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Platinum Visa

You hold a British passport and you want to go to China for a day or two. How much will it cost you to get a single entry visa from China Travel Service?

HK$500. Yes, five hundred Hong Kong Dollars (US$65).

Perhaps I'm daft (or naive), but what benefit does a country derive from making it difficult or expensive for people to cross their borders? Queuing up to enter or leave is just plain frustrating, and I really wonder what it achieves. I remember having to wait around an hour to get through passport control the first few times I came into Kai Tak, and I sometimes see long queues for visitors at Chek Lap Kok (though I think they now have a special scheme for regular visitors, and there is a special queue for holders of the ASEAN Business Pass, whatever that is). My worst recent experience was going to Phuket and queuing for around an hour to get in to the country. That'll make me think twice about going back there anytime soon.

Part of the problem is that virtually every country in Asia requires visitors to fill in an arrival or departure card, and so you have to wait in line for the details to be checked and your passport stamped. What do they do with all those pieces of paper in which people have scribbled their name, flight number, passport number, destination and shoe size? Does it really achieve anything to stamp something in your pasport (except filling it up so you have to pay for a new one)? Isn't there a better way?

There are encouraging signs in other parts of the world. The Schengen treaty abolished border controls between 15 European countries, and many other borders in the region are very easy to cross. Travelling between France and England usually involves nothing more than a cursory wave of your passport as you drive past. I went on holiday to a town in Switzerland that is close to the French border, and discovered that cars were only rarely checked and pedestrians could cross without any problem. You would see drivers stop at the checkpoint and wait for someone to come and check their passports, before driving on rather hesitantly when no-one appeared.

Getting back to the subject of China visas for Hong Kong citizens, I know there has been some discussion about the possiblity of allowing non-Chinese Permanent Residents to be allowed to enter China on the same basis as if you have Chinese nationality (i.e. 3 stars on the back of your ID card), but I don't think anything has been decided. If you live here and pay taxes in what is legally part of China, why should you need a passport and visa to travel between the HKSAR and the rest of the PRC? I suppose we could all follow the Mike Rowse route and become Chinese citizens, but that seems a bit drastic (though I understand that you can subsequently become a British citizen again, but only once).

The current system allows the Chinese government to penalize citizens of Britain and any other countries whose governments charge high fees for visas to Chinese citizens. I hope that it has the desired effect, but I rather doubt it, and it peeves me slightly that I should suffer - especially when I have to go to China as part of my job. Obviously I don't have a single entry visa, but a one-year multiple entry visa which currently costs HK$1600 (more than US$200).

Praise where it's due, though, and getting through the Lo Wu checkpoint is now significantly easier and quicker than it was a couple of years ago. Recently, I have noticed that getting through the "visitors" channel on the China side now seems to take no longer than going through the "Hong Kong citizens" channel, and the Hong Kong side takes barely a couple of minutes.

So perhaps I shouldn't be complaining.

Comments

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Ted

one of the most important aspects of the arrival/departure cards is if something like SARS returned. If it later turned out that a SARS patient was on a plane, the arrival/departure cards allow the authorities to track down most or all of the other passengers.

Eshin

I've heard rumours that they try to make it as hard as possible for British passport holders to come over into China. Something about borrowing about small tract of land...

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