The entire process is a nightmare, as perfect a definition of omnishambles as is possible. As such, in order to make it comprehensible, here was our experience in bullet point fashion:
– We found the Chinese embassy on the thursday and checked the opening times. Mon, wed and fri, 9am until 11.45am. Just a little over eight hours a week…
– We returned on the friday to a horrific queue which we were refused entrance to by various people, who without explanation simply gave us instructions to go to a building close by, where we would have to get the correct forms filled out first. Getting said forms took until 11.30am, and talking to a partial English speaker in the queue, we were told to return saturday night, though she couldn’t explain what for.
– We arrived in the early afternoon on saturday, met up with some Kazakhs who were milling around outside, and got our names put on a list. We were told that we had to return to the embassy every two hours for a roll call on the list, and people not present would get their names crossed off. The list decided who got into the embassy on monday. We complained as our hostel was over an hours walk away, meaning we would have to stay outside the embassy constantly until then, but it all fell on deaf ears. That night at around 11pm we returned at our own risk back to the hostel for a short sleep.
– In the hostel we met up with a Canadian who was going through the same process, and who came with us back to the embassy in the very early morning on sunday. Despite him kicking up a fuss, we were told we had no say in the list system and we either went along with it or not. We spent the entire day and night sat outside, getting occasional moments of sleep throughout the night between name calls.
– In the morning on monday the list system was adhered to, with only listed names being allowed entrance into the queue, and we got inside the embassy. Handing in our paperwork, we were immediately told we would need invitations to even begin the process, contradicting everything available online and making the whole wait pointless. Again, kicking off a fuss achieved nothing. We left, returned to the building where we got the forms and applied for an invite that would take three days, at cost.
– We heard whilst queuing about the Chinese embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, no longer offering visas for foreign nationals, and that we were required to enter China within three months of getting the visa, much like Russias policy, all of which was confirmed whilst applying for the invites. The Canadian gave up, and at the hostel chose a different route of travel and left.
– Doing some calculations, we worked out that the earliest we could start the process was the following wednesday, and so we tried relaxing in the hostel during the weeks wait, occupying ourselves with preparing videos and the blog.
– Knowing the list system, we returned to the embassy on monday afternoon to sign up and begin the wait. No one was around though, and so we sat down and began our own list. After waiting for a couple of hours, an English speaking man from one of the cars came up to inquire what we were doing, then explained that the person with the list wasn’t there and would turn up on tuesday around 6pm.
– We returned on tuesday at 4pm and waited, until at around 8.30pm after no one had showed up, another English speaker came over to us and again inquired about what we were doing. He explained the new list system, which had no roll call and worked on clearing an existing backlog, with a phone number available from the security guards to ring up and get your name added. The man did so on our behalf, and we were told our position, 93 and 94. This was bad, as the embassy only got though about twenty people per day, and friday was the latest we could start the process before our Kazakhstan visa expiry became an issue. Unable to help, he told us to return wednesday morning and offered to talk to the list holder about moving us up, but promised nothing.
– Early on wednesday we arrived at the embassy, and no one was around. It started getting busy at around 8am but we couldn’t find the list holder or the English speaking guy anywhere. Under amazing fortunes, as we were talking to another English speaker, a couple of French cyclists going through the process overheard us explaining about the invitation letters. They hadn’t bought any, and so Arjun proposed a deal.
– They agreed that if we paid for their invitation letters, as they were in position 2 and 3 and there was now over 160 names on the list, we could swap, allowing us to get in and out with the process started on time, and them a few days to get the required invitation letters without having to then enter the list again at past position 160 or whatever stupid number it had got to. The English speaking Kazakh talked to the list holder, and though there was a bit of an uproar from others in the list, we got our position swap.
– We got into the embassy, and after a quick look through our papers, were told the invitation letter was from the wrong area of China. We really kicked off, as we were asked nothing when acquiring any of the paperwork or invites, and couldn’t understand what the ‘wrong area of China’ could even possibly mean. They told us to return friday morning, though also said that we wouldn’t need to change any of our paperwork, and so we caused a fuss. We got verbal promises of a queue jump and not needing any changed paperwork, but were refused it all in writing.
– On the thursday we tried not to stress.
– On the wednesday we turned up at the embassy early and waited outside, ignoring all the smug looks from the people whose names were obviously on the list. As the doors opened we approached the queue, and walked around trying to get a security guards attention, everyone looking more and more amused and smug as we did so. Before anyone from the queue was allowed entry, one of the security guards called us in, demanding the crowd of people let us through. Though a couple of men were very helpful in parting the crowd and pushing us through, the majority of people turned from amused and smug to either extremely confused or angry. We didn’t care.
– In the embassy, we went to the same counter, with the same girl we’d spoken to twice before, and handed in the same paperwork which they had rejected on wednesday. This time, a man from one of the backrooms came over and quickly thumbed through our papers, then nodded at the girl, who did some stamping, asked for another passport photo (which nearly killed us with fear until we found some in the spare papers), and then gave us a receipt and instructions to pay at a nearby bank and return the following friday. It was suddenly all so easy, and back at the hostel that day were friends and family with new things to play with.
Our advice to anyone trying to get a Chinese visa in Almaty, is to not bother, and to travel to Astana instead.