Traveling to China is a dream for many travelers. One of the largest countries in the world, the largest country by number of citizens, and vast differences between hyper-modern cities and frozen-in-time villages. Getting into China is easy IF you adhere to the quite complex visa application rules. At least complex compared to any other country I’ve visited so far. You have to supply entry and exit tickets, exact itinerary, and contact details of hotels within the country to be able to apply for a visa. Plus some hefty visa fees. Luckily there is a way around the visa application if you’re willing to live with a few drawbacks.
The solution is visa free transit. China offers for certain regions up to 144 hours of visa free transit time. You can enter the country and move freely, the only restriction is that you have to leave the country within 144 hours and you are not allowed to leave the designated provinces. At the time of the writing, October 2018, there are 3 regions in China eligible for transit: Beijing (+surroundings), Shanghai (+surroundings), and Liaoning, with Guanghzou to be available soon. And no, you cannot travel from Shanghai to Beijing, you have to stay withing the transit zone that you’ve entered. The second restriction is that the country you came from needs to be different than the country you’re flying to. I flew in from Japan and returned to Germany, so no issue there. If this works as well if you book a flight, say, from Germany via Paris to Shanghai and from Shanghai via Amsterdam back (yes, the famous KLM-AirFrance-Combination with guaranteed luggage loss) needs to be tested. Not by me, thou.
To get my first glimpse of China I decided to have a 4 day layover with Janina and Björn on our way back from Japan. We had a very uncomfortable flight with Spring Airlines from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Shanghai Pudong (PVG), leaving Japan at 1.30 am and arriving in Shanghai around 4 am. Luckily, or maybe not, we were the only plane arriving at this ungodly hour, and as we had lots of time to waste before we could check in we took all the time to walk from the plane to the immigration. There were only 3 counters open, all marked “Chinese nationals”, but the security guard sent us there anyways. All the Chinese passengers already passed immigration and only 1-2 other passengers were behind us. As I reached the counter and handed over my passport I was immediately asked for an immigration card. As I didn’t get one on the plane I had do decline and was sent back to fill out the yellow immigration card. After filling out the usual name, date of birth, passport number, etc, I returned to the counter. I handed over the card and added that I want to enter on the 144 hour transit regulation. Then I got handed a blue immigration card and was sent back yet again to fill out the blue immigration card. The content was virtually the same, except for additional information on departure country and target country. Björn and Janina had the same process. We returned yet again to the counters. Now with all but “hotel phone number” filled out we were confident that they can process our immigration forms. But even the hotel phone number needs to be provided. Luckily the booking.com app had the number available, so we could add the missing information. Obviously the Chinese nationals counter staff was completely lost in processing the 144 hours special case. They called their supervisor who came down and had to assist in entering the data. But this wasn’t enough, so the supervisor collected our passports and then she disappeared in the back and we were told to wait. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Around 10-15 minutes later the supervisor came back and handed each of the immigration officers one passport. Then we were allowed to step forward, have our fingerprints and pictures taken before we could finally enter China.
The take away message here it: coming to China with the 144 hour transit is pretty easy. Just be aware that you should line up behind the “special” immigration counter (a third counter besides Chinese and alien), ask for and fill out the blue immigration form, and make sure to fill out everything, even phone number of hostel. Then don’t hurry and expect to wait for a while, but it will all work out in the end.
Final remark: Currently, information on transit visa can be found here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/tour/visa/free-transit-144-hours.htm