth the extra hassle.
How long your visa lasts and how long you can stay in China each trip is determined by the Chinese consulate. It is the same price to apply for a 10 year visa as it is to apply for a single entry visa. Our logic was to aim for 10 and hope we got it! (we of course did!)
How We Got Our Visas
Not only was the whole process overwhelming to us, we also live 5 hours from the closest Chinese consulate. Angela knew of a woman in Chicago who has a business helping travelers and families looking to adopt get their Chinese visas. Instead of making the 10 hour round trip, we paid her $50 to bring our paperwork and pick it up from the consulate.
She is only able to serve travelers from the states of Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. If you are from one of these states and don’t want to make the trip to Chicago, I recommend sending her an email. You can find her information at this website.
If you are not from one of these states, I recommend finding a similar service for the consulate that serves your region.
So we had her to deliver and pick up our applications, but we still had to fill out a lot of paperwork!
Alllll the forms
This is why the visa process was so annoying: so.many.forms.
The first thing you need is a cashiers check or money order made out to the consulate (ex: Chinese Consulate in Chicago). Note: personal checks will not be accepted.
Next you will need your flight information and hotel reservations OR an invitation letter from a Chinese citizen. If you are traveling with a tour company, send them an email and they can send you an invitation with all the necessary information. Print it off and send it with your other forms.
You will need to mail in your signed passport. Yes, your actual passport. You need to have a least a full year left on it and 2 blank pages. (The visa is a sticker that takes up a whole page.)
Next you will need to fill out and send in the visa application form. This is a long one. Thankfully, the woman who ran our passports has a whole page on her site telling you exactly how to fill it out. She explains it wayy better than I ever could, so instead of trying I’ll just drop the link to her page. It can be accessed here. Note: make sure this form is printed on regular white copy paper and filled out in black pen.
You will need a passport picture taken for your visa form. It needs to be in color and can not be trimmed. I got mine taken at Walgreens.
The guidelines for this photo are pretty specific. It must be taken against a white background. You must be fully looking forward with both of your ears showing and not smiling. You can’t be wearing any jewelry, hair accessories, or glasses. More information can be found here.
The last thing you need is a copy of your passport (information page) printed on regular white copy paper.
The Visa Checklist
After all your goods are gathered, this is what you should have:
- Cashiers check or money order made out to the consulate nearest you
- An invitation letter OR your flight/hotel information
- Your passport
- Visa Application Form with a new photo
- A copy of your passport info page
Staple the forms together in this order: your application, copy of your passport, flight info, then hotel reservation (or the invitation letter). Mail it or drop it off at the consulate with your passport and the check.
Once we had our passports back in our hands with the visa, we were nothing but stoked for our trip! Though it was a pain, it was totally worth it. I can’t wait to go back to China before it expires. Western China, anyone?!
If you have an upcoming trip to China, tell me about it in the comments section! I would love to hear!
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