Hassle obtaining a visa for China has long flummoxed travellers and left a void in the Chinese tourism sector as the world’s second-largest economy seeks to recover from the impact of years of the coronavirus.
China only reopened its borders and abandoned quarantine in January after shedding three years of zero-Covid.
And in October, the Ministry of Public Security and National Immigration Administration confirmed that travellers from dozens of countries can again enter China through several visa-free schemes.
1. Transit through 23 Chinese cities (3-6 days)
Passport holders from 54 nations, including Australia, Japan, the United States and countries throughout Europe, can reach much of mainland China via international airports. China added Norway to the list on Friday.
Airports in the likes of Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guilin, Kunming, Qingdao, Shenyang, Wuhan, Xiamen, Guangdong province and the Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang cluster can process visa-free arrivals for transit passengers for 72 to 144 hours.
Travellers must stay within the designated city or surrounding provinces for the entire transit period.
There is no charge and no application to fill out before travel, or on arrival.
Passengers must, however, prove to the airline before boarding and again to immigration authorities after arriving that they have a ticket to leave the city or province – usually by air -to a place outside mainland China where they did not start their journey.
The travel time of the outbound ticket must fall within the 72 or 144-hour window.
Round-trip tickets are not allowed as they do not not qualify as “transit”.
Under the regulations, the 72 or 144 hours technically starts from the first full calendar day after an arrival.
A passenger may reach Shanghai visa free from Singapore, for example, and then proceed to Tokyo – or fly from the special administrative region of Macau to Xiamen and onwards to Taipei.
Transit visa waivers began a decade ago to stimulate tourism spending and attendance at events such as trade shows, although these visa-free stays place no special limits on what travellers can do in China.
2. Hainan province (30 days)
This tropical island province of Hanian allows nationals from 59 countries to enter visa free and free of charge.
Visitors only need to purchase a round-trip flight to the province’s two main gateways of Sanya or Haikou and fill out an arrival form on the plane.
The province once required visa-free visitors to set up their trips through Hainan-based travel agencies, but it has formally scrapped the requirement, according to an immigration agent in the provincial capital of Haikou.
Hainan kicked off visa-free travel in 2018 to stimulate tourism.
Travellers under this scheme, though, are not allowed to visit other parts of China during the 30 days unless they have a visa.
3. Tour group from Hong Kong or Macau to Guangdong province (6 days)
Citizens of any country that has diplomatic ties with China can join tour groups arranged by agencies based in Hong Kong or Macau to enter specific cities in the neighbouring Guangdong province.
Groups may enter Guangdong by land, sea or air, for 144 hours, with dozens of bus, rail and ferry routes connecting the province with Hong Kong.
To qualify, a tour group must have at least two people who enter and exit at the same time as arranged by the agency.
Nine Pearl River Delta cities of Dongguan, Foshan, Guangzhou, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Shenzhen, Zhaoqing, Zhongshan and Zhuhai are included, while the same visa-free scheme applies to Shantou, a coastal city located east of the delta.
Separately, citizens of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries may join tour groups of at least two people to visit the city of Guilin in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region visa free for 144 hours.
4. Arrive by cruise ship (15 days)
Tour groups of at least two people who reach China via the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal may stay onshore for up to 15 days without visas.
Under the regulations, the travel agency must be registered in mainland China and the whole tour group must enter and exit China at the same time.
During the 15 days, visitors may go to Beijing and any part of China’s coastline with seaports, from Liaoning province in the north through to the southern island province of Hainan, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region that borders Vietnam in the south.