Foreigners in China give their tips when using the various ways to make visa runs to Hong Kong, Japan or Mongolia. Photo: IC
For some expats living in China, there is a small chore they must complete every 60 or 90 days depending on the type of visa they have - the visa run. There are many ways to make a visa run through Hong Kong, Japan or Mongolia. When speaking to expats about their visa run journeys, they have some tips.
If stuck in Hong Kong, enjoy it (Leah H):
On the day of my return flight to Beijing, I timed my subway ride perfectly and dawdled for a couple minutes in a bookstore, treating myself to a new book.
At the airline desk, I was pleased with the short line. I glanced through my passport, enjoying the messily-stamped pages and my stomach plummeted.
The page with my Chinese visa read, "Enter Before: 21 Jan 2015." That was four days ago!
After a few semi-panicked phone calls, I came up with a plan to stay in Hong Kong for a couple days, and then enter Chinese mainland on the 72-hour visa-free transit pass, since I had a plane ticket from Beijing to Phoenix ten days later. The ladies at the desk assured me this would be fine, so I calmed down a bit and camped out in a chair to make a list of all the things I needed to do - book a hotel, withdraw more money, buy laundry detergent, call my Hong Kong friends and book a new flight back to Beijing.
My office manager in China told me, "You have to be there, so you might as well enjoy it." So that's what I did! I ended up having a great time at my favorite local restaurants and tourist sites. There are much worse places to be stranded for four days.
Don't be surprised by the long haul (Wade K):
The worst visa run I ever went on was when I worked as an outdoor guide. The company had not paid us in a couple months, so I basically had no money. I had to go from Sanya in Hainan Province to Hong Kong to get a new visa and then up to Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, which is 1,792 kilometers away, to do a winter camp so I could get some money. I took a 20-hour long-distance bus to Hong Kong. Everyone else on the bus got off in Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, so the bus driver took an hour-long break with me locked in the bus. That night I slept outside in the cold since I had no money and passport. Afterwards, I got my passport back and went over to Guangzhou to try and get a train up to Nanjing. The train was for the next day, so I spent the night in an Internet cafe. The next day, I missed my train because I didn't realize that I was at the east train station and not the main train station. I got my 85 percent refund and took a 20-hour train ride to Shanghai with no seat. Finally, I made it to Shanghai and took the fast train to Nanjing and immediately took a shower and a nap.
Don't let your single-entry visa get stamped too early (Cassius W):
It was May 2014, and I was about to begin my first job in Beijing to teach English. With my invitation letter and entry certificate in my passport, I decided to visit my friend in Japan for a few days, flying from London to Osaka via Beijing. This was my first flight out of Europe, so I was understandably nervous. My plane from London arrived late in Beijing, and I hadn't the slightest clue how to ask where I should go to transfer planes, which added to my sense of helplessness. A flight attendant told me that I needed to collect my luggage at the Beijing airport, despite the fact that I would be transferring to Osaka.
So when I arrived, I headed straight for the luggage collection area. Because I had a Z Visa, somebody stamped my single-entry visa and I was allowed to go through immigration and pick up my luggage. I then left China about an hour later, bound for Osaka. As we crossed the Sea of Japan, I thought it was a little strange that somebody had stamped my visa, but I hoped for the best. I visited my friend in Osaka for five days and had an amazing time, but when I tried to fly back to China, I was barred from leaving.
I was told my visa had been made void by the stamp it had received.
I was told I would have to fly back to the UK and reapply for another work visa.
So, I had to fly all the way back to my home country, reapply for a visa, work three jobs to make up for the lost money and rent a new apartment.
It was the biggest, most painful visa run that I've ever had to do. Three months later, I made it back.
At my English school, I became "that guy" who took eight months to start his new job. Poor preparation, poor Chinese and lack of sleep can cost you thousands of pounds!
Many unexpected things can happen on a visa run, and one expat advices that if you get stuck somewhere, just enjoy the journey. Photo: IC
Don't worry; Russian interrogators are very polite (James B):
The border between Heihe in China's northeastern Heilongjiang Province and Blagoveshchensk in Russia is located on the Heilongjiang River, making it a land crossing in the winter, a water crossing in the summer and a hybrid land/water crossing in the fall and spring. You will board a sort of hovercraft that takes you across the mix of water and ice. A very cool experience if you get the chance.
I am a Russian and American dual citizen residing in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where I study the language of the ethnic minority group of Uyghur. I speak English, Russian, Putonghua and Uyghur, which further sets me apart from most tourists. With that said, I've heard of others having trouble at this border too.
The adventures started when the Chinese border officials saw that I had been to Xinjiang from the visas and stamps in my US passport and asked me what I was doing there. I told them I studied Uyghur, I was a linguist and was writing a book. They asked if I had the book on me. No, I didn't. One of the officers took my phone and my two passports and went off somewhere. I waited an hour before they gave me my documents back.
I boarded the next boat and crossed the river to Russia. The officer looked at my Russian passport and noted I had been to Ukraine (three years ago) and to some Central Asian countries recently.
"This is going to take some time," she said. "Please stand off to the side for now."
Ten minutes later, a professional-looking interrogator named Alexey showed up and took me aside to a small, windowless room where we sat down and had a chat that was, quite honestly, polite and pleasant.
Alexey got my whole biography, as well as my e-mail and Facebook. He also asked me what I was doing in Central Asia. Finally, he let me go just as the boat ticket window was closing.
I had nothing with me except a book. I settled into a student dormitory building for an inexpensive 400 rubles ($7) and simultaneously registered in both Russia and China on the same night. I went out for a quick bite, bought a phone charger (since I hadn't brought that either) and went back to the dorm just in time for the whole region to lose electricity.
I woke up the next day confident that the trip back to Heihe would be a cinch.
After getting my boat ticket and trying to check out of Russia, another officer told me to stand aside and wait. Forty minutes went by, after which a professional-looking interrogator named Sergey and his two purple-shirted aides showed up and took me to the office next door.
Then I rushed to catch the boat as it was leaving, which I miraculously did.
A computer glitch at Chinese customs delayed our boat's arrival for yet another hour.
The Chinese customs were nicer to me the second time around, remembering me from the day before, and the hotel didn't charge me extra for returning past check-out time that day.
It was a hassle I will never forget, as what should have been a visa run of a few hours turned into a full 24. Next time, I think I'll just muster up the funds and fly.