More than 500,000 mainland Chinese were granted UK tourist visas in the year up to September 2017 – that’s 26 percent of all UK tourist visas, making Chinese visitors a huge and growing presence in the UK. Yet mainland China (Hong Kong and Taiwan are excepted) is still listed as a “high risk” country by the Home Office.

If you are Chinese, the process of getting a UK tourist visa is a convoluted, bureaucratic, and rigorous vetting procedure. Despite this, many Chinese are still keen to experience the UK for themselves.

Abide by the rules

Applying from China for a UK tourist visa is not easy. You have to prove that you are coming to UK merely to travel, and to spend cash, not to stay.

To prove you are visiting with honest intentions, it is essential to show that you have a stable job and life in China. Well-prepared visa application supporting documents are crucial, especially the financial ones. If you have your documents in order, you are halfway towards success.

From the guide published online by UK Visa and Immigration, you need to “show that you have sufficient funds available”, such as bank statements or proof of earnings. There is no specific indication of how much money you have to hold in your account, or how much your salary needs to be. Yet most big Chinese travel agencies have developed their own guidelines for preparing visa application documents, based on years of experience.

According to Wei Zhang, a senior manager from Shanghai Jinjiang International Travel, the most important documents are your bank statements (i.e. the detailed history of transactions of your bank account) for the last six months. The figures need to show that you have a stable income, and the income should tally with your job and its likely salary.

Other supporting documents that will improve your chances include what is called an “estate property ownership certification” (i.e. house ownership details), a car property ownership certification, and so on.

“Visa applications from unemployed or single people, especially female, are most likely to be rejected. They are less likely to have a ‘steady life’ from the UK immigration officers’ point of view,” Wei Zhang says.

In addition to financial documents, applicants also need to provide

  • all previous travel documents (i.e. passport with old visas),
  • further details of employment or studies,
  • business registration documents if self employed, and
  • a household register (census form).

All these documents need to be translated into English, and the translations officially certified. The total number of documents is seldom less than six, and often many more.

This entire process of preparing the documents, translation, submitting them correctly (often using an intermediary who checks the paperwork), and then making the application to the visa application centre in China (run by UK Visas and Immigration) typically takes one month, according to Wei Zhang.

The visa alone costs around £100 and there is no guarantee of success (figures are not released, though I have sent a Freedom of Information request to find out).

Student visas are even harder to obtain, with even more documentation required, and proof of even larger savings.

The long process

To begin with, applicants need to fill out a long and detailed application form on the UK Visa and Immigration website. It is a little bit tricky because you can read the questions in Chinese, yet your answer must be in English. It is frustrating to those who can’t read or write well in English, which is the majority of Chinese.

When all of these are settled and the fee paid, you are almost there, except that you now have to book and attend an appointment at one of the 12 visa application centres in China. At the appointed day, you must appear in person and hand over the original documents. You will also have your fingerprints taken, and be photographed.

After queuing, the appointment itself is efficiently run, and usually takes about 15 minutes. The officers are well trained. They will quickly scan all your documents, picking the ones they need, and getting them in order. Then they will put all your documents in a big orange document case, and your visa application is ready to go to the UK Embassy.

Usually you can get your visa in 12-15 days, yet during the summer peak, it can take more than 3 months to get your paperwork back. However, you can always choose to pay an extra £170 to get your visa and paperwork back in a week – or £750 to get it in a day.

Compared to Chinese tourists’ struggle with their visa applications, Taiwanese and Hong Kongese have it much easier. Visas are not required for a visit to the UK up to a maximum of six months. Nevertheless, they are likely to be questioned by the immigration officers, especially in big airports such as Heathrow. They are likely to be asked to show their return tickets, hotel booking details, or even their travel insurance.

Zhou Zhang