If you find yourself in the situation of needing to apply for a Chinese Visa from time to time it might be worth it to do some advance research and consider where you apply for it.
Making the decision wisely could save time, hassle and money at the same because the fees are different in each country and they also vary based on citizenship.
Over the course of the past five years I have applied for Chinese Visa in Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. During this time a few things changed the process dramatically. For one, more and more cities eliminate the application process to be handled by the Chinese Embassy/Consulate and instead applicants have to use a Visa Application Center (see their international website here).
The following countries are currently handled by these application centers:
Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Rep. Korea, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and United Kingdom.
Are these facilities a good thing? That depends on the perspective. They certainly add fees to your application process and these can vary widely from 500 (15$) THB in Bangkok to 55 EUR (65$) in Berlin.
On the other hand there is a huge advantage when it comes to the environment and the process itself once you compare the situation at the locations. Whenever I visited an actual embassy or consulate it was always mayhem. A total disaster with hundreds of people waiting in a small room with bad air. So far every single one of these service centers was clean, properly located and easily accessible. You can pay by card (debit or credit) and the staff speaks proper English and whatever the local language is.
This is how it used to look in Bangkok until late 2015 before they moved to a service center:
The reactions on Foursquare speak a clear language:
Today was the first time I used the new Visa Application Center. I knew it must be better than what I was used to from the old location but it’s still Thailand so I prepared for the worst. I was positively surprised!
All in all I paid (or I’m expected to pay at pick-up) 2,150 THB for the Double Entry Tourist Visa. This includes the 500 THB service fee for the new facility.
Attached is the fee schedule for Bangkok as an example:
You can see that the price varies by citizenship. US citizens are required to pay for the most expensive option but should be eligible for the new 10 Year Tourist Visa. I’m saying ‘should be’ because there are plenty options on this schedule and not all apply. For example (I asked about this again today) they only issue a maximum of a Double Entry good for 6 months if one applies for a tourist visa. This has always been the case in Bangkok. It’s certainly a different matter if you apply for a Business Visa and have the required documents. For U.S. citizens due to the unique nature of how their visas are handled you would want to ask your local center or embassy in advance (via email, phone or in person) if they issue you the 10 year multiple entry Tourist Visa for the same rate. I would think yes but you never know.
Talking about documents, China is very strict to have proper documentation worldwide whenever you apply for a visa. The only place where this was more relaxed was Hong Kong and Macau (I assume due to the land border) but all other locations required to have flight confirmation and hotel booking as well as a detailed travel schedule. When you apply for a Chinese Visa in Bangkok follow the instructions meticulously or the application won’t be accepted. This includes copies of previous Chinese Visas, your passport, entry stamps, Thailand Visa and residence permit/work permit/student visa/university certification/household book (if you own property), sometimes bank statement and health insurance policy. It is insane what they require. My application was 14 pages this time and the only thing they did not require this time was the bank statement. I brought it because I was denied two years ago for not bringing it. Also their policy seems to change constantly if they allow Tourists to apply or not. Today they asked everybody coming in if they are Tourists and some people left again which let me to assume that they were denied instantly. This is subject to change and you should always verify because I have previously applied as a Tourist in BKK and so did some friends of mine. It’s been a while though.
Another positive option is that all of the Centers allow application by mail which is not available at Embassies and Consulates.
If you are a frequent traveler sometimes trip changes come unexpected and you might find yourself confronted with the need to apply for a visa while being on the road, outside your home country. It’s always a bit tricky to apply under such circumstances as a non-resident but some countries are relaxed in that regard. You can also take advantage of the new 72-144 hour Visa Free Transit option in China that is offered for some Chinese cities (only if you don’t need to leave the city). LoyaltyLobby reported about this here.
If you already know you need a Visa for China and plan on having a longer stop (2-3 days) in Bangkok or especially Hong Kong you might be able to save some serious money by paying much cheaper prices. I paid 110 EUR in Berlin last November for a Double Entry, that’s twice as much as Bangkok charges.
You wouldn’t believe how grateful I am for this new option. Applying for a China Visa in Bangkok was always an affair that occupied half a day and the staff was very complicated, always arguing about the visa type and stay duration you’re gonna get. Unable or unwilling to read the application paired with very poor English. These arguments and the need for explanations also eliminated the option of using an agent.
This is much better now and the service centers in Berlin and Vancouver are also a relief compared to the old days.