Travel visa for China, surrender passport?!
January 22, 2018 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I am a US citizen of Taiwanese parentage. I am in the process of getting a visa to visit Shanghai for four days, a side trip from my main trip to Taipei. I do not think it's a good idea to give my US passport to a Consulate office.

It seems that to obtain a visa to China, I GIVE the Chinese consulate my US passport along with the visa application, and I trust that I will get it back when I pickup my visa ~4 business days later?!

Could Mefites please reassure me that this is a safe thing to do, because right now I'm thinking about cancelling the Shanghai part of my trip and just sticking to Taipei. As a US citizen, I haven't had to apply for a visa for my adult travels, EVER, and it doesn't seem prudent to me to hand over my passport to anyone much less a Consulate of another government (what if it gets lost, for whatever reason?)

I am also worried about being of Taiwanese parentage, both parents born in Taiwan but now US citizens. China & Taiwan don't have a chummy relationship, and I don't want trouble over it.
posted by honey badger to Travel & Transportation around China (24 answers total)
It's very nerve-wracking the first time you do it, but this is common practice. I handle international travel arrangements for many people and have turned over many passports, US and otherwise, to various consulates, including China's, for visas. Never once has anyone had a problem.
posted by something something at 6:19 AM on January 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

Fellow American mefite with Taiwanese parents here: Totally normal. They process and affix the visa for you. Your passport doesn't betray your parent's heritage, and even if it did, nobody cares - cross strait travel happens all the time.
posted by Karaage at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I worked in mainland China (including Shanghai) a couple of times and had to send them my passport to get my visa. I'm not of Taiwanese descent, so that might change things, but when I did it everything was fine.

When considering things like this (which always also make me nervous, because passport) I remind myself that tons and tons of people go to mainland China all the time, that the Chinese government wants tourist dollars and foreign workers, etc, and that therefore they have a process.

Honestly, it's probably easier for most people to get a Chinese visa than to get a US one at this point because our government is a trash fire.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

FWIW, this is normal for obtaining a Chinese visa. This is also not the 90's, relationships have improved, and there are direct flights from Shanghai to Taipei. The visa application asks for parents' nationality, but not parents' place of birth.

Shanghai is worth seeing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:38 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi! Also a US citizen of Taiwanese descent here. I have applied for a PRC visa (and this was back in the day when there were no direct PRC-Taiwan flights and you had to go via Hong Kong) and this is completely normal and there were no problems.

(Also, I would gently point out that citizens with less "powerful" passports from developing countries have to submit/send off their passports to foreign embassies and consulates all the time, including when applying for US, UK or Schengen visas, and the US at least often requires at least 7-10 business days to return a passport. We as US citizens are really very fortunate in not having to do this for a lot of travel.)
posted by andrewesque at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2018 [12 favorites]

This is common practice for many countries' visa processes.

I work in an office where there are currently a handful of people trying to get visas for Nigeria, and they have all had to surrender their passports to the consulate to get the visa. Usually it's because the actual thing that certifies you have the visa itself is a stamp or a label that is physically pasted inside your passport. (that makes it REALLY fun when the guy who wants the Nigerian visa has only three weeks before he needs it back to go to Haiti or something; this has become my personal hell for the last couple weeks....)

Before that I worked for an NGO where we were securing visas for several board members taking a tour of some of our field sites, and I had to collect all their passports as well; Jordan, Myamnar and Lebanon all needed the physical passports to process the visas.

So the fact that you are giving over your passport is part of the process. If you're uneasy about doing so yourself, maybe try a third-party service that can help you. Technically all they are doing is making sure all your paperwork is in place before they walk your application and passport to the consulate for you, but they are really good about knowing how the process works, answering questions, and can help you get your passport back if things hit a snag. If you're in the New York area, memail me and I can give you further details (my office is 4 blocks from a particular visa service, and one of the guys at the front desk there is the most insanely helpful person I've met in years).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on January 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

My wife and I (natural born US citizens) visited Hong Kong and mainland China recently and needed to hand over our passports for the China visas. No problem whatsoever getting them processed and returned, except that they wouldn’t mail them. We needed to pick them up when they were ready. We also each had to provide a photo with China specific dimensions (not quite the same as US passport photo requirements), which they kept, and I assume scanned into their facial recognition surveillance system.
posted by notyou at 7:41 AM on January 22, 2018

Hell, I had to surrender my Australian passport to get my US visa.
posted by Talez at 7:51 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Had to do this to go to Shenzhen from Hong Kong a few years back. I'd usually consider this completely normal, but with the US government shutdown, I'd be a hell of a lot more nervous that if something did go wrong, I'd have a more difficult time replacing that passport because of US problems rather than China problems.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:02 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm going through the exact same process right now. It is normal. You should know though, that Shanghai is one of the cities that has a rule where you don't need a visa (for selected countries, US included) if you are staying less than 6 days. If you are just staying for 4 days in Chinese mainland, you may not need a visa at all. It's called the 144 hour rule.
posted by monologish at 8:50 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, this may not apply to Taiwan at all, but I'm a naturalized US citizen (previously Chinese) and I have to submit my naturalization certificate as well as my previous Chinese passport with my visa application.
posted by monologish at 8:53 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've done this several times with other countries. It's especially nerve-wracking when you're doing it outside the US!

Are you worried about not getting your passport back? Look at it this way: most consulates/embassies are not going to want to risk a diplomatic incident over something as inconsequential as a lost passport. (Not that losing your passport would constitute a diplomatic incident, but if it happened enough to look like a pattern, it could) They have a vested interest in getting your passport back to you.
posted by lunasol at 9:01 AM on January 22, 2018

if you are staying less than 6 days. If you are just staying for 4 days in Chinese mainland, you may not need a visa at all. It's called the 144 hour rule.

Note that this is for transit -- you need to be arriving in China from country A and departing from China for country B (and in this case, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan all count as countries). In other words:

- Taipei (Taiwan) > Shanghai (China) > Hong Kong (HK): OK
- Tokyo (Japan) > Shanghai (China) > Seoul (S. Korea): OK
- Taipei (Taiwan) > Shanghai (China) > Kaohsiung (Taiwan): not OK, you are not in transit
posted by andrewesque at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a very common scenario. This is how even US embassys handle visa applications.
posted by WizKid at 9:46 AM on January 22, 2018

N'thing to say this is how pretty much every country handles visas, including the U.S.

You'll be fine! Now have a great trip!
posted by whitewall at 9:48 AM on January 22, 2018

Totally normal. I sent in my passport for a visa to Russia, and had zero problems.
posted by Everydayville at 10:01 AM on January 22, 2018

Nthing that this is a totally normal thing. I had to surrender my Canadian passport to the Norwegian embassy to get my study visa, was also nerve wracking.

If for whatever strange and highly unlikely reason they do lose your passport or if you have any isauea, you can contact the American embassy to help on your behalf. I had some slight difficulty getting my passport back on time due to some processing delays, I called the Canadian consulate to help. They called the Norwegian embassy and I had my approved permit and passport back the next day. Good luck and happy travels!
posted by snowysoul at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Note that there are special, significantly more burdensome, rules for Chinese visas for foreigners (including but not limited to US citizens) born in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau, or who have dual nationality including those places.
posted by MattD at 10:59 AM on January 22, 2018

Also, the Chinese consultant very rarely takes your passport if there will be any delay in returning it, visa attached. They simply refuse to take it after reviewing your application, which isn’t happy-making after waiting in line for 3 hours, but is better than the alternative.
posted by MattD at 11:01 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have Taiwanese family but I did have to hand over my passport when I was preparing for a trip to Guangzhou. I was uncomfortable surrendering it - I haven't traveled recently but I was used to getting a visa at the airport when I landed, if I needed one at all - but it was really straightforward. I think I paid for an expediter and I got it back more quickly than I expected. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 12:57 PM on January 22, 2018

No problem whatsoever getting them processed and returned, except that they wouldn’t mail them.

Note that the receipt the Consulate gives you for later retrieval may not look at all official, with no name, only a 4- or 5-digit code written on it, but it works. Don't lose it!
posted by Rash at 1:28 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks everybody, I thought that I surely read the FAQ incorrectly from the Consulate, because passports are so precious! But as a privileged American, I literally have never had to do this passport surrender before. I'll just have to trust the process...
posted by honey badger at 1:42 PM on January 22, 2018

If this is going to be a common occurrence (being without a passport for visas), you can apply for a 2-year "extra" passport. (Also useful if you are traveling between countries which hate one another.)
posted by cyndigo at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

cyndigo, that's extremely helpful info! I had no idea that was A Thing. Esp about the part traveling between countries that might "hate one another." :p
posted by honey badger at 4:57 PM on January 25, 2018

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