Departure day! The best thing about today is that we’re leaving as planned and not rescheduling our flights. There was that possibility…
We decided on this trip only a couple of months ago, spur of the moment. As Canadians, we need a visa to visit China and Russia and two months isn’t a very long time to get all that paperwork done. To make matters worse, we both needed to renew our passports before anything could happen.
It was like falling dominos for us: the first domino was the passport renewal. The second was obtaining Letters of invitation from our tour company, a prerequisite to the visa application. We needed one for each country. Domino number three was applying for our visas.
You need to turn your passport over to the host country to obtain a visa, so you can’t apply for more than one at a time. China has a four-day turnaround, Russia’s is 20 days.
We went with Russia first. We meticulously filled out the forms and applied on September 4. We planned on asking for the accelerated service: four days – twice the price. In fact, we tried to apply on September 3, but we arrived at the office after 3 p.m. We were met by a stern lady who told us we would have to come back tomorrow, applications are only accepted before 3 p.m. I tried to turn on the charm, I hoped she would say, well since you’re here, let me see what I can do. She remained stern and adamant, not even a hint of a smile.
Early the next morning we were back. The same lady was the only agent in the office. She was with an applicant when we arrived. While we waited our turn we watched a video of hungry Russian grizzly bears catching salmon in a fast-running river in the spring. It was worthy of the Nature of Things.
On his way out, the applicant leaned towards us and whispered “don’t worry, she’s nice.” Did we look worried?
The agent, Tatiana, was indeed nice. She was all smiles this morning and told us of her upcoming trip to visit her family in Ukraine. We discussed our tight timeline for getting our visas and she told us not to pay for the express service, she could request the visas two days early. We’d have them on September 20, after 3 p.m. That would leave us four full business days to get our Chinese visas. We are either cheap or risk-takers, we went for it. It was a long 18 days.
On September 20, at 2:30 p.m. we were at the agency hoping to pick up our visas a bit early. They were ready.
We hurried over to the agency that handles Chinese visas, four blocks away. Just like Russia, they only accept applications before 3 p.m. We arrived at 2:55 and were able submit our application. We felt we’d gained a bonus day until the agent, Ami, notice our brand-new passports. She told us about a rule that’s so new it isn’t on the application form or any of the websites we looked at. If your passport is less than a year old, they require your old passport to see where you’ve travelled in the last two years. If you don’t have your old passport, it can take up to a month to get a visa.
At 9 a.m. the next day, we were back with our old passports. Ami told us not to bother with the express service option (three-day turn-around instead of four for nearly twice the price). She assured us the visas would be ready Tuesday morning, September 26 – the day before our departure. Cheap or risk-takers? We went for it again.
I’ve got to say, I was pretty nervous yesterday heading down to the agency. What if the visas weren’t ready? What if there was an error on one of them?
Ami was at the counter again and I was relieved and delighted when she handed over our passports. All is in order and we’re good to go!