Over the last few months, I’ve had a few clients visit (and ask about visiting) Beijing, China. The Great Wall is a big draw, as is the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. Others want to see the giant pandas in Sichuan Province. Recently, here at Point Me To The Plane, we had a few travelers reach out about the Chinese transit visa, which China has created to allow certain tourists to stay in the country on stopover.
Unlike a standard, 10-year tourist visa, there’s no need to apply for a transit visa ahead of time. You won’t need to provide a contact, or an address, or go through an interview process. The transit visa can be wholly obtained at the airport upon arrival. You have to first make sure that your travel qualifies for this type of temporary visa.
Questions: Can I Visit China Without Purchasing a Visa? What Does the Chinese Transit Visa Let Me Do?
Can I visit both Beijing and Shanghai without purchasing a Chinese visa? What if I want to go see the pandas? How many days am I allowed to stay in China? What documents do I need to show in order to qualify for the transit Chinese Visa?
Answer: It Is Possible To Visit China On A Transit Visa But Your Trip Needs To Qualify
There is a lot of information regarding how your trip qualifies for the transit visa and what documents you’ll need to show on arrival into China. I’ve broken this down in the order you’ll need to address it all.
This is quite tricky, and there are a lot of rules and regulations, so if you do have specific, particular questions, you should reach out to the Chinese consulate directly.
Chinese Visa vs Transit Visa
First of all, when do you need to apply for the visa, and when do you qualify for the transit visa? This is going to be your first step, as if you need to apply for the visa, you’ll want to do that before purchasing plane tickets.
- If you plan to stay in just one specified region, for less than 72 (or in a couple cases 144 hours), you qualify for the Chinese transit visa. The time allowed depends on the province/city.
- If you have business in China, need to travel between Beijing and Shanghai, or want to split your time between Beijing and the pandas in Chengdu, you’ll have to apply for the visa. Again, we will write a separate post on the visa itself, later.
The Chinese Transit Visa and What It Means
A transit visa essentially allows someone to stay in a country for a certain period of time without having a proper visa. Some countries may have a piece of paper, others just a stamp, but it is nonetheless proof of being in the country legally. A visa is different from a passport, which is simply a travel document certifying a traveler’s identity and nationality.
The Chinese transit visa has two distinct sections. One allows visitors to stay in the country for 72 hours while the other allows visitors to stay for 144 hours. This depends on the Chinese region and/or city. Neither visa permits travel between two different regions.
To be eligible for a transit visa, travelers must meet certain qualifications, primarily the purpose of the visit and nationality, but also how they arrive and depart.
Currently (2018), citizens of 53 countries qualify for the transit visas. This includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe.
What Is An Eligible Transit Route?
Very simply, it is A > B (mainland China) > C.
A and C must not be somewhere in mainland China, however they can be Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan.
There also can be no layovers in mainland China in transiting from A to B or B to C. So, therefore, acceptable routes include US > Beijing > Hong Kong, but not US > Beijing via Shanghai > Hong Kong.
The time on a transit visa begins at 00:00 on the day FOLLOWING your arrival, and ends at 00:00 72 or 144 hours later. For example, if a flight arrives at 6:05am in Beijing on September 1, the visa clock does not begin until 18 hours later, at 00:00 September 2. Thus, a traveler can spend more than 144 hours in Beijing – as long as the scheduled* departure time is before 00:00 September 8.
*Immigration will look at a flight’s scheduled departure time, so visitors are not breaking immigration rules if a flight is delayed. However, it’s a good idea to be at the airport ahead of the time that the visa expires.
Do I Need To Remain With One Airline For The Duration of My Trip?
This question appeared in the Travel China Guide forum: Do [travelers] have to use same airline to arrive in China and leave China?
The answer is no. I personally had clients arrive in Beijing on Asiana and leave on Air China, under two completely different tickets. As long as travelers have an outbound ticket to a third country prior to their arrival in China, and fill out the proper forms with that flight information on arrival into China, they are eligible for the transit visa.
The 72-Hour Chinese Transit Visa
China permits a transit visa for 72 hours to the following cities/provinces. Visitors must arrive by air, not land or sea, and must leave by air.
The 144-Hour Chinese Transit Visa
China allows transit visa travel for 144 hours to the following provinces and cities.
- Hebei (Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport or Quihuangdao Port)
- Hangzhou (Zhejiang province)
- Nanjing (Jiansu province)
- Dalian (Liaoning province)
- Shenyang (Liaoning province)
Visitors can visit one of the three regions (Beijing/Tianjin/Hebei, Shanghai/Hangzhou/Nanjing, or Liaoning province) for up to 144 hours without a visa.
Under the 144-hour transit visa, travelers can enter or leave from any port (land or sea) within the region they arrived. China has lumped certain cities and provinces together into contiguous regions, but no crossover between regions is permitted. For instance, a traveler can arrive in Beijing and leave from Tianjin or Hebei with no problems, because they are in the same transit region, but they cannot enter in Beijing and leave from Shanghai.
Can I Visit Both Shanghai and Beijing in One Trip Using A Transit Visa?
This is a possible itinerary if you are able to plan a stopover on both the outbound portion of a journey and the return portion of your journey, however there needs to be a country in between the two cities. For example, an acceptable itinerary is Los Angeles to Beijing, stay 144 hours, fly to Korea, then fly to Shanghai, layover for 144 hours, and finally return to Los Angeles. As long as there is no layover in mainland China in the same leg as the outbound or inbound, you should be fine.
Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan all count as third countries, despite being (technically) Chinese.
For more details on the Chinese transit visa, or to ask specific questions regarding your itinerary, I suggest visiting China’s government web pages on the Entry and Exit of foreigners or calling the Chinese consulate.
Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.