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GUIDE TO CHINA

VISAS & RED TAPE


Single entry tourist visas must generally be urn three months of issue, are valid for from thirty to ninety days from your date into China and cost around US$50 local equivalent. The authorities increase and decrease visa durations in control tourist traffic, and you're most likely to be given a visa for longer than thirty days outside the summer months. Note that transit through China requires a visa d for seven days, if you are in the for longer than 24 hours.

To apply for a transit or a tourist "L" visa you have to submit an application form, one passport-size photographs, your passport (which must be valid for at least six months from your planned date into China ) and the fee. If you apply person, processing should take between one and five working days, but this varies from country to country - usually, if you are willing to pay a surcharge you can get your visa the next day.

The application form asks for some details of your trip, such as where in China you're going - you're not bound to stick to the itin­ erary you state. Don't put Tibet or Xinjiang down as these replies can lead to additional questioning of your motives for visiting. You'll also be asked your occupation - don't put writer, journalist or any media-related profes­ sion, as doing so may significantly reduce your chances of securing a visa. "Computer operator" is a handy catchall alternative - don't worry about being economical with the truth as they never check up. Rarely, you may be asked for copies of any air-ticket reservations and hotel bookings you've made.

A business "F" visa is valid for three months and can be issued for multiple entries, though you'll need an official invita­ tion from a government-recognized Chinese organization. Twelve-month work or "Z" visas again require an invitation, plus a health certificate. Students intending to study for less than six months need an invi­ tation from a college; those staying for longer also need to fill in an extra form avail­ able from embassies, and need a health cer­ tificate.

Visa Extensions

Visa extensions are handled by the Foreign Affairs section of the Public Security Bureau (PSB), so you can apply for one in any reasonably sized town. The amount of money you'll pay for this, and the amount of hassle you'll have, varies greatly depending on where you are, your nationality, and what season it is. The best time of day to apply for an extension is just after lunch, when corpu­ lent cops are at their most content.

A first extension, valid for a month, is easy to obtain. Most Europeans pay Y160, Americans a little less. However you're basi­ cally at the mercy of the particular PSB office and they , may decide to levy charges on top. In some small towns the charge may even be waived and the process take ten minutes ; in cities it can take up to a week, The worst place to apply is Tibet -you'll be given a weak at most. The next worst places to apply are Beijing and th en Shanghai - they keep your passport for up to a week.

A second o third extension is harder to get - in major cities you will probably be turned away, PSB offices in small towns are a much better bet, and you'd be unlucky to come away without some kind of extension, though it may only be for ten or twenty days. You will be asked your reasons for wanting an exten­sion - simply saying you want to spend more time in this wonderful country usually goes down well, or you could cite illness or trans­ port delays. Don't admit to being low on funds. Fourth or even fifth extensions are pos­ sible, but you will need to foster connections with a PSB office, Ask advice from a local in dependent travel agent - they often have the right sort of contacts. Alternatively try going to a lawyer though they'll charge a lot.

Don't overstay your visa even for a few hours - the fine is Y500 a day, and if you're caught at the airport with an out-of-date visa the hassle that follows may mean you miss your flight.

Get visa in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the standard one-month tourist visa for China can be obtained from any of the numerous travel agencies or direct from the visa office at the Lower Block, China Resources Building, 26 Harbour Rd (trilingual info on Tel:3413 2300). For a sixty- or ninety-day multiple-entry visa, issued in two days, visit CTS at H-83 Connaught Rd or 27-33 Nathan Rd (see p.714 for further details). Note that these visas are valid from the date of issue, not the date of entry. You can get a six-month multiple-entry business visa at Shoestring Travel, 27-33 Nathan Rd. No invitation letter is required, just a business card.

Customs

You're allowed to import into China up to four hundred cigarettes, two liters of alcohol, twenty fluid ounces of perfume and up to fifty grams of gold or silver. You can't take in more than Y600Q and amounts of foreign currency over USS5000 or equivalent must be declared. Its illegal to import printed mat­ ter, tapes or videos critical of the country, but don't worry too much about this, as confis­ cation is rare in practice, except in sensitive areas such as Tibet, here, some travelers have reported books specifically about Tibet being taken off them. Finally, note that export restrictions apply on items which are more than 100 years old, for which you require an export form available from Friendship Stores.