The main piece of advice I can give you if you are looking to apply is book your outbound transport. It’s so simple, but I know that it’s the last thing you want to do. Whether it’s the cheapest short haul flight out you can find, or the actual flight you want to take. Book it before you go to the embassy.
I found out from various forums what things I needed to fill out the forms, this is mostly the address and phone number of your hotel/hostel, your own details, passport, and plans for China. I found out which train I wanted to take in, and found out the name of a few hostels in the towns I was to spend the first few days. Some people have said it’s a good idea to have all these booked, which is easy enough with the hostels, as you’ll only be charged the 10% fee through the booking site. However, booking the train is a little trickier, they don’t tend to sell tickets for future travel, so good luck if you want to book that.
I also had a more general plan of my tour through China, which included a stop over in Hong Kong (when in Rome…) which counts as leaving the country as far as the visa is concerned, so I was applying for a double entry visa – same paperwork, just a different box to tick.
On arrival at the embassy I was given a big form by a grumpy security guard, so I filled it out as best I could. The guards will look over it once you are done, and will point out anything you missed, which may sound nice, but feels like getting told off by a strict teacher. You’ll also need to get photocopies of everything ever, there’s a place just around the corner, head right out the door and right again at the corner, and it’s on the right. Don’t listen to the taxi drivers at all. At one point I needed to check online for the hostel phone number, so asked where I could find Wi-Fi. After a few horrendous offers I decided to try a little walk, and about 200 meters away, opposite Lenin, is a coffee shop with an open network.
Once the form was filled in, and I answered all the questions I could, to the lady at the desk, I left with fingers crossed. I knew at this point I was very on the fence, as the lady had told me so. She said she would show it to her supervisor who could advise me whether it was worth applying officially. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of procedure, but I’m glad they did it for me, as it saved me paying for the application, which I’ve heard is an ordeal itself.
No news is good news right?
Nope. I got a phone call that I could come and collect my passport from the office as they didn’t think it was worth putting through my application. They didn’t give any exact reasons other than ‘lack of evidence’ – not sure what they meant by this, but reading others experiences the only thing my application was really lacking was the transport out.
So if you’re thinking about applying, make sure you have everything, then double check it all.
In all honesty, I was actually a bit relieved when I was rejected, after about 5 months in Asia, I was starting to get tired of the similar landscapes, food and environment. Although it’s somewhere I really wanted to go, I know that, unlike places like Thailand which caters for the youth, China can be appreciated in much the same way at any period in your life, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. I hope that I will go one day, preferably soon, to explore the amazing sites, but for now I am happy to have adventured in South Africa instead.