Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Getting a Chinese Visa

Yesterday I went to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to get my single entry visa with my friend. I thought I had all the information and materials but that wasn't the case. Getting there also turned into a mini-fiasco also. We got lost because we didn't bring a map to help us in case our Yahoo Maps directions didn't work, or if we got off course. My dad asked for directions a few times, but he kept asking people if they knew where the Chinese Consulate was. There are several consulates in Chicago, how would they know where the Chinese one was? It was funny when he asked a Fedex guy where the Chinese Consulate was and he promptly told us the address (100 West Erie Street), which we knew already. I joked that if we had asked him what 100 W. Erie St. was he would've said, "Oh, that's the Chinese Consulate." I guessed that he had delivered a few packages there. I realized how true that was later on.

When we finally got to the visa office there was 15 minutes before it closed for 1 hour. Posted all over the walls of the small room were the instructions for filing for a visa. The problem was that much of this information was not posted on their website, so we had to wait until the office opened at 1pm. In addition to what we brought with us we needed a prepaid envelope so we could get our visas and passports mailed back to us. That costs another 5 bucks in addition to the $50 for each visa, money orders only. That meant a trip to the post office for my dad (one of the notices had directions to the post office).

We stood in line for an hour for the visa "officials" to come back. We moved to the front because many other people had left. Then, as the hour wound down more people started to show up... with numbers. Numbers!? These people had come early in the morning and weren't able to get visa, so they got numbers to use when they came back in the afternoon. There were about 18 numbers given out, so we were 19th in line. Processing a visa is a quick operation, so we weren't too discouraged. However, a new policy surfaced, one that was not outlined on the website. You could have a travel agent deliver your passport and application to the office for you.

The first guy in line had 2 applications, so we were sure we'd be out of there quickly. But the second guy had at least 50! Some of them weren't filled out right, and the lady processing the applications was new. How long would this go on? 18 people ahead of us, with at least 300 applications. And the office closed in 1 and a half hours. Luckily, my dad got a travel agent to take our applications, he was number 15 and had a whole bag of apps. He was nice enough to take ours first so we got out before it closed. That's one experience I don't want to go through again. Next time I'll use a travel agent.