This Chinese visa was issued to one "Lucky Traveler". How nice for him/her.

Ironic as it may sound, ever since Tony and I decided that we would start our RTW trip in Japan, I’ve been trying to figure out just how we’d get out of that country. It turns out that Japan is not just expensive when you’re on its soil, but also when you’re trying to enter and leave it. Given its proximity, China has always seemed like the logical choice as the second stop on our trip. Well, provided you ignore the fact that most one-way flights from Japan to China are about 75% of the cost of what we were paying to fly from L.A. to Japan.

Turns out, we couldn’t ignore that fact so, I started to look into alternative routes to get us out of the financial frying pan and into the cultural fire. Thankfully, I came across this post at Manali & Terry, where they faced (and solved!) the same conundrum we faced: how to make it out of Japan with the budget in shreds but not shambles? Their solution was to take a two-day ferry from Osaka to Shanghai. Two one-way tickets at 22,000Y apiece ($283) weren’t exactly cheap, but they were better than the cost of plan tickets and we figured they’d make for a more interesting story as well.

Of course, this plan was contingent on us getting our China visas approved before we left for Japan, because the Chinese embassy in Japan only issues tourist visas to Japanese citizens or those who hold long-term residency visas for Japan (read: not people just visiting Japan on vacation; also read: not us). Still, from everything I had read, it looked like China visas have about a 3-month window between when they are first issued and when you must actually use them to enter the country, so I figured that if we applied for our visas in North America and then spent 2 or 3 weeks in Japan first, we’d still be good to go.

For so long, I’ve had it ALL worked out because there is actually a Chinese Embassy in Toronto… and Toronto just happens to be where we’ll be hunkering down with my parents for a few weeks before we head out into the wild blue yonder. Better yet, the Toronto embassy claimed that both Canadians and Americans alike could apply for visas and the turnaround was only 3 – 4 business days, so both Tony and I could apply there without worry. Based on the website, the recommendation was that you apply for your visa about a month before you planned to travel and then after your visa was approved, you could go ahead and purchase your tickets.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

Much to my horror, earlier this week I discovered that the Chinese visa requirements in Toronto (and possibly all over Canada) have gotten a lot more strict. According to the official website, as of May 16, 2012 (i.e., these rules are now in effect), in order to apply for a tourist visa, not only must applicants supply professional passport photos (in their own words, “a home-shot photo or a photo taken at an express photo booth will not be accepted”) but you must now also include either an invitation letter from a Chinese organization or permanent resident of China OR proof that roundtrip tickets and hotels have been booked.

China, you’ve got to be kidding me.

This throws a huge wrench in our plans. I can begrudgingly deal with the stricter (and therefore more expensive) passport photo issue, but we weren’t ever planning to buy plane tickets to China! And we certainly weren’t planning to come home after having visited! Also, we think we might spend 2 months in China, so there’s no way we can book hotels for that entire time in advance. I know some people say that they would just go ahead and book refundable tickets or something, but I hate to think of the cost factor involved (even if we would ultimately get the money back) and that still doesn’t deal with the hotel booking issue.

I think I will still visit the embassy while we’re in Toronto to see if there’s any wiggle room on these issues, but somehow, I doubt I’ll be triumphant.

To recap, if you are currently looking to get your China tourist visa in Toronto, Canada,  be prepared to provide at the time of your application:

1) a professional passport photo

2) proof of roundtrip plane tickets and hotel bookings

Excuse me while Tony and I start furiously researching back-up plans, since it looks incredibly unlikely we’ll be taking the slow boat to China any longer. Anyone out there got any suggestions?

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (39)

  1. May 18, 2012 at 7:21 am
    May. 18, '12

    Oh no! That stinks! How frustrating for you guys!

    You could look into ferrying it to Bagan/Pagan in South Korea. No visa required for US citizens, and I’d bet Canadians are fine too. AirAsia flies to quite a few places out of Seoul.
    Eva recently posted..My Great Big Miracle

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm
      May. 19, '12

      Yes, we are definitely looking into alternate destinations that we can cheaply get to from Japan. South Korea is on the list, as are Taiwan and the Philippines… I’ll be reporting back soon!

  2. May 18, 2012 at 7:41 am
    May. 18, '12

    My husband went to China a few years back, about a month before the Olympics started. He was lucky to be travelling with a Chinese friend, because he had to procure a letter of invitation and also provide documentation of where he’d be staying and how long he’d be there and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember. It was serious business.

    That said, I don’t see anything on the US Consulate sites about this requirement; you might want to just apply through one of them and deal with the turnaround time? Or you could make a Chinese friend real quick… 🙂

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm
      May. 19, '12

      I would apply through the US consulate, but unfortunately one of the things I need to do is get a new passport before we head out on our trip! I’m not sure if I got the visa in my current passport if I could then have it moved into my new passport. Something to look into!

      • May 20, 2012 at 9:10 am
        May. 20, '12

        Fyi, I’m looking at Indian visas right now (guess where I’m likely headed in 2013? hehe), and to switch their visa from expired passport to new one requires mailing everything in, a new form, & $40 more.

        How long is the turnaround time for a Canadian passport? I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end!
        Eva recently posted..My Great Big Miracle

        • May 20, 2012 at 10:31 am
          May. 20, '12

          Thanks for the info, Eva! Tony actually just got his India visa (10 years) early last week, so we’ll be writing about that soon. I knew that there was likely some way you could transfer that visa into a new passport, but hadn’t really looked into it, since Tony’s passport is good for another 5 years.

          My mom says that it should take me about 10 (business days) to get my Cdn passport, so I’m not worried about getting that as we’ll certainly have enough time. The one worry is that I currently have about 18 months of validity on my passport, and Canada does not normally let you renew your passport until you have less than 12 months remaining on it, so I will have to write a letter explaining why I need to renew it now. I hope that my explanation will suffice, since many countries want you to have at least 6 months validity on your passport when you enter!

          • May 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm
            May. 22, '12

            I know! That rule makes it so your passport effectively expires 6 month. *rolls eyes* I’m sure the Canadian government will be understanding. 10 day turnaround is awesome! Here in the US it’s gotten obnoxiously expensive to even renew a passport; it used to be much cheaper than applying for the first time but now it’s almost the same price ($110). Mine expires in April 2015, so if I go to India next year I don’t think it’s worth plumping for the 10 yr option w/o any definite plans of return.
            Eva recently posted..My Great Big Miracle

          • May 22, 2012 at 7:47 pm
            May. 22, '12

            Yes, I’m also going to make sure I apply for extra pages in my passport as well! I can’t believe that the U.S. is charging so much for passport renewals now! I mean, I suppose for a 10-year passport you’re only paying $10/year, but that’s still a LOT of cash upfront (though I think the Cdn passports are $60 or something for 5 years…).

            As for the India visa, I’ve heard that you can pay an additional fee at a later date to have your 5- or 10-year India visa moved into another passport, so if you do think there’s any chance you might go back (and the cost of the 5 and 10 year visas are the same), then it might be worth applying for the super-long visa anyway. Mostly, I just think it’s cool that Tony has an official document that is good until 2022! 😉

  3. May 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm
    May. 18, '12

    Eek, that’s awful Steph! I wish I had some solutions for you. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law both have lived in China in the past. In fact, my SIL is still there until the end of June. Maybe I can ask and see if she knows anything, but I’m not sure she will since she went over after a company hired her. My BIL was the same way. :/
    Amanda recently posted..Faithful Place, by Tana French (audio)

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm
      May. 19, '12

      I think there are solutions out there, we just have to look at this creatively! I’m investigating options and while we may need to take a more circuitous route to China, I think we’ll still be able to make it there. It just sucks that visa requirements can be so fickle!

  4. May 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm
    May. 18, '12

    I have no advice, as I have never been much of a traveler, I just wanted to share in your angst, and let you know that this too shall be conquered. With you and Tony both being able to give this situation your full attention, something good must happen. IT MUST! I will be saying a little prayer that this China business works out for you. I know it’s got to be incredibly frustrating, but I know it will be ok.
    zibilee recently posted..So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore — 336 pgs

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm
      May. 19, '12

      Yes, I am nothing if not determined, so I know I’ll find a work-around for this! China is just way too cool for us to miss out on it entirely, and I intend to prove the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” true!

  5. May 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm
    May. 18, '12

    Eeeps! Oh noes is right. That is a real wrench in the ol’ plans! Why is China getting so bossy all of a sudden? Hope you guys can sort something out 🙁 I’ve never traveled anywhere yet that I’ve needed a visa for but I can see how that could get tricky. Good that you are figuring it out now though, rather than at the ferry arrivals in Shangai!
    EM @ Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..When your brain starts to leave.

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm
      May. 19, '12

      I have NO idea why China is getting so bossy, but they should really cut it out. What’s frustrating is that every country has their own rules, so while applying for a Chinese visa in Canada is suddenly a huge headache, if we could apply in another country, that might not be the case. You’d think they’d want people from rich Western nations to come and spend money! Harumph!
      Steph recently posted..China Visa Woes, Oh Noes!

  6. May 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm
    May. 18, '12

    Bastards! (Not really sure who I’m calling a bastard, but you can direct it at the appropriate agency).

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm
      May. 19, '12

      I feel like it can probably be blamed on both China and Canada equally. I shake my fist at both of them!

  7. Laura
    May 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm
    May. 18, '12

    Hi Guys,
    I don’t have any real advice. When I went to China I was able to get my Visa in Japan although it took a while and I remember there were changes afterwards. Are you sure you still can’t get one there? Because I remember the other foreign teacher’s uncle getting one there and he wasn’t a resident or anything….
    When I did my RTW trip, there were MANY countries that required proof (ticket) that you were leaving their country at some point. It would probably be a good idea to do research into each country you plan on going to. Some have some really bizarre restrictions.
    Hopefully this will all work out somehow. I know you guys don’t want to plan too much but if you really want to see some places maybe it’s better to make some definite dates/flights to help get the visas.

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm
      May. 19, '12

      L’Ell! Thanks for commenting and providing your insight. I will definitely be grilling you on which countries wanted proof of onward travel when you arrived… I think that is generally an issue when you are flying into a place, which is why we wanted to keep our flights to a minimum (plus the cost issue).

      I think right now we are going to look into flying cheaply from Japan to some other country, which will at least let us deal with the “proof on onward travel ” issue for when we land in Japan and then we’ll just take it from there. I know that Thailand has gotten a lot stricter about incoming flights, but I’m thinking the bulk of SEA is generally ok. Obviously, I have a lot of research ahead of me!

  8. May 19, 2012 at 2:11 am
    May. 19, '12

    Wow – I had no idea China was so tough where visas were concerned. I feel like people are telling me all the time that they go there for visits. Can you join a tour and get your visa through them? Doesn’t have to be a long one – maybe a week or something – though then the visa might not be valid for as long as you would like. Just an idea…
    Andrea recently posted..A Soggy 17th of May in Stavanger

    • May 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm
      May. 19, '12

      I have always thought that China was one of the tougher countries when it came to getting a visa, but I thought that the main restriction was that, much like Russia, in many cases they want you to apply for the visa in your home country.

      Good suggestion about the tour group idea, though you’re right that I would then worry that we’d not get a visa for as long as we’d like (though I know you can extend/renew Chinese visas when there), so that’s certainly something to look into.

  9. May 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm
    May. 20, '12

    Oh the joy of visa! (sarcastically, if that’s not obvious 🙂
    We’ve had problem like that for my family (hubby, mom, aunties) to visit UK and Europe as they use Indonesian passport. The visas are all very strict. They need return tickets, hotel booking for every single day you are in Europe (they don’t allow even for 2 days gap), or letter of invitation from a residence. In fact, depending on the Europe countries you apply to, they even do not accept just online hotel booking. The hotel needs to write a letter with the hotel letterhead that the booking for these people (names stated) is confirmed. Anyway, just a roundabout way to say that it’s not really unusual for countries to be strict these days.

    In my experience, I do book hotels that can be cancelled to show the visa people (when I haven’t got the time to properly plan the real places we’re going to stay at). It’s really easy, and your credit card is not even charged if you cancel in time. I found booking.com is very easy to use, very easy to cancel, no problem at all.

    Also you might want to consider flying from Japan to either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. KL in particular has dirt cheap airfares with air asia to China. You can buy return tickets to China (Guang Zhou is one good example) from KL for example for really really cheap, and worst case scenario if you don’t use the return ticket (and plan to leave China with other means) you just throw it away. It could be a relatively cheap solution.
    mee recently posted..Map of my First Swipe of Europe

    • May 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm
      May. 22, '12

      I know that certainly the situation we’re facing with our China visas are ones that certain people (like your family!) have to face on a regular basis whenever they travel, so I really shouldn’t complain! I’ve just never had to apply for a visa to travel anywhere before (well, except the States for school, but that was an exception), so all of the hoops are really annoying.

      I wouldn’t mind so much booking a few hotels online if we were only thinking of being in a place for just a week or two, but for China we want to spend 2 months, and I just can’t find the motivation to make so many reservations for such a long period of time. I guess I could just pretend we were spending 1 month in Beijing and 1 month in Shanghai, but I feel like it’s such a foolish thing to request that I’m balking at it!

      We’re definitely looking for cheap flights from Japan to other non-Chinese countries at the moment… we were thinking of saving Malaysia and Singapore for the tail-end of our SEA leg, but if the price is right, they might get bumped up the queue!

  10. May 22, 2012 at 1:25 am
    May. 22, '12

    I’m not sure about Canada (I’m assuming it’s the same…) but there are loads of companies that will actually sort out the visa for you. I used a company called RealRussia, they sort out absolutely everything for you – get you a letter of invitation, etc etc. When I was applying, I found that nobody took to the do it yourself approach, it’s a lot easier to pay a company to do everything for you.

    Hope that helps 🙂
    Lauren recently posted..My Summer Plans for 2012!

    • May 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm
      May. 22, '12

      Thanks for commenting and for sharing your experience, Lauren! I had completely forgotten about the possibility of working with an agency of some sort, so I will definitely be looking into that and the associated cost. Sometimes I’m too independent with my DIY spirit, when I should just make others do the heavy lifting instead!

  11. May 24, 2012 at 2:02 am
    May. 24, '12

    Steph, is Hong Kong on the agenda? You could try getting a visa from there. Though it might be limited to Shen Zhen or to a day, I forget. I remember we were at HK and my family just decided on the spot to cross the border to ShenZhen, China, and we applied for the visas right there and got them within a few days. Though that doesn’t help with your way out of Japan.

    • May 24, 2012 at 10:44 am
      May. 24, '12

      Actually, HK is on our agenda! I’ve been poking around and found that we can likely easily get China visas either there or in Macau, so I think that is the new game plan. I’ve been looking and we can actually get some relatively cheap tickets from Japan to HK direct, or, we might be adding in another waypoint along the way that we hadn’t considered before. I’ll be writing a new post all about our new plans, but suffice it to say, I believe one of the destinations we’re now planning to hit is near and dear to your heart… 😉

  12. May 24, 2012 at 9:35 am
    May. 24, '12

    Hey Steph, my boyfriend (British) and his mate (Australian) just applied for and received their Chinese visas in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They were unprepared and wrote “Orchard Guest house” in the accommodation box (a pretty convincing name for a Chinese guest house?!). Apparently they fudged a few more things on the form too. Not that I’m telling you to do that or anything 😉
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..What Does It Cost To Go To Pai?

    • May 24, 2012 at 10:47 am
      May. 24, '12

      Thanks for the info, Sarah! I’ve read that China does not place the same residency requirements on visa applicants in some Asian countries as it does in others (for instance, in both Japan and South Korea, it appears that in order to apply for your visa at the embassies there, you have to be legal residents, not just tourists), so it’s hard to figure out where the requirements are more flexible. Sounds like Thailand is generally a good place to get visas for other countries, so I will keep this in mind. Do you know how long the visas your boyfriend and his friend got are good for? Ideally, we’d like a visa that is good for 60 days, possibly double entry…

  13. May 24, 2012 at 11:30 am
    May. 24, '12

    Wow that sounds incredibly frustrating and just plain annoying! I looked at your destination list and our itinerary for the first few months is very similar. We were planning on spending 2 weeks in Japan, ferry to South Korea for 2 weeks and then fly to China for 6 weeks. So glad I read this post though about the visa situation since it’s probably time I see what the situation is when applying in the US. Look forward to seeing what you end up doing.
    Vicky recently posted..Cool Programs For Making Travel Maps

    • May 25, 2012 at 1:02 am
      May. 25, '12

      I think the visa situation in the U.S. is less stringent, so you should be ok. The issue is that I think that in order to apply here, you have to be a legal resident. That is fine for Tony, and technically I could apply right now as well because I am finishing up school, but I need to get a new passport before we leave on our trip, so if I get a China visa in the U.S. now, it would be in the wrong passport!

      So the plan now is to find alternate destinations post-Japan and find a country that will allow us to apply for China visas as tourists. So our itinerary is almost 95% likely to change, but I suppose that’s just part of the adventure!

  14. May 26, 2012 at 1:44 am
    May. 26, '12

    I’ll second the HK suggestion. Even though it might mean skipping the ferry from Japan to China (which was pretty cool… if only because I now get to say I took the slow boat to China). But I know a lot of people who have gotten their Chinese visas in HK or extended their visas there & didn’t have much of a problem.
    Another option might be Bangkok. I know a lot of people who have gotten Chinese visas while there. It seems Bangkok is a good one-stop place for a lot of visas as lots of backpackers pass through there on their way elsewhere.
    I here you about the visa woes, though! I had a pretty easy time getting my visa for China as I already had a job secured. But getting an extended visa for Thailand while I was living in Japan was quite the hassle. I had to have a Japanese resident be my “voucher” and sign a paper promising to bail me out if I ended up in prison. That was kind of an awkward conversation to have. “Hey, so would you mind signing this to say you’ll bail me out of Thai jail?”
    Sally recently posted..The 10K Race of Doom (Part 2! Yay! I Didn’t Die! I think.)

    • May 26, 2012 at 11:59 am
      May. 26, '12

      Thanks for commenting, Sally! If anyone knows about the rigamarole of Chinese bureaucracy, it’s you! I think we have a new plan in motion, and it will likely involve us getting our visa in HK or Macau, because as you said, it sounds like people don’t have much issues getting tourist visas there. But I have also heard that Thailand is a great place to get visas (like for India, which is another thing I’ll have to deal with), so it’s good to know that’s another option. We’ll be posting shortly with our new plans, which hopefully will not involve getting someone to vouch for us should we land in Thai prison.

  15. May 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm
    May. 29, '12

    I feel your pain Steph, and wish I had some stellar resolution to your problem, but alas no. It sounds like you have got some great advice here in your comments though, and I will be keeping everything crossed in the hope that it all works out for you guys. If not, I vote you come hang out with us in India 🙂
    Hannah recently posted..The sunshine of your love

    • May 30, 2012 at 9:35 am
      May. 30, '12

      No worries! I think we have a new plan figured out (just posted about it, so check it out and let me know what you think!). And actually, I think we may wind up visiting India earlier than before! Initially it was going to come later so as to avoid backtracking and keep our costs as low as possible… but we may have some extra money coming in that we didn’t originally plan on, so we may jet to India earlier (which would be good because, I don’t want to be there when it’s summer!).

  16. June 3, 2012 at 10:40 pm
    Jun. 3, '12

    Wow China seems so daunting to visit and the visa process really doesn`t make it easy at all.
    Ayngelina recently posted..The island that surprised me

    • July 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm
      Jul. 20, '12

      I know! Based on their new rules, you’d think that they were having a problem with Canadians coming and staying forever… somehow I think that’s not really the case. I’m really surprised they’re not trying to make it a little easier for people to come visit!

  17. July 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm
    Jul. 1, '12

    It can be really frustrating when Visa policies suddenly change. I’ve had to cancel two trips to Myanmar because of sudden changes in policy. I hope everything got sorted out for you!
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Happy Canada Day! Happy Nomadic Samuel & Backpacking Travel Blog Day!

    • July 20, 2012 at 11:01 pm
      Jul. 20, '12

      Thankfully it doesn’t seem like we will have to scrap our plans entirely, but I have definitely learned to keep checking embassies for countries and to never assume anything is a done deal. Just recently Sri Lanka changed their visa policies, though thankfully not in such an extreme way as this. I know we are thinking of possibly visiting Myanmar while in SEA, but of course depending on the visa situation, you never know…

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