We managed! We did what seemed to be out of reach – we got a Chinese, double entry visa!
We did some research on this issue before and talked to a lot of people who wanted to get to China as well and planned to apply for it in one of the Central Asian countries. The general tendency is that you have it all done in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), through one of the travel agencies. Before it was also possible to get a tourist visa in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) – it was THE city to get the Chinese visa, but in 2012 a new consul got in charge and it is now very difficult. Most of the people we know got their 30 days tourist visa in Bishkek (through a travel agency, mostly with the help of famous Miss Liou) and paid from 130 to 150 USD. This visa is valid for one month only. It is possible to extend a tourist visa after you enter China, but you have to be in a right place at the right time (around a week before your recent visa expires, which means that you loose some precious days of your first visa).
What we did was a little bit different. We read on www.caravanistan.com that some people managed to get a double entry visa in July 2012 in Astana (Kazakhstan). It was October and we knew that it is a bit risky to go to Astana (a lot could have changed with getting the visa during this 3 months), but we like to do things our way and we decided to give it a try. We left our bicycles in Almaty and took a train to Astana (1200 km up North, a bit over 5000 KZT for the ticket per person). We were lucky – we had a host in Astana and we could stay there for free. Otherwise it would be very hard, Astana is ridiculously expensive! We had to do a lot of work before we applied and it took us 2 days to organize all the papers. Unfortunately China had a week-long holiday, so we had to wait a bit more than we have had expected. After almost 10 days of waiting and 3 visits at the embassy we finally got a double entry tourist visa (30 days for each stay) valid for three months and all what we paid was 12700 KZT for the two of us, which is less than 40 USD per person! It was not easy, it required a lot of work and involved some stress, but it was worth it! We can go to China now, without having the problem of extending our visa (we could, but then we would loose some days from the second entry), go to Hong Kong for a week or two and then go back to China for another month. Twice as much time as you can get in Bishkek, for one third of the money! Now we are already in China and we would like to give you this little tutorial, so you could enjoy your double entry visa! We take no responsibility for the results! In the worst case you can go back to Bishkek and apply there.
1. Go to Astana. Best and cheapest way is the train (hitch hiking could take 2 days and most of the drivers ask for money in Kazakhstan), buy a “platskartny”- ticket, it takes 20 hours and costs 4000-5000 KZT. Find a host in Astana – try CS, since hotels are very expensive there! Best day to arrive in Astana would be Friday (morning). You would have 2 days to prepare your papers (if you haven’t done it before) and it should be enough time. Then you go to the embassy on Monday morning, and you could pick up your visa the following Friday.
2. You will need a lot of papers to print, so find a cheap and good print/photocopy spot. They don’t tell you what papers you need, but the set is pretty standard for all Chinese embassies. You DON’T need a letter of invitation! You would need:
– one copy of an English version of the application form, THE RECENT ONE. For 2012 it was V.2012.A (4 pages). You will also need a Supplement, V.2012.B since you are applying abroad.
– You need a copy of the first page of your passport (with your face), a copy of your Kazakh visa and a copy of your registration slip in Kazakhstan; if you have a visa to your next country (after China) bring it as well.
– you need 2 photos. Special, Chinese visa photos. You can find the specifications online, but most of the photo shops in Astana would know what you mean.
– you need to prove, that you have enough money for your trip. If you apply for a double entry/60 days, you would need a lot. We printed out the bank statements from our bank’s websites, and it was enough. You could borrow the money from your friends for 3 days, print it out and give it back. Nobody would tell how much is a lot, but the more the better. They will ask you how you are going to found your trip, so you have to prove that you have some savings. It might be a good idea to photocopy your credit cards as well (if they would be still valid during your stay). You would also need some papers proving that you are either employed or have your own business. They asked us a lot of questions about that, I showed them a lot of photos from my work (I had it on the phone) and it was OK.
– now you have to make a story. Plan it well and learn all the names of the cities you want to visit by heart! You say that you fly into China, spend 2 months there (or one month, up to you, but it is more flexible if you get a 60 days visa; the price is the same) then go to Hong Kong or Macau for one week (we tried with Japan and they asked for the flight tickets there, so Hong Kong/Macau is safer) then spend another 2 months in China and fly out of the country, where you don’t need a visa (Japan? Kyrgyzstan?). You have to have a booked flight into and out of China. It is relatively easy to obtain, you just go to the nearest travel agency in Astana and say that you want to fly into China and then out somewhere, but you don’t have a visa yet, so you can’t pay. They will understand it and hold the tickets for you for 3-5 days. It is free (if it is not, go to the other agency!) and it cancels automatically after some days, so you are not obliged to pay. Next, you go to www.bookings.com and you book your hotels for the whole stay in China (both of them). It costs nothing and afterwards you can cancel it for free, so it is better to spend some time on that and booking the accommodation for your whole stay. Pick the cheapest hotels, than you look less suspicious.
-if you can provide the embassy with some additional papers that would make the story stronger, do it! But you have to know what you are doing!
3. Find the Chinese Embassy and go there early. The embassy is open only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 until 12. In fact they work everyday except Sundays, but to get in on Tuesdays or Thursday requires an invitation from an embassy or some special connection. Go there early, before 8 is good. It is a crazy place, Kazakh style! No rules at all! There will be some people in front of the entrance, and there will be a list. It is up to the security guy though, who comes first (not the guy in an official suit but the one who works directly for the embassy, probably in civilian clothes)! So you should be there early, sign up on the list (or start a new one) and as soon as the security guy shows up talk to him, make yourself visible. As a foreigner you have some special rights ;). When you get in you will be asked a lot of questions – be relaxed and polite. They will ask you why you need such a long visa, so you have to know the answers. Play it before – it is VERY important to know what to say!
4. If you are lucky they will give you a slip and explain at which bank you have to pay (its a 15 minutes walk from the Chinese Embassy). You pick yor visa up on Friday or Monday next week. It happened to us, that they called us the next day, and asked us to come to answer some more questions, so don’t leave Astana 2-3 days after your application!
5. You come back to the embassy to pick up your visa, and again, don’t wait in a line, it makes absolutely no sense. Find your way through the Kazakhs and/or convince the security guide to let you through. Show him the slip and explain that you are picking up your visa. When we arrived to pick our passports up it turned out that the visas were not ready yet and we had to answer all awkward questions once again, to a different officer. We did it all well and they granted us with a double entry visas!
After one month (or two if you are lucky and got a 60 days visa) all you have to do is to go to Hong Kong or Macau for as long as you want (from one hour to 90 days in our case) and re-enter China. It is much better to do it that way, than to extend your single entry visa (cheaper and hassle free).