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Chinese visa application in Islamabad

Visiting China means visiting an office to apply for a Chinese visa. The best and easiest place to apply for a visa is still Hong Kong. Here you can easy get a 2 or 3months visa, the days of a 6 or 12 months visa are over. Here's what happened when I tried to get my visa done in Islamabad.

Bus in Pakistan
Bus in Pakistan

I had been in China before. For my first few visits I had organized my visa in Holland and in Hong Kong.

Over the years I also organized it twice in Bangkok but now I was in Islamabad. Although I knew the rules for a Chinese visa differ from country to country, I didn't expect many problems.

At this time my plan was to travel from Islamabad to Kashgar and then further back to Yunnan, Yangshuo and Hong Kong.

My experience with the Chinese embassies had been good in general although Hong Kong was definitely the easiest place to get a visa. Kathmandu in Nepal was notoriously difficult, but I didn't expect much problems in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

I had been in Pakistan for some time now and it was all during the festivities of the Independence of Pakistan and India, now 50 years back.

All official government buildings, banks etc. had been closed for good reasons. After all, not every year you can celebrate the 50th birthday of the state.

Men at the market, Pakistan
Men at the market, Pakistan

The embassies had been closed for seven days so I expected it would be busy thus I was early at the embassy. It wasn't really a surprise to see it was busy. Usually the embassies organize a line for foreigners and for locals.

This is because the foreigners usually come for visa while locals can have other business, I was told. However, the authorities had not expect so many people and everybody was pushing himself to the front.

It was Friday morning and there were about 6 foreigners and around 100 Pakistanis, all men. If a woman showed up she was directly taken by the guards to the office. In Pakistan women always go first. The foreigners all came to apply for a Chinese visa. The guards, all young soldiers had visibly a problem with controlling the growing crowd.

Market stall in Pakistan
Market stall in Pakistan

At one moment it went wrong. I was pushed and fell over. One of the guards lost control and started to beat some of the locals with his stick and gave me some space. From that moment on, the 6 foreigners got a bit of protection and were directed to the ticket office.

Little by little I came closer to the office. Now a woman with children showed up. They were put in front of me. Behind me the crowd was still pushing. I had to use quite a bit of force to give the woman and children some air to breathe. Then the door opened and another big push came. I fell over and .... was inside!

Meat shop in Pakistan
Meat shop in Pakistan

Inside there was only one counter. It was now about 11am. I saw a sign that said that after 11.30 there would be no more applications accepted and at 12 the office would be closed. Quickly I filled in the Chinese visa application form and waited. Indeed at 11.30 the doors closed. The man behind the counter had to deal with so many people. It was clear he couldn't deal with all the applications before 12, when the office would close.

It was now 10 to 12 and I had 5 more people in front of me when the official closed the official simply closed the office counter. The officials inside the office removed all of us outside and told us to come back on Monday. I had spend my whole morning waiting to ... come back on Monday... what a mess!

At the Peshawar market
Peshawar market

I was astonished. During the years of traveling I had never experienced something like this. Usually they close the office when at least all the applications are collected but this was different.

I had no alternative, I had to come back on Monday. But I had one advantage over all the people outside: I had at least filled in the application form.

When I cam back on Monday, I showed my application form to the guards, there were now only a few people, and I was helped in 15 minutes time.

One small problem occurred, I had applied for a 2 months visa, as I had been able to get a 2 months visa easy in Holland.

I didn't expect a problem now but the official unceremoniously changed 2 months to 1 month: "You can't get a 2 months Chinese visa, we don't approve that", he said. The fact I had proof that other embassies would give 2 or 3 months visa didn't matter.

And with a wave of his hand he dismissed me before I could even say anything. But at least I had my Chinese visa. It was a complete different experience then the smooth applications I had (and later would do again) in Hong Kong.

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