Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

15 Sep 2013

Getting a visa for China in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Posted by Will

Obtaining the Chinese visa, especially if coming from the west or north, is known, justifiably, as a nightmare for independent travellers. Visa regulations are constantly changing so in all probability this article will soon be outdated (if it isn’t already). Hopefully it will give some useful insights though.

p1060729-800On July 1st 2013 there were a number of changes to China’s visa policy regarding the tourist (L-type) visa. One of these changes was that this visa can now only be extended once and not twice. So watch out if you’re cycling from the west with a long distance to go. Some consulates have also tightened up too. Bishkek is now giving people trouble. In many cases, Ulaanbaatar may be your best bet. It’s cheap (only $30) and, as of a week ago (Sept 1st 2013), still accepting people.

I applied in late August 2013, am a British citizen, and asked for a 30 day tourist (L-type) visa.

Required documents:

- Letter of invitation. Required. This is the part most travellers struggle with but it’s actually very easy if you know how. When I was there, people were emailing LEO HOSTEL, one of the most popular backpacker hostels in Beijing, to ask for a reservation. Email these guys saying you want to reserve some dates but that you need a letter of invitation from them to come. Include your dates of stay at their hostel, your date of birth, your full name and your passport number. They got back to me very promptly and politely with the letter attached to an email. Print it off in colour. Remember to cancel the booking if you don’t intend to stay – they’re nice guys and doing you a favour.

It may be that LEO HOSTEL stop providing the letter of invitation if they realise travellers are using them to get letters of invitation. There’ll always be another hostel willing to do it though so best to ask around other travellers at the embassy during consular hours. This is what I did to find out about LEO HOSTEL.

- Application forms filled in completely (both parts A and B). Part A is 6 pages long (3 sheets double-sided) and must be handed in double-sided and written in black ink. Print the forms off the internet (the updated form – not the old type) or better go to the embassy and pick it up there. If a section doesn’t apply to you, put a mark through it to show you haven’t forgotten it. Addresses for your stay must correspond to the fake hotel bookings you have provided (see below).

- Hotel bookings. Use a website like booking.com or hotel.info to create a fake hotel booking. Create an account, reserve a place at a hotel (no fee required), print off the official looking confirmation paper and then cancel the booking.

p1060119-800- Round-trip flight bookings or equivalent train tickets. You must have a ticket both in and out of the country. Much easier than it sounds if you’re not thinking of flying or taking the train or just want to give yourself some flexibility. Head to one of the AirMarket office branches found all around the centre of Ulaanbaatar (there’s one opposite the State Department Store) and say you want to book a ticket into and out of China (I said from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing and then Beijing to Bangkok). They’ll print out an official-looking paper for you, at no cost, and say that if you don’t pay within 24 hours then the flight won’t be reserved for you anymore. No problem – you’ll still have the official-looking slip of paper. Remember, your flight details must coincide with the dates you have filled in on your application form and the cities where the hotels you have fake-booked reside.

- Bank statement showing enough money. Some travellers report not having to submit this but ‘economic assurance’ is shown as a requirement on a list in the consular section of the embassy. You would be taking a risk by not providing bank statements. The figures the Chinese officials always give is $100/day so for a 30 day visa that’s $3000 (or equivalent in other currency). Again, you’d be risking it not showing this much money. Original bank statements are not required so you can print of an image of your computer screen (and no doubt indulge in some Photoshop play if necessary).

- Chinese-size passport photographs. China has a different standard size of passport photographs and they WILL reject you if you turn up with the wrong size. In Ulaanbaatar there are many photo shops who will know what you mean if you ask for the Chinese size. Only one photo required but best to get more since you’ll probably be applying for a visa extension in China.

- Passport photocopy.

- Visa fee. USD30 for one week processing, USD50 for two day processing and USD60 for same-day processing. In my opinion that’s a good deal for same-day processing given that Ulaanbaatar is expensive and hanging around will cost much more than the extra 30 Dollars you’re paying for quicker processing.

You don’t pay the fee at the embassy, you pay at any branch of Golomt Bank, which can be found all over the city (there’s one opposite the front face of the embassy – at this branch they’ll know immediately what you’re trying to do. There might be a small queue). When you pick up your visa you’ll have to show the receipt to prove you paid.

- Itinerary sheet. Optional but I recommend it. You have to give a brief itinerary on the application form but it isn’t a bad idea to create one for the visa official you have to deal with at the consular desk. It ties everything together and confirms, to yourself and the visa official that your hotel bookings, round-trip tickets, letter of invitation and application forms all fit with each other. The visa official asked me some basic questions about my itinerary and I was able to point to this sheet I had created in 5 minutes. She accepted my documents without another word.

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The consular section of the Chinese embassy works very limited hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday (9.30 – 12.00am) to apply for your visa. Check for updated information on these times. A queue forms at least an hour before opening time and once the doors do open the line moves slowly. Lots of locals try to push in and depending on your personality you’ll go with the flow or stand for none of it. I would recommend arriving an hour to half-an-hour early to ensure you get served. Take warm clothes as you have to queue outside in the shade.

Collection time starts at 4pm on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Again, arrive early to get to the front of the queue. You’re unlikely not to be served, but it will save waiting around. Bring your bank receipt and other piece of paper that they give you when they accept your documents. Like all visas, you should check the dates and information on your visa carefully when you receive it from the consul.

Remember, during the processing time the embassy will hold your passport. You can travel in Mongolia hassle-free with a photocopy as there are rarely police checks or requirements for official documentation at travel hubs, but do make sure you have a photocopy in case something unforeseen happens. It’s unlikely you’d be able to get your passport back from the Chinese easily in an emergency.

I hope that’s shed light on the Chinese visa application process in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. There’s a surprising lack of information regarding this on the web although I doubt that will hold true for long as more and more travellers turn to Ulaanbaatar to get the increasingly hard-to-obtain Chinese visa. Good luck!

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