Visa Fest!

My blog posts about visas probably generate more e-mails from random strangers than anything else. This suggests to me that a lot of people are out there scouring the internet for more info on the subject, so I’ll share a bit more. In the past two weeks, I have been involved, to some extent, with 5 Chinese visa applications: three to the USA, one to Japan, and one to Thailand.


It’s been a while since my wife and I had to go through the visa ordeal. Now we’re married, and we want to take her parents with us this summer so they can see Florida as well. We were a bit worried that it would seem like the whole family was trying to immigrate to the US, but all three of them got their visas.

Some relevant details:

– My father-in-law has been to the USA once before in 1992; my mother-in-law has never left China
– My in-laws own property in Shanghai and have savings
– My wife was in the USA last in 2005


I haven’t been to Japan in close to five years, and my wife and I have been meaning to make a trip for a while. We finally settled on this May, but realized we had a visa problem: the typical Chinese tourist to Japan must go with a tour group and stay with the group the whole time. I refused to do that, and my wife didn’t want to either. We wanted to hang out in the Kyoto/Nara/Osaka area and take it easy, rather than the typical tour’s “10 cities in 5 days” approach. If we didn’t want to go on a tour, though, we would have to get my wife’s visa “sponsored.”

The process is kind of complicated, so I won’t go into it to much here [Chinese link, Japanese link], but the bottom line is that your Japanese friend needs to supply a lot of paperwork, including:

1. Proof of a relationship with the Chinese visa applicant
2. Acceptance of responsibility if the Chinese visitor remains in Japan illegally
3. Lots of personal information, including tax information

In the end, our visa application failed because our visa sponsor filled out the form with all the tax information but didn’t include full information for their income history. After several mail exchanges between China and Japan (faxes are no good for this procedure), we were already cutting it close time-wise with our application, and we didn’t have enough time to fix the last problem.

Really, though, we didn’t want to fix the last problem! My former homestay family was so nice about sponsoring my wife and filling out all the paperwork — even including their tax information — and I really did not want to ask for even more personal financial information. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m close to my former Japanese homestay family, and they attended our wedding in Shanghai, but asking for someone’s tax and income information is just not cool. What a shitty passive-aggressive way for the Japanese government to discourage Chinese tourism.

Fortunately, the situation is changing as early as this fall, as Japan changes its regulations to let in individual Chinese tourists that are rich enough.


Thailand is one of the easiest countries for the Chinese to get a visa for. Even with the recent unrest, while tours have paused temporarily, individuals can still get visas easily.

So forget Japan… we’re going to Thailand!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. The funny thing about Chinese people applying for visas is that a lot of it depends on where in China they are from. Most of my friends in Fujian are lucky if they can get a visa anywhere…well, except for Thailand, which as you mention seems to always be easy to get into.

  2. 1 China, 2 Systems: We are struggling to get to Hong Kong because of the visa issue. You’d think that our situation (1x UK and 1x CN passport) would make going to Hong Kong easy. Far from it.

    We were going to give up and resort to another safe haven for Chinese, Switzerland, only to find that they now require a Schengen Visa.

    Visa worries really take the excitement out of travelling anywhere. It means we have to plan everything well in advance.

  3. Reading your experiences about getting the Japanese visa reminds me of a torrid time I had trying to get an Indian visa in 2007. It’s not normally a dreadful an experience but, as a Brit who happened to be born to Pakistani parents, I was made to jump through hoops for the sake of it (but not as bad as asking someone else to provide their tax and income details). In the end I wasn’t denied a visa but it was pretty clear that I was not going to get one because my parents were born in Pakistan. ‘Shitty passive-aggressiveness’ is exactly how I’d describe their methods.

    This story is also the reason why I ended up spending a few weeks in China that winter!

  4. So your wife just got a tourist visa for the U.S? Before it was really hard to just get a tourist visa being married to an American. I know friends who wanted to go and honeymoon after they were married and they had to wait a year until she got her Green Card.

  5. Jordan Says: May 4, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Thanks for the post, John.

    Besides Thailand, does anyone know of any other countries that would be relatively easy for an American and his Chinese girlfriend to go to?


  6. Hey John,

    Isn’t it a little bit risky to go to Thailand these days ? I went there with my GF back in January 2007, just after the bombings in Bangkok and we had no problem, but I cannot help but think that maybe we were just lucky not to encounter any problem during our stay … I loved Thailand, but the idea to be stuck at the airport because of a riot makes us pretty reluctant to go there again. Last November we therefore decided to go to Malaysia instead, and that was even better than Thailand ! And as far as I know, Malaysia is also a very easy destination for mainland China inhabitants so … Maybe you should give it a try !


  7. Laura,

    Yeah, she says a fair amount of people who were there that day were rejected. I think it helps a lot that she’s already been there before.

  8. Jordan,

    Good question! We’ve also been to Turkey, but to do that and travel freely, she had to get a business visa for 3000 RMB (which is quite steep, as visas go). I’m not sure what other countries are easy to visit… I would guess Vietnam and Singapore.

    Does anyone else have a good answer to this question?

    Besides Thailand, does anyone know of any other countries that would be relatively easy for an American and his Chinese girlfriend to go to?

  9. isell,

    I understand your concerns (there was something pretty scary in the news lately), but based on my research (which involves the American travel advisory website for Thailand), Thailand is still safe enough to visit if you stay away from the borders (especially the extreme south right now) and “exercise caution.”

  10. John, you might want to look into Cambodia or Laos. Inexpensive, safe, and less touristy to boot. If you think Chinese VISA’s are a pain, try traveling on a Taiwan passport. My gf applied for US citizenship just for the freedom to see the world with no restrictions.

    On the Japan issue, I feel your pain. The Japanese INS (or whatever its called) and its policies is the most uncompromising, passive aggressive, pseudo-racist organization I have ever known. It’s shameful that they will welcome a westerner with open arms and no questions asked. They’ll even let Australians and some Europeans get part-time work without need of a permit for up to a year. But when it comes to a Chinese passport holder…

    It’s wrong, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. The same xenophobic problems exist here in America as well (and anywhere else on this Earth I’m sure).

  11. Hi again John,

    I mentioned Malaysia within my post, but you didn’t comment on that. I can tell you when it comes to be satisfied about vacations, I’m a pain in the ass and … Well, Malaysia couldn’t disappoint me in ANY way : same beautiful spots as Thailand (we were on Langkawi, an island about 400km South of Phuket), people are even NICER than Thai people (I thought this was simply not possible after our trip there in 2007) … You will not regret going to Malaysia, I would suggest visiting Kuala Lumpur not more than 2 days that’s enough, and then head North to one of the great islands Malaysia proposes … There’s no way you can be disappointed ! If you want more information, don’t hesitate to e-mail me, I’d be glad to discuss that further with you.

    Once again, I guess Malaysia is an easy destination for Chinese people, a Chinese friend of mine living in Beijing went there several times in vacation with his wife and 1 year-old son. Plus when my girlfriend and I were there, in November 2008 … Man, there were A LOT of Chinese tourists !

    Kind Regards,


  12. Laos is easy, i hear

  13. heilong79 Says: May 6, 2009 at 2:15 am

    I hear what your saying about japan,same situation. Sometimes I wish the rest of the world had Chinese style guanxi, just so we could cheat on these visa problems.

  14. Yes Laos isn’t really difficult for Chinese/laowai couples, particularly if you cross overland

  15. Some of my American guy friends have taken their Chinese girlfriends to the Phillipines as well.

  16. Glad we decided against going to Japan last summer–wound up traveling through Malaysia instead (very cool trip).

    I’m just happy I don’t have to deal with the visa issue to the US anymore. After all the paperwork, it was worth getting my wife an immigrant visa.

  17. Isell,

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been to Malaysia so many times now – I think its 13 on last count – I still haven’t made it Thailand I love it so much! I do need to go check out Thailand sometime, but Malaysia’s just got that great mix of cultures, the food, the people and their warmth, the energy, and the beaches with less tourists.

    My Chinese girlfriend has only had one slight snag at Malaysian immigration, when we struck an official who was new and not informed about protocols regarding Chinese tourists. Other than that, I think Chinese get a visa on arrival for around a 120 hour stay if they have their exiting ticket/itinerary to present.

    Now that I’m living in Shanghai, which is also awesome, I’m even closer to good old Malaysia (was previously in Australia)!

  18. Guys, the reason for visa problems is that Chinese tend to go somewhere on “holiday” and never return to China. Their life as an illegal in a developed country is far better than their life in China could ever be.

    Come on, governments keep lists of who enters the country, and it’s pretty easy to figure out when you’ve got an entry but no exit. Countries which have a low rate of defections (Japan, Britain) get easy visa policies, countries which have a high rate (China) get scrutinized closely to make sure that people don’t turn their 30 day tourist visa into a 30 year residence permit.

  19. Great suggestions!

  20. I’m having an issue getting a Visa into China. They won’t grant me a Visa because I can’t show them an expired Chinese Passport that I used to emigrate to the US over 30 years old. I am a US Citizen and hold a valid US Passport. The reasoning behind refusing me a Chinese Visa is that they have to invalidate my Chinese Citizenship, since they do not allow dual citizenship. I researched and found that Chinese Law states that a person’s Chinese National is invalidated as soon as the person on their own free will cease as soon as they acquire a foreign citizenship. My trip is scheduled for September and I’m having no luck getting their the ladies at the Visa counter. They’ve asked me to do a Petition to change my name because it wasn’t Chinese. They also suggested that I need to fly into China, report my 30 year old Chinese Passport missing and fly back to the US. Anybody have any suggestions to help me? Furthermore, I do not have a birth certificate from China as they did not issue them in the rural village that I was born in.

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