As the clock ticks down to my impending departure from Nepal, there are certain tasks that need to get done. Mainly, it’s visa work. In the coming months I’ll be getting a lot of visas, but I’m starting with the two I got this week: my first-ever visa to China, and my third renewal of my Nepal visa.
Monday to Thursday: The China Visa
If there was one visa that would be required for my coming travels that I was nervous about, it was this one. Getting visas is still a pretty new thing to me, as the few countries I’ve visited prior to Nepal were visa-free for the time I spent there, which was never long. Then knowing that China has a reputation for being strict on visas, I was spending far too long stressing each little detail of the visa.
I printed off my documents and brought them to the Chinese embassy in Baluwatar, because I (wrongfully) assumed the embassy takes care of visas. Apparently not, as I learned from a guard’s broken English spoken through the bars of the embassy’s gate. It was noon, and a friend had warned me the visa office closes at 12:30. After several minutes of back-and-forth between myself and several guards, I got the correct location for the visa office and took off.
I parked in a dirt lot across the street and ran to the metal gate. As I approached, a guard stopped me and said that the visa office was closed.
“Hours 9:30 to 11:30! Come again!”
I returned to my scooter, frustrated that I was now paying for parking to be told that this government office is only open two hours a day.
After my classes the next day, I came to the consulate straight away. I went through a minimal security setup and then took a number from a dispenser: #3032. As I waited in the brightly-lit office, I looked around some. Despite being in Nepal, not a single sign was in Nepali. Playing on a TV on the wall was the BBC series “Wild China.” A shelf along the same wall was full of travel brochures; a series titled “China’s Tibet.” The woman behind the glass kept calling numbers. 3017, 3018, 3019. Most of the time, the number was called and summoned the next in line before the current person was finished.
When my number was called, I went forward and gave my documents to the woman. The hole in the glass was big enough for a passport, but all my documents had to be crumpled and shoved through. She flipped through them with disdain, occasionally shoving a document back through for a missing signature. When she came to my itinerary for Beijing, my destination, she gave it back to me.
“What are you doing? Activities.”
I only said “Beijing” for every day on my week-long itinerary, which ended with a flight to Vladivostok, Russia. With the help of a bystander, I filled in the days with a made-up itinerary and gave it back, which seemed satisfactory to her. After she took all my documents except for the three extra months of bank statements I brought, she sent me away to return in a few days. I had to rush back after leaving my bank statements on the public desk.
When I came to pick it up, the process was easy. I took another number, went to the window, paid for my visa (15000 NRS), and got my passport back. They actually gave me a 10-year, multiple-entry visa instead of the 3-month I had requested, so now I can head back to China whenever. I left, the first concrete step towards my post-Nepal plans finished.
How to Get the Chinese Visa for Americans in Kathmandu
For a tourist destination as popular as China, you’d think there would be a more consistent field of resources available. But, there’s really not. At least, none that I could find. So here’s how to do it:
- Go to the Chinese consulate in Hattisar, not the embassy in Baluwatar. Hours are only 9:30 to 11:30 on weekdays.
- You can find the form online or just fill one out at the consulate. But make sure you have the other documents:
- Your passport (duh) with free pages and validity six months after the visit.
- A passport-sized photo for the application.
- Proof of legal stay in Nepal (photocopies of your passport ID page and your Nepali visas)
- A detailed itinerary for your time in China, complete with hotel reservations (including addresses) and day-by-day activities. You can make up the activities.
- The most recent three months of bank statements. Some websites said six, but I only needed three.
- Flight receipts for a round-trip flight, or proof of some kind of reserved departure. I gave them my flight from Kathmandu to Beijing, and my flight from Beijing to Vladivostok.
- Make sure you get there with enough time to get a number. Once you have a number, you can wait after they close and they’ll still help you. Then go through the windows until you get a form telling you when to come back and pay (in cash) for your visa.
Now here’s a couple tips because my visa situation is a little more unusual than for most people who travel to China. I’m not flying to Russia after a week. I’m going to Kashgar and exiting into Kyrgyzstan after over a month in China.
Tip #1: If you wanna go to Xinjiang, the region where Kashgar and Urumqi are, you don’t wanna put it on your itinerary. They’ll reject your visa if you tell them you’re going to Xinjiang.
Tip #2: This is why I booked the flight to Vladivostok. The visa requires proof of exit, but I can’t tell them I’m going in a bus from Kashgar across the border. So, book some cheap travel as a dummy. My flight was $82, but I definitely didn’t do it the cheapest way. If you can show them the receipt for your flight, they’re fine with it. Once in China, they won’t know if you actually get on that flight. In China, bus tickets are reservable one month out, and train tickets two months out.
Friday: The Third and Final Nepal Visa Renewal
With 46 days remaining until I leave Nepal (as I learned when filling out this visa’s work), I needed to make another renewal. I went to the immigration office as I’ve done several times, but had some bad luck today.
Getting my visa applied for was easy up until I had to get my passport back. The immigration office isn’t exactly efficient, so it’s always a wait. Because they had removed the seats by the office, myself and a crowd of travelers were floating outside the door. An angry woman came out to yell at us.
“Too close! Crowded, go sit!”
We turned to survey the full waiting room, until we found a handful of seats in the far corner. After a few minutes of sitting, the woman came out with a handful of passports.
“You’re sitting so far! Why so far away?”
She shook her head as she stomped over to us.
The wait continued for several hours. The office of immigration’s passport return system consists of a short, fat, mustached man in a big topi hat who comes out and checks each person against the picture in the passport until he finds the match.
After an hour, he came out with a stack of Pakistani passports. He stopped in front of me and another American and proceeded to check to make sure we weren’t the Pakistani travelers. He held a photo of a man in a white robe with a long beard next to my face and analyzed for a moment before deciding that I’m not Pakistani.
Next, he came out with a passport for a baby. Like, a US passport for a one-year-old, which I didn’t think existed. Once again, he checked myself and the other American against the passport and, much like with the Pakistani passports, methodically decided that neither of us were the baby in question.
When I finally got my passport back, I started to leave. But the angry woman from before pointed her finger at me and my passport.
“Check for correct dates! No one checks the dates!”
After several hours lost to the immigration office, I wasn’t happy to receive barking orders, but checked anyway. But I had the correct dates and left, my passport now two visas heavier.
There’ll be a bigger itinerary post coming, but for now, stay tuned for some trekking.