A FOREWORD FROM WILL
This guest post is from literary extraordinaire and friend Mary Huang. This story developed when I met up with Mary and a few other past co-workers in Tokyo as part of my food tour. In a bind, she needed to get to Shanghai while she was in Tokyo but without a China Visa what could she do? I’ll share the rest of the story at the bottom but first I’ll hand it over to Mary who will tell you a bit more about how you can go to China without a visa.
If you’ve ever toyed with the idea with travelling to China, you’ll know that the People’s Republic does not kid around when it comes to their visas. Those who frequent the home of the Great Wall will tell you that you should always apply for an entry visa at least 3 weeks prior to your departure date. The whole process involves booking an appointment at your nearest Chinese Visa Center, filling out online forms that includes bringing along visa photos with very specific dimensions, and waiting around 5 business days where you’ll then need to go back to the visa centre to pick up your passport with the newly minted visa. There are expedited/rush processing requests but even then, expect a 2 business day turnaround and extra fees.
In recent years, you can now apply for multiple entry visas for those of you who anticipate more than 1 trip in the lifespan of your passport (just costs a little extra $$) which has made the process a little less painful but what’s better is there’s now a new and improved 144-hour In-Transit Visa which travellers can apply for at the airport.
So how do you qualify for this mysterious visa?
How the 144-Hour In-Transit Visa works
Here’s are the details that you need to know. What’s funny is that there isn’t a good official website from the PRC that goes through all the details. The next best thing is what Travel China Guide has put together.
First off, exactly how many days is 144 hours? It’s 6 days.
The primary requirement
The key is that you must be leaving to a different country from which you arrived. (ie. USA to China to Canada is OK. But Canada to China to Canada is not).
The idea is you’re “in-transit” and just passing through China. This is probably best explained through examples.
- In my case, I started in Tokyo -> transit through Shanghai -> onwards to Toronto
- More typical routes look like this: Toronto -> Beijing -> Bangkok
- This also works on the return flight: Hong Kong -> Shanghai -> Los Angeles
Note that Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan count as different countries from the PRC so Hong Kong to China to Canada is fine.Tor
What doesn’t work is when there are multiple hops (in different zones) involved:
- Toronto -> Shanghai -> Xi’an -> Seoul
- London -> Beijing -> Shanghai -> New York
Yes Beijing and Shanghai are eligible cities to apply for the visa but you can’t fly to separate parts of the countries that are considered to be different zones (more on that below).
What is interesting to note is that something like this works:
- Singapore -> Shanghai -> Hangzhou -> Malaysia (Shanghai and Hangzhou are in the same zone)
Why is that? Keep reading…
THE MAIN RULE
A -> B: one of three zones in Mainland China -> C
The 3 Zones
There are 3 defined “zones” and corresponding specific cities where you can apply for this type of visa. This means that this only works at very specific landing areas in China.
Also keep in mind that technically you can only travel within the zone of which you entered.
Zone #1: Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang
- Shanghai: All air, sea and railway ports, including Pudong Airport, Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, Wusong Passenger Transport Center and all railway stations.
- Hangzhou of Zhejiang: Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport
- Nanjing of Jiangsu: Nanjing Lukou Airport
Zone #2: Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei
- Beijing: Capital International Airport, Beijing West Railway Station
- Tianjin: Binhai International Airport, Tianjin International Cruise Home Port
- Shijiazhuang of Hebei: Zhengding International Airport
- Qinghuangdao of Hebei: Qinhuangdao Port
Zone #3: Liaoning Province
- Dalian: Zhoushuizi International Airport
- Shenyang: Taoxian International Airport
Coming soon : Guangdong Province
You must have a departure flight booked within the 144 hour period and be able to show the Customs Officer your booking confirmation and departure details. The departure city must be within the zone that you landed in.
This is why my earlier example of Singapore -> Shanghai -> Hangzhou -> Malaysia works because you landed in Shanghai (Zone #1) and left within 144 hours from Zone #1 which in this case is Hangzhou.
Bending the rules
One way you could bend the zone rule is if you do your own tour on ground but to China it’ll look like you stayed in your one zone the entire time.
So you could land in Shanghai and get on a bus or train to do Xi’an and Chengdu let’s say within 6 days and fly out of Shanghai again onwards to your “final” destination.
The main question here is how much can you pack into 144 hours?
How the application process works
If you’ve made it through all the requirements, the actual application is really easy and took me through a much shorter line at customs:
- Inform the carrier (airline) when boarding
- Fill an Arrival/Departure Card when you land
- Apply for the 144-hour visa-free stay permit upon arrival at customs (it’s the one with the shortest line)
- Claim your luggage
- Leave the airport
Applying for the 144-hour visa at airport customs
When you get into the special line at customs, you present your flight itinerary (including your onward ticket out of China), your passport, and the Arrival/Departure Card. Yes this means that you must have a confirmed ticket to your next destination. You can’t book it while you’re in China.
There are a few things they’ll be concerned with and ask you about:
- Are you only in China for the maximum allowed 144 hours?
- What are you going to be doing in China?
- Where will you be staying in China?
Regarding the last point, they will actually be paying close attention to the address and contact information that you fill out on the Arrival/Departure Card.
In my case, since I was staying with my Grandmother in Shanghai, I provided the residential address and phone number. What I experienced this time is that they actually followed up with me by contacting my cell phone while in Shanghai. I also had to go to the local police office to report my presence as part of the visa.
That sounds a little scary but for regular travellers who will be staying at the hotel, what I’ve read is that they will contact the hotel to confirm your stay at the hotel. In this situation, you do not need to go to the police station.
Counting 144 hours
This isn’t as intuitive as you think. The 144 hours starts from 00:00 or midnight of the day following your arrival.
For example, if you arrive at 6AM on May 1, the clock starts running once midnight hits to start May 2. As a result, you need to make sure you have a flight that leaves China in the same zone before 23:59 on May 7. If you do the math, that’s actually 162 hours in the country.
A new Chinese government tool
The Chines government has created a new tool to check whether you’re eligible for the visa-free transit. The site is poorly designed but at least it’s simple and gets to the point. Put in what country you’re from and where you intend to land. From there it does a pretty good job at providing the transit requirements, special notes, and a good Q&A.
Does this work for business travellers?
This is another question I’ve seen asked here quite a number of times. Having gone through all the documentation, I don’t see any mention anywhere about the “Purpose of Visit”. It’s one of those things where if there are no specific rules against it, I believe you are okay.
If you want to be 100% sure, since I haven’t done it before, call the embassy in your country and find out.
How do you leverage the 144-hour visa?
There are many travel companies that actually now offer 6 day tours especially designed for travellers who qualify for these visas and take you to see sites specific to each zone.
So beyond using this visa in a bind to get to China like it was in my case, you can leverage the 144 hours to see the country in a quick 6 days before moving onto another country in Asia.
The rest of Mary’s story
Here’s my version of what happened. Mary’s grandfather in Shanghai became unexpectedly ill while in Tokyo and it seemed at first that it would be near impossible to just fly to China. China is one of those countries that takes a bit of planning to go to because most passport holders require a visa to enter. I remember asking around about whether China takes family emergency exceptions as a way to enter the country but everything pointed to “no”. Determined to go, all I remember hearing about was that she was going to buy a ticket that day and just go.
What I didn’t know was Mary had a brilliant albeit a little lucky plan. Mary bought a ticket from Tokyo to Toronto via Shanghai. When she landed in Shanghai and went to the transit visa area of customs, nerves were at an all time high because she had no idea if this was going to work. Custom officials went through her flight information and details of where she was going to stay. Things were looking bleak as they deliberated for an abnormally long time. What was happening behind the scenes was they were counting the hours that were in between her landing in Shanghai to her departure to Toronto. Every hour mattered.
At the end of it all, she just managed to come in at under 144 hours for them to grant the visa. Crazy!
Somehow she had pulled off the impossible. By being in Japan, she managed to unexpectedly detour to China by leveraging this visa-on-arrival.
Did this help? Do you have other unanswered question about the 144 Hour In-Transit Visa? Just drop a comment below and I’ll make sure to get back to you as soon as I can!
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