Beijing has joined a host of other popular Chinese cities and regions offering visitors transiting China to a third country the ability to stay and visit for up to 144 hours visa-free, doubling the time previously allowed as part of an expanding tourism-friendly program.
Nationals from 53 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are now permitted to travel visa-free in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, when they hold required documentation and have purchased tickets with a fixed date to depart to a third country or region within 144 hours.
Prior to last Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, Beijing restricted visa-free stays to 72 hours, and for entry only through airports. The new policy, which was announced this summer but received little attention, not only doubles the time a traveler can stay visa-free, but also allows entry through train terminals and seaports.
The 72-hour stay visa-free policy has been allowed by Beijing since 2013, and according to the Chinese government, was used on more than 26,300 passenger trips, up 32 percent from 2015. A large portion of these transiting travelers said 72 hours was not enough time to tour the city and region, initiating the policy change.
“The new policy extends the visa-free stay for travelers who want to visit the three regions, allowing foreigners sufficient time for a short visit for travel, business meetings or visiting friends and family. It will boost the tourism industry," said Zhu Lei, deputy head of Beijing's port of entry office, in news reports in Asia.
One travel website, reporting on the change at the end of July of last year, predicted that tourism companies are likely to build new “arrival-to-departure” tours to accommodate transiting passengers heading to other countries in the region.
The city of Shanghai and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces began a 144-hour visa-free entry for visitors from 51 countries and regions starting in 2016.
News and details about the policy are scarce and often misleading on the internet. For example, there is no news about the policy on the Chinese Embassy’s web page specifically detailing visa information, and only news stories from other Asian nations impacted by the changes are currently appearing in web searches.
Even on Trip Advisor, where an extensive description of the 144-hour policy is listed for travelers flying in and out of Hangzhou, Shanghai Hongqiao, Shanghai Pudong and Nanjing, there is no updated information about Beijing.
Trip Advisor stated that at immigration, “Look for a counter that says ‘Transit visa exemption’ or ‘Special Lane’ or something like this. Fill in the Arrival & Departure Card form distributed on the plane. If you misplaced it or did not get one, there will be a bench next to the desk with these cards. Show your tickets and passport. Tell the immigration officer that you wish to transit without visa.
“Your passport should be stamped with a different stamp than if you have a regular visa,” the website advises, adding that travelers should make certain they have printed copies of all “flight tickets or other receipts of passage/boarding passes or stubs.”
No allowances for early or delayed flights
It also says: “You must ensure that your scheduled arrival and departure fit within the prescribed time limits, otherwise your carrier can and will refuse to convey you. It does not matter if your flight arrives ahead of schedule and you gain a little extra time, nor does it matter if it's late (you won't get any extra time to make up for it).”
Similarly, Trip Advisor said, “it does not matter if your onward flight is delayed and effectively takes you over your time limit. However, if your onward flight is rescheduled for a later time once your trip is already underway you may be required to apply for an additional stay permit or visa,” though a fee may be levied to issue a visa. Trip Advisor said there have been no reports in the China forums of this happening.
Trip Advisor stated that hotels will register travelers staying more than 24 hours with the local police, but anyone staying with friends, family or others, “must register with the local police within 24 hours of arrival (in an urban area). Registration needs to be done at whichever local police station holds jurisdiction over the household where you are staying. Registration is free of charge. You must take your passport with you and your host must provide their identity document(s). Travelers who were unaware of this procedure and did not register with the local police station have reported being temporarily detained and questioned when leaving the country.”