Please note: This blog post has not bee updated since Feb. 2017. For updated information, one helpful source is the Shanghai government’s Interpretation of the 144-Hour Visa-Exemption Transit Policy (May 2, 2018).
China’s transit without visa (TWOV) programs allow a traveler arriving at certain ports of entry to be admitted to China and stay within a specified geographic area for 72 or 144 hours visa-free before continuing their journey to a third country (or region).
Designated Ports of Entry
The transit without visa programs are only in effect at ports of entry designated by the State Council.
Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang Policy: 144 Hours
- Designated ports: Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) and Hongqiao Airport (SHA), Shanghai sea ports (i.e, Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, Wusong Passenger Transport Center), Shanghai rail ports; Nanjing Lukou Airport (NKG); Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport (HGH).
- Specified geographic area: Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu Province, and Zhejiang Province
- Effective date: Jan. 30, 2016
Other Cities: 72 Hours
At other cities besides Shanghai/Jiangsu/Zhejiang, the only designated ports of entry are specified international airports:
|Designated international airport||Airport Code||Specified geographic area||Effective date|
|Beijing||PEK||Beijing municipality||Jan. 2013|
|Changsha||CSX||Hunan province||Jan. 1, 2016|
|Chengdu||CTU||Chengdu municipality||Sept. 2013|
|Chongqing||CKG||Chongqing municipality||Nov. 2013|
|Dalian||DLC||Dalian municipality||Jan. 1, 2014|
|Guangzhou||CAN||Guangdong province||Aug. 2013|
|Guilin||KWL||Guilin municipality||July 28, 2014|
|Kunming||KMG||Kunming municipality||Oct. 1, 2014|
|Shenyang||SHE||Shenyang municipality||Jan. 1, 2014|
|Tianjin||TSN||Tianjin municipality||June 8, 2015|
|Wuhan||WUH||Wuhan municipality||May 1, 2015|
|Xiamen||XMN||Fujian province||Apr. 1, 2015|
|Xian||XIY||Xian municipality||June 1, 2014|
See also the city list on Timatic (links below).
1. Passport (or other international travel document) must be issued by a listed country:
- Europe–Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
- Europe–Other countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Great Britain, Ireland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine.
- Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and United States.
- Oceania: Australia and New Zealand.
- Asia: Brunei, Japan, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, and United Arab Emirates.
2. Traveler must be arriving at a designated port of entry to China.
3. Traveler must have a ticket proving onward travel to a “third country or region” (not the originating country and not in Mainland China) with a confirmed date and seat within the time limit. The arriving and departing tickets may be on different airlines. For the 72-hour program, the onward flight must leave from the same city where you arrived. For the 144-hour program, the onward transportation may be from any of the designated ports in Shanghai, Nanjing Lukou Airport, or Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport. If required, you must also possess a visa for the third country or region.
- The term “region” here is a term of art which refers to disputed states (e.g., Taiwan) and subnational entities (e.g., Hong Kong and Macau). So, for example, New York -> Beijing -> Hong Kong would qualify. (But note that New York -> Beijing -> Guam does not qualify, per Timatic).
- Note that the third country or region must not be the originating country. For example, New York -> Beijing -> New York does not qualify, but New York -> Beijing -> Tokyo -> New York does qualify.
- Duration of stop in third country is irrelevant (e.g., LAX ->PVG -> NRT -> LAX is OK, even if NRT stop is for only a few hours).
- Your departing transportation must not make a further stop in China, even if you are not required to change planes. For example, Beijing -> Kunming -> Hanoi doesn’t qualify.
4. That onward flight must be scheduled to depart within the time limit. How are the 72 or 144 hours counted? Per Timatic:
- PEK, KWL, HRB, KMG, and SHE count the 72 hours between scheduled arrival and scheduled departure.
- Other cities count the 72 hours starting from 0:01 on the day following entry (when the visa waiver is granted).
5. You must not depart the specified geographic area for which the visa waiver is approved. (See above).
How to Request Entry Under the Transit without Visa Programs
Upon arrival, request entry under the TWOV program from the immigration inspector in the airport or other port. In some ports, there are special immigration inspection lanes for the program.
Extending One’s Stay or Leaving the Specified Geographic Area
The traveler may apply to the local pubic security bureau (PSB) exit-entry administration department for an extension or to leave the specified geographic area.
When you are checking in and boarding your plane at a foreign airport, the airlines personnel routinely check passengers visas. They may be unfamiliar with the transit visa waiver program. Bring a printout from Timatic to show you qualify for the waiver.
Upon arrival in China, make sure you have available to show immigration authorities a printed itinerary for your departing flight or other transportation showing it has already been ticketed.
What’s the Policy Behind the TWOV Program?
A transit visa allows its holder to pass through a country en route to a final destination outside its borders. Some countries require transit visas even for passengers that will catch a connecting flight without exiting the airport through passport control. For example, the U.S., UK, and France all require transit visas and also may waive the visa requirement in certain situations.
China’s State Council has authorized the TWOV program at selected ports as a way to promote international travel through its ports and give a boost to local industries serving travelers for business and pleasure. Think of a transit visa waiver as a modern analogy to the oasis that allowed Turpan to become a commercial hub on the silk road, or the free bathroom that attracts travelers to fast food restaurants along the highway.
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has issued Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Concerning 72-Hour Transit Visa Exemption for Foreign Nationals.
MPS has also issued an announcement about the 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy for Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang.
Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection, Interpretation of 144-hour Visa-exemption Transit Policy
What do you think? Feel free to add your questions or describe your experiences in the “comments” area below.