How to visit China for up to six days without a visa

How to visit China for up to six days without a visa

Australian citizens normally need a pre-arranged visa to enter China, but the country’s Transit Without Visa (TWOV) program allows foreigners to enter the country for up to six days visa-free, provided their travel plans meet certain requirements.

Available in major destinations like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, and a host of secondary cities too such as Nanjing, Xiamen, Tianjin and more, here’s what you need to know to visit China for business or tourism, without getting the usual visa.

China’s Transit Without Visa scheme: the golden rule

Above all else, there’s one key rule you need to follow: you must arrive into China from one country, and depart from China bound for any other country: that’s why the program is called “Transit” Without Visa (not "Visit" Without Visa).

If you’re simply taking a return trip to China, flying in from one country and flying straight back to that same country, you won’t be eligible for this visa waiver and will need to apply for a pre-arranged visa through the normal channels.

For example, booking a return trip from Sydney to Shanghai doesn’t qualify, as you’re flying back to the same country (Australia) rather than travelling onward somewhere else.

However, flying from Sydney to Shanghai and then onward from Shanghai to Paris is just fine – handy to keep in mind when booking China Eastern flights using Qantas Points, as has just become possible on the Qantas website.

Read: Qantas brings China Eastern frequent flyer reward bookings online

Interestingly, China considers Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau to be separate countries for this exercise – so you could fly into China from Australia, and then fly onward from China to Hong Kong, and still take advantage of this Transit Without Visa scheme.

However, once you’re in China, you need to remain in the city or region where you entered the country for the entirety of your stay, so you can’t enter China in Shanghai and then travel to Beijing, for example: for that, you’d need a normal, pre-arranged visa.

China’s Transit Without Visa scheme: eligible cities

China’s policy on this program varies from city to city – in some places, you can stay for up to 72 hours (three days), and in others, you can stay for up to 144 hours (six days). Whether you can venture beyond your transit city also varies from place to place.

Beijing and Shanghai are on the more generous side, each welcoming transit travellers for up to 144 hours in China, along with the provinces of Jiangsu (including Nanjing), Zhejiang (including Hangzhou), Liaoning (including Shenyang) and Hebei, along with Tianjin.

You can also travel to Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Qingdao or Changsha for up to 72 hours visa-free.

Again, you can’t normally travel between cities when you’ve entered the country as a Transit Without Visa passenger, which means the international flights you take to and from China also need to run non-stop, rather than via other Chinese cities.

For example, China Eastern’s flights from Sydney to Beijing (MU728) stop via Nanjing in each direction, so you can’t use this flight as part of a Transit Without Visa journey, even if you fly onward from China to a different country after reaching Beijing.

That’s because passengers jetting from Sydney to Beijing on MU728 clear Chinese passport control en route in Nanjing, before flying Nanjing-Beijing as a Chinese domestic passenger, which isn’t permitted when you're 'in transit'.

It doesn’t matter that both Nanjing and Beijing participate in the Transit Without Visa scheme: where you enter the country is where you need to stay until you leave, and while there are a few exceptions for travellers exploring nearby cities, travelling between Nanjing and Beijing is a no-no.

China’s Transit Without Visa scheme: what to do

When checking-in for your flight to China, you’ll need to tell your airline that you’re travelling under the “72/144-hour Transit Without Visa program” to get the ball rolling, because the check-in agent will otherwise start flipping through your passport in search of a Chinese visa, which you don’t have.

You’ll also need to present a printed copy of your flight itinerary, showing not only the flight you’re checking-in for that day, but also your onward flight to a third country departing within the permitted time period, as applicable to the city you’ve visiting.

If that onward flight is part of a separate ticket or reservation, ensure you have everything printed out, as the check-in agent will need the specifics of your onward flight including departure date, departure time, flight number and destination, and needs to check that you have a confirmed booking: not a standby ticket.

Once you reach Chinese passport control, look for a lane labelled “transit without visa”, “72-hour transit”, “144-hour transit” or similar, and have the same printed reservations ready for inspection by border staff, as they’ll need to be verified a second time, as part of your entry into China.

(You also need to complete a landing card, so don’t forget that either, and to be safe, consider carrying more than one print-out of each ticket or booking.)

Provided everything goes smoothly, you’ll get a small “temporary entry permit” sticker in your passport listing the places you can go and when you need to leave the country by, which will be stamped when you exit China en route to your third destination.

There’s no fee involved to take advantage of China’s Transit Without Visa scheme, so you’ll not only save on visa costs, you’ll also preserve valuable space in your passport, as the entry permit sticker is considerably smaller than a full-page Chinese visa, and doesn’t require having a ‘double blank’ page as otherwise needed to get a visa.

Read: How to make your passport last longer when running short of pages

Also read: How to get a Shenzhen visa on arrival when visiting from Hong Kong

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

32 comments

  • jeppetto367

    jeppetto367

    21 Jun, 2018 09:51 am

    Another 'Visa free' option is entering China via Hainan Island. You're able to get a VoA and actually use this to travel all around China. I realise this is a little different than the methods written about here. But with HU flying direct to Haikou from Australia, thought it might be worth mentioning.
    Member who gave thanks

    RPS

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    21 Jun, 2018 10:27 pm

    I can't wait until Hainan flies to Perth!!!
    No member give thanks

  • jianga

    jianga

    21 Jun, 2018 10:35 am

    I used the 144-hour visa free scheme in Shanghai twice recently and although it's a great initiative, the actual process could be a lengthy exercise and not quite as smooth as one world expect. To start with, not every airline check in staff is familiar with this visa free scheme so you might need to explain how it works and allow plenty of extra time at check in. I had to explain to both VA and AY check in staff how it works and it took them a LONG time (like 30+ minutes) to get this sorted in order to check me in. Perhaps do a print out of this scheme from the Chinese Custom website and show it to them. Once you reach China, the entry card you need is different to the usual yellow one, it's a blue card that you can get at the airport (they don't usually have it on the flight). Also if you don't speak Chinese (luckily I do), things could get confusing (Yes even in Shanghai) as not everyone at Chinese Custom speak proper English. I was twice the 'unofficial volunteer' at Shanghai Pudong Airport custom helping fellow foreign travellers understanding what was going on as the staff there would often just tell you to wait and left you hanging. AND make sure you allow plenty of time to get through the queue/waiting time for the process (minimum 30 minutes, it took me almost an hour in one instance). Remember you're going to China so don't bother complaining to anyone, just take a deep breath and you'll get through eventually. Happy Travels!
    Members who gave thanks

    King, ajd

  • Earl King

    King

    21 Jun, 2018 12:43 pm

    Thanks, good info.
    No member give thanks

  • ajd

    ajd

    22 Jun, 2018 12:20 am

    I too have used the TWOV scheme in PVG recently - I didn't have any issues with checking in, but I can confirm that 30 minutes - 1 hour for processing at PVG was accurate for me. The whole area down that end of the immigration hall was a bit of a mess, with the blue arrival cards lying around everywhere, and there seemed to be a few people in line who didn't even realise they had to fill out the blue arrival card - make sure you do that first thing and maybe hint at it to any newbies in front of you in the line who might have neglected it!
    No member give thanks

  • jpk77

    jpk77

    22 Jun, 2018 03:53 pm

    I've done it a bunch of times now in different ports and confirm all that jianga has said. The airline check in people (especially if you are at an outstation or they're contract staff) are rarely aware of this arrangement and often very confused or claim you are wrong. They also can never find it in Timatic, as it's a transit visa. I once had to promise Korean Air that if they let me on the plane I would stay airside at Beijing for 3 days!
    No member give thanks

  • Keen Poon

    Keen

    22 Jun, 2018 04:20 pm

    Went i entered into through PEK during Easter the line looked at least 1.5 hours long!
    No member give thanks

  • moa999

    moa999

    21 Jun, 2018 11:19 am

    Agree with Jianga it can be a little time consuming.


    I was recently on a 6-day (140hr actual, 135hr as they measure it) Sydney-Pudong,Hangzhou-HongKong,Sydney


    Despite being all booked online on QF (with QF codeshare on CX for HGH-HKG), QF call centre refuses to confirm that the ticket meets TWOV and directs you to the Chinese embassy.


    Added about 10min checking in with Qantas in Sydney (all on a QF ticket). Was helpful I had printed the IATA rules as well (fyi you need to make your journey Sydney to Hong Kong transit China to make them show) but agent checked with supervisor twice and eventually ok.


    At Shanghai, added about 80min queing time versus max 10min for those with proper visas . Electronic signage clearly showed 24/144hr transit and the queues were combined, with 40ppl in it. Blue TWOV forms on the side. Only 3 agents open plus a roaming supervisor - and they don't direct people to general queues.


    Didn't help that numerous people in the queue didn't have tickets printed and ready (despite signage) and others didn't know transit conditions - one was planning on taking train to Beijing.


    When I finally reached the front it was a simple process, show ticket, confirm I was remaining within the broader Shanghai area and a reminder that as I was near the limit I couldn't push my flight.


    But combined with a 60min late QF meant I missed all the HSR train options I'd planned, and just made the last bus to Wuxi

    Member who gave thanks

    King

  • Himeno

    Himeno

    22 Jun, 2018 03:37 pm

    The process to enter under TWOV varies by city (and has varied at the same city each time I've used it)

    Of the 4 times I've used it thus far, I've been through in under 5 minutes (from entering immigration checkpoint area), a normalish 10-15 mins (like the pax with normal visas on the same flight) twice and almost 40 mins once.
    No member give thanks

  • Lachlan Burnet

    Lachlan72

    21 Jun, 2018 03:22 pm

    How does it work if one or both of your cities before/after China are transit points?

    For example, if you have an itinerary as follows, would that be ok for the TWOV program?


    SYD-PVG on QF
    Then PVG-TPE-SYD on CI.

    If stopping over in TPE then there would be no problem as you would be coming from SYD then next destination would be TPE.

    However, if you were only *transiting* in TPE to go back to SYD, would the Chinese authorities see this as coming from SYD and then heading back to SYD, therefore meaning you're not eligible for this scheme?
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    21 Jun, 2018 03:31 pm

    You'd have to go home eventually regardless of your travel plans, so the fact that you're returning to Sydney at the end of your trip rather than living forever abroad isn't a concern for the Chinese authorities. ;)

    Arriving from one country (Australia) and departing for another country (Taiwan) within the time limit at an eligible city is all they're looking for. What you do after you leave China for Country C is up to you.
    No member give thanks

  • Lachlan Burnet

    Lachlan72

    21 Jun, 2018 03:41 pm

    Thanks, Chris.

    I guess that's a good little loophole for business travellers only heading to Shanghai and then being able to avoid the rigmarole of getting a visa.

    SYD-PVG on QF and returning home PVG-HKG on KA/CX then transiting to QF back to SYD would work well.

    Great tip. Thanks!
    No member give thanks

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    21 Jun, 2018 10:45 pm

    Great article!

    I flew from Perth to Shanghai via Singapore airlines (and then onto Taipei) in December - and unfortunately the administrators at the counter had no idea about this Program and I had to educate them on travel schemes which they should have known (they initially refused to process my bags to Shanghai without a valid visa) - I like your use of the term "Transit Without Visa". - my lesson learned would be to bring printed copies of this policy via the Chinese immigration website!

    Quick note - the program is applicable if you are travelling to an onward Country or "Region" - the term region is used because it incorporates Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwain.

    Put simply (A-B-C)- as long as the Mainland Chinese city is destination B and destinations A and C are not from the same country/region/Mainland China - then this program is valid!

    I travelled SIN-PVG-TPE and then TPE-PVG-SIN and got exemptions on both occasions.

    You have to be prepared though - have your itineraries printed out/ pages on your phone loaded.

    What China can improve on is to have a standard template that they passengers fill in. The idea that you have to show your itinerary (which can come in multiple formats - think expedia/ airlines specific/ last ticks etc) takes a lot of time to adjust to.

    I wish ABT wrote more articles like this one which focuses more on air travel as I'm sure the average traveller and business traveller's experience is more than just a seat (which quite frankly is more or less the same - unless its a new product and not a derivative or something generic)!

    Again, good work!
    No member give thanks

  • peterpeerapat

    peterpeerapat

    22 Jun, 2018 09:33 am

    Because a few commenters suggested printing information off an official website, I went looking for such sites. Unfortunately the Chinese Embassy's website is useless (only contains information about 72-hour TWV), so came across this link by the Shanghai Immigration Dept, which also lists other airports covered by this policy.

     
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    22 Jun, 2018 09:38 am

    Thanks for sharing, Peter. We normally link to pages like this from our articles, but as you say, the Chinese Government's website isn't too helpful here, as this TWOV scheme is administered by each city that chooses to participate (which is why some cities allow you to stay longer, some allow you to explore a bit of the local area, etc.) rather than one blanket rule covering all of China.
    No member give thanks

  • Himeno

    Himeno

    22 Jun, 2018 03:19 pm

    I thought you had already posted something about this before...

    China only looks at the city the arrival flight departed from and the city the departing flight is going to.
    SYD-xHKG-PVG-xNRT-MEL is valid while SYD-PVG-MEL is not.

    I've gone to PVG and PEK twice each with TWOV.
    No member give thanks

  • John Millard

    Challenge

    22 Jun, 2018 03:43 pm

    After having read all this, thank goodness for my APEC card :)
    No member give thanks

  • thatsthat

    thatsthat

    22 Jun, 2018 03:49 pm

    Any other good point to point city combinations folks can recommend if you want to spend a 3 to 6 nights in China to get a feel for the free country departing from Australia?
    No member give thanks

  • moa999

    moa999

    22 Jun, 2018 09:07 pm

    Any will work but Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, Seoul and anywhere in Japan are the obvious ones.

    On Qantas doing one leg via Hong Kong often doesn't add much to the ticket price, and saves you $s in visa fee
    No member give thanks

  • 1Worldfreqflyer

    1Worldfreqflyer

    22 Jun, 2018 03:59 pm

    If transiting via Beijing with this visa free option make sure you are prepared to spend up to 1 hour queuing uo and make sure you have printed copies of your entire itinerary and tickets and also hotel vouchers for they can be very pedantic about it all especially if you arrive late at night midnight I think on the QF Syd to BJS flight. My question is what happens if you fly into HKG and want to go to CAN Guangzhou by train spend 72 hours then come back by train again to HKG to continue your travels? Will this visa free system still apply and will they recognise that you are actually flying out of HKG to a third country after your 72 hours in Guangzhou? If anyone on this forum has tried it and actually done it I'd be very appreciative!
    No member give thanks

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    22 Jun, 2018 11:14 pm

    So the golden rule is:
    A-B-C
    - Country A/ B and C cannot be the same (hence transit)
    - For HKG/MFM and TPE - they are classified as regions but to save your confusion - lets call them countries.
    - It appears A = C (HKG-CAN-HKG) which breaks the rule straight away.
    - The site below is not formal but gives a clear indication for the different regions and guides. For Guangdong Province - you can only use this method when entering via the three airports listed
    No member give thanks

  • jenniferck

    jenniferck

    22 Jun, 2018 05:22 pm

    Be cautious if you have a Turkish border stamp in you passport. I tried to enter Shanghai this way late last year and was refused entry and had to buy a ticket to Hong Kong for immediate departure. No reason stated but I think it was the Turkey stamps.
    No member give thanks

  • worldwanderer

    worldwanderer

    23 Jun, 2018 12:28 am

    "Interestingly, China considers Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau to be separate countries for this exercise – so you could fly into China from Australia, and then fly onward from China to Hong Kong, and still take advantage of this Transit Without Visa scheme."

    Whoa - so all the airlines threatened with being grounded if they did't update their websites to make Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan - "China" in their booking systems and yet the new visa systems distinguishes them as separate "non-China" destination countries.

    How's that for consistency!
    No member give thanks

  • Himeno

    Himeno

    23 Jun, 2018 04:55 pm

    They are considered different "regions" as SARs. Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not part of Mainland China for immigration purpourses.
    No member give thanks

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    23 Jun, 2018 05:38 pm


    This article is slightly misleading in the sense that it left out the term "Region" (ironically probably to reduce confusion).

    I don't think we need to get too technical about this but for the purpose of this Visa program all you need to remember is - the "regions" Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan is a valid third destination.
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    23 Jun, 2018 08:08 pm

    We don't engage in debates on whether or not Taiwan (or Hong Kong, or Macau) are countries or regions, and any argument would likely be influenced based on which side of the border you're on or from - but for these purposes, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are treated just like any other country, and so we've listed them as such.
    No member give thanks

  • RPS

    RPS

    23 Jun, 2018 11:09 am

    Thanks for this. Please show us a photo of the Shenzhen visa. You can pixel out sensitive information.
    No member give thanks

  • ajd

    ajd

    23 Jun, 2018 11:19 am

    Hmm, I'm not sure whether my previous comment posted correctly. Let me try this again - a Shenzhen visa, and a Shanghai transit without visa entry permit, both from a couple of months ago.


    No member give thanks

  • Eli

    Eli

    24 Jun, 2018 02:00 pm

    I was flying LAX-PVG-ICN. When I arrived at LAX the day before I went to AA and showed them my paperwork. I printed out this 144hr policy directly from the Chinese Embassy's US, Australian and NZ websites (backup). I also printed out from the Chinese tourist board info on the visa free transit. The AA agent was confused, after 15 mins of looking up the info, she made comments in my pnr regarding not requiring a Chinese visa and that the 144hr transit was good, so docs were ok.

    The morning of departure. I had my docs ready just in case, the agent checked my pnr saw "docs ok" and on to the plane I went.

    Upon arrival in PVG: The 144hr transit desk was closed and you are just directed to a line. Speak to someone and make sure you get both forms required. The line of 20 people took 1 hour to get through. It's China, they do not care!..they would just stop working and chat at times. The main visa line is not much quicker. If they saw people "Americans" getting upset, they would go slower. As long as your forms are filled out its a breeze. *make sure you have printout of your hotel and departure flight info* to show the official. It took less than 2 mins and I was on my way.

    As long as you prepare your docs. Arrive at the airport early to have them verify/check the info and put it in your pnr, you will be ok.
    No member give thanks

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    23 Jul, 2018 10:21 pm

    Just a thought - not sure if anyone here would have gone through the following situation.
     
    Imagine you fly from Singapore to Beijing using Singapore Airlines.
     
    Then on my return trip, I return to Singapore using Cathay Pacific - which basically means you return to Singapore via Hong Kong....
     
    Technically speaking, that is a return trip from Singapore (just that your return trip stops over at HKIA before heading to Changi.....
     
    Based on the A-B-C criteria, it qualifies - meaning you can actually have a return trip from China without a Visa :)
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    24 Jul, 2018 01:40 am

    It's not a return trip from Singapore, it's a multi-city itinerary and you're flying into China from Singapore and out of China to Hong Kong, which is fine. What you do before or after those flight that enter/exit China isn't of concern.
    No member give thanks

  • ManHa

    ManHa

    25 Jul, 2018 11:52 pm

    Thanks for the confirmation.

    So using your example about Shanghai and Sydney:

    Put simply,
    Oneway tickets:
    Syd to Shanghai using MH-D7-OD
    Shanghai to Syd using SQ-TR

    Will mean we can qualify for the TWOV rule :)
    No member give thanks

Guest

15 Nov, 2018 05:56 pm

×
×

Forgot Password

If you’ve forgotten your password, simply enter your email address below, then click 'Submit'. We’ll send you an email to re-activate your account and enter a new password.

×