Despite us knowing since the beginning of our trip that we’d be going to China, and that we’d need a visa, it somehow managed to completely slip our minds.
So when we flew from Capetown to China and the lady at the check-in counter asked us about our visa, we smiled and nodded, took a few paces away from the check-in counter and immediately started to furiously google what the visa requirements were, and how we could obtain one on arrival.
Bad news. You cannot obtain a visa on arrival.
Some countries can, but us, Canadians, most definitely can not.
Our immediate thought was that we’d need to just go somewhere else – but I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of seeing the Great Wall.
How to Enter China without a Visa
So through our research we found that you could enter Beijing without a visa (“visa-free entry”) for 72 hours provided you had an ongoing ticket. There are a bunch of rules surrounding this little loophole, and after reading about it we booked an ongoing flight from Beijing to Hong Kong to meet the requirements and walked up to the Chinese immigration officer confidently.
I had thought we could just cancel that ongoing ticket once we got through immigration and deal with whatever consequences of over-staying our welcome. But Jordan wasn’t feeling as daring, and we had read a bunch of blog posts specifically saying that the Chinese do not have a sense of humour about this sort of thing, and we didn’t want to end up in a labour camp.
I had read that there was a “Entry-Exit Administration Service Center Public Security Bureau of Beijing” where people went for visa extensions if they were already in the country, so we headed there with the hope that we could extend that ‘visa-free’ stamp on our passports to an actual tourist visa (an “L class” visa).
Turns out, you can’t, so don’t waste your time trying. If you already have a tourist visa, you can extend it. But if you entered the country under one of the ‘visa free’ agreements, you are SOL.
Where to Get a Chinese Visa Quickly
So we high-tailed it to Hong Kong within 72 hours of landing in Beijing with the sole intention of obtaining a Chinese visa there. It’s much easier to get a Chinese visa in HK than anywhere else, since most countries require you to visit the Chinese consulate.
Unfortunately, it was a Sunday in HK, and none of the travel agencies that do the visas were open – and to make matters worse, Monday was a public holiday, so we’d end up wasting 2 days just for bad timing. Luckily, the airport has a couple travel agencies in it and while you pay a premium using them, at least they were open on the weekend, and were able to have our visa ready 2 days later.
So after spending 2 nights in HK, we booked our flights back to Beijing, headed straight to the visa counter at the airport and picked up our fresh new visas on the way to our plane.
Moral of the Story
I’m not going to lie – this entire episode was a huge waste of time and money. Flights to and from HK, the cost of the visa, the cost of accommodation and food in HK – all of it was super expensive and it sucked to burn that amount of cash just because I wanted to see the Great Wall so badly. If you plan on going to China, be on top of your sh&t and get the visa in advance. But hindsight is a b&tch, and there’s not much you can do once you’re already on a plane bound for China and discover you’re not going to be allowed in the country. Sometimes you just have to suck it up!