Traveling to China? Not without a visa

We all know the China visa situation has gotten worse, it is now beyond desperate. Travelers to China, be warned. To start, a few visa stories from friends and friends of friends. One girl I know paid 9,540 yuan for a 6-month, single entry tourist visa–that’s about US$1400. She must really love China. Two other people I know who are transitioning from L (tourist visas) to Z (work visas), would previously have only been required to take a short 2-day trip to HK to do the change over, now they must travel to their home country for at least 5 days to apply at the consulate there. Even then, its not guaranteed; they must bring documentation of previous Chinese visas, apartment lease contract, and temporary residence form with them to the Consulate. For those honestly applying for tourists visas from their home countries, they now need to show proof of round-trip flight tickets and hotel reservations. Given that my friend’s friend is going to stay at her house, she had no intention of booking a hotel–lucky for cancellation policies! Another friend, visa having expired, flew to Hong Kong to get a new one, and what did they give him? 7-day tourist visa–just long enough to pack your things and leave the country for good. (You have to imagine China smugly laughing as the guy walks away from the counter dejected over his essentially worthless visa.)

A guy who was able to get a visa to China, and recently visited Shanghai and Beijing for the first time told me Beijing seemed ‘sterile’ compared to Shanghai. Maybe the government has done too good of a job of ‘cleaning up’ the city and also of spreading rumors of terrorists. Neighbors are being told to spy on each other and report if any foreign visitors stay in apartments without registering at the police station. On that note, random checks of foreigners’ passports and visas have started around the country. In one situation, my friend’s apartment complex was on lock-down and no foreigner could come or go without showing their passport, visa, and form of temporary residence.

With everyone having to go home because of visa problems, airlines should be cashing in on expats’ long-haul flights, but with fuel prices rising, airlines are also feeling the pinch. Round-trip tickets from CA to Shanghai or Beijing between now and the Olympics are hovering at $1100, surprisingly reasonable given situation. But traveling to China for the Olympics, and prices start at $1600 r/t, with a stopover in Seoul each way.

With visas agonizingly difficult to get, airline prices rapidly increasing with this, that, and the other surcharge, Beijing hotel occupancy rates hovering around 30-50% for the Olympic games, and the government spreading fears of terrorism around Beijing, you have to wonder, is this really going to happen? The question becomes, why go to so much trouble cleaning up the city, designing spectacular stadiums, and investing in and building gorgeous new hotels, if you’re not going to give anyone visas, while making it such a hassle for them to come, such that hotels are half empty, and the games lack Olympic spirit? Will all the effort for the Olympics turn out to be a huge waste because no one comes?

The only positive news I’ve heard? My friend who works at the St. Regis-Shanghai said her hotel has seen a pick-up in bookings around the time of the Olympics.

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  1. 1.

    [...] This article published this last week on Yahoo, entitled Olympics could be a bust for Beijing hotels, confirms many of my predictions: China has spent a reported $40 billion on new infrastructure and stunning venues, hoping to impress visitors with a modern city when the games begin Aug. 8. But the lack of reservations could shake the city’s hotel industry, which has more than doubled its five- and four-star hotels offerings to 160 since Beijing was awarded the Olympics seven years ago. [...]

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