China has a few different visa-free transit schemes, also known as transit without visa (TWOV.) Different cities allow 24-, 72- or 144-hour transit without visa depending on specific circumstances. Here we outline the essentials. China changes its rules quite often, so to help fellow travellers please post your own experiences in the comments section below if they help elucidate TWOV, or changes from what is written here.
TWOV allows passengers from 53 countries or regions to transit in select cities or provinces for no more than 144 hours (6 days) or 72 hours (3 days) without holding a visa. Note you must be coming from and leaving to a different country, to be eligible. For these purposes, Hong Kong Kong and Macau count as different countries. Details further below.
Mode of Arrival Matters
The mode of transport from which you travel out of China is not relevant to transit without visa – plane, ship and train are all fine. But the mode by which you arrive does make a difference. 72-hour and 144-hour TWOV is generally only available for those arriving by air. If you arrive by train or ship, you may be restricted to a 24-hour transit period.
144 Hour TWOV
The 144-hour visa-free transit policy is valid for entry points in Beijing, Chengdu, Dalian, Hebei province, Jiangsu province, Kunming, Shanghai, Shenyang, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen and Zhejiang province,.
72 hour TWOV
72 transit without visa is offered in Changsha, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Guangzhou, Guilin, Harbin, Kunming, Qingdao, and Xi’an.
Note that the 72 hour TWOV requires you to arrive by air, so if for example you took the train from Pyongyang to Shenyang and had booked a flight two days later from there to Bangkok, you would not be eligible for it.
24 Hour TWOV
In common with many countries, China also offers a 24 hour transit without visa for passengers at most ports and airports, with the exceptions of Fuzhou, Huangshan, Mudanjiang, Yanji and Urumqi (where specific exceptions apply). The 24 hour period is counted from the scheduled arrival time.
- Inform airlines when you are boarding. Airlines like Cathay Dragon in Hong Kong will be well used to this, but if for example you are checking in at Aberdeen airport for a flight to London thence to China, the checkin staff may be much less familiar with the rules, so it will help to allow yourself sufficient time in case they have a query.
- Fill in Arrival/Departure Card for transit passengers. This will likely only be available once you arrive at the port in China. Example below.
3. Airports in China now often have fingerprint machines for arriving foreign passport holders. Follow the signs to these and complete the procedure before heading to the immigration area. There, some airports such as Beijing and Shanghai have dedicated transit without visa desks, while others will simply ask you to wait in the normal queue for foreign passport holders.
4. Apply for the 72 or 144-hour transit visa upon arrival. You will need to show evidence of onward travel plans, such as an itinerary or e-ticket. We recommend you print this out in advance. Bear in mind that e.g. GMail does not work in China as standard, so do not rely on calling up an electronic itinerary when you arrive.
Am I eligible?
Countries eligible for this policy including:
24 Schengen Agreement 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, Switzerland.
15 Other European Countries: Russia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Belarus, Monaco.
6 American Countries: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile.
2 Oceania Countries: Australia, New Zealand.
6 Asian Countries: Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar.
If you are not eligible, you can still apply for a transitional China visa. Here’s an article to help.
- Apply for a China visa in HK
- If you don’t want to get the visa yourself, we recommend AsiaVisas as a visa agent in Hong Kong that can help take a lot of the pain out of the process.
Passengers should hold an onward ticket with a confirmed seat and date as well as a valid visa to a third country or region. In this case, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are considered as third regions.
- Country A – China – Country B is valid. (e.g. Hong Kong – Shanghai – Tokyo)
- Country A – China – Country A is not valid. (e.g. Sydney – Beijing – Sydney) because China is not a transit point, but the destination of a return journey from a single country.
Passengers are required to enter and leave from the eligible transit ports (which is basically every airport, train station, and cruise terminal with international connections), but the entry port and exit port do not have to be the same.
The layover time should be limited to 72 or 144 hours. However, at most ports the free stay period counts from 00:00 of the day following passengers’ arrival. So if you arrive at 4:00 am on April 1, the layover time actually counts from 0:00 of April 2 and it means your stay is longer than 144 hours. Note that at Beijing, it is counted from the scheduled arrival time of your inbound flight, not midnight of the day of arrival.
At Pudong Airport FYI, the TWOV channel looks like the below. Look for the sign for the “visa-exemption transit form.”
Documents needed for application:
- Valid passport from one of the above countries with 6+ mos validity and empty page
- Confirmed inbound flight ticket, itinerary or boarding pass (to prove origin), confirmed outbound flight ticket (to prove leaving to third country)
- Visa for a third country/region (if needed)
- A fully completed China Arrival/Departure Card for transit passenger, as shown above.
Travelling Around Inside China On a TWOV
The TWOV stamp is limited to the area in which you collect it – sometimes a city, such as Wuhan, or sometimes several provinces, as for example if you collect it in Shanghai or Hangzhou. So you will be expected to stay in that city or province(s) until you leave China. The Chinese government monitors movement, for example with its hotel registration requirement. The only exception to this is if your total transit time in China is less than 24 hours, in which case internal flights are allowed. So, e.g., if you fly London to Kunming to Beijing to Tokyo and spend less than twenty four hours from landing in Kunming to taking off from Beijing, you may be eligible for TWOV. If you spend more than 24 hours, you will not, as the Kunming TWOV does not extend to Beijing/Tianjin (and vice versa).