Notes from a pilot's kid

Chinese Visa for US Citizens in Hong Kong

Americans are supposed to obtain a visa for China in the US in their home region. I tried to do this in October at the Chinese Consulate of New York but met a line that stretched too far for my patience. So if you’re like me and are already in East Asia, hoping to visit China, but do not have a visa, there is an alternative. Rumors on Lonelyplanet and Tripadvisor say that the China Resources Building in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, does not officially approve visas for Americans (unless they are Hong Kong residents), but that they sometimes will do so. This worked for me in January 2014, but the office would only offer a two-entry visa with six months validity (at Chinese consulates in the US, a multi-entry visa with one year validity is usually given). After Barack Obama and Xi Jinping’s recent agreement to extend visa validity to ten years, I went back to the Hong Kong visa office hopeful that they had also changed their policy. It worked! Americans applying in Hong Kong for a Chinese visa will now receive a multi-entry visa with ten years validity (at least those with a similar situation to mine). This could of course easily change without notice, but it’s a good sign for Americans wishing to visit China.

Hopefully this information will be helpful to you if you are in the same situation. Here is how I obtained the visa.

Documents Needed:

  • An invitation letter from a friend or tourism company. I imagine that if you make a reservation at a hotel in China, you can email them and ask them to draw up an invitation letter, but I am not sure. I had a friend write an invitation letter for me. It needs to include:

    • The friend’s personal information: name, address, phone number, passport number, date of birth, gender.

    • Your personal information: name, address, phone number, date of birth, gender.

    • A brief description of what you will visit with your friend, whether you will stay with the friend, and who will be covering travel expenses (I said in the application that I will cover all expenses)

    • A signature (can be digitally scanned)

  • An itinerary of where you will visit. This is a little silly since only one itinerary is necessary for the first entry of what will be a multi-entry ten year visa, but it is required and will be part of the application. All that’s needed are dates and addresses. I included a few places in the itinerary, including my friend’s address as well as the addresses of several hotels in cities where we say we plan to visit (I did not have reservations at these hotels and was not asked for confirmation).

  • A completely filled out application form. Do this on your computer in ALL CAPS and print it out before you get anywhere near the visa office. Your itinerary from above, inviter’s personal information, and your own immediate family’s personal information will need to be included in the form.

  • A passport that won’t expire in less than six months.

  • A passport photo. This can be obtained on the way to the China Resources Building office at a small shop next to the escalator outside Wan Chai MTR exit A2. It is adjacent to the escalator that leads to the footbridge leading to Immigration Tower, Central Plaza, and the China Resources Building.

  • A photocopy of your passport and your Hong Kong arrival slip.

  • A copy of the friend’s passport, or hotel (and maybe flight) reservation information from the hotel or tourism company that provided the invitation.

  • Previous visas to China. I have two tourist Visas in an expired passport. The office was only interested in my last visa, which was also obtained in Hong Kong. If you can’t bring these, make a photocopy or obtaining the visa number from them may be helpful.

Visiting the Office:

The office is located in the China Resources Building at 26 Harbor Road, Wan Chai. You can exit the MTR at Wan Chai Exit A2, then take this footbridge to Immigration Tower:

Foodbridge in Wan Chai

Second view of the footbridge in Wan Chai

Keep right to pass through Central Plaza, and keep right again to a footbridge that heads toward and crosses Fleming Road:

The Fleming Road Footbridge

As the footbridge bends right (towards the South), there will be a staircase leading down to the sidewalk that leads to the China Resources Building with this sign:

The China Resources Building

The hours are fairly standard: 9AM-12PM, 2PM-5PM.

Plan for your visit to take about two hours.

Plan to be able to pick up your visa in 24-32 hours if you expedite it, or three working days if you don’t.

Do not bring food or drinks. They are not allowed. Bring a book. There is now reliable free WiFi in the building as well.

I arrived at 1:30PM, and waited thirty minutes outside in a queue with about 60 people ahead of me. At 2PM we passed through the metal detectors and proceeded to the third floor. There is an attendant in a suit in front of two digital kiosks who will spot-check your application and give you a number.

The office does have a photocopier and supposedly a place for taking passport photos, but I’d recommend preparing documents in advance so you don’t have to wait in line for these facilities.

If you have all of the above documents, the process is simple and efficient, but don’t expect anyone to be friendly. If you have forgotten something, you will not be given the benefit of the doubt or a preferential spot when you return. You will be handed back your application forms and asked to return when you have everything in order. You may have to take a new number if you need to leave the building. This happened to me because I forgot to print a copy of my inviter’s passport, so I had to leave, return to a shop that would print a PDF from a USB drive, and then take a new place in line.

After your application is submitted you will be given a slip to bring to the office to claim your Passport with the new visa inside. Payment is in Hong Kong Dollars. No credit or debit cards are accepted. When you return, you have to wait in a different, shorter line to pick up the passport from a cashier inside the same office.

Pickup time depends on when you go. I went at 11:15AM on a Friday and there was only a line of 10 people for the cashier, so it took at total of 20 minutes.

That’s it! There are a lot of steps of preparation and a little waiting involved. The nice thing is that you only need to do this once in the next ten years.

P.S. There is a slight chance that my ability to get a ten-year visa at ths Hong Kong office was dependant on the fact that I’ve obtained a visa from that office previously…if that’s the case, you may not be so lucky. But good luck.