Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Adventure of the China Visit Visa

As I mentioned in my last post, Brian and I are planning to visit China at the end of the month during the Muslim holiday of Arafat Day and Eid Al Adha. Like a lot of places, we need a visit visa to get there, but unlike most, we have to apply for the visa in advance. As US passport holders, getting a visa typically means waiting in line at the airport when you arrive and paying the fee, but for China it means a lot more.

We started where we always start when we don't know how to do something ... Google. And Google was pretty helpful. We found the forms to fill out and the location of the Chinese consulate in Dubai so we started to put together our documentation.

And, wow, was there a lot of it. First, there were 2 different forms (one was 7 pages long!) asking everything from birth dates to reasons for your visit to a list of every place you've visited over the past 12 months (and we had a long list!). Then we needed copies of our passports, residence visas and a color photograph. We got it all together and Brian headed off to the consulate ...

... only to find out they were closed for a Chinese holiday ... for a week! (sigh)

Okay, no problem, the website says the visas only take 4 days and we've still got almost a month. The following Sunday, Brian arrived at the consulate around 10:30 only to be told there were no more visa tickets left. Generously, an Emirati waiting in line gave Brian his ticket (#190) since he wasn't able to wait the 2-3 hours it would probably take to get to his number. Brian prepared for the wait and wandered into the office area. Where he found a sign outlining everything you need to apply for your visa ...

... and we're missing a document ... that wasn't listed on the website! (sigh)

More paperwork gathering - this time our flight confirmations, all our hotel bookings and No Objection letters for both of us. (Brian needed a NOL from his company saying they have no objection to him traveling to China, and I needed the same from Brian since I'm sponsored on his visa.)

Trip number 3 to the consulate. Brian arrived at 9:00am promptly when they open and was again told all the tickets for the day had been granted. After some discussion, he found out that people start waiting in line at 6:30 for their tickets! Yikes, that's as bad as Walmart on Black Friday!

SIDE NOTE: This last visit is an affliction in Abu Dhabi that we call "the magic question". It's either culture or related to the fact that a large majority of the service population knows English as a second language, but we've found that only the exact question you ask is answered, even if additional information would be helpful. In this example, Brian asked, "what time does the consulate open", eliciting the response, "9:00am sir". The "magic question" should have been, "what time should I arrive to get a visa ticket?" in which case, the answer would have been, "6:30".

It was time for trip number 4 and Brian had to be at the Dubai consulate by 6:30am, so we found a relatively cheap hotel not too far and Brian headed out the night before to stay over rather than get up at the crack of dawn. He arrived a bit after 6:30am the next morning and was the first one in line. Waited until 8:25 when they opened the outer doors so at least from then on he could wait in the air conditioned corridor. And finally got to the counter at 9:00, handed in our paperwork, which was scrutinized carefully, and then was on his way.

He went back 4 days later and we are now, finally, the proud owners of China visit visas.

All I can say is that Great Wall had better really be great! :)

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