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China: 72-hour visa-free transit

Apr 30 2017 | admin


72-hour visa-free transit 

If you meet the criteria, you can transit for up to 72 hours in selected cities without a Chinese visa. You can visit the city at your leisure and book a hotel, etc. Unlike the 24-hour exemption, this one has more stringent criteria.


This longer TWOV exemption is available when transiting in the following cities in China: Beijing (PEK), Chengdu (CTU), Chongqing (CKG), Dalian (DLC), Guangzhou (CAN). Guilin (KWL),  Qingdao (TAO); Shenyang (SHE); Tianjin (TSN); Xiamen (XMN) and Xi'An (XIY). Wuhan (WUH), Harbin (HRB) and Kunming (KWL). 


The conditions are the following:


- You must be in transit to a third country (you may not return to the same country as the one that you came from);


- Your transit time is no more than 72 hours


- You have confirmed plane tickets to a third country (for immigration purposes, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not considered part of China).  Flights between mainland China and any of these places are considered International and they are deemed to be different countries;


- You enter the country through one of the eligible airports listed above. 


- You will leave the country by departing from the airport in the same city that you arrived in (for Shanghai you can arrive at one airport and leave from the other);


- The inbound and outbound flights can be with different airlines. They can also be on different tickets; 


- Your inbound and outbound flights must not transit through any other Chinese airports on their way to/from one of the above airports (see below examples of what is not acceptable); 


- You cannot leave the city/municipality to go to another Chinese city during the 72 hours (except in Guangzhou where you are permitted to travel anywhere in the Guangdong province);


- You must hold a passport of one of the 51 approved countries: 


Twenty four European Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland;

Thirteen other European countries: Russia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia (FYROM), and Albania;


Six American countries: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile;


Two Oceania countries: Australia, and New Zealand;


Six Asian countries: Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.










There are no restrictions regarding the number of times that a traveler may transit without visa provided that he meets the qualifying criteria for either the standard 24hr period or the special 72 and 144hr period.There are also no restrictions concerning which airlines a traveler may use for each separate leg of their journey. There is no requirement to apply for transit without visa in advance of initial check-in.  Note, however, that you must satisfy your carrier that you do meet the relevant qualifying criteria in order to be permitted to board the first leg of your journey. This essentially means having your onward travel documents to hand, which you will need in any case at Immigration in China. You must also, if needed, have obtained any visa for your onward destination. Inform your carrier of your intent to use TWOV at check-in.


Make sure that you have a printed copy of all your flight tickets or other receipts of passage/boarding passes or stubs. Note that, for some cities mentioned above, the 72 hours (like the standard 24 hours permitted) are calculated based on your flights' scheduled arrival and departure times and not the actual arrival or departure times nor the times when you show up at immigration (or even, as someone actually fretted about, when you enter the air-space controlled by China). However, as indicated above, the 72-hour TWOV is calculated from midnight following arrival for some cities. 


Confusion has arisen because travellers have reported that their passports are not time-stamped when transiting without visa, regardless of which airport it is that they have arrived at. The stamp in the passport just shows the calendar date that you are permitted to stay up until (and including). This in itself has no bearing upon how long you can actually be in transit for and should not be considered when booking your flights. 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, 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. The concept of force majeure allows travellers to remain without penalty, though a fee may be levied to issue a visa. There have been no reports in the China forums of this happening.


After getting off the plane you will head for 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. This is especially important if you have an unused visa that you wish to use at a later date. Don't assume it won't be stamped by mistake and invalidated for future use. Your passport should be stamped with a different stamp than if you have a regular visa. Similarly, in the case of those seeking to use the standard 24hr TWOV, don't assume that the immigration officer will know that you want to leave the airport if you arrive waving boarding passes for an onward flight departing in a few hours. The natural assumption would be that you've gone to the wrong place and you will be pointed to the transfer counters so you can go and wait for your next flight. Travellers have reported being "denied" transit privileges where this would seem to be the most logical explanation. There is no automatic right to leave the airport under the standard 24hr TWOV rule - you must apply at passport control with all your documents to hand. It is implicit in the special 72 and 144hr TWOV, however, that the passenger will leave the airport and therefore it should merely be a formality to have your documents checked. 


After clearing immigration, you then pick up your luggage and head to the taxi line or subway. If you are staying more than 24 hours (essentially overnight) you must register with the local police within 24 hrs of arrival (in an urban area). If you are staying in a hotel or other commercial lodging they will automatically register you as part of the check-in procedure. If you are staying elsewhere, e.g. with friends or family, then you must do this yourself with the help of your hosts. 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.

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