After leaving Loreto, Mexico on April 3rd, I have been busy organizing my upcoming trip beginning May 25th on the Tran-Siberian Train through Russia, Mongolia and Beijing, China. After that, I will be continuing my trip through China and Vietnam with a short flight to Bangkok and then on to Taiwan before returning to Seattle on August 1st. I will be traveling by train for over 7,500 miles through 5 time zones.
For this trip, I needed to get three Visas ahead of time: Russia, China, and Vietnam. On April 4th, I met with ABriggs Company, a Visa fixer to get the Visas. I had my passport pictures and had filled out the extensive on line questionnaires for these countries which asked for a whole host of questions ranging from listing the last 10 countries I had visited and dates, my military service, participation in any armed conflicts, if I was a trained killer, weapons I have been trained to operate. my purpose for travel, my detailed itinerary of all of the hotel/hostels I was staying at, invitations to come to Russia and China---obtained from the hostels---and arrival and departure dates, mode of transportation and flight or train numbers.
ABriggs and sent my China Visa request to the China Consulate in San Francisco. A week later, I received my passport by FedEx that contained my Vietnam and China Visas. These Visa application processes that require invitations from hotels or tour companies and airline flights are designed to provide income to these entities and do not benefit independent travelers like me.
ABriggs and other fixer companies charge about $80 plus FedEx shippiing for each visa obtained in this manner, but the cost is about the same if you tried to go directly to the various foreign embassies or consulates unless you live in a city where they have an embassy or consulate. Even then, China contracts out the Visa process.
For me, the ABriggs here in Seattle was a great bargain, because they got me the two visas I needed in time to get the final Russia Visa. ABriggs charged $458 to process both visas: the fee for the Vietnam visa was $90 and the China visa was $140. ABriggs was charging $100 for getting the Russia Visa, but they told me that it would be easy enough for me to go to the Seattle ILS-Russia Consulate partner on Western Ave and apply myself which I did.
My Vietnam Visa was issued on April 8th and good for travel in Vietnam from June 24th through July 23rd and my China Visa was issued on April 10th and good for travel in China until April 10, 2015 with continuous stays up to 30 days.
On April 14th, I went to apply for my Russia Visa at the ILS Office near the Pike Place Market. I ended up using my Real Russia Train company invitation as a part of my application proces. They told me to return on April 28th after 1PM so see if my Visa was approved. I don't think Edward Snowden had to go through this much scruitiny.
On April 28th, I received my US Passport back from ILS with all of my needed Visas: Russia, China and Vietnam. Only the Russia Visa had limited my visa to just the stated days I would be in Russia: from May 26th to June 8th. Mongolia, Thailand, and Taiwan all allow Visas on arrival. This process was much faster than I expected, and now I can concentrate on my trip and what I need to take.