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The FAQ: All You Need To Know About Visa-Free Travel to China

Visa free travel to Shanghai becomes available for more and more countries. Here's what you need to know.
2024-03-19 12:00:00

A few weeks ago China started offering visa free entry to a number of countries. Here's what you need to know about that.

What's the current list of visa-free countries?

As of March 2024 there are 14 countries with visa-free options. Check the list below.

15 Days Visa Free

  • Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Hungary
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg

Ordinary passport holders from the aforementioned countries who come to China for business, tourism, visiting relatives, or transit for no more than 15 days are eligible for visa-free entry.

30 Days Visa Free:

  • Thailand
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore

Holders of ordinary passports from both sides are eligible for visa-free entry into each other's countries for purposes such as tourism, visiting relatives, and conducting private business, with a stay not exceeding 30 days.

Here is a comprehensive list of countries with mutual visa exemptions with China. Refer to it for more information.

What purpose is this good for?

Travel, family visits and business. 'Business' doesn't mean you can work here, but rather trade show visits, business meetings and so on.

If you are coming to China for work, study, interviews, or reporting purposes, you are not eligible for visa-free entry. Also note that you have to enter the country on a Z-Visa to get a work visa.

Can I actually show up at the airport without applying for anything in advance?

Yes, you can just fly to Shanghai and show up with your passport in hand. There's no need to apply for anything beforehand.

The only requirement (besides being from one of those lucky countries) is that you must hold an ordinary passport to enter China (not a temporary passport), with a validity period meeting the requirements for travel in China (means the passport can't expire while you are in China).

A few of our colleagues report that no questions were asked at Pudong Airport (they didn't have to present return tickets or a hotel reservation). But things might change any moment, so it's probably advisable that you bring proof of a hotel reservation or accommodation, return tickets and other relevant travel documents.

Visa free entry is also available for other points of entry (e.g. when you take the ferry from Japan or enter China by train).

Are there any special requirements for minors applying for the visa-free policy in China?

Minors and adults have the same conditions for applying for the visa-free policy in China.

Can I enter China visa-free if I depart from a non-national country?

If you meet the requirements for visa-free entry into China, you can travel to China from any country/region. You don't have to enter from your home country.

Can tour groups qualify for visa-free entry?

Yes. If you meet the requirements for visa-free entry to China, whether you're traveling with a tour group or independently, you can apply for the visa-free policy to enter the country.

Can I extend my 15-days visa-free stay while I'm in Shanghai?

We contacted the Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau hotline regarding that question. The answer we got was that in theory it is possible, but you need to be able to provide a good reason why you have to stay in China. They suggested visiting their location and talking to them.

We went ahead and tried once and got the extension rejected, claiming we didn't provide a good enough reason (we didn't).

Keep in mind that it takes up to 7 days to process the extension, so you'd need to apply in advanced if you want to try.

Am I allowed to work here (e.g. DJs, musicians, consultants) if I get paid outside China?

If you enter China under the visa-free policy, you are not allowed to work in the country. For instance, if a French singer would like to tour in China, they will need to apply for a Z work visa. They will also require some other permits based on your purpose of work, such as the original documents of the commercial cultural performance approval issued by the cultural administrative authority, etc.

Does the 15-days count from the day I enter, or from the next day?

It counts from the date of entry until 24:00 on the 15th day of your stay.

How many times per year can I enter China on those visa-free stays?

Currently, there is no limit on the number of times or total duration of stay under the visa exemption policy. However, you must not engage in activities that are inconsistent with the purpose of your entry (like work for example).

Can I just go to Hong Kong or another city nearby and enter again?

Technically, yes. You can go to Hong Kong, Macau, do the infamous visa run, or another nearby city outside mainland China, but make sure your return date is not the same as your departure date from the mainland.

It's worth noting that some people online suggest that if your total stay in mainland China exceeds 15 days, it's advisable to purchase round-trip tickets to and from abroad. For example, if you're coming from Paris to Shanghai and plan to travel here for a month, with a trip to Hong Kong midway to renew your 15-day visa-free stay, it's best to buy a round-trip ticket from Paris to Hong Kong rather than a round-trip ticket from Paris to Shanghai. Alternatively, showing your ticket for leaving mainland China midway may also suffice. Otherwise, there's a chance you may not be issued a boarding pass.

What areas can be visited? Are there any limitations?

Whether you enter China visa-free or with a visa, you can generally travel anywhere in mainland China. However, some hotels may not accept foreign tourists, so check before making reservations. If you plan to visit Xinjiang, you'll need to visit the local police station to get a 边防证 (People's Republic of China Exit and Entry Permit). For travel to Tibet, in addition to the Exit and Entry Permit, you'll also need a 入藏函 (Tibet Travel Permit). Contact a qualified Tibet travel agency to get this permit, and travel to Tibet is only permitted in tourist groups for foreigners.

What's the deal with Transit Visa?

Since 2023, citizens from 54 countries are eligible for a 144 hour on-arrival visa for those transiting through a Chinese airport or port. There are certain limitations to how far you can go, for example, in the case of Shanghai, you can only visit the neighboring provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. You must have a connecting flight ticket or relevant documentation, indicating your departure within 144 hours to a third country or region. You must fill out the Arrival Card for Temporary Entry of Foreigners and then head to the Transit Visa Counter.

Here's the list:

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, Monaco, Russia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Belarus, Norway, United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vatican, United Arab Emirates, Qatar.

Note that Changsha, Harbin, and Guilin only offer a 72h transit Visa.

What about visa-free entry to Hainan?

Hainan has started its own Visa-free entry system since February 2024.

Ordinary passport holders from 59 countries are eligible to enter China through any open port in Hainan. But you'll have to stay within the administrative area of Hainan Province, and the duration of your stay can't exceed 30 days. Here's a list of the included visa-free program for Hainan:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.