Posted by: adventuressetravels | July 17, 2012

Caught in the Flypaper

My fear of the traveler’s flypaper of visas nearly overcome, I started planning my trip to China.  I would go to Hanoi, pick up a visa, and bus it across the border to Kunming.  No problem, right?

I had been fascinated with for years and done a little research into Chinese visas.   I knew it was more expensive for US citizens to get visas to China than for any other nationality: $140 versus $30.  Still, a 1-year multiple entry visa would be worth it.  After all, I really wanted to visit China.

When I arrived at the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, I filled out the prodigious amount of forms and paperwork slipped in a copy of my Vietnamese visa and passport, and handed them to the guard.  He looked over the paperwork and told me that I would have to change the form:  I could only visit for 3-months.

My heart sank, but still, I did want to see the country.  Maybe 3-months would be enough for a start at least.  I crossed out 1-year and checked the 3-month box before returning to the guard.  This time everything was to his liking.  He glued a photo to the correct form, and ushered me into another room to wait in line.

When it was my turn, I handed the paperwork to the Chinese Foreign Service officer.  The petite woman, her thick black hair tied severely back in a ponytail, scrutinized my paperwork.

“You are not a citizen here:  you can only visit for 30-days,” she said, crossing out 3 and writing in the number 1 before month.  There wasn’t even a box for single entry one month on the form!  This couldn’t be fair!

If I wanted to extend it that was possible in the country, she told me, trying to be helpful.  Even so, the extension would be another $140.

1 month, single entry, for $140 was more than I could afford.  No matter how much money I had, it was more than I could justify spending.  I took the visa forms and left the embassy, in hopes that a travel agent might have better luck.

I spent the rest of the day walking around the streets of Hanoi asking travel agents how much a visa to China would cost and if they could get a longer visa.  The prices varied from $165-195.  Though the visa lengths did vary, the majority of agents could only arrange visas from 15-20 days.  Even Vietnamese citizens were only allowed 1-month single entry visas to China.  Of course, their visas were $30.

It is possible that US citizens can get a longer visa to China from other Hong Kong, Singapore, or other countries.  I have called embassies, and asked around but unfortunately I have not been able to reach anyone who knows.  A 1-year multiple entry visa is certainly possible from within the United States.  It is frustrating to be mere hours away from China by bus and unable to enter.

I am not entirely sure why US travelers are only allowed 30-days from Vietnam.  I know that India has a policy of only issuing 6-month entry visas to US citizens traveling abroad, but at least that is 6-months.

I had been dreading visas before coming to Asia, now I realize that that dread was justifiable.   Though I am a firm believer of spontaneity, occasionally planning can be good as well.  If you are planning a trip to Asia and want to go to China or to India I highly recommend getting visas in advance.


  1. wonderful experience you have , I am also painful to know this
    it is just not bearable
    I do not know what is the situation for india who wants to travel from Vietnam the same way

  2. What do you expect from a Communist state? RED tape.

  3. Have you tried contacting the Chinese embassy in Vientiane, Laos? I found it a breeze to get the standard 30-day tourist visa there in February 2011. By that I mean I didn’t have an exact itinerary or any accommodation booked, nor contacts in China, nor any current employment details – all things listed on the form and I still got the visa no questions asked. I never enquired about any other type of visa but it could be worth a try.

    • I’ll check, I’ve had a hard time getting any of the Chinese embassies or consulates on the phone. Sadly getting a 30-day visa is easy in Vietnam too, the problem is getting a longer one. Thanks for the suggestion though.

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