Student Visas: A Tragicomedy in One Day

Well, it’s been quite the past few days in regards to preparing to leave for China. I found out last week that the requirements for the X1 Visa (the long-term student visa) have changed in the years since I last applied for a Chinese visa. Instead of being able to use a courier service to apply for me at the consulate in San Francisco as I did before, the new requirements mean that the applicant has to appear in person to be fingerprinted. China has also changed their requirements to be much more strict about what kind of photos they accept with applications, so over the weekend I went and got visa photos taken.

This was a stressful discovery, since I work full time and am currently in a play! Luckily, I was able to take a day off of work on a non-show day to fly down to SF. Even luckier: my parents had enough Alaska Airline miles that my roundtrip ticket between Seattle and SF was only $12. Whew! I went flew down yesterday (7/25) just for the day, which was a very long day.

The day started out with leaving the house at 4 AM to get to the airport in time for my 6 AM flight. Everything went smoothly, and I was in SF by 8. I also managed to hop on the BART earlier than expected, so I made it into the city by 9. It took me about half an hour to get to the consulate by walking, both because of the distance and the fact that I inevitably got lost in a city I’m not familiar with! However, by 9:30 I made it to the consulate and started the waiting process.

 
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Outside of the consulate

Here’s the thing about the Chinese consulate—it is open 9-2:30 M-F, but people begin to line up way earlier than 9 so that they can be the first ones in. I got ticket #67 for the visa counters, and when I received that number they were only on #17. Fast forward three hours of waiting (I passed the time by watching some shows on my iPad and chatting in Chinese with some folks), they finally got to my number! This part was very quick, but then I was informed I’d have to come back at 2pm when the fingerprinting counter opened up.

The slow decline of my mental state...

The Chinese consulate is right by Japantown, so I walked over there to kill 1.5 hours I had until my fingerprints could be taken. It felt nice to walk around and get some delicious Japanese food! I’d only been to SF once before and hadn’t made it to Japantown, so I was happy to explore a new area of the city.

I headed back over to the consulate and got my fingerprints taken on a machine, which was also a very quick process. Since I didn’t have to be at the airport for several more hours, I decided to deliver my visa receipt to the visa courier company I’m using—they’re the ones who will pick it up on Friday and mail my passport back to me. It was a bit of a walk, but it was a beautiful sunny day and I got to see more of the city than I would have otherwise. After delivering the visa pickup receipt, I went over to the waterfront and snapped some pictures, before heading back to the airport.

 
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Finally free!

Despite some delays and almost not making it on my flight because of overbooking, I made it back to my house by 10PM. Overall—everything went fine, and though it was an exhausting trip, I was glad to check that off of my list.

Less than a month until my departure on August 23rd…stay tuned for more updates the closer it gets!