A few days ago, I talked about preparing for vacation as a freelance writer. While that topic would apply to just about any time of the year, there’s a reason why I decided to write about it at this time. In less than two weeks, I’ll be taking a two-week vacation through Asia, visiting Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong. One of my greatest passions is to travel, but I haven’t been back to Asia for about 15 years. I’m sure a lot has changed. What’s more, I’ve never been to Tokyo or Beijing, so it’ll be an interesting cultural experience as well.

In order to enter Japan as a Canadian citizen, all I need is a valid passport. That wasn’t a problem, since I already have one. However, to enter China, you need to get a Visa from the Chinese Consulate and this costs money (and time). If there are any international travelers looking to travel to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or anywhere in China, you will need a Visa before you are permitted entry into the country. The exact process and fees may vary slightly from office to office, but they should be largely the same. My experience is with the Vancouver office, located above the Staples store on West Broadway near Hemlock.

I personally found that there are many inefficiencies and unknowns about the Chinese visa process. Although the office is open from 9am to 1pm, Monday through Friday, it is expected that there will always be a long lineup of people well before the office opens for the day. If you arrive a little later in the four-hour window, you may not get service at all that day. Here are several observations and pointers that I’d like to pass on to anyone looking to travel into China:

  • Arrive Early: The office opens at 9am, but on the day that I went, a lineup started to form at 6:30am. It’s almost like a Boxing Day (or Black Friday) sale, every day of the year. We arrived at 8:30am and were about 50th in line. The security guard said that this was considered a slow day.
  • Get a Number: When the line finally funnels into the office, you will be given a number. If you show up after 9am, you will need to see the security guard at the door for a number. Yes, there is a lineup to see the security guard.
  • Fill Out Your Form In Advance: The application form is available on location, but it is best to fill out the form ahead of time, in case there is any information you need to look up. You will also need one passport style photograph.
  • No Need for a Stamped Photo: Unlike a Canadian passport where you need two photographs stamped by the photo studio where you took the picture, this is not required for a Chinese visa. As such, you could probably use those mall photo booths.
  • Glue Your Picture: There is a space on the form where you are told to attach your picture. They mean this literally. No staples, no tape, no paper clips. Glue it.
  • No Need to Pay: On the day that you drop off your visa application (you temporarily relinquish your passport to them), they will not require any payment or deposit. They just take your application and passport, giving you a confirmation paper that you bring back in about 3-4 business days.
  • Debit Only: Here’s a surprise. When it does come time to pay (when you pick up your passport and visa), they do not accept cash. They also do not take any credit cards or cheques. The only forms of payment accepted are debit, money orders, and company cheques.
  • No Number on Pickup: Whereas you needed a number to drop off your visa application, you do not need to get a number to pick it up. Simply join the cashier line when you arrive.

I hope these observations and tips have been handy. In terms of pricing, a single entry (to be used within three months) is $50. Multiple entries (six months) is $100. Not exactly cheap, considering that I still have to pay for, you know, the trip itself. But hey, it should prove to be a great experience. I’ll try to put up some cool pictures and videos when I have an opportunity to do so. I know the hotel in Tokyo has Internet, but I’m not so sure about Beijing and Hong Kong. We’ll see.