Visa applications pile up amid Chinese' summer overseas travel peak
Popular holiday destinations see queues till end of 2023
Published: Jun 29, 2023 11:57 PM
Passengers at Urumqi Diwopu International Airport in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, line up at flight check-in counters, on June 20, 2023. Photo: VCG

Passengers at Urumqi Diwopu International Airport in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, line up at flight check-in counters, on June 20, 2023. Photo: VCG

As Chinese tourism industry rises from the shadow of the three-year pandemic, travelers rushing to plan their summer vacation schedules in some countries find themselves unable to even book a time slot, not to mention apply, for a visa appointment for their desired destinations due to overcrowding.

The Global Times on Thursday learned from several travel agencies across the country that Schengen and US visa application sites in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have already been fully booked until the end of this year, and the high likelihood of being rejected is scaring away large numbers of people. 

Take Germany as an example. The available appointment dates for visa applications are already booked until October or November, which means missing out on two of the major holidays for Chinese people - the summer vacation and the Chinese National Day holidays. 

According to media reports, the German visa application center in Shanghai currently has no available appointment slots. And the earliest appointment date available shown by the German visa site in Beijing is September 12. Third-party online booking platforms offering German visa services told media that the earliest departure date for Schengen visa applicants in Shanghai are December 16, meaning that if one were to start applying now, they can only get the chance to spend Christmas in Germany.

Similar situations are happening for other popular Schengen countries such as France, Spain, and Italy. The available appointment dates for visa applications are mostly scheduled for December or later, the Global Times learned from an individual travel agency based in Beijing.

Another popular destination for summer outbound travel, the US, currently has appointment waiting times extending all the way to November and December. According to data displayed on the US Consulate General Shanghai's visa appointment website on Thursday, a waiting time of 128 days, or four months, are estimated for B1/B2 tourist visa appointments.

Han Jie, head of CYTS Aoyou Travel Technology Development, told the Global Times that some tourists have indeed encountered problems in making appointments of visa applications to these countries and the company would suggest those customers to choose countries with simpler visa application to ensure a smooth summer trip.

Industry insiders noted that the backlog of outbound visa applications from the past three years has resulted in a collective surge this year.

Data collected by one of China's largest travel agencies, Ctrip, showed that by far, summer outbound flights have recovered to over half of pre-pandemic levels, and the search popularity for summer outbound flight tickets has exceeded the same period in 2019, the Global Times learned from the agency on Thursday.

Ctrip's visa platform predicts that the number of Chinese tourists' outbound visa applications during the summer season is expected to surpass the same period in 2019.

Short-distance trips are expected to dominate the summer outbound travel for Chinese travelers, with Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia being the top five popular destinations, Ctrip said. 

For long-haul trips, Han noted that Europe is still a favored destination for many.

However, Ctrip data have observed a relatively poor performance for trips to the majority of Europe and the US due to low availability, while countries such as Australia and the UK have seen a higher number of visa applications. Another factor for this poor performance is that, many Chinese tourists are worried that after waiting for extra-long time to finally apply for a visa, they may face the possibility of being denied, which has become a major concern for those planning to visit the US and Europe.

A Beijing resident using the pseudonym "Mangosteen" told the Global Times that she applied for a UK visa in April, hoping to see a concert that she had always longed for throughout the three years of COVID. 

At that time, it hadn't been scheduled for months ahead but if you wanted a free appointment slot, it would typically take about over a week. Urgent processing required a fee of at least 500 yuan ($69) and for even faster processing, it could even be several thousand yuan, she told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Some Chinese travelers are turning to explore unconventional destinations and travel routes, for example Cuba, Iran, Kenya, and Egypt, media reports showed.