Monday, September 10, 2012

Keep it Simple (on getting a visa)

How many of you have ever applied for a visa?

I have. But, I've always applied as a tourist staying less than 30 days in countries that either wave the need for a visa in that situation or just let you buy one at the airport. Then, I decided to get a job in another country.

And boy, when that happens, you get a LOT of information thrown at you, from multiple sources. Your company says one thing, the internet {oh, the internet} says another, and the {multiple} visa services tell you many other things.

In short: I was going crazy. I was sure I'd do the wrong thing. I'd be rejected. I'd forget a form, not bring a form I didn't know I needed, that I'd be told I'd need some random thing because the rules changed yesterday. It was super confusing because you can either go to the consulate and do this yourself, or you can hire someone {a visa service or a travel agent} to do it for you. The problem with the visa services is that they all tell you they need different things.

Panicked, I decided to just go and ask questions. If they needed more things, at least I wouldn't have been dealing with a third party.  They day of, I went down there, was running late, was a bundle of nerves..... I'll be honest, the whole process was easier than getting my license at the Texas DPS.

So here's what I learned:

1. Every visa service will tell you something different {I contacted 3, the one recommended by my company, and the ones that my mom and aunt recommended}, will add things you need {that you don't}, and charge a LOT of money. The best thing to do is go to the consulate website and bring everything they tell you to.

2. Go yourself {if you're able}. I'm lucky that I have a Chinese consulate in my city and that I'm not working a full-time job. I saved myself $45-$115 by not paying a service and if I would have been missing anything I would have been able to get clarification right away. Also, if you use a service you have to mail your passport and then wait for them to mail everything back. I had my visa in the promised 4 business days.

3. Don't believe the hype. If you look at Yelp, you get a lot of horror stories. People spending all day at the consulate, being told they needed a random form, not being able to pay with the method they thought they'd be able to, etc. I was confused and nervous and prepared to wait all day {I brought food and my kindle}. I brought ALL of my documentation, including some stuff the website didn't say I needed and it was an extremely easy process.

I went one morning, spent 2 minutes in line, gave the nice lady my documents, and left. I grabbed some iced coffee and was home in time to take a nap and pack for my trip to NYC. Picking up my visa was just as simple. The line was longer {I waited 10 minutes, maybe?} but the person at the counter was quick and efficient and we moved fast. I handed her my slip and money order and got my passport. No problem, no drama.

4. Make copies. I made copies of all the documents sent to me from China, my passport, my flight itinerary, etc. I didn't need most of it, but there were a few things I did need copies of that I wasn't aware of {they wouldn't take the original of some things, which makes sense because I'll need them over there}, and I'm glad I made copies ahead of time. Now, I have extra copies to leave somewhere safe and to bring with me.

From my experience, I believe that a lot of people who have problems do so because they don't follow directions or don't allow enough time to get things done. The lady behind me missed some flights because she didn't put the application in on time and blamed her visa service for not returning her passport when she needed it. Go early, go with the required stuff {and a few expected extras} and you'll be fine!

Anyone else traveling somewhere interesting?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:52 AM

    I've never even heard of using a visa service. I've applied for visas 6 times now (for 4 different European countries) and have never had a problem. Each one usually has its hard-to-get document (ahem.. FBI criminal history report, which takes forever to get even when your request is not rejected), which creates a lot of anxiety but in the end has always ended up okay. Enjoy China!