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?