Note: This article applies to American citizens who reside in the U.S. and its territories.
Update October 2020: Obviously international travel has changed due to the pandemic, including the visa process. Professional services like Travisa can advise the current options for your desired travel dates. There’s still relevant information in the original post, so I’ll keep it below.
Unless you live near a major U.S. city with a consulate or embassy – it may save time, money and peace of mind to use a reputable 3rd party to handle visa requests.
For me it was an obvious choice to use a service, as I live in Alaska.
3,073 miles to nearest consulate
In early 2015 I went to China for a certification course to teach English as a Second Language. The school suggested applying for a multiple entry tourist visa, with the caveat to be prepared for fluid changes of visa requirements even among the different consulates.
The first thing I learned about Chinese visas, is that they can’t be processed by mail. However, anyone may submit the required documents in person, on behalf of the traveler.
There were a plethora of online blogs from teachers in China who did visa runs to Hong Kong, which didn’t apply to my situation. However, the Embassy seemed to have the required documents online, so my first attempt was through an east coast consulate.
My friend went to the Chinese NYC consulate as my representative. However, they could not process anything from an Alaska resident as it wasn’t in their geographic area of responsibility. Yikes!
Although the NYC consulate couldn’t process my application, they did make corrective suggestions for my school’s invitation letter. Specifically, it needed to more clearly state the start and end dates for my visit vs. listing optional dates.
The consulate also pointed out that the school letter didn’t have a stamp. Stamps are the crux of Chinese business.
Any important documents generated from China should have an ink stamp, similar to a notary stamp.
Travisa was highly recommended by my a travel agent friend, so I contacted the office in San Francisco. They confirmed I lived within their region and that they could handle my visa application for China.
Before getting started, I took a quick tour of the Travisa website which was comprehensive and easy to navigate. I noticed they were charging $20 to register travel information with the U.S. embassy although this is a free online service provided by the Department of State, so I only used the visa service.
My San Francisco Travisa representative felt strongly that my application should be for a multi-entry BUSINESS visa vs. tourist; remembering the advice from my school, I rolled with it. The visas cost the same ($145), but the business application took more time to prepare.
I appreciated the attention to detail Travisa gave to my application documents and agreed with them that the wording for a business visa seemed to fit my trip more than a tourist visa. Ultimately, the consulate ended up issuing a multi-entry TOURIST visa. Again, each consulate will use different guidelines, and sometimes they will change at the same consulate over time. However, it was nice to have a professional monitoring the application on my behalf.
During the process, I could check the status of my application at any time online, and the passport was promptly returned via overnight mail.
Please verify before mailing your documents, but here’s a list of the states and territories served by each consulate at the time of writing:
- Atlanta, GA: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee and U.S. Virgin Islands (over 50 Atlantic islands and cays)
- Chicago, IL: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin
- Houston, TX: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas
- New York, NY: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont
- San Francisco, CA: Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (15 Pacific islands).
- Washington DC: Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia (4 Pacific islands) and Palau (over 100 Pacific islands).
If I had it to do again, I would just budget for the cost of using Travisa from the start — and let them do what they do well.
- Request a multiple entry visa.
- This visa is for mainland China. Americans traveling to Hong Kong or Macau do not need a visa for trips less than 90 days.
- Print important information in Chinese, such as: hotel and embassy addresses, medications and emergency contacts.
- Take extra passport photos on your trip. AAA Plus or Premier members receive two free sets per year.
Have you been to a country that requires a visa? What was your visa application experience?