If you are planning a vacation that has a layover in China or that requires a stop in certain regions, you may be able to enjoy a short stay.
The 72-Hour Visa Free Transit policy is available for individuals who hold a passport from 51 different countries and allows these passengers to stay in certain cities for 72 hours or less while in direct transit. This complete guide will tell you everything you need to know about this special visa.
Read this article carefully and speak with your local Chinese consulate before assuming you can use the 72-hour visa. Most of the time this is a great option to take advantage of. Other times – like one which I’ll go into detail below – it can be a nightmare if you do it wrong. Don’t do it wrong.
Which Chinese Cities Offer the 72-Hour Visa?
There are currently fifteen cities in China where travelers can take advantage of the 72-hour transit visa policy. The cities include:
Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shenyang, Harbin, Xian, Dalian, Kunming, Guilin, Xiamen, Wuhan, Hangzhou, and Tianjin.
There are additional Chinese cities that are in the process of implementing the 72-hour transit visa (such as Urumqi in the Xinjiang region), but don’t do so at this time. This article will be kept up-to-date to reflect any additional cities added to the above list.
Which Countries Qualify?
Not every single country passport is eligible for China’s 72-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: 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.
If your country is not listed above, you should contact your local Chinese embassy to find out what provisions they have for you in regards to the 72-hour transit visa. It never hurts to ask!
Which Documents are Required for China’s 72 hour visa?
Although there is no application that you need to fill out and submit prior to landing in one of China’s 72-hour visa ports, you will need to have the following with you:
- A valid passport: Of course! You’ll have that with you anyway to board your flight.
- An Arrival/Departure Card that is complete including nationality, name, flight number, passport number, place of issuance, visa number, date of birth, gender, and purpose of visit. You can get this at the airport counter.
- A visa for a third region or country if required. If your country of destination doesn’t require a visa, you can ignore this.
- A ticket with a confirmed seat number for the next flight that leaves within 72 hours (see “Prerequisites” below for more details). This is important. They want to know that you are already booked to leave within the required time period.
Looking for a traditional Chinese visa? Check out our Complete Guide to Chinese Visas
Prerequisites for 72 hour Visa Application
There are a few very important things to note before attempting to take advantage of China’s 72-hour transit visa.
- To take advantage of the 72-hour visa an individual must have proof of a confirmed seat on an onward flight as well as a visa for a third destination if it’s required. The 72 hours doesn’t actually start until 12:00 A.M. the day after arriving in a city that holds the policy. For example, if a person arrived in Shanghai on October 4th at 9:00 P.M., they would be required to leave by 11:59 P.M. on October 7th. It is recommended that passengers stick closely to the 72 hours although there may be circumstances that allow for an extra hour or two in the airport.
- When passengers are traveling to or from one of the fifteen cities with the 72-Hour Visa Free Transit policy, they are unable to stop in any other Chinese cities*. The only cities that are an exception to this rule are Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau as they are considered third regions. For example, if your next flight went from Shanghai to Beijing, you would not be able to take advantage of the 72 hour visa while passengers traveling from Shanghai to Macau would be able to stay in Shanghai with the 72-hour visa.
- An airplane is the only mode of transportation that enables a person to use a 72-hour visa.
- It is required that passengers leave from the same airport they arrived at. The only exception to this rule is Shanghai, which allows you to leave from either Pudong Airport or Hongqiao.
*VERY IMPORTANT*: A recent nightmare travel experience highlights the need to make sure that you’re not stopping in any other Chinese cities when trying to take advantage of China’s 72-hour transit visa.
Two travelers were traveling from Turkey to Beijing, planning to take advantage of Beijing’s 72-hour visa policy. They didn’t realize that their flight stopped in Urumqi on the way to Beijing, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region. Travelers disembarked the plane and had to go through Urumqi customs before continuing on to Beijing.
These two travelers, who didn’t have a Chinese visa in their passport, were held at the Urumqi airport and later a detention center since they didn’t have the right paperwork.
I’ve only heard of this happening once, but it does drive home the point that you need to check your plans carefully instead of just assuming that you can take advantage of the 72-hour visa.
What is the Procedure to Get the Visa?
Once you arrive at one of the 15 cities mentioned above, the process of obtaining your 72-hour visa is quite simple. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should expect:
- When checking in at your departure airport, let the airline know you wish to take advantage of the 72-hour permit. The airline will then pass on your request to customs before you land. If you will be transitioning at the Beijing Capital International Airport, you can apply for the transit permit after arriving.
- An Arrival/Departure Card must be filled out on your flight. Flight attendants will usually pass these out within an hour before landing.
- After landing, get your luggage and visit customs. There are special lanes specifically for 72-hour permits that should be clearly marked in the customs area. At this time, an immigrations officer should approve your request for a 72-hour transit free permit. They will stamp your passport and write down the approved length of time you can stay.
- Passengers are required to register with the local police station within 24 hours of arriving if they wish to stay longer than 24 hours. If you are staying with friends or family they must accompany you to the police station and check-in in person. If you are staying in a China hotel or hostel they will register for you.
- You must stay in your transit city for the duration of your visit unless you are in Hangzhou or Guangzhou. If you obtain your transit permit in Hangzhou or Guangzhou you are able to travel throughout the province.
- If you are unable to leave within 72 hours due to flight cancellations or medical emergencies, you will have to visit the Municipal Public Security Bureau and apply for a visa.
The airports offer a variety of services for those with a 72-hour transit permit. Passengers can exchange money, rent cars and cellphones, and store their luggage. Tour buses are available for sightseeing as well as transportation to hotels.
If while planning your trip you decide that you would like to spend more than 72 hours in China or visit other places throughout the country, we highly recommend you read through our list of the best China visa services to help you obtain a China visa quickly and easily:
Conclusion: China’s 72-Hour Transit Visa
China’s 72-Hour visas are a great option for individuals who desire to visit China without having to apply for an extended visa (for more information on this, see our guide to applying for a Chinese Visa). The guidelines are fairly straightforward and painless as long as one plans ahead and provides the required documents.
Other Helpful Guides from TravelChinaCheaper.com: