Obtaining a Chinese visa is a lot of fun. We’ve done it twice now, once in Vietnam and now once in Seoul. The process is straightforward enough, but you have to set aside a fair amount of time to get everything together.
Different countries seem to have slightly different requirements, so this guide is Korea-specific. They’re pretty concerned about your exact itinerary when applying in Korea, so be prepared for that.
We applied for single entry ‘L’ (tourist) visas which are valid for 30 days. You can also apply for a double entry visa, and some nationalities may apply for other lengths of time. I believe citizens of the US can get a 10-year visa if they want.
Step 1: Figure out if you actually need a visa
Generally speaking, the answer here will be yes. There are only 11 countries which don’t require a visa. I don’t want to call them ‘obscure’ countries, but the Google analytics for this blog tells me that most readers don’t live in them. You can find out by checking the Wikipedia page on Chinese Visa policies. The residents of San Marino (pop. 33,000, 61 square km) are the only people who may enjoy a full 90 days in China without a visa.
Not on that list? Well, it’s about to get fun for you then.
Step 2: Plan your entire trip
Sigh. You must now write down your entire itinerary for China, including entry, exit, all the hotels you plan to stay in – and all the main activities you’ll be doing in each city. Going to Beijing and Xian? Well, you have to plan down to a rather specific level. For example:
- 5th December. Hotel Marriott. Visiting Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square…
- 6th December. Overnight train to Xian (train number Z19)
- 7th December. Best Western Hotel. Visiting Terracotta Army, Dayan Pagoda…
Regarding the hotels, you also need to write down the address and phone number. Booking.com allows you to make reservations without payment up front, and (tip alert) reservations can be cancelled from booking.com without penalty.
There exists a Korea-specific itinerary sheet. You can print that (you may need to print more than one) and fill it out by hand. Here is a PDF you can print.
Now print the following stuff as well!
- All your hotel reservations
- Your proof of entry and exit (flight tickets, train tickets, ferry tickets)
- If you’ve had a Chinese visa previously in a different passport, you might need to print photocopies of that as well. They told us at the processing centre that we didn’t need to provide this because we were only applying for a single entry visa. If in doubt, make copies of your old visa just in case they ask for it.
Step 3: Fill out the application form
You want more paperwork? Okay, let’s intensify the fun! Now you have to print out the 4-page application form and fill that out. Here is a printable PDF of the application form.
Step 5: Get it together
Put the following stuff into a pile:
- Your passport with at least 6 months remaining on it AFTER your intended exit date from China, containing two free pages.
- One 3.5 x 4.5 passport photo following the usual rules: white background, no smiling, no head dress, no sunglasses.
- All that paperwork from step 2:
- Accommodation reservations
- Proof of entry and exit
- Proof of old Chinese visa (if you need it – we didn’t)
- Printout of the itinerary form detailing your entire trip
- Filled out, 4-page application form
Bonus item? – I emailed the embassy in Seoul before applying, just to see if I’d missed anything. The reply I received said, “Provide Alien Registration Card in Korea. (if you have it)”
We didn’t have Alien Registration Cards (ARC), but they didn’t ask anyway. This probably isn’t something you need to worry about.
Step 6: Take your pile to the visa office
9 a.m. – 3.00 p.m. Monday to Friday – Submit applications
9 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. Monday to Friday – Collection
6th Floor, Seoul Square building，416 Hangang-daero,Jung-gu.
(Go to Seoul station. The building is over [or under] the road)
GPS coordinates – 37°33’20.7″N 126°58’25.4″E
The visa centre is on the 6th floor, which is the only floor the lift stops at without a security card. When you exit the lift, one way leads to the submission room, and the other leads to the collection room. The centre is huge by visa application standards; evidently a lot of people want to go China.
Because we were so well prepared – as you should hopefully be after reading this – the officer treated us with a mix of relief and joy. We were given a receipt and told to return in one week to collect our passports and pay for the visa. Don’t lose that receipt!
Step 7: Collection day!
The receipt you were given will tell you what day to return. The cost for our visas was 55,000 Korean won each, but you might be paying something else depending on your country and the type of visa you applied for. Here is a pdf of all the visa fees (in Korean won).
Happily, we were successful.