If you’re in China on a tourist (L) visa and want to get more time in the country without having to go down to Hong Kong for a new visa, you may be able to extend your existing visa at a Public Security Bureau office.
The extension rules officially require you to have several thousand dollars in a Chinese bank account – obviously that’s quite a lot to come up with if you’re backpacking, and opening an account is also a hassle, but the rules are enforced differently in different places.
Some PSB offices are notoriously strict, and will absolutely not extend your visa without checking all the requirements have been met, while others are happy to do it (and collect the processing fees!) without enforcing the bank account requirement.
I did once visit the Beijing PSB, and there was clearly no way they’d do it so easily there. It’s also a soul-crushingly grim facility staffed by some particularly surly officers; if you haven’t already gone and got the bank account and all the paperwork sorted in advance, just don’t bother going anywhere near the place. Either do the bank account & proof of funds, or take a trip to somewhere with a more relaxed PSB.
The PSBs known for being amenable to extensions without bank account statements are widely discussed on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree boards; those along the Yunnan tourist trail in Lijiang & Shangri-la, for example, are known for this, as are the offices in Leshan and Kaifeng.
A huge amount’s already been written & discussed about all this on the internet and the situation frequently changes, so the purpose of this post is not to provide a full and up-to-date visa extension guide (see this Lonely Planet thread for recent discussion & updates); here I’ll just relate my own experiences of extending at the PSB offices in the cities of Kaifeng and Leshan, and how enjoyable they are as travel destinations while you’re getting your red tape sorted.
The first time I looked into extending I initially wasted a day visiting the Beijing PSB, then ruled out Kaifeng because it was still a 10-hour slow train ride (it’s now just a 3-hour bullet train ride), and ended up heading all the way down to Leshan via this monster 27-hour train ride to Chengdu (again, a thing of the past – bullet trains now do it in 8 hours)
Visa Extension in Leshan, Sichuan
Leshan is in Sichuan Province, not far from the provincial capital of Chengdu. As the home of the Leshan Great Buddha, it’s a popular stop on many Sichuan itineraries regardless of whether you need to extend your visa. Many visitors to the Leshan Buddha do it as a day trip from Chengdu, but if you’re extending your visa it’s necessary to stay in town as you have to be registered at accommodation in the same place as the PSB issuing the extension.
It’s a decent place to spend a couple of nights though, so it’s a good extension option. Between visiting the Great Buddha and making your application at the PSB (and going back next day to collect) your days will be pretty full, and in the evenings you can get stuck in to the local cuisine. There are some great roadside BBQ joints, and the local take on tan tan noodles (served cold and very spicy) are absolutely spot on if you’re there in the hot & sweaty summer months (although the ice cream I tried literally tasted of hairspray).
Leshan can be reached easily from Chengdu by bullet train (around 50 minutes) or highway bus (2 hours). Extending only takes a day, and when I did it the Leshan PSB staff were by far the friendliest uniformed Chinese officials I’ve ever encountered… at time of writing in 2018 it’s still regarded as the easiest & friendliest place to extend in China.
Throw in a visit to the Buddha, and it’s a good option if it fits your route. I actually witnessed a full-blown brawl on the steep steps at the Buddha that I still can’t believe didn’t end in tragedy – full story here. Hopefully your visit will be a bit more chilled!
Visa Extension in Kaifeng, Henan
Kaifeng’s a city of great historical importance, but of rather less modern significance. It was the capital of China for 160 years during the Song Dynasty, and in those days was one of the largest cities in the world; these days it’s a scrappy mid-sized provincial city which sees few international visitors.
It’s definitely quite rough around the edges, but it has a wealth of historical sites including one of the few complete city walls remaining in China (not quite as impressive as those in Xi’an and Nanjing though), various gates and pagodas, and the Dragon Pavilion out over a long bridge across Yangjia Lake (one of several large lakes in the city).
While I wouldn’t travel to Kaifeng just for the sightseeing (and certainly not for the atmosphere or the shopping), there is enough cool stuff to make for some interesting wanderings while you wait for your visa and the lakes would be pleasant spots to hang out and people-watch (but not in winter – it was already pretty damn freezing when I was there, and that was only early November).
Kaifeng also has the advantage of being just 3 hours from Beijing or 5 hours from Shanghai by bullet train, making it possible to extend your visa with just an overnight stay as long as you get to the PSB early enough on the first day. (Note – according to recent reports (see #679) it presently takes several days to process an extension in Kaifeng, so be sure to check the latest reports and take them into account)
There’s only one direct Beijing-Kaifeng bullet train each way per day, but you can also access Kaifeng via Zhengzhou. There are dozens of bullet trains daily between Beijing West & Zhengzhou East, taking 2h30 to 3h30; at Zhengzhou East you can switch to another bullet train to Kaifeng. Once the Zhengzhou-Kaifeng Intercity Railway is fully operational you’ll be able to take the bullet train from Zhengzhou East to Kaifeng’s main station (35 mins), but until then it only gets you to Kaifeng North (20 mins) which is a long way out from the centre. For the time being, therefore, the bus may be preferable (slower, but gets you direct to the centre of Kaifeng) – there are regular buses back & forth to Kaifeng from the High Speed Rail Bus Station next to Zhengzhou East (80 minutes, running from 07:00 to 20:00, departing every 10-15 minutes as per here)
I stayed at Kaifeng International Hostel, which is convenient for the PSB office and just round the corner from Baogong Lake. They were under renovation at the time, but the friendly owner opened a room up for me anyway and the place appears to be looking good now.
Should You Extend Your Visa in Leshan or Kaifeng?
If you’re in Beijing or Shanghai and just want to extend then head back to the city, or you want to extend somewhere en route between the two, definitely Kaifeng. But if you’re not doing that and are just looking for a good place to stay while extending, Leshan is better. And if you’re already planning your route to include Sichuan, then Leshan’s the obvious choice. (NB as noted above, according to recent reports it presently takes several days to process an extension in Kaifeng, so be sure to check the latest reports and take them into account)
Other PSB Options for Visa Extensions
A few other PSBs with reputations for being easy to extend at are those at the main tourist spots in Yunnan – Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-la. Lanzhou (capital of Gansu Province) is also reported to be good. This list is by no means exhaustive, so do make sure to do your own research; but if you’re considering Kaifeng or Leshan, hopefully this post helps you out with that.
Can’t extend? Head to Hong Kong to apply for a new visa
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