Luckily enough, I had followed one of the newer rules, and had printed out my typed visa application form. They had recently changed the rules, formerly accepting application filled out by hand. However, about half of the people in line didn't know this, and were promptly turned away by the visa clerks. As I was standing in line, I thought to myself, “Poor people, they have to go home and re-do the application and repeat this process all over again. What a waste of time.” As luck would have it, both Jin Li's and my application were rejected because we made a small spelling mistake and forgot to write N/A in boxes that were left blank. The forms will only be accepted if they've been printed, and of course the visa office has no computer or printer.
So, we set out to the nearest NYPL branch. It was quite a walk from the China consulate on 12th Avenue. Finally, inside the library and on the computer, I attempted to fill out a new form, but some glitch with the library's computers and adobe reader prevented me from typing in any of the fields. So, the only remaining short of returning home and wasting two whole days running back and forth to the consulate was to print out a blank form and fire up the typewriter. A friendly library assistant gladly helped me get situated on my typewriter, and as I was typing away, I realized that yes, the typewriter was in fact out of ink. Great. So, I called on my new-found library assistant friend who speedily changed the ink tape, and got me click clacking away again.
I was rolling with my typewriter as fast as I could manage without making any irreversible mistakes, when I realized there was a line for the typewriter. A man tapped me on the shoulder asking when he could get his turn to type. I couldn't believe the luck we were having.
Finally, I got the applications finished, took a bus back to 12th avenue, waited in line, passed through security, handed in both applications, only to have one rejected a 2nd time. Luckily, mine was accepted for visa processing (I was leaving before Jin Li was), but unfortunately Jin Li was going to have to come back yet again.
So, after spending all that time as well as $140, I had a 30-day L visa in my passport. I packed my things and left for China from Burlington, VT. For some reason, I ended up with a crazy series of connecting flights routing me to my destination of Shaoxing, Zhejiang, China. I flew from Burlington to Newark, Newark to San Francisco, San Francisco to Beijing, and finally Beijing to Hangzhou. I arrived around 2 AM and was picked up in a van. I made it to my 6th floor apartment 45 minutes later and promptly attempted to sleep, without any success.
The story goes on, I teach for about 3 weeks, and I realize my visa expiration date is drawing close. So, I speak to our administrative assistant, who apparently did not know I had a 30 day visa, and was assuming I had a 60 or 90 day visa. This is all a problem because myself and one other foreign teacher both came on tourist “L” visas and had to leave the country before the L visa expired to change it to a work “Z” visa. The school had not considered this, and by the time they realized, everything was too rushed to go to Hong Kong, so they contacted the police station.
My only option besides leaving the country and getting another $140 visa was to renew my visa locally in Shaoxing. The only problem was that according to the rules, foreigners must have deposited in a bank account $100 USD per day of visa extension applied for. The extension also costs $140. At that point, I had not yet been paid, and did not have enough money. The school ended up giving me an advance on my salary, which was good.
However, as I had followed the school's orders and come to China to work on an L visa, my address was listed at the school and when I went to apply for a visa extension, they refused because they told me I was living at a school and therefore an employee of the school and I was cheating the system and could not apply for an L visa extension because I was not a tourist. This was true, but lying was apparently my only way out of the situation. I followed the school's instructions to lie, and insisted I was not teaching at the school but simply living with my friend (another foreign teacher at the school). They saw through all my lies, and then I got scared. My visa was going to expire in two days and I was going to have to leave the country. In the end, the headmaster of the school ended up calling some powerful friend at the police station, and they ended up giving me the visa extension.
As the expiration date of my newly extended L visa drew near, Jin Li, Zach (another foreign teacher) and I all prepared to go to Hong Kong. We three were quite excited about the Hong Kong trip. Technically, it was a business trip and we had to get our L visas switched to Z visas, but we were staying for a couple extra days and had intentions of seeing the city and eating as many delicious foods as possible.
The trip ended up being a mini-train wreck. We went on the proper day to the Hong Kong visa office, saw a 150-person line out the door, and began to fill out our applications. As it turned out, the applications took quite awhile to fill out and we ended up wasting 10 or 20 minutes even after we had gotten in the building. Finally, we took a number, but realized that it would never be called before the visa office closed for lunch (12-2), so we left. We came back again after lunch, and this time our number did not get called until after the posted closing time, but we were able to see a visa clerk anyway. We were quite nervous as visa applications are routinely denied for small errors or more often because of missing essential documents that were never listed anywhere... We three nervously slid our applications through the window, only to have them slid back to us a minute later. We were told we were missing one key document. Of course, we didn't know what that document was because it was some kind of special school-related government license, so we left. The thing was, the visa office was closed the next day for a Chinese holiday. We also had a lot of trouble getting in touch with our administrative assistant back in China because of international calling and cellphones not working.
Eventually, we received a scanned copy of the document our assistant thought we needed and hopefully re-entered the visa office two days later. Luckily, our applications were accepted this time around. We rejoiced for a moment, but then realized the school would have to re-book our return flights because the delayed visa application process had now pushed our schedule back so as to cause us to miss our return flight. Anyway, the school re-booked the flights, found us a hotel for two nights, and we gained some extra time in Hong Kong.
After returning, we thought we were finished, but again were wrong. We had successfully gotten our Z working visas, but there was yet another step to be completed before we could relax about legally living in China. We had to get residence permits from the Shaoxing police station.
One day, while applying for the residence permits (very similar to visa application), we three submitted our applications, but only two were successfully submitted. Of course, Jin Li's application to be included on my visa and residence permit as my wife had been denied because of one missing piece of paperwork. A copy of our marriage certificate authenticated by the China consulate in New York.
At this point, we got really nervous all over again. Jin Li's Z visa was due to expire in just under two weeks and we had to mail documents to New York, have some paperwork done in New York, and have everything mailed back to us in Shaoxing before we could even hand the application in.
We got down to business, gathered everything we thought we needed. This always proves difficult because explicit information regarding what documents are necessary for what types of visas oddly enough is nearly impossible to find. Almost every time applying for a visa or residence permit there seems to either be a missing mystery document or small but unacceptable problem with the application form. We checked, double, and triple checked what documents were needed for the authentication of our marriage certificate.
As it turned out, I had to miss a day of class and go with Jin Li 3 hours by bus to Shanghai to the US Embassy just to get a simple letter notarized. The notarized letter cost us $50 USD and it simply allowed Jin Li's friend to access our marriage certificate on our behalf in New York. So, after the embassy, we ran over to UPS and express shipped all the necessary documents (passport, application forms, marriage documents) to Jin Li's friend. She so kindly spent the better part of two days running around Manhattan getting signature after signature authenticated stamped and sealed.
Finally, just a couple of days before Jin Li's Z visa expired, we received the coveted China consulate authenticated marriage certificate in the mail. The final steps were approaching! We then had to take the document and have it translated and stamped by a translation company in Shaoxing. Finally, Jin Li's application was accepted, and we rejoiced.
This was only about a week ago. So, in total, we dealt with visa issues from sometime in July all the way until mid-November. We both have finally calmed down, now knowing that we are free to roam about inside and outside China's borders. The residence permits are valid until Aug. 31, 2012 and they basically give us the same privileges as Chinese citizens to enter and leave the country. We're so glad this ridiculous process is finally finished. Many thanks to everyone who supported us throughout the whole time. Jin Li was finally able to head off to cooking school in Hangzhou (1 hour away by bus or train) and is having a great time there.
Personally I am extremely happy knowing that for the rest of my stay here I can avoid standing in long lines, guessing at what papers I'm missing in my application forms, and arguing with visa officials. Being in a foreign country is often times quite frustrating. If only we had known about some of these essential documents before leaving New York! Getting a Z visa before leaving is really the best option. May any potential travelers to China take our words as advice. Good luck!