Yesterday I saw a news release stating that Beijing may allow 72 hours visa free visits.
Shanghai currently allows a 48 hour visa-free transit for passengers coming from outside China to another country via Shanghai. I took advantage of this twice last year flying from HKG to the USA. This is a good opportunity to visit friends or check out the city enroute from HKG to Japan, Korea, Europe, or the US for example.
Here is the official text
1. Visas are not required of aliens who hold air tickets to the final destination and have booked seats on international airliners flying directly through China, and will stay in a transit city for less than 24 hours without leaving the airport.
2. Visas are not required of passport holders of the following countries, who transit through Pudong Airport or Hongqiao Airport of Shanghai, provided they hold valid passports, visas for the onward countries, final destination tickets and have booked seats, and stay in Shanghai for less than 48 hours : Republic of Korea, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland.
Officially at other airports in China (not Shanghai) you get a 24 hour visa, and are supposed to stay at the airport. However, China has no international to international airport formalities except at Beijing so I can’t see how they’d enforce that. There are some international flights from Kunming to SE Asia for example where this can be useful.
Going back to the process at PVG…you still need to complete the arrival forms, and just mark “transit”. Upon reaching the immigration agent, she will ask for a print out of your next itinerary out of China within 48 hours; make sure this has your FULL NAME and E-TICKET number. Then they’ll guide you to the center desk where they’ll stamp your passport with a transit visa which will take up almost a whole page and let you on your way. (Keep in mind you can be on separate tickets, so I always wondered if you can just buy a refundable ticket and not use it. I know this is how many mainlanders enter Hong Kong.)