Since there is a China consulate office in San Francisco I just got our visas myself for our trip last summer and didn’t use an agent. Though we did not ask for them, we were given 90 day, multiple entry, 1 year tourist or “L” visas. I suspect it was because we are considered “Overseas Chinese” because we’re Chinese American and I wrote our names in Chinese on the visa application. I wrote them badly, of course, because my writing looks like a four year old’s, and the woman at the counter had to first laugh, then rewrite our names on post-its. But it’s great good fortune for us now because those L’s are good until the end of April, long past the craziness of Chinese New Year, so we can just go in on those visas and renew them, switching to business visa, once we get there. Or anyway, that's the plan.
I have to be sure to bring the documents we will need. A list is included on my earlier posting about lists. It includes bringing some passport photos. When I was a younger traveler I learned to always bring at least two extra passport sized photos, even traveling in Africa or Eastern Europe, not just Asia, because if you need to pop into some consul’s office because, say, you decide to cross the Kenyan/Tanzanian border afterall, you don’t have to first search for a passport photo outfit.
But back to China: another great thing is the extremely courageous and competent mom of three mentioned earlier already found an agent in BJ to get her and her kids’ visas AND she negotiated an awesome fee for them so we will just piggyback on all of her work once we get there.
If we did not already have these L visas I would probably hire an agent here because I have such a finite amount of time to get my list done (Countdown: 38 days including today!) and can’t deal with any new time drains, and because we’re traveling during Chinese New Years which can be tricky. I’ve heard that the Consul can be fussy and one never knows when one might hit a grouchy agent and have problems. Hmmmm…just like our agencies. But if one lives in San Francisco the process is fairly straightforward. Download the form fill it out, take your passports and go to the consulate and plan to wait in line for a bit outside and then inside the building. Then go back the next week and pick up your passports with the visa inside. One tip that worked for me last Spring was to get there about 20 minutes before opening in the morning or reopening after the lunch break. That way I got into line before it went around the block and only waited outside about a half hour to clear the metal detector, and inside even less because everyone goes into different lines once inside. If you speak even a tiny bit of Chinese, it might help to brush up on an opening friendly phrase to two, too. But that might only help if you’re “Overseas Chinese.” Also, as with all travel to China, it might help to brush up on business etiquette. I’ll have to do a posting on that later.
The China consul website linked above also includes a list of the types of visas. Even some of the business visas require leaving China every 90 days but Hong Kong counts as “leaving” so it’s pretty easy (and fun!) to accomplish what is necessary. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand are all right there, too, obviously, so a nice hot sandy beach is an option. One just has to remember that one needs a visa to go to those places, too, even if it’s just a long weekend getting out of BJ every 90 days. There’s a whole thread on one of my BJ yahoo groups right now about Thai beaches for the summer weeks. Very enticing!