I really don’t like the sound of this:
If you’re planning a trip to China and don’t have an up-to-date visa in hand, you may encounter some additional red tape.
On Aug. 1, the Chinese government started requiring that travelers seeking tourist visas, officially known as L visas, submit a letter of invitation and photocopies of the traveler’s round-trip ticket and hotel reservations.
To obtain a business, or F Visa, applicants must now have an invitation letter or “confirmation letter of invitation” issued by an authorized Chinese agency. This is in addition to an invitation letter issued by a Chinese local government, company, corporation or institution.
For tourists, the invitation letter can come from a “duly authorized tourism unit” or it can be issued by a company, corporation, institution or individual in China. If the letter comes from an individual, a photocopy of her or his identification must also be provided.
The new, more complicated rules, unfortunately, don’t completely spell out what is considered a “duly authorized tourism unit” or what constitutes a “letter of invitation.” Consulate officials did not respond to our request for additional clarification.
The new requirements have thrown many travelers for a loop, especially those who filled out the four-page visa application form in July but whose documents didn’t reach the consulate until August. The result has been confusion, communication challenges and, in some cases, a scramble to meet deadlines and travel itineraries.
You don’t need a visa to go to Singapore or Japan or Hong Kong (or most other places I’ve visited over the decades). Why does China have to make it such hell to visit their country? Visas are a cash cow, a way to milk tourists and enrich the national coffers. Okay, I can deal with that, and getting a visa for entry into the US for a Chinese person is not necessarily a walk in the park either. But why does China have to add more barriers and make a process that is already a pain in the, um, neck even more nightmarish?
Despite the hassle, I had learned how to get a visa relatively quickly and painlessly based on the approximate dates of my trip to China. Now, “Travelers arranging their own trips…must lock in their travel dates, purchase their airline tickets and make hotel reservations before they know whether their visa applications will be approved.” Good grief. What’s the point?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.