(Read Part 1 Here First)
Third Time Lucky?
Learning from our previous two attempts to apply for visas at the Chinese Embassy in Bogota, we took a blanket and pillows with us. It was still dark when we arrived, bitterly cold and there was already a queue that stretched all the way round the corner. We found out from the person in front of us that the majority of the people in the line were from agencies and throughout the morning it became clear that they were keeping places for further colleagues who arrived later on, meaning the queue actually got longer rather than shorter. Added to this, the agency reps each held a large envelope that was full to bursting with what we estimated as being at least 20 passports. It was just not fair. People with individual applications were getting pretty angry and things started to really heat up as we got closer to the gate as a lady argued with a group of agency guys and ended up calling the police.
The Last Straw
Thankfully we managed to get through the gates before they arrived! After another long wait inside our ticket number was finally called and we eagerly presented our stuff to the lady at the desk. She flicked through our paper work whilst shaking her head then put it on one side and asked us to take a seat. Dismayed but still hopeful we waited. Then came out the same angry man we saw the first time, he was even more incensed than the first time but this time wasn’t even addressing us he was just venting his anger at the lady whilst getting redder and redder in the face. Someone in the waiting room tried to intervene and translate for us but it was of little use. He told us that they just wouldn’t accept our application, there was nothing that could be done and we would have to apply in our own country. Dumbfounded and full of unanswered questions we stood there for a little while until the enraged man reappeared and instructed the security guy to escort us of the premises. Sarah was in tears as we made our way back to our hostel, defeated.
After a while searching on the internet it turns out the rude man was actually right. Owing to a change in Chinese visa regulations which occurred after we had set off, we did have to apply for visas in own country of residence. Why we weren’t just told this the first time we went is beyond us. A friend suggested we contact the British embassy in Colombia to see if they could help but when we checked their website for the address it clearly stated that they will not help with any visa applications for other countries. And so we were left stranded in Colombia with a non-refundable flight to Beijing already booked with no visa to enter the country and no way of easily getting one. Crap!
It was also our 1st wedding anniversary the day after we were due to arrive in Beijing and we had treated ourselves to a few nights in a posh hotel, which we had already paid for. Should we forgo our time in Colombia and go home to get visas in at the Chinese Embassy in London? Should we try and courier our passports back to England and get someone to apply of our behalf and post them back? Should we bother going at all, or just cut our losses and fly somewhere else instead? Should we stay in South America? All of these questions went through our minds.
After a bit of research, we found out that we could apply for a 72 hour visa, free of charge, on arrival at Beijing airport. The only stipulation was that we had to provide proof that we were then flying out of the same airport to different country or Chinese Province such as Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau. Yay! At least we would be able to enjoy our wedding anniversary in Beijing and not lose the money we had already paid for the hotel or flight. Another friend who had lived in China suggested we might still be able to get visas in Hong Kong and being British citizens we didn’t need a visa for there either. So we looked up flights from Beijing to Hong Kong and they were quite reasonable, great we thought - even if we were unsuccessful at getting visas for the mainland there, at least we would get to experience some of China.
Change in Luck
Opportunely the hostel we choose to stay at in Hong Kong was super helpful and there were also plenty of other travellers there that were indeed just visiting Hong Kong on visa runs. It was slightly more expensive but we decided to apply through an agency rather than deal with embassy bureaucracy again ourselves. That way we then didn’t have the hassle of having to complete another itinerary either as they did it all for you. The only thing they couldn’t guarantee was the length of visa we would be given. Maybe two weeks or maybe 4 weeks they said which seems crazy, but it’s just how it is they say. Apparently it is much easier once you have had a visa previously – I suppose they trust you more that you will leave? Anyway, after a few days wait we finally got our much anticipated Chinese Visa and for 30 days too! We were so excited to explore the country, especially after our first taste of it in Hong Kong.
And so the moral of the story, don’t try and apply for a Chinese visa anywhere other than your country of residence or Hong Kong. It’s just not worth your sanity.
James & Sarah