Wednesday, August 31, 2011

China Visa with less than 6 months on ARC

I recently went through the process of getting a visa for my upcoming trip to China. When we went to Vietnam I needed one as well and all it involved was filling out a form at the embassy in Seoul and coming back the following week to pick up my passport. Easy peasy.

China though? Not so much. If you're a foreigner living in Korea (specifically a US American since that's what I am in case some of this info may not apply to foreigners of other countries) and you want to take a trip to China, the visa process involves just a bit more work. You can no longer apply for a visa directly at the Chinese embassy so you need to find a travel agency to take care of it for you.

And if you're like me and you have an ARC (Alien Registration Card) that is expiring within the six month period from when you are applying for a visa, you will hear that the Chinese embassy in Seoul no longer grants visas in those cases. So you have to get some extra paper work and send your documents down to a travel agency in Busan where the Chinese embassy there will give you a visa. Still with me?

Once all was said and done, the process wasn't that much more difficult but I think I was just so worried that they wouldn't grant me a visa that I worked myself into a tizzy. This post will probably be way too late to help anyone hoping to head out to China for Chuseok but for future reference I thought I'd compile the steps you need to take if you want a visa for China with less than six months left on your ARC.

Step 1
If your ARC has less than six months on it then you need to get yourself to your local immigration office and pick up a Certificate of Foreign Registration (I have heard you can also get one of these at your city hall or district office but I can't confirm this). Bring your passport, ARC, and a stamp (I bought one at the office) into the immigration office and request this form. It takes less than five minutes and you leave with a sheet of paper that basically just re-states all the information from your ARC and passport but with a fancy stamp on top of it.

If you're in Incheon then the immigration office is located right behind Inha University Hospital. I took a cab and told the driver "Incheon chu-rip-kuk" or "Incheon immigration". I think I also threw in "Sa-mu-shil" or "office" for good measure but kept butchering it and he finally just said in plain English "Office?". Somehow even when I attempt to speak Korean I sound like an idiot...

Step 2
Find a travel agency to send your stuff to. I highly recommend Kangsan Travel as I had a very positive experience with them. They have an office in Seoul as well as one in Busan. I was super paranoid about mailing off my documents, particularly my passport, and having them get lost or be returned with a fat rejection stamp on top. So I emailed them beforehand just to confirm that they definitely would be able to get me a visa with my soon-to-be expired ARC and they assured me it would be fine.

Step 3
Fill out your visa application. You can find the applications through Kangsan Travel here. The first PDF is the main application form and the second is an extra form to fill out if you're applying for the visa in a country other than your country of nationality. So basically all foreigners in Korea need to send that one as well.

Step 4
Gather up your documents. What you'll be sending:
- Passport
- Copy of your ARC, front and back
- A 3cm x 4cm passport photo
- Application forms
- Certificate of Foreign Registration

If you don't have passport sized photos you can either get them taken in a subway station at one of those little photo booths or at a photography shop. Just look for a shop window full of family portraits, walk in, and tell them what you want. I needed one for Vietnam too so I had plenty of extras.

Step 5
Mail your documents off! I just brought everything into the post office, told them I wanted to send something express to Busan, and the worker helped me fill out the address in Korean. You can find the address at the page I linked above.

Step 6
Pay the visa and handling fee. For most foreigners the fee is 70,000 won but for Americans it's 220,000. Gross. On top of that I also paid 30,000 handling to Kangsan. You can pay by wire transfer at your bank which is super easy and safe. The account name and number details can also be found on the applications page linked above. I emailed Kangsan to let them know I'd transferred the money and I also sent them the address to mail my passport back to. 

I'd sent my things off on a Tuesday and by the Friday of the following week my passport was back with a brand new visa inside. I've heard various things about the Chinese embassy in Busan possibly changing to the no-visa-for-an-ARC-with-less-than-six-months like Seoul but at least for the time being you can get one if you follow these steps and go through Kangsan Travel. I'm sure there are other agencies you can use as well, I just know I had success with this one.

Happy travels!

Trivia of the Day: Caribbean Bay is an indoor / outdoor water park located in Yongin, South Korea. Opened in 1996, it is the largest indoor / outdoor water park in the world. The Caribbean Bay park reproduces a typical bay in the Caribbean Sea. The park includes a wave pool, the world's longest lazy river ride, a sandy pool, a wading pool for young children, various water slides, and a salt sauna. The children pool also has a baby pool which is very shallow for adults but perfect for babies. Caribbean Bay has received "Must-see Waterpark Awards" from International Association of Amusement Park Attractions.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Adventures in Vietnam: Part II

We started the third day of our trip at the National Museum of Vietnamese History. It's a nice museum and though it's not really big, it offers a pretty thorough overview. There was barely anyone there so we spent a couple quiet hours looking around inside and checking out the outdoor exhibit.
This day was better planned so at 11 o'clock when all the sights started closing for a two hour window we were finished at the museum and decided to wander in search of lunch.
We had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and it was pretty tasty. You'd think that being in Vietnam we'd be getting Vietnamese food at all the restaurants we went to but really, most of the trip we were eating Western dishes. Personally I've never enjoyed trying new foods because I'm always terrified I'll get a flavor/texture that freaks me out (though I have been much more adventurous since coming to Korea). So I consider the two or three dishes of local cuisine that I actually did try to be making an effort. 

After lunch, we came across Saint Joseph's Cathedral which according to Grandma Wiki was built in 1886 and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi. 
These kids kept saying hello and talking to us as they road their bikes.

In the afternoon we ended up at the Temple of Literature.
Although several Temples of Literature can be found throughout Vietnam, the most prominent and famous is that situated in the city of Hanoi, which also functioned as Vietnam's first university. The temple was first constructed in 1070 under King Lý Nhân Tông and is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.
Hopefully I'll get around to posting everything from this trip before my next trip to Shanghai in two weeks!

Trivia of the Day: The flag of Vietnam, also known as the "red flag with yellow star" (cờ đỏ sao vàng), was designed in 1940 and used during an uprising against French rule in Cochinchina that year. The flag was used by the Việt Minh, a communist-led organization created in 1941 to oppose Japanese occupation. At the end of World War II, Việt Minh leader Hồ Chí Minh proclaimed Vietnam independent and signed a decree on September 5, 1945 adopting the Việt Minh flag as the flag of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The DRV became the government of North Vietnam in 1954 following the Geneva Accords. The flag was modified on November 30, 1955 to make the edges of the star sharper. The red background was inspired by the flag of the communist party, which in turn honors the red flag of the Paris Commune of 1871. It symbolizes revolution and blood. The five-pointed yellow star represents the unity of workers, peasants, intellectuals, traders and soldiers in building socialism. Until Saigon was captured in 1975, South Vietnam used a yellow flag with three red stripes. The red flag of North Vietnam became the flag of a united Vietnam when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formed in 1976.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Things have been kind of crazy lately, both at work and personally. This past weekend was busy and since it's really been a crummy week I haven't been much in the mood for sorting through pictures and updating. I think complaining on a blog can become a real bad habit though so I won't be doing that!

This is just a fly-by post then to say I'm still alive and kicking. I haven't been looking forward to a Friday this bad in a long time and I'm hoping things will start looking better on the other side of the weekend.

Basically the best thing happening in my life right now is that my local supermarket is now stocking Cheerios. Can I thank the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement for this miracle?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Adventures in Vietnam: Part I

It's a lazy Sunday and I just finished putting away groceries, throwing on some laundry, and blowing up a beach ball that came free with a recently purchased box of cereal (it says "Kellogg's" on one panel and "Special K" on another"). So since I'm hanging in today it seemed like a good time to finally share some pictures and details from our trip to Vietnam!

We left on a Saturday morning and made it to Noi Bai International Airport in the early afternoon. From there we took a cab to our hostel in Hanoi which took a little under an hour. We stayed at the Little Hanoi Hostel Le Thai To which is right on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's Old Quarter. I would absolutely suggest this hostel if you're staying in Hanoi. Not only is it conveniently located but it's clean and well maintained and the staff were friendly. They helped book our tickets down to Hue and back which probably would have been a pain to figure out otherwise and someone was always around if anyone needed anything. 

After dumping our bags in our room we set off to explore.
 Turtle Tower.
 The Dharma Initiative is everywhere.
Travel days are always pretty tiring and we'd been up early so after looking around a bit more and grabbing dinner later on we called it a day. The next morning we had breakfast at the same spot we'd had dinner because it was close and we didn't want to be wandering around trying to find food. One of the most awesome awesome awesome things about Vietnam is that they have Western breakfast. Well, lots of Western food in general but breakfast is what interested me most. Finding somewhere in Korea that serves up pancakes or omelettes or french toast is pretty difficult so I was more than happy to indulge in Western breakfast all week long. We realized later, after hitting up a few more restaurants, that this place was a bit overpriced but it was right on the lake and had a nice view so it was worth those two meals.
After breakfast we went in search of a particular temple but when we got there it was closed. One thing to note if you're sightseeing in Hanoi is that a lot of places close from 10 or 11am to 1 or 2pm. Instead of setting out around that time like we did, try to catch places earlier and then spend those hours getting lunch or street shopping. 
Bach Ma Temple.
Lenin Park.
Big old statue of Lenin.
 Flag Tower.
 The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum. It's only open from 9am to noon but we passed on this because we were never in the area at the right time and seeing a dead body wasn't exactly high on the list.
One Pillar Pagoda.
While waiting for the Hồ Chí Minh Museum to open we checked out the Military History Museum which truth be told isn't really worth seeing. It's small but even still there wasn't a whole lot and everything seemed sort of thrown together. Lots of items were just left out in the open instead of being behind protective glass and most of the labels had been taped up. 
Once it was open for the afternoon we headed back to the Hồ Chí Minh Museum which was one of my favorite stops on the trip.
Before this trip I didn't know a lot about Vietnam's history or even the war. I never read much about it on my own and I'll save my rant about how US schools fail to teach anything past 1950 for some other day. So everything was pretty new to me and I felt like I learned a lot. The Hồ Chí Minh Museum is especially thorough and nicely mixes the history of the man himself and the country with various works of art. I highly recommend making a stop there.
 A cool exhibit that was running while we were there.
More to come soon!

Trivia of the Day: Hoan Kiem Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, meaning "Lake of the Returned Sword" or "Lake of the Restored Sword", also known as Hồ Gươm - Sword Lake) is a lake in the historical center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. According to the legend, emperor Lê Lợi handed a magic sword called Heaven's Will which brought him victory in his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty back to the Golden Turtle God in the lake and hence gave it its present name. The Tortoise Tower standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. Large soft-shell turtles, either of the species Rafetus swinhoei or a separate species named Rafetus leloii in honor of the emperor, have been sighted in the lake. The species is critically endangered and the number of individuals in the lake is unclear.