How we got into China without a visa last night

We are currently at the Waldorf-Astoria in Beijing on the last leg of our Asian holiday.

If you have been to China in recent years, you will know that the visa situation can be expensive and time consuming, especially if you don’t have easy access to a good agency.

We are currently in Beijing for a grand total of 36 hours.  This was partly due to necessity – it was easy to get 4 seats on British Airways for Avios out of Beijing but impossible from Tokyo in peak season where we were – and partly because my wife wanted to see a friend who is working here.

You no longer need a visa for most major Chinese cities if you are in transit.  ‘Transit’ is defined as ‘arriving from one country and leaving to another’ so you cannot use it for a brief visit to China from the UK and then head home.

It is perfectly fine to do what we did – Tokyo to Beijing to London.

You MUST take the transit visa in the first Chinese city that you touch on your routing.  If, for example, you had booked Tokyo – Beijing (change of plane, not leaving the airport) – Shanghai, you CANNOT get a 72 hour visa for Shanghai.  It must be done in Beijing or not at all.

China transit visa

You do NOT need to book both flights on the same ticket.  They do not even need to be on the same airline.  All that matters is that you can provide a copy of your eticket at immigration.

The time period varies by city – for Beijing you can have up to 72 hours.  You cannot leave Beijing during this period.

It was, to be honest, a slow process.  Only one line was handling the 72-hour transit visas.  When we reached the front, we had to fill out an additional form on the spot (this form is needed if you are staying for 24+ hours) and our passports were then taken away for 20 minutes while we hung around.  Once returned, we were allowed in.

It was a frustrating wait – about 75 minutes in total.  All the passengers with visas were through immigration long before us.  We got there in the end though.

PS.  We paid the Waldorf-Astoria £150 to pick us up and, as usual in Asia, it was money well spent.  We were met at the airbridge and walked to immigration.  The rep waited for 75 minutes whist we were processed.  When we eventually got to baggage reclaim, our bags had been removed from the belt but he knew where to find them.  Even better, he then took us out of Beijing Airport via the VIP side exit where our car was waiting for us.  The driver contacted the hotel as we approached and a welcome party was waiting at the front door and escorted us directly to our rooms where we were checked in.  All very easy indeed.  Mini review of the hotel to follow in a week or so.

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  1. We did the same China/Japan/China trip over the last two weeks.

    I have had the same experience as you at both Terminal 2 (where there is no special line, but does have signs on the floor telling you where to go and Terminal 3 with the special desk in the last couple of weeks. Both times had a long wait where passports and e-ticket taken off by someone and return after a while. Fill in the extra forms and eventually made it through. Both times we were the last people left in immigration and bags taken off the carousel. Probably about 90 minutes to get through each time with the queue and extra’s checks. Terminal 2 really didn’t seem to know what to do and they are so slow in doing the process. No rushing are just chatting sometimes and disappear for ages.

    What I don’t understand is most people in the 72 hour queue (mainly American’s seem to get straight through without the extra’s checks), whilst a few people get the extra checks mostly British (and we had it twice).

    The second time meant the underground was closed (it closes really early at 10:30), after getting the airport express, and had to get a taxi. I think I got away lightly at 100 RMB with some help from the hotel…. (after he started at 240 and I got him down to 180, found out it should have been about 30).

    Also very nearly got bumped off the Hainan airlines flight this morning due to cancelled flights the day before, if we didn’t make the flight the next Hainan flight would have taken us over 72 hours so don’t know what would happen then! Very happy to be home now. Beijing is a on odd place, no traffic rules have to look everywhere to not get run over as nobody takes any notice of traffic rules. Taxi drivers are crazy. So many people looking to rip of tourists from rickshaws, taxi, random people coming up to on the streets etc. Beijing was worth if for the Forbidden city, Tianamen square, Olympic park and the Great wall. However is generally cheap (apart from branded western goods like Lego/Electronics etc. Attractions and tube are really cheap. I don’t feel the need to go back.

    The Renaissance Wangfujing however was amazing, upgraded to Club Level Forbidden city view room with lounge access. With two double beds so was big enough for family of 4, allowed free access to lounge for children of 13 and 10. Early check in at 9am (so made breakfast) and late checkout at 4pm (getting afternoon tea). Full breakfast in the morning and full dinner and drinks in the evening. Great location to walk to the sites and amazing spa and biggest indoor hotel pool I have seen. All for only 15K Marriott points and my Gold status from SPG match (from Amex Plat card). Now increased to 20K since I booked.

    • Good reports all, makes us not really want to visit China. Even tho there is always availability for F 241 to/from Shanghai and Beijing . Would love to see Great Wall etc but it can wait. Think will stick to se Asia, Bali etc.. Watching current events closely…great trip tho for the kids Rob…

      • James67 says:

        The biggest problem I find Polly is that most of the tours including those organised by independent guides are a rip off. Not only that, we have found it difficult to get guides in China to listen to and respect our wishes. For example, we like to experience local transport systens and walk a lot. Never been a problem to arrange anyplace else except China, they seem incapable of listening or more likely just don’t want to do so because in my exoerience they want to control everything and squeeze every last dollar out of their customers. We were planning quite a comprehensive and potentially very exciting tour but in the end abandoned it because just trying to arrange it became so frustrating and stressful. I have a passion for independent travel but I believe a package tour organised by an external agency outside might be the best option for China.

        • All the stuff around Beijing city is very easy to do by yourself. The underground is very good and very cheap (2 RMB – 20p single). The main sites are walkable in the centre of Beijing. Also it seemed safe walking around, we walked around a lot in the day and evening and there are mainly tourists mostly American, and other European’s etc walking around. Not that many Brits. The hassling is easy to ignore and a polite no and they don’t persist too much.

          The tricky one is getting to the Great wall. It can be done by bus cheaply and fairly easily. It we went without children I would have done it. However we arranged a taxi through the hotel in the end for about £70 as was cheaper than the tours for 4. So we knew we would get a reliable driver. We did have him for around 8 hours due to awful traffic as it was a Chinese holiday. However he drove like a mentalist before of the traffic. Right up the back up of other cars, using the hard shoulder to undertake on the motorways and the middle seatbelt didn’t work where my daughter was sitting in…. I think it would have made a good F1 driver with his fast reactions.

          Also a lot of the cheaper tours end up in Jade factories/tombs etc trying to sell you stuff and waste Great wall time.

        • Also you can get the train to Badaling Great but it busiest section with tours and would need to be there early out of session to make the most of it.

        • James67 says:

          Thanks JP, our issues were not in Beijing.but rather in trying to organise a tour including X’ian, Shaolin and Guilin amongst others. On reflection I might have been a little unfair to the guides, perhaps everything is just so tightly regulated there that it is difficult for them to acommodate requests to highly personalise itineraries. In some ways it reminded me of my visits to Russia and Estonua in the last days of the USSR except that there everything cost peanuts whilst your average Chinese tours guide’s embrace of capitalism is enough to make the Wall Street Bull blush.

        • Thanks James, and all, great to read different experiences here. Boy, is this blog a mine of information. So many China experts on here! But yes, like you we are also independent travellers,,but good thinking. A tour from outside China might be the way to go. At least to the wall. The city sounds ok we can walk around etc. It’s a big trip to plan, so a while away yet. That and AKL. Have to get HNL out of the way first, and get rid of our AA miles.

        • James67 says:

          Polly, Genghis introduced me to Intrepid tour company. It looks very good and might appeal to you too. You can get x3 clubcard return on them too. Enjoy Hawaii

        • Genghis says:

          For the Great Wall, we went to Jinshaling as part of a sun set tour. Great location and perhaps our best memory of China but if I were to do it again I’d take a private car.

        • Genghis says:

          And there weren’t that many people there

        • Ghenghis/James, did you use Intrepid in country once you had booked independently. We would be using our 241 in F as there always appear to be seats. But am sure we can book that particular tour from the uk before we leave…. I actually get emails from intrepid, love their stuff.

        • Genghis says:

          @Polly. I’ve not used Intrepid yet. Booked them for Feb 18 (from UK) for a Kruger tour in RSA paid using Tesco cc vouchers. I booked other travel independently. Seemless so far. I’d have loved to have spent a couple of days at Sanbona / Shamwari but couldn’t justify the £1k / night.

  2. We got through Beijing very quickly with the visa on arrival. We had flown into Hong Kong and out if Beijing and paid very little for a single fare to go between the airports via the Philippines we had a beach holiday. There were no signs for visa on arrival and we were advised to go to the passenger assistance exit area.

    • I think it you are under 24 hours in Beijing or have a proper visa is it easier. It also looked like it was easier for people who have the tickets for the next flight issues on the proper card ticket (like a one ticketed flight with the same carrier with a long layover, and not two different airlines like I and Rob did. As I only has a print out and wasn’t checked in yet (as JAL you can only do it 24 hours later), and for Hainan they said my ticket was the wrong status (but I think that might have been Hainan’s fault, as it was free ticket I got from them).

      I think they when off to an office to either call the airline staff to check or look it up on the computer. The was no real problem if was just very slow and will not tell you what they are doing so are just left hanging around for quite a while, then you get a extra 72 form to fill in which is not given out by the airlines or near the desks. You have to wait until they have worked out you are ok to go through. Being China you start to think the worst when left at immigration for a long time!

  3. We did the same Japan via China route last September though we paid for visas as we wanted a little more time to explore Beijing and China.
    Completely agree with transfers being worth the cost – we were met straight off the plane/train for our transfers in Beijing/Shanghai respectively and it makes such a difference in an unfamiliar country.The WA in Shanghai event went as far as putting an ipad in the car and face-timed us from our soon-to-be room to show us around!
    We also got checked in at 9am – well before the stated time. Not sure how much of that was due to diamond status or due to booking the transfer.

  4. bob butts says:

    It’s easier these days as the Chinese give out 2 year multiple visas to UK passport holders, rather than the standard 30 day version they they used to.l

    • Genghis says:

      True. But prices have shot up to compensate. When I first looked into going to China, perhaps 10 years ago when I was in Japan, I’m sure a visa cost c.£30

      • I’m fairly certain you can go to the consulate in Hong Kong and get a single entry visa for around £35. I’ve not tried it (planning to this year though) but numerous blog posts describe it as being possible. Not much use if you don’t want to go via Hong Kong though obviously!

  5. Jon Arnold says:

    I stopped off in Shanghai last November and stayed 4 nights using their 144 hour transit visa. All pretty straightforward. There’s a separate booth for transit visas on arrival at Pudong and there was no queue when I got there (mid afternoon), and though it took about 5 mins for them to check my passport and flights only one person was behind me when I was done. Considering the cost of a Chinese visa for Brits these days (and the faff of applying) this is a great option. In fact I deliberately added on a flight to Seoul just to take advantage of this transit visa!