I feel like I have been duped. Having only a short amount of time to get to the city and apply for a visa, I did not want want to get sucked into the endeavor that was sure to come if I went to the Chinese Embassy and tried to apply for a visa directly. An expediting service seemed to be the next best option.
Lets be clear on this matter; I knew that going through a visa service would be expensive, compared to taking care of the matter on my own. The service takes your pictures, files your papers and personally takes your passport to the embassy to wait in line to speak with a visa agent on your behalf. Beyond all of this, they do it fast, expeditiously fast.
And because of this service, I paid. Every other service that I looked at required that I provide a professional travel itinerary as created by a legitimate travel agent. I do not wish to use a travel agent, as travel agencies are incredibly expensive and provide trips for individuals seeking experiences that tend to flood your face with ‘culture’. No no, if I am to go, I intend to run on no itinerary but my own.
The visa agencies that I spoke with did not seem to like this plan. I kept hearing, “No sir, it is much easier for us to get you a visa if you have an itinerary”, to which my mind kept saying “Yes, I’m sure it would be much easier, but I am paying you a whole stack of greenbacks to figure this thing out for me, so I don’t want to hear that you don’t want to put in extra effort”.
This is where ‘Same Day Passport’ came in to the picture. They charged quite a bit more than the other services, but told me not to worry about providing an itinerary, that they would take care of that end of things. While I was in their office, I watched as the agent entered a random Beijing hotel name into the application. A very Chinese trick for an American agency. But trickery and legal back-doors come at a price. In the case of this visa (processed and mailed back to me in exactly one week), $270. Exactly the price of the camera lens that I had wanted to buy. How lovely.
The Verdict: If you have the time to do so and are able to invest a little bit more time in preparation, going to the embassy on your own will save you at least $100. If you are in a tremendous hurry, or cannot be around to collect your visa at a latter time, an agency is for you.