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How we got into China without a visa last night

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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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Comments (87)

  • Flyoff says:

    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.

    • JP says:

      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!

  • Nadeshka says:

    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.

  • 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

      • Callum says:

        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!

  • 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!