Everything You Need to Know about Visiting China with the 144-Hour Visa Free Transit
Yes, its true, you really can spend 6 whole days in China without getting a visa! When I heard that Chinese immigration does something called a 'visa-free transit,' I started to plan my trip at once. Fast forward a couple of months and I visited China on this visa-free transit pass and had a fantastic time! The process can be super confusing, so I thought I'd make a post about helpful information and what I learned from my experience.
I'll start out with some facts about the 144-hour visa-free transit:
It only works if you're entering China through air via Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei international airports.
It is available for 53 countries: the 24 Schengen Agreement countries + 15 other European countries, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, and several others.
You must enter and exit China through the same exact airport. You cannot enter through Beijing and then travel to Shanghai and exit through there instead.
You must stay within the limits of the city that you entered the entire time. You cannot, for example, take a train or bus to another city outside of the one you entered and then go back to the original city for your departing flight. Of course, there's no real way that immigration can prove this, but I wouldn't take any chances. Visiting the Great Wall while in Beijing is permitted under the visa-free transit.
You must enter and exit China from different places.... Sounds confusing but let me explain. You can fly into China from the USA, but you cannot fly directly back to the USA on departure. You must fly to a third country, like Canada for example, and then fly back to the USA from there. Hong Kong counts as a 'third country.' We flew to Beijing from Japan and then departed Beijing to Hong Kong, which was permitted under the visa-free transit. We could not have flown round trip back to Japan from Beijing as this violates it!
You don't need to send in any prior information beforehand or fill out any application process, everything is handled on arrival.
You do need a valid passport, proof of onward ticket, and fully completed arrival + departure card to be let into the country
It's a lot of convoluted info, but read it through a few times and it'll start to make more sense. Now I want to explain the process of actually departing for and arriving in China because it was a bit more complicated than I imagined it would be.
When we arrived at the Osaka airport to check in for our departing flight to Beijing, the flight attendants seemed very confused and kept asking us if we had a Chinese visa. We, of course, insisted that we were traveling under the 144-hour visa-free transit and would only be in Beijing for 48 hours. We provided a printed out confirmation ticket of our proof of onward travel to Hong Kong. After the confused gate agent consulted with several other employees and lots of worrying on my part, she eventually handed us our boarding passes and we were on our way.
We had a short layover in Seoul, South Korea. After about 2 hours exploring the COOLEST. AIRPORT. EVER. (I took a free fancy shower in an airport, it was awesome), we lined up at the gate to board our flight from Seoul to Beijing. We already had our boarding passes because we got them back in Osaka for the entire flight sequence, as you normally do. Again, when we tried to board the aircraft, we were told to step aside and explain ourselves. And again, I told them that we were traveling on the visa-free transit and showed proof of onward travel. They scrutinized my sheet of paper with our proof word for word and I was really starting to get nervous. We waited and waited, and eventually we were told to board the plane. I really didn't think it'd be this difficult!
Finally, we touched down in Beijing after a short flight. Once you arrive at the airport, you must head to the visa-free transit station (located before the immigration line in Beijing, and I imagine it's the same deal in the other airports) and fill out a sheet of paper with information on you and where you're staying in China. Yet again, you must provide detailed proof that you are, in fact, leaving the country in a few days. Once this process is all done, they hand you a slip of paper and motion for you to join the long immigration line. After a bit of a wait, we arrived at the immigration agent and I was feeling tense! He called over some other worker to the booth to look at my documents and decide my fate, and it seemed like I was standing in front of them for an hour. Finally, without a word he stamped my passport and motioned me through the gate. We made it to China!
Although the process is a bit complicated, it really wasn't all that hard in retrospect and it's assuredly much easier than applying and being approved for a proper visa in advance. As long as you know the rules very well, have all of your proper documentation, and be a little patient when airline and immigration employees question you, you should have no real issues! I definitely plan to return to China and visit a different city again with the 144-hour visa-free transit!
Hope this helped those of you who are planning trips to China! xoxo