This post is written by Katie, about her experience obtaining China visas in person at the Chinese Consulate in Houston.
Visa services charge $120/application for what you can do for less than $40 if you plan properly! Of course, in either case you must pay $140/visa.
On a rainy Tuesday I took the Mega Bus to Houston to drop off our China tourist visa materials (plus materials for four of my robot soccer teammates) at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston. My round-trip Mega Bus tickets, booked 8 days before travel and including reserved seats, cost $16.50 and the local bus cost $1.25 each way.
According to the Visa Office hours online, you can drop off materials between 9:30am and 11:30am, as well as between 1:30pm and 3:00pm. I chilled at the Starbucks near the consulate until 1:15pm, and then walked over to the Visa Office entrance to the consulate. The consulate’s address is 3417 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006 but the actual entrance to the Visa Office is on Harold St. There was a line of people waiting in both directions – people dropping off should line up to the left of the door while people picking up should line up to the right. There are no signs stating this, but this seems to consistently be the system based on what I read various places online.
There is a security guard at the door that requests to see your application. He is just checking that it is typed, so you can just flash the top of it to him. You go through a metal detector, that seems to beep at everyone as they went through, but the security guard did not investigate any of the beeps. The security guard will tell you which line to get in – lines 5 and 6 seem to be for visa application drop-offs.
I was fifth in line. The first lady got rejected because her passport did not have 6 months left before it expired. The second guy got rejected because he was an airline employee flying standby to China, and hence did not have a ticket. The third lady was able to submit her application. The fourth guy was rejected because he seemingly only had the application and no supporting materials.
For the record, the website for the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston has guides for exactly what you need to bring for each visa type. They suggest that you submit your paperwork about a month before you plan to travel. The website is not the most organized, and hence not the easiest to follow. However, if you spend the time and dig through it to see exactly what you need, you can avoid having to make more than the two required trips (drop-off and pick-up) to the consulate.
As of June 2015, here is what is needed for a tourist visa to China (with a USA passport, applying in the USA):
- Original passport, with at least 6 months before its expiration date and at least two side-by-side completely blank visa pages
- A color copy of your your passport’s data/photo page
- A typed and complete Visa application (make sure you get the most recent version from the consultate’s website)
- A recent (within the last 6 months) passport photo
- Printed confirmation pages of your incoming and outgoing modes of transportation to/from China
- Printed confirmation pages of your hotels/hostels/trains for each night (note that if you are staying with a friend, they will need to invite you – be sure to read on the consulate’s website regarding what information is required in this case)
Some things that are not clear based on the information on the website, but seem to be important:
- Do not staple anything
- Tape your passport photo to your application in the appropriate area with scotch tape on all four sides
- Double-sided printing seems to be acceptable
- Writing everything in UPPERCASE is not actually required
I stepped up to the counter feeling a bit like I was visiting the Soup Nazi. The lady I submitted our six applications to was very serious and did not seem interested in any pleasantries. However, if I had to deal with people all day who are not brining in the appropriate materials listed on the website and then getting upset, I probably would not be very friendly either.
After collecting all six applications, she gave me a pick-up slip for Friday, but confirmed that I could pick them up any time during the Visa Office’s hours the following week as well. I was back on my laptop at Starbucks by 2pm.