So you want to visit China without a visa? Well, you’re in luck. Starting January 1, 2016, you can travel to and visit the following cities in China without a visa for up to 72 hours (3 days) or 144 hours (6 days):
- Jiangsu (144 hours)
- Shanghai (144 hours)
- Zhejiang (144 hours)
So basically, they want your money, er. . . I mean, they want to boost tourism. The problem is that the visa application process they have in place is so cumbersome and complicated that people just can’t meet all the requirements to obtain one. So instead of modifying their visa application process, they introduced this “Transit Without a Visa” (TWOV) scheme a few years to boost tourism to Beijing and Shanghai. Apparently, the program was so successful, they expanded it to other cities as well. In this post, I will explain how you can visit China without a visa but if you really do need to get a visa, keep reading and I’ll explain how to get one at the end of the post.
Now, don’t get too excited. Visiting China without a visa isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are some caveats and restrictions that you must meet in order to qualify for the visa exemption. They are:
- This visa exemption is only available to citizens of 51 countries, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Russia, Ukraine, Qatar and the UAE.
- The entire length of your stay in China can only last up to 72 hours (3 days) or 144 hours (6 days), depending on which city you visit.
- You must fly out of the same airport that you arrived in China. For example, if you flew into PEK – Beijing Capital International Airport, you must depart from PEK. You cannot arrive in PEK and depart from PVG – Pudong International Airport.
- Speaking of that, you actually cannot leave the city that you arrived in. If you fly into Beijing, you must stay in Beijing. They are very strict on this and you may be arrested if you do not have a valid visa to travel throughout the country. There are a couple of exceptions and I’ll explain those below.
- You must have a confirmed ticket departing China within the allowed transit time. If that country that you are flying to requires a visa, you must have that also prior to landing in China.
- Your visit to China can only be a transit to a third country, not a destination. Let me explain. Your itinerary can only include China as a transit in between two other countries. Consider it more of a long layover than a destination for a vacation. For example, you can travel from South Korea to China, stay up to 72 hours, and then travel on to Thailand. You cannot travel from South Korea to China, stay for 72 hours, and then travel back to South Korea. The two countries in which you enter China from and depart to, must be different. From the US to China and back to the US is a no go and will need a visa. From the US to Japan to China to the US is okay and would qualify for the TWOV exemption. It doesn’t matter that you are starting and ending your trip in the US. It only matters that the country before and after your arrival into China are different. For the purposes of this point, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are treated as separate countries.
- You must notify your airline of your intention to visit China without a visa. They have to declare your intent to visit China prior to you landing in China. If the uninformed agent doesn’t know about this TWOV, have them refer to the TIMATIC visa database. It’s the database airlines use to verify whether or not a person can board an international flight. If you meet all these requirements, then you will receive a transit visa upon your arrival to China.
- You are required to register at a local police station upon your arrival into the city. Don’t worry, most hotels will do this for you upon checking in. I’m only listing it here for your reference.
- And lastly, this visa exemption only applies to arrival via airports. Trains, automobiles, boats, etc. do not qualify. Again, there are a couple of exceptions below.
Here are the exceptions:
- Visitors to Jiangsu (Nanjing), Shanghai and Zhejiang (Hangzhou) are allowed a total transit time of 144 hours and may travel within those three cities.
- Visitors to Shanghai may arrive by air, rail or sea but must depart from the same port of entry.
- Visitors to Changsha may travel within the entire Hunan province.
- Visitors to Guangzhou may travel within the entire Guangdong province.
- Visitors to Xiamen may travel within the entire Fujian province.
- All other visitors must stay within the city of which they entered.
So those are the rules. If you can make it happen, I would highly recommend you take advantage of this little deal and cross China off your bucket list. Especially now that some of the Chinese airlines have really up’ed their long haul products including Air China with their brand new Boeing 777-300ERs and China Southern with their Airbus A380’s.
Here’s the link to the Chinese Consulate Office in Los Angeles if you need further information on TWOV’s. It’s not updated with the new destinations yet but the rules are the same.
If you don’t qualify for a visa exemption and need to get a 10 year China tourist visa, click here for more information. I just recently got my visa at the Los Angeles consulate office. Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.
The other related posts in this series include: