Hong Kong the hard way: China Visa tips for families, children and... slackers

Travel, Culture | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: January 25th, 2011 | Updated: July 28th, 2011 | Comments
Getting a China visa squared away is never easy. There's always something you forgot to bring or some document they forgot to demand or some new regulation that no one quite understands but everyone is trying to enforce. Things change, but the difficulty of obtaining (or even maintaining) your visa in China is a constant. Perhaps big-time CEOs or businessmen with millions invested are able to get a five-year multi-entry F (Business) visa that, even if it were to one day expire, can be extended indefinitely (or at least until the FDI—foreign direct investment—runs out). But for the rest of us... well... let me share a few things I learned during my recent visa nightmare that might one day be useful to you.... I am married to a cute little mama from Chengdu named Beanmilk and we have a son named Stinky. I have a one-year multi-entry "Relative Visa" and Stinky had a one-entry 6-month "Tourist Visa." Both show up as L visas. We both hold US passports. For the Relative Visa, you need a marriage or birth certificate, the ID of your spouse and your passport plus the basic pics. Last Christmas (2010) we flew to Germany and our plan was to get Stinkumz a Relative Visa in Germany. Unfortunately, it ain't that easy.

1) If you're in Western Europe (France, Germany and UK confirmed) and are trying to apply for a visa to China, you must be a citizen of the country you are applying from or a permanent resident thereof.

In my experience, this rule does not apply to Thailand, perhaps because Thailand is a popular transit country. Anyone can go to the Chinese Consulate in Chiang Mai and get a Chinese visa. It's kind of like Hong Kong in that way. I would be grateful if someone on the "Chiang Mai Visa Run" could verify this, as things may have changed since I got my easy visa in Thailand a few years back.

According to the guy behind the counter at the Chinese Consular office in Frankfurt ALL EUROPEAN NATIONS are bound by the "permanent resident/citizen clause," which basically means that if you are traveling through Europe and decide, "hey, I'm gonna go to China" you won't be able to get your visa. This clause has NOT BEEN confirmed by Chinatravel.net for nations other than France, Germany and the UK.

So anyway, we were like, no sweat, we'll just send all of the documents to the US to my trusty standby VisaExpress.net, who have handled many of my visas over the years.

Unfortunately, it ain't that easy.

2) If you are applying for a visa to China for a minor (18 and under) from the USA, then both parents must be citizens of the USA or the non-citizen must have a green card. Beanmilk doesn't have a green card. So the folks at visaexpress.net sent all of our docs back to us. Again, if anyone out there can confirm this we'd love to hear from you because what one Chinese Consulate says often has no bearing on what the other Chinese Consulates say.

So now our only option is Hong Kong, the safe haven for all visa seekers. But, of course, things ain't that easy. I had to be in Shanghai on January 10th so I could be at work, so our plan was for me to take the docs to Hong Kong and get the visa done there, while the family waits for the good news in Germany.

3) A parent can represent their child when applying for a visa in Hong Kong. The child's passport must have an entry stamp for Hong Kong. Any passport that does not have an entry stamp for Hong Kong cannot get a visa to China in Hong Kong—which means that you cannot send your passport to Hong Kong and have a middleman do the job for you. You have to physically be there.

All good. Plan D: Fly the family out to Hong Kong to meet me. We'll go to Lamma Island while the visa is processed and maybe get a cheap massage deal on Groupon.hk.

All Bad. In Germany, the China Eastern counter was womanned by an evil beatch that would not give poor Bean her boarding pass for Hong Kong, because the flight passed through Shanghai. The Evil Woman did not believe that Mainland Chinese are allowed to stay for one week in Hong Kong without a visa if they are coming from a country other than Mainland China.

4) Chinese nationals are allowed to travel from a foreign country (i.e. any country but China) to Hong Kong and stay there for seven days without a Hong Kong visa. If however, your flight from that foreign country connects in China (say, a Frankfurt-Shanghai-Hong Kong flight) then Chinese customs will not let you through and you will be forced to stay in China. Also, you must be in transit from Country A - HK - Country B. So a Frankfurt-HK-Shanghai flight may have possibly worked.This might be helpful for those of you out there who are married to a local.

So the customs officials in Shanghai conferred for two hours before they finally allowed Stinky (who did not have a China visa at the time) to enter China on a special two-day visa (This happened to coincide with the weekend), instead of allowing Bean and Stinky to travel on to Hong Kong on their (booked and paid for) flight and see what the HK authorities would do with them.

So then I had to fly back from Hong Kong to Shanghai to pick up Stinkumz (same day flight), while the local PSB in Shanghai harassed me, Bean and our landlord for harboring a fugitive from justice: my visa-less 11-month old son.

Me and Stink spent a few days in town eating Hong Kong's famous har gao and checking out the Ladies Market out in Kowloon while the local CITS handled his visa. He is now safe and sound with his mama in Chengdu, recovering from a stomach flu and reaching for the sausage even though he's only allowed to eat the porridge. His visa is a 6-month single entry L Tourist visa that we will change into a Relative visa in Chengdu, where is mama's hukou be.

5) Don't be an idiot and let your visa expire. Extend it. WAY before it expires. Get your documents ready. Visit the local PSB early. Be responsible.

For more information on visas in China, check out the following sources:

2010 China Visa Updates Shanghai Expo Visa Rules (may or may not still apply) 2008 Visa Updates (may or may not still apply) Getting a Business Visa in Hong Kong Attempting to Talk Your Way Out of a Visa Fine Chinese Embassy in the US Another option: just type in "China Visa" in your search engine and slowly go through the dozens of private China visa providers. The plethora of China visa middlemen should give you an idea of how arbitrary the process can be. The people I know with the least visa problems are those with a connection. Of course, there are thousands of gainfully employed English teachers, diligent students and curious tourists who never seem to have a problem with their visas. I salute you.
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