A few months ago (last October to be precise) I decided the time had come to book a trip to China. I have long wanted to see the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army. Visiting cities like Beijing and Shanghai have been on my list for a while. And, the countryside is also meant to be beautiful.
So, I looked into group trips (I didn’t want to go alone), pouring intently over itineraries to figure out which appealed the most – bearing in mind I don’t actually know much about China except the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and of course Beijing and Shanghai. I googled the different towns and places mentioned, and eventually decided which trip to do, which I then booked.
I then spent months paying for it, working extra shifts at work to help, even giving up a week of annual leave to do 4 extra shifts. And, a couple of weeks before the deadline I did it – I paid off the balance in full.
After that I had a few weeks to relax and look forward to my holiday.
Finally it was time to sort my visa out, which to be honest I hadn’t given much thought to. That was when the hard work really began.
The application form is long – 8 pages long! And they pretty much want your entire life story – education, work – present and past – , your parents’ details, your partner’s details. They want to know exactly where you’re staying every night you’re in China, which means you have to book every hotel and supply the names and addresses of all these hotels – in my case this was all done by the travel company. You have to have a letter of invitation – provided by the tour company in my case – and give details of the tour company. You have to submit, online, a passport sized photo with a white background. And then you have to print out the form and take it in person to a visa processing centre.
I nearly gave up on page 1 – the photo page. Apparently my white background wasn’t white enough. I even resorted to hanging a white bed sheet from a door and taking a selfie! Still not white enough! See the photo below – forgive the pink scribbles – it is not a good photo. Aaargh! Eventually, the system let me stop trying and just said to take a photo with me to my appointment.
Several pages in I ran into more problems. The itinerary consists of a dropdown menu. Which is great unless you have a night on an overnight train – which I do. There is no option for overnight train. I had to leave a gap in my itinerary. Not good – my understanding is they don’t like gaps on the form. My other problem with the itinerary was one of the towns I’m staying in wasn’t listed on the dropdown menu – I had to chose a town nearby, and hope they accepted it.
This was all very, very stressful. I had to keep reminding myself it’s only a visa application form. It’s not a job interview.
Anyway, eventually I was kind of happy with my form, so I printed it out – which you can’t do double sided. They will only accept single sided printing. And then I found a gap! I had missed out the serial number of my invitation letter. By this point, it was too late – in order to print it you have to save it and submit it. To change this error means starting again, a whole new form…with more photo stress!
So, I took a deep breath and tried not to stress too much – actually, I was at my parent’s house, and we played a board game and had dinner, both of which proved to be a good distraction.
The next day, I emailed the travel company, and was told there is no serial number on the invitation letter, and to not worry about the overnight train issue. My invitation letter actually has a complete itinerary on it, including the overnight train.
Eventually the day came for my trip to Manchester (the Visa centres are in London, Manchester and Edinburgh) to submit my application. Despite my best efforts, by this point I was super stressed and convinced it would get rejected, leaving me with barely 4 weeks to try again. Never again I vowed!
That all said, once my form was submitted I relaxed. It was done, out of my hands. All I had to do was wait a few days for it to be delivered.
After a week, my passport was returned to me – with a Visa stuck in it!! Despite all my worries, it had been approved. They even accepted my original photo with it’s not white enough background. As a bonus, it’s a two year Visa, with multiple entries, so if I like China I can go back without having to apply for another Visa.
And now I can look forward to my holiday…