It seems the Chinese have it tough when it comes to international travel.
First of all, most of my Chinese friends have barely been ventured further than the 2 provinces nearest to their hometown. Those that have are lucky if they’ve been to Hong Kong. I point this out because Hong Kong is a different immigration system from China and it’s actually surprisingly difficult for Mainland citizens to get permits to Hong Kong. I can think of only 1 Chinese friend (of those still living in China) who has actually left the Chinese-speaking world for vacation.
Why is this? Well, undoubtedly there are countless reasons, including China’s a big country so there is a lot to see here, lack of money or time, commitments to always visit family on vacations, etc. But the reason I want to focus on is the visa process…
My roommate decided she wanted to go to Italy for a 3 week holiday in late September. She called the Italian consulate in late-July/early-August and asked for an appointment.
Note the process: For Chinese citizens to get a visa to go abroad on holiday–and they need visas to go everywhere (except Thailand, supposedly)–the person must call the embassy/consulate of the intended destination and ask for a visa interview. An interview appointment may be set, the interview will occur during which the traveler will be asked questions to ascertain the reasons for going to the intended destination and whether the traveler will return to China, after that the embassy/consulate will make a decision whether or not to issue the tourist(!) visa. Following which, if granted, the traveler will return to the consulate, pay for the visa (ususally upwards of $100 depeding on the country and length of stay), and obtain the visa.
When my roommate called the Italian consulate in Shanghai to make an appointment for the interview, they told her you can have your interview in October. She said, but my trip is planned for September. And they said, too bad. A few days later, they called her and said, ok you can have your interview in the end of August. A huge improvement! But all the while prices of plane tickets are increasing weekly and obviously there’s no point in buying plane tickets if you can’t get a visa. My roommate has an extensive spreadsheet of her trip planning and half of her hotels booked. Nonetheless, there’s still only a 20% chance she’ll get a visa because she is a single girl. She’s certainly doing all she can to try to prepare for the interview and then prove she won’t stay in the country, but alas, I guess for most foreign governments the fear that solo Chinese travelers will try to stay in the country is stronger than the wish for tourism income from Chinese.
If you think my roommate’s situation is tough, France is even worse. Appointments for those visa interviews have to be made 6 months in advance! And the US is even worse than France. Calling the consulate just to make the interview appointment costs CNY6 per minute (I think). I don’t know how the process works after that, but when I went to the US Consulate at 9:20am on a Wednesday morning the sidewalk outside the entrance was swarming with Chinese people waiting to be let into the building. Then they had to queue outside the office to make sure their info was correct and go through security. Then, the waiting room was filled with non-Americans. Meanwhile, I, flashing my American passport, was waived through doors, to the front of lines, and was quickly in, taken care of, and out again. Unbelieveable. I was in shock.
(Would be) Chinese travelers, don’t feel too bad–they screen other countries citizens quite thoroughly as well. My Ecuadorian friend living in Beijing wanted to go to Greece for a 2 week holiday and she had to show proof of a Chinese bank account with savings in it, a job in China, and a plan to return to China after her holiday. Intense.
Sometimes there are perks to holding an American passport, even if China keeps raising visa prices and introducing stricter regulations.