Applying for a Chinese Visa at the San Francisco Consulate
A group of friends and I booked a mistake fare to China for next winter, and though we're likely to "miss" our connecting segment from HKG, it seemed like a good opportunity to apply for a 10-year Chinese visa – the airline's almost certainly going to want to see one, and I had a trip coming up where I wouldn't need my passport.
Like most consular websites, the visa information page for the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco is somewhat out of date, and overwhelms you with details about visas you never knew existed while making it difficult to figure out what you have to do. Here's what you'll need, if you're a US citizen (extra requirements apply if you or your parents have or have ever held a Chinese passport):
- A completed visa application form. This completed sample from Allied Passport helped me make sure I didn't miss anything.
- One passport photo
- A copy of your passport's photo page
- A copy of your itinerary (the website says you're supposed to have a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation, but I just used a flight itinerary printed from Tripcase. It doesn't have to be an e-ticket receipt, so it's okay if you haven't purchased your flights yet.)
- Your passport must have at least one year's validity. As long as this is the case, you should be able to get a 10 year visa, which will remain valid even after your passport expires. If you have less than a year left on your passport, your visa will expire when your passport does.
You don't need an appointment at the SF consulate, but you do want to arrive early. The consulate opens at 9:00am, but there's usually a line before that. I arrived around 9:15am and got number A69. If you get confused about where you're supposed to go, just ask the security guards – they're extremely helpful.
I hung out at the consulate for a while, then spent some time wandering around Japantown before returning to wait some more. It was about 10:45 by the time I got up to the window. But once my number was called, it took less two minutes – they looked through my documents, stapled everything together, and gave me a receipt. I went on a Tuesday and they said that my passport would be ready that Friday.
For passport pickup, you might want to go later in the day – the line was super long when I was there in the morning dropping off my passport, but I went back about 20 minutes before their 2:30pm closing time, and there were only about 4 people ahead of me in line. About 15 minutes later, I paid my $140 with a credit card (they take Visa, MasterCard, or money orders) and walked out with my shiny new 10-year multiple-entry Chinese visa.