I want to visit my friend in China before he comes back. Free place to crash and all. So, I applied for a visa to China, from Colombo. I’m not sure I’ll get it, but this is process to at least apply. For official but incomplete info, check out the Chinese Embassy website.
Don’t Be Sri Lankan. Only
As much as China postures to be Sri Lanka’s new best friend, it’s no great friend to Sri Lankan people. Sri Lankans cannot apply for normal tourist visas to China, at least not officially. A friend discovered this when her request was rejected, I found some unofficial documentation in an embassy comment thread, and I just now called the embassy in Sri Lanka to confirm. They said, under current regulations, visas are only issued for groups of five. I don’t quite understand, but I think it’s kinda not cool. The alternatives are A) if you have an inviter there B) they otherwise read your application and mystically let you through. Officially, however, free and independent Sri Lankan travelers are not welcome in China.
So, what of my process then? I’m a dual citizen (Canada and Sri Lanka) so I applied under my Canadian passport, which has no such regulations. Even so, they made me get an invitation letter from my friend in China, scans of his passport and visa, and my own bank statements. And I’m still not sure.
Prepare For Multiple Visits
The Indian visa process used to suck until they outsourced it to a private company which is now pretty efficient. The Chinese process is still insourced, and it still sucks. The Chinese Embassy is across from BMICH, but the visa office is at the back, at 120/3, Vidya Mawatha (map). To get there turn off Bauddhaloka Mawatha onto Wijerama and go past the British Embassy. Then go down Vidya Mawatha, where NIBM and the Eye Donation place are. On your left there’s a nondescript white and blue cladded building. That’s it.
The lines are not bad and the people are not rude, but the information is incomplete. For one thing, there’s no mention on the official Embassy website of this group visa rule, though it seems to be common knowledge. So that would be one wasted trip there. You can download the forms online, but the instructions there are incomplete. In my case, I didn’t know that I’d need bank statements, an invitation letter, and scans of my inviters visa and passport. So that was another wasted trip.
While I was there a gentlemen from Jaffna was complaining about this. He was trying to visit his son’s graduation and they were asking for an invitation letter and the son’s birth certificate. He was complaining that they didn’t mention this beforehand and the lady replied by pointing to some instructions on the wall. Which are not on the website, so rather pointless. Anyways, he left to get a fax from Jaffna.
Oh, and the posted hours are 9-11 and like 3-5, but they are really only from 9-11 (am). That said, the lines aren’t onerous, but if you mess something up (as is inevitable) you inevitably lose a day. A single entry visa costs Rs. 2,300 for Sri Lankans (who will still struggle to get it) and Rs. 3,900 for other countries. It costs Rs. 16,300 for Americans. Normal service takes 4 working days. As in, I applied on Thursday and they told me to come back on Tuesday. If you want it in two days that’s Rs. 4,000 extra. By their calculations, this seems to be next day service, as I think the days are inclusive. Anyways, you can download the visa fee table here.
So, in sum, if you’re a regular Sri Lankan tourist and you want to visit China with your girl or whatever, forget it. If you’re a breeder or a package tour kinda person you can probably apply as a group. Otherwise you’ll need to know someone in China, get an invitation letter, and produce bank statements and whatever they ask for.
If all that’s in order, you can print and fill the application online. Then, bring all that stuff to the Visa Office, which is behind the Embassy, and prepare to mess at least one thing up and have to return. I always went at around 9, cause the place closes at 11. And that’s about it.
Please note that my criticism of the visa process are not a criticism of the country or government of China. I want to go there, it’s obviously cool. I once had an Indian High Commission officer (in Canada) yell that I was ‘threatening our sovereignty’ when I complained about something. So I’m not getting into that again. China and Sri Lanka are friends and it would be nice if they opened up A) an option for Sri Lankan nationals to feasibly apply at all and B) made the process simpler for everyone, perhaps by outsourcing it.