When planning to visit China you will be faced with a whole host of different visa options, most of which require you to head to the Chinese Embassy with a load of documents for pre-approval, together with a large cheque! However, there is a way to travel to China without the need for such a visa, saving you time and a fair bit of money! This visa isn’t very well advertised, in fact it isn’t listed on the Chinese Embassy website and even when we asked at the Embassy itself we were told they couldn’t confirm whether this was an option we could use. However when we arrived in China, not only were they prepared for this situation, but they had three immigration lines dedicated to this non-visa travel option, and we sailed through it in a breeze.
So how do you do this? Well the actual method is called ‘transit without visa (‘TWOV’ for short) and in order to qualify the following criteria must apply to your visit:
- You must be travelling to another country outside of China within 144 hours of your entry into Chinese territory (there are 24 hour, 72 hour and 144 hour options available). It’s worth pointing out that travel on to Hong Kong is classed as travel to another country for these purposes;
- You must express your desire to travel without a visa to your airline before you travel (you should then be given the correct form to fill in on the flight, but if not don’t worry as they will be available at the airport when you land in China);
- You can only travel within the provenance in which you land (exemptions to this rule are arrival into Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Nanjing where you can travel within the Shanghai, Zhejiang province, and Jiangsu province, and travellers entering via Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, and Qinhuangdao can travel within the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region).
So why are there different options for 24 hour, 72 hour and 144 hour visa-free travel, and why wouldn’t everyone just go for the longer option? Well, your options depend on where you are travelling from. All countries are eligible for 24 hour visa-free travel. For the 72 hour visa-free travel option you must be from one of the following 53 countries:
- Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and Switzerland, UAE, UK, US and Ukraine
Travellers from these countries must also be travelling through one of the following cities:
- Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Guilin, Hangzhou, Harbin, Kunming, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen, or Xi’an
We originally wanted to apply for the 72 hour visa exemption as this is all we would need, however when we landed in Shanghai they processed everyone looking for visa-free travel through the 144 exemption channel. To get the 144 hour visa exemption you must be coming from one of the 53 cities mentioned above that relate to the 72 hour visa exemption, but you must be arriving into one of the following cities:
- Hangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing, Shijiazhuang, Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Xiamen, Qingdao, Wuhan, Chengdu, Kunming, Guangzhou Baiyun, Shenzhen Bao-an, and Jieyang Chaoshan.
When travelling to China without a visa the hardest challenge for us appeared to be people’s lack of knowledge about this method of travel, especially here in the UK. When we got to the check-in desk at Heathrow Airport we were instantly asked where our visas were, and when we explained we didn’t need visas (we’d printed out all the correct information we’d found on the internet about this option for reference), it took around 45 minutes for the staff to read through all the paperwork and allow us to proceed through security and to our gate. A manager even had to call ahead to the airport in Shanghai to check what we were saying was correct, so make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The Chinese Embassy website doesn’t list this means of travel either, and when we asked about it at the Embassy when we initially went to apply for a visa (before realising we didn’t need one) they didn’t want to confirm or deny whether we could travel without a Visa, so it all felt a bit hidden. However, when we got to China we didn’t have any problems at all; they had separate immigration queues only for people using this method, and checking the documents and letting us through literally took just a couple of minutes (you just need to have printed confirmation of your onward flight which will take you out of China, details of where you are staying while in China, and a rough itinerary of what you intend to do in China, together with a separate immigration form you will be given upon arrival in the immigration queue and asked to complete). Stick to your guns and you shouldn’t have any problems when you arrive into China.
At immigration you will be given a piece of paper to keep in your passport with your exit date from the country – keep this in your passport and don’t lose it. When you leave China they will simply take this to prove you have left the country within the given time frame.
Were you aware you could travel to China visa-free?