Whether you’re visiting China for the first time, or the hundredth, the experience can be overwhelming at times. Any seasoned business traveler will know there are always ways of improving your travel experience. Enjoying the perks of visa-free travel in China is one simple way to improve your travels! If you’re heading East soon, you might be eligible for travel without a visa, here’s what you need to know.
Visa-Free Travel In China For Business
Almost every foreign visitor to China requires a visa. These can be obtained from the nearest Chinese consulate or embassy. If you’re travelling to Hong Kong or Macau, you’ll likely be able to enter visa-free for up to 90 days. However, if you wish to enter Mainland China, you’ll require a visa which you may be able to apply for in Hong Kong.
Luckily, there are a few ways in which you may be able to travel to China without a visa (for a few days). China’s State Council has authorized China’s transit without visa (TWOV) program in order to promote international travel through its ports, specifically for business travel. This is extremely convenient for short trips into China, like for a trade fair or meeting. It’ll save you both time and money and make China more accessible than ever.
You’ll still technically need a visa to enter China. This program allows you to obtain a Chinese transit visa upon arrival and it’s absolutely free. Here’s how it works:
24-Hour Direct Transit
Under the “24-hour visa-free travel in China” transit rule, no visa is required. This visa is for foreigners who have booked seats on international airlines; ships or trains; and who transit through mainland China holding tickets to a third country (so long as their stay is less than 24 hours). If you wish to leave the port to do some sightseeing or transfer to another port, within that 24-hour window, you may do so by applying for a temporary permit at the immigration counter. You may also transit in more than one city in China within 24 hours. To prevent any inconveniences, arrange your China car rental and business meetings before arriving. This policy applies to almost all nationalities.
72-Hour Transit Visa
This policy is applicable to transit passengers from 53 countries (listed below) and allows them to stay for up to 72 hours (3 days) in 18 China cities:
- Europe: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom
- North & South America: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile
- Asia & Middle East: Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar
- Oceania: Australia, New Zealand
If you’re travelling to China and have an onward ticket to a third destination, you’re eligible for the 72-hour transit visa. Meaning, if you’re traveling from New York to Bangkok via Shanghai, you’ll have permission to stay in China for 72-hours visa-free.
The policy is only valid in the following 18 cities in China:
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xian, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Nanjing, Qingdao, and Changsha.
Declare to the airline of your departing country at the check-in or boarding gate of your intention. This way, airport customs will already have been informed of your request before your landing. Once you’ve informed the airline, they’ll give you an arrival/departure card either at the airport or on the flight to fill out. If you don’t receive one, make sure to ask for it.
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144-Hour Transit Visa
After the 72-hour visa implementation became so popular, China decided to create a 144-hour transit visa policy. As of January 2016, these 6-day visas are facilitated to international tourists and business travelers in Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. This transit visa applies to the same countries as the 72-hour visa and the qualification rules remain the same. An advantage of the 144-hour visa is that Shanghai has multiple ports of entry that qualify for a transit visa. You can move freely between Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang for 6 days without requiring a visa during your layover period. The following ports are eligible for transit:
- Shanghai: Pudong Airport, Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, Wusong Passenger Transport Center and all railway stations in Shanghai.
- Zhejiang: Hangzhou Airport (HGH)
- Jiangsu: Nanjing Airport (NKG)
As mentioned before, the same qualification rules apply as for the 72-hour visa. This also means the same documentation and process of obtaining the visa at the airport. There’ll once again be a clear indication of where the 144-hour transit visa section is located. Remember to also register at a local police station within 24-hours of obtaining your visa.
Insider tip: If for some reason you have to go to other cities or can’t leave within 144-hours, go to the local Public Security Bureau and apply for a normal visa. This process is explained here.
In addition to being able to enjoy visa-free travel in China in the above-mentioned locations, tourists traveling in groups can also enjoy a number of visa-free days when visiting Hainan Province and the Pearl River Delta. Check here for more information on China Visa Exemption.
So What Documentation Do You Need?
- Valid Passport
- Onward ticket with seat confirmation
- Visa for 3rd country (if needed)
- A fully completed Arrival/Departure Card
The Step-By-Step Guide To Obtaining your visa upon arrival in China
- After disembarking, follow the signs that lead to the 72-hour visa processing information desk.
- Apply for the visa in person.
- After approval, make sure you verify the information on the stamp and that it includes the date you need to be back.
- Collect your luggage.
- Clear customs.
It’s important for you to register with a nearby police station within 24-hours in order to avoid fines or deportation. Most hotels offer this service when you check in, so make sure you inquire about this beforehand.
The 72-hours or 144-hours start at midnight of the day you arrive in China. For example, if you arrive in the morning of October 20th, your clock will only start ticking at 00:00 on October 21st. In this same example, you’ll then have until October 23rd to return. Remember to give yourself enough time to get back to the airport for check-in and boarding.
You must enter and exit China from the same airport, with the exception of Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu. In these, you’re allowed to enter or leave from any port in Shanghai, Nanjing Lukou Airport, or Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport. Remember that Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are considered 3rd region countries, so if you’re traveling to one of those locations, you’ll still be eligible for a 72-hour visa.