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I'm an American citizen currently on a multinational trip through Asia. I'm in Malaysia now and the country I'm most interested in visiting is China. However, China has a particularly complicated visa application process that requires me to make an in-person appointment at a Chinese embassy at least a month before my trip to China, and the appointment slots at the closest office are booked a month out. When I have my appointment, they will expect me to leave my passport at their office for four business days. Since I'm outside the US, my perception is that it's too dangerous for me to become separated from my passport for that long and therefore I need to shelve the whole idea of visiting China for now. I'm writing here to see if my perception is correct. Is it too dangerous to become separated from your passport in a foreign country, or can it actually be okay somehow?

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    In general you can get a 2nd passport if the process of applying for visas interferes with your travel. I don't know if that would be allowed, or practical, for your case. Sep 15, 2023 at 11:53
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    The scope of the question in your title "in a foreign country" is broader than in your actual question "in Malaysia". I don't know Malaysian laws on this, but generally it depends on the country if it's legal to be without your passport. Also, in many countries you are technically required to have your passport but being found without it is tolerated as long as you can show you're in the country legally. Another thing to consider is how easy/difficult it would be to obtain a new passport if you had trouble getting the existing one back.
    – Jsl
    Sep 15, 2023 at 12:02
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    @Jsl - I chose to make it general because it might be helpful to answer the question more generally for the sake of other users Sep 15, 2023 at 12:19
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    Also have you checked that you can apply for a Chinese visa from a country you do reside in? Some countries don’t allow it, no idea if that applies to China or not.
    – jcaron
    Sep 15, 2023 at 13:02
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    As @Jsl says, it can be illegal not to have your passport on your person; depending on the country you are in. I was arrested in Amsterdam for not having ID on me. The host for the B&B I was staying in had to come to the police station with my passport the next day, after a night in a cell. Sep 18, 2023 at 2:29

5 Answers 5

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I think there are two parts to this question:

- Will I need my passport while it's gone?

In my experience this is highly predictable. You need a passport for flying, ID for travel, checking in and out of an accommodation, renting car, making new bookings, signing contracts, etc. If you are not planning on doing any of these things, you are fine. Technically most countries will require you to carry your passport, but in practice that's rarely enforced. I never carry my passport if there is a good place where I can leave it (hotel safe, AirBnB, etc) and in over 40 countries I've never had a problem with that. Even in the highly unlikely case that someone wants to see it out of the blue, a copy plus the receipt from the Chinese Consulate should suffice.

- Can I trust the Chinese Consulate with my passport?

I think dda's answer covers that well already. While I wouldn't trust a US consulate (having been repeatedly lied to, cheated, and blatantly abused) I found Chinese immigration to be courteous, professional and reasonably efficient.

To be safe I would at least double their estimate to 8 business days and make sure that you won't need your passport during that period, but otherwise that should be ok.

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    Caveat: in many places, it may depend a lot on your ethnicity and possibly your overall “look”. Some people do get their ID checked a lot more than others.
    – jcaron
    Sep 15, 2023 at 19:49
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    At least in HK, 4 days is the limit – you can ask for expedited process – but you will get it back in 4 days, with or without a visa. They don't procrastinate. :-)
    – dda
    Sep 16, 2023 at 5:44
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    A hotel safe is not a good place to leave important stuff, see youtube.com/@lockpickinglawyer/search?query=hotel+safe
    – user127796
    Sep 16, 2023 at 9:02
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    Related question: travel.stackexchange.com/q/148674/7835 Sep 17, 2023 at 7:28
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    @AldusBumblebore Passports have more street value than you are imagining.
    – user127796
    Sep 17, 2023 at 20:25
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Two comments on this subject.

China has a particularly complicated visa application process

Not really. It's a bit long, but you should see what a US visa application for Global South citizens looks like. In comparison, piece of cake. Could some of the questions be deemed intrusive? Possibly, indeed. It doesn't make the application process "difficult" – in and of itself the application is straightforward. Let's not confuse things here.

The issue with the slots is real, but, if you are really interested in visiting China, which I can only commend and recommend, I would advise you to do it in Hong Kong, which probably has the biggest Visa Centre, and accepts non-residents.

Have a look at the slots there (I recommend you pick as early a slot as possible, 9 am being the best, and arrive 40 mn before that). With a bit of luck you can be done in 40 minutes.

You don't have to apply a month in advance - the day I received my visa, indeed on the 4th business day, I went right away to Shenzhen.

Screenshot of the appointment slots for September 2023

As you can see here, there are plenty of slots available in September, and even at 9 am. Go for it!

As for leaving your passport with Chinese authorities for 4 days, you shouldn't worry. They are very well organized, at least in HK, and they handle 100s of them every day.

I would recommend to take a photo of your passport ID page, and the Immigration receipt you get when entering HK, plus the visa application receipt - which will prove your passport is with the Chinese authorities, in case Police asks for your ID: it is compulsory to carry ID in HK at all times, although I've never been asked in 16 years.

UPDATE

The Chinese government has announced a simplification of the application form. This should make things even easier.

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    I accept that I have an easier time than others because of my US passport, but China absolutely does make it difficult to get a visa. Plenty of countries have e-visas with online applications. Making people show up in person to surrender their passports for multiple days is unusual, even if it's not the most difficult process in the world Sep 17, 2023 at 8:00
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    "Making people show up in person to surrender their passports for multiple days is unusual" Tell this to your own government, Canada, the UK, the Schengen countries, and many others... We only have to show up at the Chinese visa centre because of the biometrics, and so that they can check the documents before sending you on your way to the application counter. With Western visa applications, people need to go for an interview, supply financial records, etc. The Chinese visa is easy – and I speak from experience.
    – dda
    Sep 17, 2023 at 8:52
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    Also, keep in mind that as a US citizen you will get a 10-year visa. Which is much better than what most people get. Finally, remember that China applies reciprocity (with a few exceptions): if your country requires a visa for CN citizens, they will for yours. Fair is fair... Why should YOU get a free pass when your country makes Chinese citizens jump through hoops?
    – dda
    Sep 17, 2023 at 8:52
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    If you find this intrusive, please help a Chinese citizen fill out a US visa application... That'll teach you the meaning of intrusive... But this is pointless anyway – I have done my best to show you how to get a Chinese tourist visa quickly the way I did (and I have a US friend who did it too, and got his 10-year visa painlessly). You don't have to be very thorough either. I provided only a couple of places of employment, with the general phone number, and they had no complaints. I don't remember my father's DoB, or date of death, I just put the month and year. But ok, you do you.
    – dda
    Sep 17, 2023 at 10:40
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    no one is forcing you to go to China, though...
    – njzk2
    Sep 17, 2023 at 13:27
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This depends on the country.

In Malaysia, a foreigner will almost never need his passport (especially in 4 days), unless you get in trouble with the law (or corrupt policemen, which is not very rare in Malaysia but unlikely in 4 days).

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    In general it's still good practice to carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp page if you're ever separated from it though. I'd also have a local ID if you have one just in case (ID card, drivers license, residence permit, passport card etc), as it'll prove your identity more reliably due to security features.
    – ave
    Sep 18, 2023 at 9:18
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Foreigners can technically get by without their physical passport for a short time, as long as they keep out of trouble with the local laws. Another good idea is to request a document from the Chinese embassy saying the passport is with them if any officials ask about it. It helps a lot to have a photocopy of the passport just in case.

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    You do get a receipt with your name and passport number.
    – dda
    Nov 25, 2023 at 7:48
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The first thing is that you may have misunderstood the application process (or not been given all of the relevant information by the person who you were speaking to.).

You shouldn't have to attend in person to receive a visa. That's simply the fastest method of doing it. I paid a small fee to have mine done by mail. It took a little longer but just involved filling in some forms.

The second thing is that if you're just a regular tourist or a business person with no involvement in drugs or other criminal activities, and you're not a political activist, then there is almost no risk to you of being separated from your passport for that length of time as you are still entitled to full consular support even without the physical document.

It's just a bit of a pain if it's your only form of ID and you need it to do things like booking a flight of staying in a hotel.

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  • Did you have to mail your passport? Sep 17, 2023 at 10:38
  • Yes, I did that in lue of handing it over personally. I also had to renew my passport by mail while in China some years later. Again, I paid a small additional fee to have it done by mail. That time I organized it through a special service from the official Chinese postoffice. Sep 17, 2023 at 11:03
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    You haven't applied for a Chinese visa in the last 4 months, have you? You have to go in person: they will take your fingerprints during the document review.
    – dda
    Sep 17, 2023 at 20:55
  • @dda, Only if you don't have a biometric chip in your passport. The website is just poorly worded. Sep 19, 2023 at 15:38

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