Once travel dates have been made, you need to get a Visa from the China Consulate. There are only a few in the U.S., and some of them don’t accept applications by mail, so it’s a pain. In order to get the business visa, you need:
- Form v.2011a (Visa Application Form of the People’s Republic Of China)
- Valid passport with at least 6 months left of validity
- A passport photo
- An invitation letter from a company in China that says who is inviting you over, when you will be there, a contact person, and why. An email will NOT work. I saw someone with a day wasted because of this mistake. The letter must have a real signature and must have the inviting company’s letterhead on it. It IS acceptable to print off a PDF of the letter they send you, but you need the signature and letterhead.
- Payment (they took credit cards and checks but no cash)
- For the Chicago consulate you need to bring an envelope with postage if you opt to have the visa sent to you by mail.
I was able to get all the details I needed from the hosting company, in the format I needed. Even though I’m arriving in Hong Kong, fortunately U.S. Passport holders don’t need a special visa to visit H.K. for up to 90 days.
I arrived at the consulate just as it was opening, but it turned out that people were already lining up for 45 minutes before open. The experience was exactly like the DMV. Get a number, sit and wait for a long time, and then spend a couple minutes at the desk and get shuffled out before you have a chance to collect your wits. After waiting for nearly an hour, I spent no more than 2 minutes at the desk. I had apparently organized my materials too well. She verified everything was in order and gave me a receipt.
I requested a rush on the visa application for a few reasons. I didn’t want to have to return another day, and I didn’t want my passport getting lost in the mail so close to my departure date. Also, if my visa was declined for any reason, I wanted to know immediately so that I could do something about it while I was still in Chicago. For the amount of hassle saved, the extra $30 rush fee added to the $140 visa application was acceptable insurance.
After the clerk gave me my receipt and told me to return at 2pm to pick up my visa I went out for lunch with some friends that live in town. Then I returned back, stood in line for 15 minutes, and then paid my bill and picked up the visa in another whirlwind transaction that left me slightly poorer but with a fancy sticker in my passport saying I had permission to visit.
Final tip for the visa application: make SURE you have your stuff together, because you do not want to waste a trip to this place.