In less than a month, I will be embarking on a three month journey, first to Zurich, Switzerland and then to the giant rooster-looking China (the map literally looks like a rooster). The last time I left home for this long was when I left to “study abroad” in London. This time around, I am off to do some (hopefully) groundbreaking research. As a US citizen, I am allowed to go to European countries without a visa, but this little piece of paper in my passport is absolutely necessary to go to China. Thankfully, there is a Chinese Consulate in Chicago so that I could circumvent having to drive hours on end or mail my passport to one of those third party companies that get your visa for you.
This was my very first time getting a visa on my own, and I have learned quite a bit from this experience. Unfortunately, this learning experience took some time. Let’s just say that I checked in on Foursquare every time I went to the Visa Application Office, and I am almost the mayor.
The first time I went, it was just to get the form. Just to note: it is conveniently available online on the Chinese Consulate website (but it was not loading properly for me so I just stopped by when I was already downtown). In fact, they also have a page that tells you everything you need to bring with. It’s really a matter of following directions. In any case, when I walked in to Suite 500 at 1 E. Erie St. around 2pm, there were only five people in the room. I thought, “Great, I will just come back after I get my passport from home and fill out this form.”
The following week, getting off the elevator on the fifth floor at 10:15 am was like getting my world turned upside down. It was a complete dichotomy from the week before! I was met by adults, each with three or four children lining the hallway - it was spring break at work. I did not even want to look at what the giant office looked like, but I did and thought I was in China already. There is a little ticket dispenser machine where you get numbered tickets for waiting in line. I took one. It said “B322”. I looked up at the windows and saw that they were at B212. So I went shopping for an hour (the Magnificent Mile is right there, and it is Magnificent for a reason!) to kill some time. When I get back, they were at B223.
Well, there was no way I could shop for the rest of the day (I would go broke, not to mention the fact I had to get back to class), especially with their lunch break from 12-1pm. Apparently it was so crowded because peak visa application season begins in April (for travelling during the summer). I asked the security guard how the office worked so that I could come back at the proper time the next day. So here is a timeline:
- 8:15 am: the building doorman allows visa applicants to enter the building (sign in, go upstairs and get in line)
- 8:30 am: the doors to Suite 500 open (get a ticket from the ticket dispenser if you are applying for a visa; skip the ticket dispenser and get in line at the farthest processing window if you are picking up a visa)
- 9:00 am: the processing madness begins!
- 12-1 pm: office closes for lunch break
- 2:30 pm: ticket dispenser machine shuts down, but the processing continues until the last number is called
Thus, I decided to come back the next morning at 8 am. Good call on my part as there were only three people ahead of me in line! Win! Although there was approximately an hour’s worth of waiting, the actual processing was really quick. You hand over your passport and visa application form and receive a pink slip for picking up your passport/visa in 4 business days (unless you want to pay the extra $20 or $30 for expedited service).
Then today, I went in again at around 8 am and received my passport with only an hour’s worth of waiting! I actually felt accomplished after paying my standard processing fee of $140 and receiving my little blue book with a special piece of paper glued in. Oh, and bring a credit card - Visa works just fine.
- Fill out the Visa Application form properly (read all instructions).
- Bring all documents necessary
- Go early (8 am should do).
- Bring a credit card (they do not take cash).
Now, you may think this rating is a bit high for how I outlined my experience, but I am just keeping an open mind. Getting a visa is not supposed to be a fun and exciting experience—it is something that bores and frustrates people. Thus, I rated this experience on a curve. Since the actual processing was quite efficient and on time, I must make the Chinese visa application process in Chicago a bit more evolved. If you follow instructions properly, everything will go smoothly, and you will only spend a total maximum of 2.5 hours at the visa office!