Exploring China Without Enduring the Tourist Visa Process — Ask Anything

by Sarah

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.

Getting a Chinese transit visa is easy, but visitors must adhere to the rules or face being denied entry

Getting a Chinese transit visa is easy, but visitors must adhere to the rules or face being denied entry (and living in an airport until their next flight).

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.

Chengdu is a popular destination for travellers wanting to see the giant pandas. It is possible to visit on the 72-hour transit visa

Chengdu is a popular destination for travelers wanting to see the giant pandas. It is possible to stay in Chengdu on a 72-hour transit visa.

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.

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Guangzhou, China is one of the cities that can be visited on the 72-hour transit visa

Guangzhou, China is one of the cities that can be visited on the 72-hour transit visa.

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.

Visitors wanting to use the Chinese transit visa must adhere to various rules and regulations and follow the guidelines.

Visitors wanting to use the Chinese transit visa must adhere to various rules and regulations and follow the guidelines.

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.

The Hangzhou Laughing Buddha is a popular attraction in this Chinese city, which can be visited on the 144-hour transit visa

The Hangzhou Laughing Buddha is a popular attraction in this Chinese city, which can be visited on the 144-hour transit visa.

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.

  • Guangzhou
  • Chengdu
  • Chongqing
  • Harbin
  • Xian
  • Guilin
  • Kunming
  • Wuhan
  • Xiamen
  • Qingdao
  • Changsha

The 144-Hour Chinese Transit Visa

China allows transit visa travel for 144 hours to the following provinces and cities.

  • Beijing
  • Tianjin
  • Hebei (Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport or Quihuangdao Port)
  • Shanghai
  • 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?

Shanghai is one of the cities in China that visitors can visit on a 144-hour transit visa. LMspencer / Shutterstock.com

Shanghai is one of the cities in China that visitors can visit on a 144-hour transit visa. LMspencer / Shutterstock.com

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.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

27 comments
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27 comments

geoff August 30, 2018 - 2:04 pm

Interesting,. So if I read this right there is no visa cost to simply fly in and fly out within a day or two if using a Chinese city for a mileage run(they seem notoriously cheap vs most other Asian cities)?

Reply
Sarah August 30, 2018 - 2:11 pm

You need to transit between THREE countries… China being the middle country.

US > Beijing > US does NOT qualify, but US > Beijing > Canada > US does. As long as you travel from country A to China and onward to Country B you are fine.

Reply
Duke June 14, 2019 - 1:32 pm

What happens if your third country (country C) is just a layover on the way back to (Country A). Im thinking Bangkok > Chengdu > (but 4 hour layover in Hong Kong first) Bangkok. Thanks in advance

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Dmitry Radinsky August 30, 2018 - 5:36 pm

I will be traveling USA – Tokyo – Beijing – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Singapore – Tokyo – USA. In Beijing I will be for 85 hours. Does this trip qualify me for Transit visa which I can get at the airport when I land in Beijing? And if so, what documents besides passport and air tickets should I present as proof?

While in China, can I fly from Beijing to Shanghai and back to Beijing to continue my trip to Hong Kong as described above?

Thank you so much!

Reply
Sarah August 31, 2018 - 7:04 am

Hi Dmitry, Ryan is right … you cannot leave Beijing because it is the transit province (well, you can visit Tianjin or Hebei as they are lumped in the same transit region as Beijing – but you cannot go to Shanghai).

As for documents, you just need to have your onward ticket and passport – as long as you are a citizen of one of the 53 countries that qualifies for the visa, otherwise you do need to apply for a proper visa. There is a form you’ll get when you land at PEK and then just make sure you follow the right line for the 144-hour transit visa.

Reply
Dmitry Radinsky August 31, 2018 - 8:16 am

Thank you for your prompt responses! This is my first time going to China and I got really worried when I learned about Visa requirements after booking the whole tip, but you helped me sleep at night 🙂 I found the following steps on https://www.travelchinaguide.com/tour/visa/free-transit-144-hours.htm

So basically, if I am a US citizen I will NOT need any VISA, all I need is to get 144-hour visa-free stay permit upon arrival (an EXCEPTION to having to get VISA), and my entry to China is absolutely FREE, did I understand correctly? Thanks!

6 Steps to Apply for 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit:
1. Inform the carrier when boarding
2. Fill an Arrival/Departure Card
3. Apply for the 144-hour visa-free stay permit upon arrival
4. Claim the luggage
5. Go through the customs
6. Leave the airport

Note for Step 3:

Upon arrival, find the 144-hour visa-free counter at the immigration inspection to apply for the stay permit, which will be stamped on your passport indicating the allowed stay time. Remember to tell the officer if you have a visa for China but don’t want to use it this time.

Reply
Sarah August 31, 2018 - 8:54 am

That’s correct 🙂

Reply
Dmitry Radinsky August 31, 2018 - 9:10 am

Thanks!

Ryan August 30, 2018 - 11:05 pm

Dmitri, you cannot leave the transit province at anytime , but yes you would qualify assuming you have a US passport or a passport from one of the 53 countries.

Reply
Tom August 31, 2018 - 12:40 am

I can assure you that Taiwan is not “technically” part of China. In fact, as far as Taiwan is concerned, mainland China is “technically” part of the ROC.

(I’m assuming you weren’t intending to make a political statement about the status of Taiwan, but these details are important in that part of the world.)

Reply
Sarah August 31, 2018 - 7:06 am

Thank you Tom – I’m aware there’s nuances but wasn’t sure of the easiest way to translate them 🙂 This seemed, if not entirely PC, at least not entirely un-PC. What would you suggest changing it to?

Reply
Karen November 10, 2018 - 8:43 pm

My husband and I are in the process of planning a trip. We would like to go from Boston to Bejing then Hong Kong then back to Boston. Would this qualify for the visa free transit?

Reply
Sarah November 11, 2018 - 6:07 am

Hi Karen, it sounds like it would, as long as you don’t layover anywhere in China on the way into Beijing and as long as the flight from Beijing to Hong Kong doesn’t layover in another Chinese city. But, you should definitely call the consulate to get specific information wit your travel details.

Reply
Deep November 11, 2018 - 11:11 am

Hi Sarah, Thanks for the tips.
Planning tomorrow to go LAX- Shanghai- DEL (India) with a 20 hour layover in Shanghai. Hoping to check out the city in that time.
I hear if it is less than 24 hours, you don’t need any visa. I guess there would be stamp on the passport. Is this free or there is a charge associated? I am a US citizen. Thanks.

Reply
Sarah November 12, 2018 - 6:39 pm

Hi Deep, the Chinese transit visa is free, and you should qualify as long as your itinerary is from point A to B (China) to C and there are no other stops in mainland China. Enjoy Shanghai!

Reply
Jess December 12, 2018 - 1:12 am

Hi Sarah , I am a Philippine passport holder. Currently working in Israel and planning to visit my hometown soon. My plan itinerary is from Israel to China layover for 14hours to visit the great wall of China.. Is this possible?

Reply
Sarah December 12, 2018 - 9:45 am

Hi Jess, you need to check to see if your Philippines passport is allowed under the transit visa rules. I suggest checking with the Chinese embassy to get the correct answer.

Reply
Robyn December 17, 2018 - 8:15 am

I have Australian passport and am flying to Shanghai for 2 days before a cruise leaving Shanghai. I am flying from Perth to Bali Indonesia for 5 days before arriving in Shanghai. Do
I qualify for 144hr free visa.

Reply
Sarah December 19, 2018 - 11:15 am

Hi Robyn, You should definitely check with the Chinese embassy to make sure. It sounds like you might, but since you arrive by plane and leave by cruise, you may not. Always confirm with the officials, though, and don’t take my word for it. Happy travels! You’ll love Bali!

Reply
serkan December 20, 2018 - 9:57 am

with a 24hr-visa free transit permit. I only want to visit the Great Wall of China and stay in a hotel in Sanlitun which is in Beijing? or do I have to sleep in the airport?

Reply
John Harper December 20, 2018 - 8:59 pm

You’ll need to get the 72-hour transit visa to visit the wall. You can simply purchase one on arrival at the airport terminal.

Reply
Sarah December 20, 2018 - 9:28 pm

Hi Serkan – what is your resident country/where is your passport from? Where are you coming from and where are you going? It must be Country 1 to China to Country 3 – it can’t be a round trip from your home country to China. So, the answers to those will determine if you’re eligible for the TWOV … but with 24 hours to do have time to see the Great Wall and there are tours that will operate that. I would check with the Chinese embassy to be sure though.

Reply
Laura December 22, 2018 - 2:22 pm

I have been searching everywhere but not really able to find what I am looking for. I actually have a round trip from Montreal, Canada to Beijing, China, but I have a third country I am seeing. So my trip will be the following:
Montreal to Beijing (staying in Beijing for 3 days)
Beijing to Taipei (staying in Taipei for 3 days)
Taipei to Tokyo (staying in Tokyo for 3 days)
Tokyo to Beijing (probably stay 1 more night in Beijing) to catch flight home to Montreal.

So A will be Montreal, B will be Beijing (apply for 144 hour visa, or maybe even 72 hour visa) and C will be Taipei, the only thing is that I am coming back to Beijing after traveling Japan and Taiwan and staying in Beijing for another night, will it be problematic to apply for another 24 or 72 hour visa on top of the 144 or 72 hour visa within less than 2 weeks? In addition, I know round trips aren’t valid, so Montreal-Beijing-Montreal (I already booked this and it is on the same reservation code) would not be okay, but I am leaving to other countries, so technically, it would be like Montreal-Beijing-Taipei-Tokyo-Beijing-Montreal. How would this work? Would this be okay or not? It would be great if you could provide some insight!

Reply
Brooke January 6, 2019 - 8:12 am

Hi, I have a flight from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh to Guangzhou then Hanoi. Traveling on a New Zealand passport. Final leg: Guangzhou to Hanoi is booked on a separate ticket departing within 72 hours of arrival to Guangzhou. The initial Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh to Guangzhou is on the same ticket. Should I be allowed a 72 hour visa in Guangzhou? Many thanks!

Reply
John Harper January 7, 2019 - 10:30 am

Hi Brooke,
Be prepared to present your ongoing ticket to Hanoi at the counter, and you should qualify for the transit visa. The process is typically straightforward once you land in China, so long as you have documentation of your itinerary with you.
Best,
John

Reply
LUCIAN January 18, 2019 - 5:20 am

Hello, I have a flight from London to Bali with a technical stop in Sanya for 1:35h and then a layover in Guangzhou for 5:50h. Can I apply for a 72h transit visa in Guangzhou?

Reply
Dalila March 28, 2019 - 7:06 pm

Hello,
I have a flight from LAX to Hong Kong and will be staying for 2 days.
Then Hong Kong to Shanghai for 2 days.
Then Shanghai to Tokyo for 3 days.
Tokyo to LAX – do I need a Visa for shanghai?
Thanks

Reply

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