Thursday, August 9, 2018

So You Wanna Visit China ...

… Well, good luck!

Turns out, I'm going on Saturday, for two weeks. This will be my fourth visit to China, and by far the most difficult and annoying to arrange. Oh, not the hotels, flight tickets or sightseeing locations, no.

Just. The. Visa.

As I mentioned, I've been to China on three previous trips. All of them have been awesome. I balked (and continue to balk) at the visa cost nowadays--somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 USD--but in obtaining the visa for this trip, that was the least of my concern. Before my first trip, the government had changed the procedure for procuring a visa such that instead of going to the Chinese Embassy at Myeongdong, you applied at any number of "agents", most of them located within a ten minute walk of the Embassy as you walk up the hill from the subway station.

Today, as far as I can determine, there is only one way for an American living in Korea to get this visa, and I'm going to give you the inside poop, if you are interested. Actually, even if you aren't. Sadly, this information is not readily available on any website I know of, certainly not the Embassy or the CVASC (whatever that may be--just kidding, it's the China Visa Application Assistance Center). But it is the CVASC to which you must make your way.

There are two branches of this quasi-official organization in Seoul, and the closest one to me is located at Seoul Station, Line 1 of the metro. Go to Exit 8, but instead of going outside, enter the Seoul Square Mall. Go around the corner to the first escalator, then turn left and go up the second escalator. Turn right and follow the signs to CVASC and take the dedicated elevator to the sixth floor.

Now, get into the "Information" line. The worker there will look over your documents and give you a ticket number--or FAR MORE LIKELY--tell you what documents you don't have so you can go away and get them. There is a chance that you merely need to print some stuff off, so you can go to the bank of printers (which in my experience have a spotty record of being online). 100 W per page, but 200 W up to ten pages.

What documents do you need? I hear you ask. Of course, there are the ones we all expect to need when we go to apply for a visa, to wit:
    passport style photo
    Korean visa with at least six months
    Copy air ticket with ongoing flight
    Name of hotel/guesthouse
I've been loads of places, some of which require a visa, and that is the most I've been asked to provide. In fact, on my previous trips to China, that is all. However, the young ladies (all of them were) were quick to point out that there are new Chinese regulations for visas. Annoyingly, none of the information that follows was readily available on the CVASC website. But here is what else you need:
    Copy of passport front page
    Certificate of Entry (to Korea) for the last year
    Copy of hotel bookings for each and every night of your stay
    Itinerary of your trip--there is a form you must complete in detail
Okay, it's only a few things, but bear this in mind: 1) none of this is listed anywhere I could find on the website; 2) they won't make a copy of your passport, even though they make a copy front-and-back of your ARC; 2) my passport-type photo--good enough for my actual passport was too small to suit them, so I had to waste a larger shot (maybe 2 mm bigger); 3) you won't have kept your Certificates of Entry to Korea, but you can (have to) go to the Immigration office at Seoul Global Center at Jonggak sta. where they'll give you your all-time list for 2000 W cash; 5) your hotel bookings must match your passport--we had to change my account and redo the bookings so they had my full name--this was a pain in the royal ass. I asked my "assistant" if this was really necessary, as it was obvious that this is me, and my own booking--she replied, "They (Chinese Embassy) will definitely decline this visa"; 6) for the itinerary, you can't put "sightseeing", they want a specific place (just one...) for each day. Thankfully, I had brought my notes for the trip and didn't have to make up very much BS.

It is difficult to express the level of annoyance this process engendered, and I did my best to contain myself, but at one point I did tell the nice young lady who frankly wanted nothing more than to help me get this visa that I've been to China three times before and never had to do any of this nonsense! She could only say that it is "new regulations". It also engendered worries on my end that the application would be declined--did putting "cooking class" not count as a "landmark"? Is "The Bund" a good enough description for a day in Shanghai? etc.

The stupidest or most ironic thing about this whole process is that as an American, the visa--which is legally and (almost) irrevocably in my passport--is good for 10 years, with sixty days on each visit. All of it without going through ANY of this nonsense of writing out a detailed itinerary, printing out hotel bookings that I can cancel the next week, or making a copy of my passport page.

It's almost definitely as though they don't want my tourist dollars, which are the easiest dollars for any country to make. Unless they have something to hide. Please, just take my $180 and be done with it, like everywhere else.

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