Update: As of February 2016, Cascadian Abroad reader Linda from Yokosuka has verified American passport holders can still apply for 10-year visas at the Chinese Embassy in Roppongi. Read on for more information and thanks to Linda for the update!
I like to think I’m pretty good at the internets, but when researching our next adventure, I hit a major roadblock trying to figure out the visa process for China. Our situation is a little unique because we have Japanese residency but U.S. passports.
Older posts indicated that we could go directly to the Embassy to apply. Newer posts said that you could no longer apply directly at the Embassy and needed to go to a travel agency. Comment after comment mentioned being turned away at the door. Even semi-official websites suggested going through a travel agency.
I turned to crowdsourcing and asked a Facebook group focused on foreigners living in Japan. Four of the five commenters replied that I’d need to apply via a travel agency.
The price difference between the Embassy and a travel agency was around $200 USD, so I figured it was worth a shot to try the Chinese Embassy first.
The Results Are In!
American passport holders living in Japan CAN apply for a Chinese tourist visa directly through the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.
And it was actually pretty easy! While passport holders from most countries can apply for short-term tourist visas, Americans tourists can only apply for a 10-year visa. Here’s a few tips to make the process go as smooth as possible.
Fill out the forms in advance
You’ll need the following items for your application packet:
- Your passport with two blank facing pages (although they only use one).
- Photocopies of the identification page of your passport and your Japan residence card.
- The completed four-page visa application (Form 2013).
- A recent color passport photo sized 33 mm x 48 mm.
- Airline tickets showing arrival and departure from China. I printed the e-ticket for our arrival flight and the website confirmation page for our departure flight. Both were accepted with no problems.
- A complete itinerary showing where you’ll be staying while in China. If you’re traveling with a tour company, this should be provided when you complete your booking. If you’re traversing China on your own, you’ll need to show a detailed itinerary with dates and addresses.
- An invitation letter from someone residing in China. Again, a tour company should provide this. Otherwise, you’ll need to do a little bit of research on this.
At the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo
The Embassy in Tokyo is located in the Roppongi District and is open for visa application and passport pickup from 9 a.m. until noon Monday-Friday. There is very little signage in English, but some of the security staff speaks English, so if you get stuck, ask for help.
Pro tip: When you enter the building, you’ll pass through a metal detector and your bag will be searched. Make sure you’re not carrying your X-ACTO knife or scissors as they’ll be confiscated.
Head for the third floor via the elevator or stairs. There’s an information window just to the left when you exit the elevator. Get in this line. I went on a Tuesday and the line wrapped down the stairs back to the second floor.
The woman at the information window will quickly review your application and give you a ticket with a number. Take your number to the waiting area. You’ll be called to one of the two windows on the left side.
Pro tip: Watch the number and be ready to run toward the window as they don’t waste a lot of time skipping through the numbers.
The staff at the windows speak excellent English. Give them your passport and application packet. They’ll give you a receipt and a return date. Sounds like four days is pretty average.
Picking up your visa
When you return to pick up your visa, stay on the first floor and head toward Window #6 with your receipt. The person at Window #6 will give you a numbered tag and another receipt with the amount to pay.
Go to the purchase machine by the door—similar to the ordering machine at the ramen shop! Insert your money and push the button(s) for the amount you need to pay.
Take the ticket from the machine, the numbered tag and the receipt to Window #4 to collect your passport.
BONUS: Applying for a Vietnam Visa
After I picked up the passports from the Chinese Embassy, I headed across town to the Vietnam Embassy to apply for visas for the final leg of our journey.
You can apply for a visa-on-arrival-sorta via several websites. Basically, you’re purchasing an invitation letter from a Vietnamese company. You’ll provide this at your arrival airport in Vietnam to get the tourist visa. We preferred to get the visa in advance so we wouldn’t have to muck with any of that on arrival.
The Embassy is buried in a neighborhood about 15 minutes from Yoyogi-koen Station on the Chiyoda Line. When you approach the embassy, there’s a gold sign hanging on the stone wall. I was distracted by the shininess, but it actually has good information on it. The actual Embassy is up the hill to the left, but the visa application center is to the right of this sign.
All you need is your visa application, passport-sized photo (trimmed to 30 mm x 40 mm), your passport and a stack of cash. The embassy website has very little info about hours, price, etc. Some of the travel agency sites say it’ll take 4-5 days to process your visa, but it only took about 30 minutes! I walked out of the application center with two freshly-minted Vietnam visas in our passports!
Good luck and happy travels!