Getting a visa for China is neither cheap nor easy for many people. That is one reason why it can be attractive to think about using a “transit without visa” to visit China and making the most of what it allows you.
Get as Many Days As You Can
The time allowed for transit without visa is different in different cities. Some allow 24 or 72 hours, but some allow 144 hours, which is six days. These are Shanghai (with Jiangsu and Zhejiang), and Guangdong province. Cities such as Beijing, by contrast, allow only half as long: 72 hours.
Note that different cities interpret the time period differently – in some it is counted in hours from arrival, in others it is basically counted in days, starting only at midnight at the end of the day of arrival. So, in some cities even a 72 hour visa could stretch to almost four days depending upon the timing of your flights.
Explore a Wider Area
We previously posted the rules on Chinese transit visas.
Transit visas in some cities limit you to that city. For example, in Beijing, Chongqing, Harbin, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, and Tianjin you cannot leave the administrative area of the transit city.
For some entry points, however, the transit visa covers an extended area. Passengers transiting in Guangzhou, Chengdu, Qingdao, or Changsha are allowed to travel in the whole province. Most notably, if you transit in Shanghai, Zhejiang, or Jiangsu you can move around all three places, which is a big swathe of eastern China.
We previously set out in our post Getting into China without a visa the possible implications if you violate the condition of your visa, for example by travelling further than it permits.
Consider Leaving and Returning
You’ll need to be travelling onto a third country to be eligible for transit without visa, as we explained in this post. As that is so, consider an itinerary where you leave and re-enter China, allowing you two separate transits without visa on one trip. For example, if you are coming from Sydney, you could fly from Sydney to Shanghai, stay up to 144 hours, then fly from Shanghai to a third country such as Taipei, then fly from there back to China, for example Guangzhou, and then get another 144 hours transit without visa before flying from Guangzhou back to Sydney.
For many visitors, the China transit without visa can offer a more cost effective and easier way to spend some time in China than getting a full visa, but it does restrict the scope of travel. Bear in mind that China frequently changes its visa rules without notice and sometimes with little obvious consistency. That said, the trend for transit without visas has been to extend rather than contract their availability.