Hi guys, Holly here from DA.
I'm off to China in October which I am obviously super excited about, but I hadn't let my excitement get carried away with me until the dreaded Visa was accepted and everything finalised. That's just the worrier in me.
I'd completed the online application with Sarah, our China trip coordinator, by my side and Visa Machine had checked through it with a fine-tooth comb, so I was happy on that front. And I was able to book an appointment in London within the same week, although I opted to go the following week to give myself a little extra time.
I opted for the 9 am slot, the earliest of the day, thinking I'd miss the crowds and limit my chances of being stood in a long and boring queue. (Side note, I am a little impatient!) There is a straight tube from Waterloo to Bank, from there it was a quick walk from Bank tube station to the Visa centre. (Less than five minutes if you don't get distracted by absolutely everything in your path like me.) Just look out for the Chinese flags, you'll see the Chinese bank, and then you reach the Chinese Visa centre just around the corner.
I arrived just after 8.30 am and there was a growing queue snaking down the street. It looked as if they had started letting people in earlier than the 9 am opening time that it says online, as by 8.56 am I had worked my way up the queue and had reached the front desk. This is where you get a 'waiting room' ticket and queue number. To get this ticket, they take a quick and very informal picture and check through your documents to make sure you have everything you need for your appointment.
In my haste, I forgot to bring my flight and accommodation details. Doh! Hey, it can happen to anyone. It just so happened that the printer at the Visa centre was broken that day so I took this opportunity to get some extra training in and trekked across London to the nearest printing shop. It was just under a mile away - give or take accidental detours and lack of navigational prowess. But with the required document tucked under my arm, I returned to the centre and got my position in the waiting room to be seen for my appointment. It seems that once you are in and have your queue ticket, the time slot that you selected online is insignificant. Because of that, I would recommend getting to the centre before your scheduled time slot as you're likely to be able to be processed sooner.
There are several screens across the room that ping when a new ticket number comes up to signal for the ticket owner to approach an assigned desk and have their appointment. Resist the urge to shout BINGO when your number appears, the smug stroll to the counter is acceptable. There was a very energetic man in the reception area who was in charge of organising the crowds and seemingly, putting on the entertainment as he certainly kept everyone amused during the wait. He was brilliant.
Once you're called up, the appointment takes no longer than 5 minutes, all things being well. They check through your documents, ask your name and date of birth, and take your fingerprints. Make sure to state whether you want your passport posted to you or to be collected at this point, as this is when they process how much you will be charged. From there, you are given another ticket and instructed to head to the lower ground floor to pay for your Visa.
Mine came to a total of £151 as I was unknowingly given the collection option, expect to pay more for the postage option. Again, this was a short wait and once paid, my Visa centre visit was complete. Once stamped and collected, my passport and I will be China-ready. (Plus a few more walks for good measure!)
While the online application has more than a few tricky questions and goes into a considerable degree of detail, the trip to the Visa centre was straightforward and as long as you have all the correct documentation and get there in plenty of time - it should be a painless experience.
Feel free to get in touch with any questions you might have, many of the DA team have trekked the Great Wall, and our sales team keep up to date with the often-changing China Visa process.
And lastly, don't forget to check out our Great Wall of China podcast where I chat to some of the team that have been to China already and bombard them with all my questions about trekking the Great Wall.
You'll know if you listen to our podcast that it is at this point that I'd shout 'over and out!'. But before I go, here are some recommendations to take away with you.
- The main thing to remember is to bring all of the documents you need for your appointment! The printing shop I scuppered to in my moment of need was called Copy Express, but there are a few you can choose from that are around a 20-minute walk away.
- When you are in the appointment where you have your fingerprints taken, make sure you specify whether you would like your passport posted to you or you will collect it. I wasn't asked about whether I wanted it posted or I was to collect my passport, and I assumed that because I had selected the postage option on my online application and I had given a paper copy of this application to the guy to review, that there wasn't an issue. However, it was only when I got to the second part of the appointment where you pay that it was explained that you have to reiterate your choice. I was then faced with having to return to London to collect my passport or begin my entire application again. Eek!
- Have all the documents ready and to hand when you're in the queue - this sounds obvious, but there were several 'flappers' in the line, and the queue organisers inside the centre regularly call out to the crowds to have everything ready and organised by the time you get to the desk.
- I choose the earliest slot available to try and miss the queues but noticed that actually by 10 am, the queue had massively died down, and I'd have likely been able to get through a little quicker at that time. Despite having to get up considerably early to get to London in time for my slot, I'm happy with my chosen slot as I was able to get sorted early. Each day is sure to be different, so there's not a rule of thumb but as long as you get to the centre a little earlier than your scheduled slot - I think you'll be on to a winner.
- Check the costs of train tickets before you book your appointment. Friday is typically a more expensive day to travel than midweek. For those trying to save the pennies or if you're unable to book that far in advance, check out midweek tickets and price match to get the best deal. Extra money for train snacks!
- Don't forget that the Chinese Visa application process is subject to change and is notorious for chopping and changing so please confirm with your trip coordinator at the time of your trip to ensure you are completing the correct process.