NOTE: Scroll down towards the end of the posting for advice and info about getting Chinese visas
One of the most important aspects of preparing to live in China is obtaining a visa. This is something Derek and I had been planning for for several weeks. With our recent road trip down to California in early July to visit family as well as Yosemite and the Redwoods, we planned to add a day or so for sightseeing in San Francisco. On the SF itinerary was this much anticipated trip to the Chinese consulate.
Derek and I tried to make sure that we had all our papers in order. For me this included an official invitation letter from the Chinese government and my future employer, Nanjing University of Economics and Finance that declared that I was fit to work in China. In order to have this invitation letter issued, I had to get an extensive physical exam done which included an echocardiogram, a chest x-ray and blood work testing for HIV and then have the physical exam form officially signed and stamped by my physician so that it could then be sent to China and then the said invitation letter could be issued and mailed back to me. Now for Derek, I insisted he take bank statements showing he had sufficient funds to live in China and wouldn’t be a drain on their system; a copy of international medical insurance; and just to be on the safe side, we drafted up power of attorney forms declaring Derek and I as a responsible couple who will be responsible for one another, in spite of the fact that we are not married and may not be seen as a legal, committed entity in many nations of the world. I was certain that the Chinese consulate people would be very impressed with our thorough preparation and that we would be granted eternal entrance to their magic kingdom. Well okay. At least a 1 year work permit visa for me and a 12-month, multiple entry tourist visa for Derek.
So off we went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco arriving nice and early- only 15 minutes after the consulate opened. We marched by the quiet protestors giving out pamphlets on human rights abuses in China and the plight of Tibet and got our spot in line outside the embassy. Once in, we grabbed a number to wait for submitting our visa application. Time went surprisingly quickly and I even ran into a former instructor of a class I had taken in Seattle (she was there getting her passport renewed and had gotten up at 6 am to catch a flight down to SF from Seattle!). Finally our number was called and Derek and I marched up to our assigned window where Daisy, our Chinese consulate representative wryly greeted us.
After all the anticipation of this very moment, Daisy didn’t even inquire about our couple status nor did she ask for bank statements or proof of insurance. She simply took Derek’s application and told him that the maximum visa he could be issued was for 60 days (in spite of what is listed on the actual visa form). Then she took my application and wouldn’t you know it, she asked for a copy of my physical exam form which in the rush before leaving Seattle, I actually left in.. Seattle. I also didn’t think it would be necessary for me to have the form since the official Chinese invitation letter I presented her would not have been sent to me without them first getting the medical physical form. Even after I presented the official invitation letters to Daisy, she was still not impressed. I was left to just stick my tail between my legs and walk away.
For the next two days I had to pester many loved ones about the stress I was feeling due to not having a copy of this medical form. First I had to call my friend and housemate Becca in Seattle who would have to dig through my file folders looking for the forms. I also emailed my contact at Nanjing Unviersity begging her to send a scanned copy of the forms. I also am pretty sure I lamented a lot about it to Derek as well as my cousin Steve and his wife Tristanne. She tried to help me by sharing some great stress relief- advise books and I tried to focus on the advice that stress was only self induced and created. In the end, Emy at Nanjing University pulled through and sent me a copy of the medical form as well as the EKG, chest x-ray and blood work results.
When I returned two days to the Chinese consulate, we had much better luck. While I was waiting to meet with Daisy again, Derek was in line to pick up his passport with his visa. As luck would have it, he met a woman in line who was going over to Beijing to visit her son who was working there. She took Derek’s card and next thing you know, Derek got an email from her son and they are indeed interested in his web-design expertise! And as luck would have it for me, Daisy seemed a lot friendlier and my application was processed without any hitches. I was even able to pick it up later that day.
So if you are planning to travel to China, be prepared to shell out a lot of money for your visa. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tourist or work permit visa. All visas to China for American citizens are $140. If you would like to have your application rushed, it’s an extra $20 for 2-3 days and an extra $30 for the same day (a fee I was happy to pay so not to have to return). It’s best to go with an application for a visa in the morning and arrive early enough in the afternoon to pick up a passport before they close (if you arrive 30 minutes before closing, you should be alright). There are consulates in San Francisco, LA, Chicago and of course the embassy in DC. Another option is that you can pay a travel agency or visa service to process and take care of the visa application for you. This seems like the best option if you do not live in a city with a consulate or have the option of traveling to one.
I actually found the Chinese Consulate San Francisco website pretty helpful and you can download the visa application forms from there (as well as the infamous medical form which is only needed if you are trying to get a visa with a working permit to live and work there. This is not required for a tourist visa):
Good luck with any future visa endeavors to China and I hope this will not be a deterrent for any prospective visitors of Derek and me in Nanjing!