The Complete Traveler’s Guide to the China Transit Visa

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I love traveling around China. I lived there for 1.5 years and visited 12 out of its 23 provinces so far. On my blog and social media, I get often asked about the complex visa process and how it has kept many people from visiting China. Fret not! China actually has a 72-hour and 144-hour transit visa that you can get right at the airport in a variety of cities. No prior visa application required! This guide walks you through everything you need to know about the China transit visa.

Also read: The Best First-Time China Itinerary – The Best Places To See In China On Your First Trip

Which Chinese Cities Offer the 72-Hour Visa?

Currently, there are 15 exciting cities in China, where you can take advantage of the 72-hour transit visa policy. These include:

  • Beijing
  • Chengdu
  • Chongqing
  • Dalian
  • Guangzhou
  • Guilin
  • Hangzhou
  • Harbin

  • Kunming
  • Shanghai
  • Shenyang
  • Tianjin
  • Wuhan
  • Xi’an
  • Xiamen

Since 2018, Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, Shenyang, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, also issue 144-hour China transit visas, giving you 6 full days to explore! More cities are likely to follow and issue 72-hour and 144-hour visas soon, including Urumqi in the Xinjiang region, for example.

Which Countries Qualify for the 72-hour Visa?

Unfortunately, not all country nationals are eligible for China’s 72-hour transit visa. However, there are a lot of countries that do qualify, so there’s a good chance that yours is on the list:

European countries: United Kingdom, Russia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania.

American countries: United States, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

Asian countries: Japan, Korea, Brunei, Singapore, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.

Schengen Agreement countries: Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, Estonia, Germany, France, Iceland, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Luxemburg, Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, and Switzerland.

Oceania countries: New Zealand and Australia.

Should your country not be on the list above, you should simply give your local Chinese embassy a call and find out what provisions they have for you in regards to the 72-hour transit visa. They might be rolling it out shortly!

Which Cities Offer the 144-Hour China Transit Visa?

For this visa, it’s important to distinguish between two parts of the transit visa: your port of entry and your region of movement.

Port of Entry
In order to take advantage of the 144-hour China transit visa, you MUST arrive and depart through one of the following cities. Unlike with the 72-hour visa, where you must arrive by airplane, the 144-hour visa allows you to enter China via an airport, train station or water port. Currently, these are the cities where you can get a 144-hour transit visa:

  • Beijing
  • Dalian (Liaoning)
  • Hangzhou (Zhejiang)
  • Nanjing (Jiangsu)
  • Qinghuangdao (Heibei)
  • Shanghai

  • Shenyang (Liaoning)
  • Shijiazhuang (Hebei)
  • Tianjin
  • Guangzhou (Guangdong) – coming soon
  • Shenzhen (Guangdong) – coming soon
  • Jieyang (Guangdong) – coming soon

Region of Movement
Once you’ve obtained your 144-hour transit visa at one of. the cities above, you must stay within the specified regions that include:

  • All of Beijing and its surrounding areas (including the Great Wall).
  • Tianjin as well as the entire Hebei and Liaoning provinces.
  • All of Shanghai including the surrounding water towns.
  • The nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces surrounding Shanghai.
  • All of the Guangdong province, which includes the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Note: If you travel beyond these borders, you will be stopped at the train station, airport or other port when they authorities ask to see your passport. In short, you must arrive, move about and depart all within the same region.

Which Countries Qualify for the 144-hour Transit Visa?

Not every single country passport is eligible for China’s 144-hour transit visa. There’s a good chance, however, that yours is. Check below to make sure that your home country is on the list:

European countries: Russia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Belarus, Monaco.

American countries: United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile.

Asian countries:Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar.

Schengen Agreement countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

Oceania countries: New Zealand and Australia.

Note: Should your country not be listed above, simply call your local Chinese Embassy and. double check. If you don’t qualify for the 144-hour visa, you might be eligible for the 72-hour transit visa!

What Documents are Required for China’s transit visa?

The great thing about the China 72-hour and 144-hour visa is that you don’t need to fill out any visa application paperwork before landing. The only China visa requirements that you will have to provide in order to be granted the transit visa are the following items:

  • A valid passport: You’ll have your passport with you anyways while traveling.
  • An Arrival/Departure Card filled out with your nationality, name, flight number, passport number, place of issuance, visa number, date of birth, gender, and purpose of visit. You get arrival and departure cards either on the airplane before landing from the airline crew or at the Beijing airport in the passport control area.
  • A visa for a third region or country – if required. Since this is a transit visa, you need to have a visa for your final destination if you need one. If you don’t need a visa for your final destination, you can ignore this.
  • A ticket with a confirmed seat number for the next flight that leaves within 72 hours. This is super important. The Chinese authorities need to make sure that you are already booked to leave within the required time period.
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Prerequisites for the Transit Visa Application

Before attempting to take advantage of China’s transit visa, there are a few very important things to note.

In order to qualify for the 72-hour or 144-hour visa, you need to have proof of a confirmed seat on an onward flight and possess a visa for your final destination if that is required.

The 72 hour period doesn’t start until 12:00 AM, the day after arriving. This means, if you arrive in Shanghai on September 4th at 8 PM, you have to leave by 11:59 PM on September 7th. If you get a 144-hour visa, you have to leave by 11:59 PM on September 10th.

When traveling to or from one of the cities offering visa-free transit, you may not stop in any other Chinese city. However, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are an exception to this rule, as they are considered third regions. For instance, if your next flight went from Shanghai to Beijing, you wouldn’t be able to get a transit visa. However, if you travel from Shanghai to Macau (or Hong Kong, or Taiwan), you would be able to stay in Shanghai on a transit visa.

Your original place of departure and your final destination must be different countries/regions. For example, you can’t book a round-trip ticket from the United States and use a transit visa in China. So, if you’re coming to China from the United States, your next destination must be another, third country.

Only passengers arriving by airplane may use a 72-hour visa and passengers need to leave from the same airport they arrived in. The only exception is Shanghai, where you can leave from either Pudong Airport or Hongqiao. For the 144-hour transit visa, you may arrive by plane, train or boat.

The Forbidden City in Beijing

The Visa Process Step-by-Step

After arriving in one of the 15 cities mentioned above that have the 72-hour or 144-hour visa, the process to obtain the visa is quite straightforward. Here’s the rundown step by step:

Step 1: It’s a good idea to let your airline know that you want to get a transit permit when checking in at your departure airport. Most airlines inform Chinese customs before you land. This makes the process a lot easier. If you wish to explore Beijing for 72 or 144 hours, you can apply for the transit permit after arriving at Beijing Capital International Airport.

Step 2: Fill out for your Arrival/Departure Card during your flight. The crew usually passes out these cards about 1 hour before landing.

Step 3: Once you’ve landed, make your way to the baggage claim and get your luggage. Then head to the special lanes for the transit visas, which are clearly labeled in the immigration area. If you have all the required documents mentioned above (see “Prerequisites for Transit Visa Application”), an immigration officer approves your request for a 72-hour or 144-hour transit free permit and stamps your passport. They also write down the approved length of time you can stay.

Step 4: You must register at the local police station if your stay longer than 24 hours in China. If you stay at a hotel or hostel, the staff will take care of this but if you stay with friends or family, they need to take you to the police station and help you check-in.

Step 5: Don’t leave your transit city during the transit hours. You may only leave the city if you enter in Hangzhou or Guangzhou. Then, you are free to travel throughout the entire province.

Step 6: Should you not be able to leave China within 72 or 144 hours, you need to visit the Municipal Public Security Bureau and apply for a traditional visa.

Useful information: The airports offering the transit visas offer a variety of services to travelers eager to explore China. For example, you can exchange money, rent cars or Wi-Fi eggs and even store your luggage. There are even tours available for sightseeing or transportation to hotels.

That’s it! It’s not a complicated process to obtain a transit visa in China as long as you have all your documents in order.

What if I want to stay longer than 72 or 144 hours?

Finally, if you want to explore more of China and want to stay longer than 6 days in China and want to roam around the country freely, it’s definitely worth applying for a traditional China visa. There are various ways to obtain a visa for China but I recommend going through PassportVisasExpress.

They offer a China visa service helping applicants with obtaining and expediting visa(s) for international travel. PassportVisasExpress works on your behalf directly with each embassy assisting you in expediting your visa application in as fast as the same day! They know exactly how the complex visa process works and take care of all the paperwork for you.

PassportVisasExpress expedites tourist and business visas not only for China but also for several other popular destinations, including Brazil, India, and Russia.

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Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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