Navigating the San Francisco Chinese Consulate

So you’re a Northern Californian going to China soon – congratulations! Your Visa application journey will probably take you through the Chinese Consulate at some point. At various points of my experience with the Consulate I wished I had been better prepared or known what I was getting myself into; now I present to you a collection of precisely that – what you are getting yourself into.

The consulate is located at 1450 Laguna St, San Francisco. However this address will take you to the main entrance, which is irrelevant to you. Go around the corner and depending on what time you arrive, the true entrance will be made obvious by a blockbuster line. The consulate is open 9am-2:30pm and I would recommend getting there as early as possible. There are two lines that often bleed together into one. On the left side of the entrance is the line for Chinese passport holders who already have an appointment, to the right is for everybody else. I recommend bringing something to entertain yourself with that does not need cell phone service, as there is none inside the building. Food is also prohibited.

In line to get inside the building you will be given a number by a very nice and understanding security guard. If you arrive even at 9:45 you risk getting a number higher than 100, which will give you a wait time of numerous hours. My first attempt at getting my paperwork turned in resulted in a number of 134 and 4.5 hour wait time total.

The line to get in the building is truly just a line for a metal detector that can only take one person at a time. Inside the consulate, seating is limited. I found a good spot to sit on the ground and lean against a pole near the passport photo line.

I do not know if this works for your first time at the consulate, but if you have tried and failed to turn in paperwork because of an error or having an incomplete form, you do not need to wait for your number to be called. Someone informed me of this while we waited in line during my second attempt to turn in paperwork and it saved me two hours of wait time. Simply go up to window 6 and turn in what you have. You will pay when you pick up.

If you are in my situation and are at the consulate specifically for authentication purposes, here is what you need:

  • Authentication form
  • Notarized Document (in this case, college diploma notarized by both the university and the state department, city criminal background check notarized by the state department). This will be 2 pieces of paper stapled to one another, the first page will have a form filled out by the apostille and will feature a stamp that should go onto the second piece of paper.
  • Photocopy of said notarized documents. Do not remove the staples when you photocopy these, otherwise they will be invalidated. If you forget to photocopy the docs at home, they have a photocopier at the consulate which is 25 cents a copy, cash only. The security guards can make change for one dollar.
  • Color Passport Photocopy.

If you are unable to skip the line, there are luckily come-and-go privileges once you’ve gotten through the metal detector a first time. Your hand will be marked with a blue highlighter. Official, I know. The two security guards are good at giving wait estimates if you’re curious.

The Japantown Mall is walking distance. If you have a long wait ahead and can’t skip the consulate line, I’d suggest biding your time in the Marufuku Ramen line before the restaurant opens.  A very yummy way to spend your lunch hour.

I hope this helps make your Visa application process easier!

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