Our Chinese Visa Story

On September 14, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

We finally got our Chinese visa. And by we, I mean I, and by I, I mean Oren. It only took five trips to the Chinese Consulate, two different applications, one letter from my boss, and a tremendous amount of patience. We did everything we were supposed to, including all the research necessary to make sure our visa applications were accurate the first time, yet I found myself going back to the Consulate over and over again. Here is our advice to make sure you don’t get your application returned faster than Zhang Jike returns serves.


Our first visit to the Consulate in New York City lasted all of about three minutes. We had everything we needed. Or so we thought. We came prepared with our passports, passports photocopies, passport photos, applications, and itineraries. The young woman at Window Seven looked at Cassie’s application, asked a couple questions, then accepted the packet. Then it was my turn. Everything was fine up until the woman at Window Seven saw the J-word on my application. Journalist. That led to an instant rejection and an afternoon of frustration. The woman also handed back Cassie’s application and told us to bring both back.

I had to get a letter from my boss saying the trip was for personal reasons. It was fruitless to explain that I was leaving my job in a couple weeks and would be unemployed, so of course the trip was for personal reasons. I didn’t think I’d have any luck pointing out that I cover shootings in North Philly, not international news. I did what in hindsight was the smart thing to do at that point and kept my mouth shut.

In short order I got the obligatory letter and returned to the Chinese Consulate for the second time. They accepted our applications this time and told us to return the following week.

Chinese visaWe were optimistic when we went back (trip three if you’re counting… because we certainly were). Turns out only half of us should’ve been optimistic. Cassie’s Chinese visa was approved without a problem. She paid her $140 and got her passport back. I immediately knew something was wrong when I saw my entire application folded not-at-all neatly into my passport. On it, someone had written “Come back one or two months before entry.” It wasn’t an official rejection, there was hope that I’d be let in, but it certainly wasn’t an approval.

We tried to explain patiently to the supervisor behind Window One that we would be in Cambodia or Laos before we were in China, and we wanted to get the application approved before then, in our country of residence. Once again, he zeroed in on the word “Journalist” and told me that’s why I had to wait. I pointed him to the letter that we had submitted, and two things became immediately obvious. 1) He hadn’t read the letter. Nor had anyone else. 2) He realized I was not, in fact, a threat and that I should probably be allowed into China. But not so fast!

He told me to come back after I left my job but before our trip and write as my job “unemployed.” I thought that was a bit ridiculous, since their first question would probably then be “What was your last job? Oh, journalist? Well, you need a letter saying blah blah blah” and we’re suddenly back to square one. I was starting to feel like I was asking a Vogon to save his own grandmother. But we were out of options, so we had to do as we were told. At least they weren’t reading me poetry.

Four days after I left my job (and two days after we shoved all of our earthly belongings into storage, I went back to New York City alone (trip number four). While I was on my way into the city, Cassie checked online to make sure the Consulate was open. It was, and I had to redo everything. They posted, with virtually no warning, that they were changing their Chinese visa application forms and would no longer accept the old forms. Cassie filled out the entire new application for me while I was driving, sent it to me, and I printed it out and took it in.chinese visa approved

Of course, the saga wasn’t over yet. They wanted me to explain why I was applying so early by filling in a box on the application in my own handwriting, even though the Consulate site says over and over again that you must have everything printed out on a computer. You can’t handwrite anything. Based on my track record, I was pretty sure I was heading for another rejection letter.

Four days later, I went back to the consulate (trip five). Against all odds, they approved my Chinese visa application. As one of my friends put it, Bear Jew: 1 China: 0. I pointed out that it’s more accurate to say Bear Jew: 1 China: 4, but it’s the 1 that counts. It may have taken longer than we liked, but we were able to secure our visas to China. Finally, we can hike the Great Wall!!


The first thing you need to find out is which consulate, based on your home state, you should be submitting your visa application to. If you apply to the incorrect consulate, this could mean a delay in obtaining a visa.

Next, once your on the correct consulate website, make sure you have the right application. This form is the application for those applying for a visa in New York City as of September 2013. Check the website at least twice for application updates – when you start filling out the visa application and before you go to the Consulate to submit it. The Chinese consulates change their visa applications quickly and with very little warning. They announced on August 28th that they’d be changing their applications on September 1st and that the old applications would no longer be accepted. That’s THREE DAYS NOTICE they gave… and that was over Labor Day weekend!!

Make sure you have everything with you. Our list is below. As a tourist, you’ll be applying for an “L” Chinese visa. If you’re missing one piece of paper or one piece of information, they will turn you away immediately. Fill out everything in all capital letters with a computer. DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING BY HAND. This video is one of the best we found for a step-by-step walkthrough of filling out the application. The form is an older version (it says handwriting is still allowed), but heed the warnings.


If you’re applying for a Chinese visa for the first time, here’s the list of what you’ll need:

1) Passport
2) Photocopy of Passport
3) Visa Application Form
4) Passport Photo (no hats allowed)
5) Copy of itinerary showing round trip airfare and hotel reservations OR if you’re visiting someone, a letter from that person with your full name, gender, birthdate, the same info for the person you’re visiting, and your itinerary.

Visit the Consulate website for more information on what you need to bring. There’s extra paperwork if you’re applying for something other than an “L” visa.

We’re entering China by bus from Vietnam, but we don’t have bus tickets yet because we’re eight months out. That’s the kind of stuff you would type in box 3.7 where it asks for more information about your trip.

Regular processing takes four days, and you pay $140 when you pick up your passport. You can pay for express service which costs and extra $20 and shaves a day or two off the time. You can’t mail in your application – you have to bring it in – but you can have someone else submit it for you. There’s a section at the bottom of the application to designate someone else.

We have friends who used an outside service to help them apply and secure a Chinese visa. There are companies out there that will do it for you (for a price of course). Here are a couple, and you can definitely find more:

My China Visa
Passports and Visas

Best of luck!

Want to hike the Great wall with us? Click here.

5 Responses to “Our Chinese Visa Story”

  • Wow what a story and one of the reasons I am following this blog. This article is going in the “Keeper” file. Thanks.

  • We often forget how some countries view journalism as a threat. Looking forward to reading about your trip as the year goes on 🙂

  • Hiya! I simply wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the good information you’ve here on this post. I shall be coming again to your blog for extra soon.

  • Painful, but I admire your tenacity.

  • I’m also a journalist leaving my job, heading east and was told its to early to apply and denied a visa. I’m planning to apply again once I leave my job. how did you deal with the question about previous visa applications on your approved application.

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