Recently, I learned a hard and valuable lesson and may only have my stupidity and lack of knowledge to blame for it. Goes to show, no matter how well traveled you are, there is always something to be learned. I wanted to share my experience with all of you in the hopes of preventing someone else from going through the same misery.
I recently went to the Chinese consulate office in New York City to submit our visa applications. This was my third time getting a Chinese visa, so I was pretty familiar with the required documentations and visa process. Unfortunately, what I was not aware of had nothing to do with the Chinese visa application itself.
Even though I renewed my passport 3 years ago, I had pretty much run out of space (1.5 empty pages remained). Due to constant International travels the last few months, I did not have time to get my passport renewed (adding pages to passport feature ended December 31, 2015). The expedited process takes approximately 3 weeks and I hadn’t been in the states long enough to get that done. So, I took my chances and assumed that the 1.5 empty pages (although not ideal) would be enough. The plan was to renew my passport once I return from China.
Turns out, those last two pages on your passport are OK for getting stamps but NOT OK for obtaining visas. Why? Because it does not say “visas” on top of the page. That’s right.
Did you notice?
Did you know?
Devastated, I left the office pretty stressed out. I was only able to submit one of our applications.
I called the U.S. passport agency right away and used the automated system to make the earliest in-person appointment available in New York City, 10 calendar days prior to our trip. I then spoke to a representative, sadly, the rep was anything but helpful. He was cold, abrupt and basically told me that he would not move my appointment up because apparently 10 days between my in-person interview with the U.S. passport agency and my departure date was sufficient time to renew my passport and obtain a Chinese visa.
Uhh, yes, technically it is just enough time, but in those ten days we had weekends, a holiday and my sanity to account for. Not that he could be bothered by any of it. The only information he was able to provide was the cost of renewal including the expedited service, $170 (information readily available on the Department of State website).
Note: In order to quality for in-person appointment, the agency requires proof of International travel within 2 weeks or proof that a visa needs to be obtained within 4 weeks.
Hanging up from the very dissatisfied phone call, I tried the Philadelphia office for an earlier appointment. Lucky me, they had an availability four full days earlier, which at that point was a huge blessing. I was nervous about whether or not I would receive same-day service, (website states the turnaround can take up to 8 business days).
Once at the Philadelphia office, I am happy to report it was all smooth sailing. I submitted my application in person at the designated appointment time and was told to return back later the same day for payment and pick up. I did just that, and voila! A shinny, brand new passport with 52 crisp pages awaiting travel adventures (along with my old passport with holes punched in them) were handed to me by the nicest representative. It cost me a lot of time and money, but I was on my way to NYC to get my Chinese visa (incidentally, 3rd time must be the charm because I was finally granted a 10-year visa!)
Lesson learned people. If you’re traveling a lot or haven’t touched your passport in some time, take a look and make sure you have enough empty “Visas” pages so you don’t have to go through what I did. And if you are up for renewal, remember to get the 52 page book (non standard) because for the same price, why not?
Happy and Safe Travels!