Visas: A Neccessary Evil

The V word; how it makes me shudder. They aren’t fun. Sure, they decorate your passport quite nicely but in terms of the attention and funds they require (especially in China for Americans) I’m over dealing with their neediness. I’ve extended my visa now twice in Shanghai, the maximum amount one is able to do from within China. After that, you’re out. No really, you’re out. Overstays on visas will cost you a hefty fee and are supposedly increasing starting July 1st. You’ll need to leave China if you want to obtain any new visa. If you are changing visas, you will also need to leave and re-enter to reactivate the new type. But that adventure will be for another day. For now, help me help you and read some tips based off of what I’ve gone through.

You think you know but you have no idea. True Life: Chinese Visas.

To agency or not agency? That is the question.
The first time I used an agency and the second time I flew solo. After doing both, take my advice and D.I.Y it up. The agency will cost you a whopping RMB500, more than half the price of the actual visa. For the first time, yes, it was comforting having someone there each step of the way and to follow around like a lost puppy. The service includes pick up and drop off but you will still need to go make a trip to Pudong to the Exit and Entry Bureau yourself to sign the papers. The agency saved me a trip back the first time to pick up my passport and dropped it off at work (a classic DOH! moment – an agency dropping off a tourist visa at work….) but that was about it. Doing it yourself is easy and makes you feel capable. Drag yourself out to Pudong’s Exit and Entry Bureau (directions below) in the morning, if you can. They open at 9am. Head up to the third floor and take a number from the woman (or man) at the desk on your left. If you have your forms, grab a seat and wait for your number to be called. If you don’t, head to the back left where you’ll see a round counter where the forms are held.

Get Your Papers in Order
Play it safe and beat Murphy’s Law to the punch. Take care of your visa before the actual day it expires. So far in my experience, if something can go wrong, it will. Give yourself a little wiggle room in case you forget a form, bring wrong form, don’t have a photo, or like me, don’t have enough visa passport pages left (sigh). This way you’ll be able to head back the next day without fear of overstay fines or in my extreme thinking, deportation.

For tourist visaa, round up the necessary paperwork. You’ll need your passport, of course. A self photo with white background (any of the metro stations here will have a booth where you can do this) and your temporary residence registration. This is the paper that is given to you by the police station after you register your location with the government if you are no longer in a hotel or hostel. Give them copies; the originals are precious cargo. If you need to make photocopies, head to the first floor. There are photocopies to the right of the entrance. You can bring money for the visa fee if you’d like but you won’t need it get yet. You pay upon pick up, which is usually about 5 days after. It is okay if you pick up your new visa after it expires – you just have to drop it off before.

U.S To The Rescue
In this recent case, I needed to get extra passport pages put in which was quite the headache. The process, if done right, would have been painless but because I dropped my visa off on May 30th when it expired on May 31st, I had one day to get new pages. The US Consulate requires appointments made via their website and in my luck, they were booked until Monday. They do, however, have what is called an “Orange Card Solution” for those who have non-emergency (though I disagreed) situations with no appointments. It allows one person at a time to enter the office without an appointment to wait for an availability; a one in, one out system. Basically, arrive in the morning when it opens at 8:15 to get the first card. If you’re there in the afternoon, it’s very likely this won’t be available for you. I arrived around 9am and was third. The window teller explained my spot in line, asking “are you sure….?” No but I have no choice. 2 hours later, I was in. The process of getting pages added took about 20 minutes and costs $82, whether you get 23 pages or 46.

Fear this place not if you have an appointment. Seeing the amount of Chinese citizens there waiting for visas, applications and appointments as you scoot to the front of the line makes you put it all into perspective a bit, knowing in your no shape to complain and even makes you really appreciate your citizenship. I think even with the orange card and non-appointment status, I was in and out quicker than some others.

Find It
1036 West Nanjing Road, Westgate Mall, Floor 8
Metro Line 2 West Nanjing Road

Back For More
Once you drop it off, you can carry on life for a few more days but then visas interrupt once again and beckon you to return to Pudong. The Bureau does offer the option of sending the visa back to you through the mail but for my own personal insecurities, I opted out of this measure. I figured the trip back would be worth it had something ever happened in the mail. Make sure to check the date on your receipt. Because I had been two times when dropping it off, I had two receipts. Following the fashion of this visa ordeal, I looked at the wrong receipt which sent me there a day early. Naturally, I noticed it right as I am walking in. I tried to see if it was ready, worth a shot, but no dice. So I’ll be back again tomorrow. Four times to Pudong in one week hopefully will be my record.

To pick up your passport, enter the Bureau and turn right. Just follow the signs. They’ve got a nice little cafe as well. Visas can be stressful so treat yourself to a coffee. I did.

Pudong Whaaaaat?
The Exit and Entry Bureau is located in Pudong. Take Line 2 to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Use Exit 3 – you’ll have to walk through the station for a bit so don’t fret and turn around thinking you’re going the wrong way. Head straight out of the station’s exit then turn right. Walk straight to the first intersection and cross over HeHuan Road. Pass the Expo Building on your right and keep trekking along. At the next street, turn right and the Bureau will be on your right side. Look for the interesting slanted roof for confirmation.

Find It:
1500 Ming Sheng Road, near Yin Cun Road
Metro Line 2, Shanghai Science & Technology Museum