China transit visa process is simple!
On a recent trip to Europe I flew Air China with a 20 hour layover at Shanghai International airport. I decided to apply for a 144-hour visa-free transit. I have seen and heard about a lot of people who claimed to have had a terrible experience. Because of this I was prepared for the worst and did a LOT of extra research. Having now done the visa-free transit twice and both times it was seamless!
Points to check before planning a flight through China and considering a visa-free transit
- You must confirm your eligibility by having a valid passport from an approved country. These include
- 24 Schengen countries in Europe. Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
- 15 other European countries. Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, UK, and Ukraine.
- Six countries in North and South America. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and US.
- Two Oceanic countries. Australia and New Zealand.
- Six Asian countries. Brunei, Japan, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, and UAE.
- You must have a minimum of six (6) months validity on your passport.
- Most importantly, to be exempted from a visa you must be transiting and continuing onto a third country. In my case I was flying Melbourne to Shanghai, and then to Barcelona. If you’re just planning on flying Melbourne to Shanghai, then back to Melbourne you will be denied entry. This would not meet the visa-free transit conditions.
Once you have arrived in the People’s republic of China, you must go through a mandatory foreign fingerprint self-collection area.
After you’ve completed the above steps, follow the international airport signs to “foreign visas on arrival”. There you will find a blue arrival document. You will need fill this in prior to proceeding to the counter for approval to enter the people’s republic of China.
Both occasions the immigration officers requested to see proof on an onward flight. They accept either the onward ticket or proof of flight reservation as well as a printed copy of my hotel booking.
After completing this process, you are free to collect your luggage. You are now free to enjoy your approved transit in china for only the permitted time, 24 hours, 72 hours or 144 hours.
Bonus tips! (because it better to be over prepared)
- Firstly, it’s free! So you don’t have to pay anyone for it.
- Tell the check in counter at the country of origin that you will be intending to apply for the transit visa-free transit before departing.
- You must not go beyond the province of arrival in China.
- You must have an onwards ticket that is leaving from the same province. For example, you cannot have a ticket scheduled to arrive in Shanghai and leaving in Beijing (your entry will be denied).
- You will be required to collect your luggage, no need for concern because most airports in China have short term, secure luggage storage facilities.
- You must register with the local police on arrival. If you have booked a transit hotel, they will register on your behalf and you shouldn’t need to do anything more.
Please note, not everyone in the People’s republic of China speaks fluent English. We found getting directions to places surrounding the airport difficult at times. Even trying to find our shuttle bus to the transit hotel was challenging! If you are planning on getting a taxi to a hotel or onwards location, we suggest having the hotel details translated to Chinese. Many international airport taxies don’t speak/read English (from personal experience).