China is a very popular travel destination for Americans and is the most popular destination requiring a travel visa. China visas are required for tourist and business travel as well as student, employment and other long term stays. The bulk of China visas are tourist and business, and visa expeditors are the way to go when you need to obtain a visa for China. The Chinese Embassy website states the following:
1. You may submit the application to the Visa Office of the Embassy or Consulate -General which holds consular jurisdiction over the state where you reside;
2. If you cannot come in person, you may entrust someone else or a travel/visa agent to drop off your application at the visa office of the Embassy or Consulate -General which holds consular jurisdiction over the state where you reside;
3. Mailed applications are not acceptable and will be returned.
Based on the visa application requirements stated by the Chinese Embassy, applicants may not mail in their applications; they must appear in person or use an “agent” or visa expediting service. Appearing in person at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate offices is generally inconvenient and time-consuming. If you can even make it to one of the six offices (located in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston), the process can take hours – and that is just to submit your application. You will likely have to return at a later date to retrieve your passport with the China visa in it.
Enter the visa expeditors. Dating back nearly 35 years, this is a growing but still somewhat obscure industry consisting of private companies who will act as agents on behalf of the China visa applicant. They work directly with the China Embassy or Consulate office in order to obtain your China visa in your place. In the late ’90s, only a handful of firms provided this service; there are now hundreds and new companies pop up every day. The reason for this growth? Expediting is generally an easy service to provide and offers the potential for large profits. CIBT, the world’s largest visa expediting service, targets primarily large corporate travel programs and is estimated to exceed $100 million in sales yearly, with very high profit margins in part due to their high fee schedule. Many of the mid-level companies, such as It’s Easy Passport & Visa or Travisa, focus on providing a much higher level of personalized service to corporations, travel agencies and the public. These firms can make the process of obtaining a China visa much easier than attempting the process on your own and generally deliver in a timely manner for a modest fee.
Most visa expediting firms are internet based, although most do have brick-and-mortar facilities throughout the country to process applications. Expeditors provide clear and easy-to-follow instructions on their websites. The applicant gathers the requirements together and uses an overnight delivery service to send the documents to the visa expeditor. The expeditor reviews the included documents for accuracy when the package arrives and submits the visa application to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate for processing. China visas are issued in one of three available processing times (which vary in price); same-day, next-day or four-day (business days only). When the visa is ready, the visa expediting service retrieves the documents with the newly issued visa, reviews the visa to ensure it meets the request, and then returns the documents to the applicant. Of course, problems can arise during processing. Most expediting firms visit the Embassy or Consulate multiple times per day so they become aware of any issues quickly and work with the applicant to resolve the matter.
China tourist and China business visas are some of the easiest to obtain, and this is in part due to expediting companies. They have simplified the process and are available to help applicants through it. With China no longer accepting applications by mail, expeditors have become the default way to obtain China visas.
Okay, so you are going to use a China visa expeditor. Which one do you use? As your humble author is somewhat biased, it would be unethical for me to tell you what firm to use (or more importantly what firms NOT to use), but use some common sense. Larger, established firms process dozens or hundreds of China visas per week. They have well established routines, good relations with the Embassy and Consulates and have seen almost every potential problem or issue and know how to work with it. Firms that offer to provide a service for very little money need volume to get by, but this volume often results in a lower quality of service and lack of attention to complicated or problematic applications. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 for “normal” processing which takes around a week or up to $150 for very fast service. Anything far above this is simply price gauging and preying on applicants that feel under the gun to get their China visas. The expeditors’ fees are in addition to the fees charge by the Chinese government, which at the time of this writing range from $130 to $160. You should also expect overnight shipping fees as most expediting firms are uncomfortable using anything other than FedEx or UPS.