Getting a Chinese visa in Russia should theoretically be a very straightforward process for students and residents. As long as you have the appropriate long-term visa the consulate will take your application. If you get all the paperwork in order it can be a very straight forward and unusually cheap. You can, of course also imitate me and make it extremely hard for yourself by ignoring the details, and coming back time and time again without all of the paperwork. But I wouldn’t recommend it, it gets frustrating.
The visa processing office at the Chinese Embassy is on the north-east-facing side of the building, or around the right if you are approaching through the lovely green space/ from MGU. You can tell that you are in the right place because four metal railings create a waiting space, where the security guard organises you into ‘picking up’ ‘dropping off’, and company officials. An administrator from the building comes out and gives you a quick run through of what will happen inside, what you need, and where the nearest photocopier is if you forgot something. You are then let in in groups of five- so consider getting here early so you get in with the first bunch of people and don’t have to wait outside for ages. It might also be wise to keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Address: ul. Druzhby, 6, Moscow, 115127
The office is open for drop off and pick up from 9am-12 pm working days, except for Chinese Holidays.
The necessary paperwork depends on what you are going to be doing (ie. travelling via a tour or independently), but can be generalised in two categories: the basics and supplemental material. The basics are:
- your passport (valid for at least 6 months after the last day of your planned visit),
- your visa or other paperwork confirming your status as a student/employee with permanent residence in Russia, and
- a completed Chinese visa application form with one colour passport photo
Getting the application form is easy over your local website- I found mine over the responsible agency in Germany, and the form is the same as the Russian one. While the embassy does provide scissors, glue and pens, I did not see any opportunity to pick up application forms, nor is there a printer or computers, so any online work needs to be complete before you arrive.
The application form asks for extensive detail- and while Luke in the UK just wrote down anything at random for his locations and the dates he was going to be there, the Embassy in Russia required everything printed out:
- tickets into and out of the country
- hotel bookings that cover every night of the stay
- ALTERNATIVELY to the above two, one printed invitation from a company that organises everything for you.
This requires a lot of printing, research, and head-scratching for the independent traveller. For me, trying to get a ticket out of the country (when I actually wanted to leave 20 days later), was possibly the most complicated, and meant that I wasted money on a ticket, which I subsequently cancelled. My hotel bookings were made free of charge and with a free cancellation through bookings.com, and were accepted even though I had some nights where I was not booked in a hotel. (I forgot that if I check out of one place on the 16th, I’ll need somewhere else to sleep that night, not just on the 17th).
Armed with all of your bookings printed out, photo copies, pictures and the application form, you are let into a room, requested to place shoe covers on your feet, and then wait in a second queue to submit your documents once the official at the door has checked your passport. You wait in line, the lady behind the glass panel checks your documents and either accepts or rejects them, and then you leave (triumphantly) with a small receipt that tells you when you have to pick up your passport. Payment is taken by card (and only by card) when you return to pick it up. For my standard tourist visa (30 days, 5 days processing time) I paid 922 Roubles, a mind-bogglingly cheap 10 pounds with the current exchange rate.
I have to say I patted myself on the back for trying to negotiate this entire process in Russian, but after two minutes of arguing in broken Russian, the lady behind the counter at the embassy switched to perfect English. I was crushed: this represented abject failure. What I learned from this was that it is not necessary to speak great Russian. The people know approximately what you are aiming to do, and will speak slowly, clearly if you speak Russian with them, and switch if necessary. Feel free to simply start the conversation in English- at the end of the day they are trying to get as many of you through as fast as possible.
Finally, although rumour has it that you can apply for 90 day tourist visas (indeed, Luke got one in the UK), my experience at the embassy in Russia suggested that this was not the case. The lady was adamant that they only issued 30 day tourist visas, and couldn’t give me any information about possibly extending my stay once in China. It doesn’t really matter at the moment- I’m just relieved I don’t have to try and do it all in Mongolia…