The Chinese work visa application process has been a slow one. I was offered a job in January. Completed my TEFL qualification at the start of March (Yes, my awesome friend managed to hook me up with a job before I was even qualified!) Yet it was July before I had everything I needed to go to the Chinese Visa Centre to submit my application.
I was getting impatient to say the least. I was also very nervous. Having experienced so many set backs already I was terrified of there being another one. The night before my appointment I couldn’t sleep. I had constant nightmares of being late or refused. I had set my alarm to go off even louder than usual just in case. Thankfully, my alarm did go off and I got the train to London.
Submitting my Chinese Work Visa
I arrived in London 2 hours before my appointment. So I got lunch and then to save money I walked to the Visa Centre. It was about a 35 minute walk from Waterloo. I still arrived an hour early so I read my book quietly until it was my turn. I was called up and a man looked through my forms. He then attacked them with a red pen. Never a good sign. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed though. He just listed a few different things I needed to change or add. The big issue though was apparently my photo.
Now, the photo I had attached to my application form is the same photo used in my passport. However, apparently it wasn’t acceptable because you couldn’t see my ears. (I never realised how integral ears are for identification purposes!) Therefore I was advised to take another photo in their booth just in case. This was going to cost me £6…
Before I went to take it though there seemed to be another issue. I was asked if I had a darker top. I was wearing a white t-shirt with a light grey hoodie and funnily enough wasn’t carry any spare clothes around. Therefore I was then advised to zip up my hoody all the way for the photo. Despite the fact you can’t see it in the photo.
I went to the photo booth but it wouldn’t accept my £5 note. Can you see what I mean when I say I was hitting roadblocks at every single step? So I went to ask for change. However, they didn’t keep change so I had to go down the road to the shop to get it. There was no ATM so I had to buy something to get some cashback. I brought some chocolate, after all, I had a feeling I would deserve it after all this. However, when I was checking out the woman messed up and put it through as 10p, instead of £10 of cashback. She was still new so I took my 10 pence and went over to be served by someone else.
The thing is because the chocolate had already gone through I had to buy something else. The man on the till just grabbed some gum for me as it was the cheapest thing. So for the first time in about 8 years I brought some gum. Finally I got my £10 and went back to the embassy.
I had my photo taken and what would you know it was horrible. As everybody knows it is near impossible to get a good passport style photo. The cruel twist though was the one I had before (which didn’t show my ears) was actually pretty decent. I couldn’t be bothered to care though so I printed it out and went back to the counter. Alas I had forgotten to take a photocopy of my passport to add to the documents. So off I went again to pay 50p for a photocopy.
There were lot of people printing and photocopying and most were struggling. I managed to do my photocopy but then stopped to help the girl behind me. She needed some change so rather than sentence her to a trip to the shop, I changed her £5 for some pound coins. Between the two of us we then worked out how to release her printing. We had a bit of a giggle over the hassle. It really was a team effort.
I went back to the man dealing with my application submission and it was third time lucky. He looked through all the forms one more time. Everything was stapled together and I was given a receipt. The receipt told me to come and collect it the following Monday. Only upon collection would I find out if I have been granted a visa. Optimistically though there wasn’t any reason it should be refused. Payment is also due on collection day. It is £151, for the privilege of this headache! I eventually left the Visa Centre 1 hour, 20 minutes after arriving.
A Wasted Trip
Five days later I returned to London to collect the visa. I was about half an hour out of Waterloo when I received a phone call. It was a woman from the Visa Centre. Apparently I needed to arrange an interview at the Embassy to provide my fingerprints. All this had to be done BEFORE I could get my visa. I told her I had already come up today because I was told it would be available to collect and her response was a very unsympathetic “Well, it’s a wasted trip”. I was fuming to say the least!
I couldn’t even do the interview that day as they only do morning appointments. Unfortunately as I was still on the train the phone call then got cut off as I lost signal. I tried to call back but the whole phone system appeared to be automated. I had to resort to sending an email and waiting. I was gutted.
“Your Call Is Important To Us”
The next day I decided to try the phone line again. Normally on automated systems if you hold down * you are put through to an operator however that wasn’t the case. The 0 button did put me in a queue though. I sat and waited in the cue listening to “Your call is important to us. Please wait for the next available agent” for about 40 minutes. Suddenly for no apparent reason I was cut off. I had to redial and sit in that queue again. It was another hour until I got through to a real life human being!
I explained the situation and they found my file. Finally, I was able to make an appointment for the interview. I desperately asked for the soonest appointment which to my relief was for the next day. I booked in and wrote the address down. I asked when I could then expect to receive my visa after the interview. Unfortunately though I was told it does vary for each person. It could be the next day or it could be the next week.
Back up to London….Again
I made my way to London a third time however I could no longer afford the train. Travelling at peak times in the morning is like daylight robbery! So I went via the coach. I arrived into Victoria Coach Station and, still too stingy to buy a £12 travel card, I started walking towards the embassy. It was a 50 minute walk.
I arrived at the Embassy early but was given a ticket and seen quickly. Without saying a word to me the woman took out my application and gestured to the fingerprint machine. I gave my fingerprints and it was done. It took less than a minute. I was told I would have to contact the Visa Centre to find out when I would receive my visa. I didn’t much feel like sitting on the phone for 2 hours again so I decided to walk to the Visa Centre. Now you may think it would be sensible to put these two building relatively close to one another but no. It was an hours walk.
Turning it Around
I took my time walking to the Centre. I browsed the shops en route, admired the sights and got lunch. When I did arrive I told the woman at reception I did my fingerprints that morning but before I could ask when I should expect the visa she gave me a ticket and told me to wait downstairs. I was baffled! I was cautiously optimistic that it sounded like I may receive it that day!
Downstairs, the courier from the Embassy hadn’t yet arrived so I sat and waited. I was trying to keep my optimism in check. I didn’t dare jinx it. Whilst I waited a man was struggling to use the photocopier. He asked for my help, obviously people can tell I’m basically a regular around the Visa Centre now. I sorted out his photocopy and read my book whilst I waited.
At Long Last
A little while later I was called forward. I was given my passport and charged £151. I FINALLY had my visa! I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe. I hadn’t dare hope I would receive it the same day. After Monday I had resigned myself to another few weeks of waiting for appointments and such. I was so excited and I booked my flight as soon as I got home. I managed to get a reasonable deal on a flight which was leaving in one week. Suddenly it, was at long last all finally happening!
I finally leave for China in 2 days at the time of publishing. I am excited and terrified. It is the next adventure and it is happening now. Time to thing about packing lists and travel preparation. I’m off to explore another corner of the world!
Have you ever had problems trying to get a visa?