How to go to China for a short holiday WITHOUT getting a visa in advance*!

DISCLAIMER
PLEASE NOTE: Visas are legal documents. These methods are limited to certain cities in China and citizens of eligible countries. I could not find a reliable source of information on the internet about visa free transits and visa on arrivals in China for tourism, so I am trying to create a definitive guide by collating as much information from the various authoritative ports as possible. The information in this article was collated from various phone calls and personally visiting at least one of the ports mentioned in this article so I believe the information is true and reliable. I am still in the process of obtaining more information from the remaining ports. Thus THIS ARTICLE WILL BE UPDATED AS I RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION. Please subscribe to get notified of updates. You are encouraged to make your own checks and enquiries in case there are any uncertainties or changes in government regulations which are beyond my control. A list of sources and contact details is provided at the end of this article but I cannot guarantee they can speak English. I discovered differing information even on Chinese government and consulate websites, so where there are such discrepancies, I have decided to go with the most recent, up to date version.

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In February, during my flight to Haerbin, I flew with Xiamen airlines, and saw an ad for a 5 day tea fair in Xiamen in May. I love tea and made a note of it in my phone and wanted to go. Then I forgot about it until 1 week before it was due to start. A normal tourist visa takes 4 business days and I had exactly 5 business days left. I could have gotten a rush visa but somehow couldn’t justify the $200+ AUD visa for 5 days. Then I discovered that Xiamen has a visa on arrival policy. I bought my ticket less than 24 hours before departure without even having packed my bags, and definitely without pre-applying for a visa. Zero planning, zero preparation, 100% excitement and best spontaneous trip ever!

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In this post I am going to go over the ways of going to China as a tourist without pre-applying for a tourist visa. If you need to go to China for something else, like long(er) term work, business etc, then don’t use this method because the tourist visa’s stay duration is shorter than other visas.

Why use these methods?
I like hacks. If there is a hack for something, I would probably rather do it the hacked way than the normal way even if there are a few wrinkles to iron out first. So, if for some reason you are like me and don’t want to pre-apply for the Chinese tourist visa, then you could use this method. There are tons of reasons why I don’t like having to pre-apply for the Chinese tourist visa. Let’s not talk about how it takes 4 business days which is essentially one whole week, and you need to take at least half a day to submit the visa, and another half day to pick it up, and if there are Chinese or local public holidays then it takes even longer. Also let’s not mention how you need to submit details of your hotel bookings, hotel contact methods, plus a bunch of other stuff as well as flight confirmations then pay $109.50 AUD for a mere 30 days stay! Also, normally you book flights and hotels AFTER you get the visa but okay… With the methods I’m about to show you, you can get it done for a fraction of the price and leave at a moment’s notice. In fact, I was so excited when I found out about this, I ask my friend if she wanted to go to China together… tomorrow.


ENTERING CHINA WITHOUT PRE-APPLYING FOR A TOURIST VISA

There are several ways of entering China without pre-applying for a visa. One of the ways is visa-free, meaning you do not need a visa to enter and holiday China, and this is different to the visa required, visa on arrival method. I will talk about both.

FIRST, THE VISA-FREE WAYS:

Method 1. 30 DAY STAY VISA-FREE ENTRY IN HAINAN1a and b
The Chinese tropical island province of Hainan has a visa free policy that lets visitors from certain countries arrive and stay in Hainan without a tourist visa. This method of entry lets you stay in Hainan only, for a maximum of 30 days. The Chinese government is very tight on surveillance (which ironically isn’t that useful in practice) and therefore the downside to this method is that you must register with a local Hainan tour agency; independent travellers cannot enter Hainan using this method.

Overview:
Type: Landing, approved on arrival without a visa subject to conditions below
Name: Hainan Visa-free entry
Chinese name: 海南旅游免签政策 hǎi nán lǚ yóu miǎn qiān zhèng cè
Third country or region required: No, but other requirements apply
Duration of Stay: 30 days (I am yet to confirm when the calculation of the 30 days starts, preliminary answers to my enquiries with Hainan authorities suggest day 1 is the day of your arrival)
Geographical Restriction: Can only stay within Hainan
Cost: None besides travel agency fees
Eligible Ports of Entry: Haikou Meilan International Airport, others are yet to be confirmed.

Sample itinerary:
Australia to Hainan to Germany: Allowed 
Australia to Hainan back to Australia: Allowed 

59 Eligible countries:
People holding passports from the following countries, in alphabetical order, are eligible:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, The Czech Republic, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, The United States, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates.

Requirements/Important notes:
To take advantage of this 30-day visa free stay in Hainan, you must to fly directly to Hainan from outside mainland China. This means you cannot stop over anywhere else in mainland China. You CAN however fly to Hainan from Hong Kong. (I am in the process of checking whether the traveller can fly in from Taiwan and Macau).

Conditions:
-Must register with local travel agency
-Cannot stop over in any other mainland Chinese city before arriving in Hainan

How to apply:
Steps:
1. Register with a local travel agency at least 48 hours ahead of your arrival, so that you have a travel itinerary (I am not sure if you actually need to do tours with them, or if you just need to register with the travel agency. Contact the contact details in the reference provided if you have questions). This is because for the visa free entry, the local travel agency in Hainan must submit travellers’ information to the local Exit-Entry Administration Bureau of Hainan 24 hours before your arrival.

2. Book your flights and hotels, taking into consideration your allowed 30 days of stay.

3. On arrival in Hainan Haikou International Airport, submit your passport, return flight tickets, hotel bookings, and Hainan travel itinerary at the customs application area, which is open 24 hours. Get approved and enjoy your stay! (I am in the process of finding out whether the international cruise terminals and Sanya Phoenix International Airport accept this entry method).

Method 2. 72 and 144 HOURS VISA FREE TRANSIT ENTRY IN OTHER CITIES IN CHINA
These methods allow the eligible traveller to stay in a specific participating city for a set number of hours, without a visa, if you are doing a layover in that city/port on your way to a third country or region. The stay duration varies according to the city in China.

Overview:
Type: Transit (approved on arrival without a visa subject to conditions below)
Name: Visa-free transit
Chinese name: 过境免签政策
Third country or region required: YES
Duration of Stay: Depends on city of arrival/layover, calculation of start of allowed time is yet to be confirmed, subscribe to get updates
Geographical restrictions: Depends on port of entry/layover port
Cost: None

Sample itinerary:
Australia to Hainan to Germany: Allowed 
Australia to Hainan back to Australia: NOT allowed 

Please note, there are various out of date and incorrect information on the internet on various websites, including Chinese government websites and other travel websites. The 144 hours list has been confirmed and comes from the most up to date references I can find (2019 or late 2018). From the 72 hour list, only Guangzhou is confirmed, the other cities’ stay duration are not confirmed (ie, whether it is 72 or 144 hours. To be safe, stick to 72 hours, or confirm yourself.) Until further notice, assume geographical restrictions are the city of application only. Guangzhou government website specifically states in Chinese, that while other cities have implemented the 144 hour transit, they have remained with the 72 hour policy. I may check up on this and update the article as necessary.

How to apply:
I have not used this method of entering China/leaving the airport before. I have read there are English signs specifically pointing out the 72/144 hour transit counter/area. Follow signs and present the required information to complete the application process.

Important:
Travellers wanting to use the visa free transit method must have a valid passport and confirmed flights/cruise etc out of China within the 144 hours. This means the scheduled departure out of China of your vessel must be within the 144 hours.

72 hour layover/transit cities/airports:
Guangzhou Baiyun Airport2
Changsha Huanghua (Yellow Flower) International Airport
Chongqing Jiangbei international airport
Guilin Liang Jiang International Airport
Haerbin Taiping International Airport

144 hours layover/transit cities/ports:6
3 ports in Xiamen city, Fujian Province:3

Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport, Wutong Wharf and Xiamen International Cruise Center.

There is some excellent information in English on this topic on Xiamen University’s website which is from which I took the information from. This is more up to date than any other source including government source I found on the internet and is both informative and matches that of another up to date Chinese sources.

– Chengdu Shuangliu Airport4, Sichuan Province
Geographical restriction: Can stay in Chengdu only

– 7 ports in Shanghai city, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province:6
Shanghai Pudong Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai Train Station, Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal, Nanjing Lukou International Airport, Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport,

Geographical restriction: Can stay within all of Shanghai city, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province for 144 hours before departing to a third country or region.

– 6 ports in and around Beijing city, Tianjin city and Hebei Province: 7
Beijing International Airport, Beijing West Railway, Tianjin Binhai International Airport, Tianjin International Cruise Home Port, and Hebei Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport, or the port of Haigang in the city of Qinhuangdao in Hebei province.

Geographical restriction: Can stay in the cities of Beijing and Tianjin as wells as Hebei Province for 144 hours before departing to a third country or region.

– 2 ports in Liaoning Province:8
Shenyang Taoxian International airport, Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport

Geographical restriction: Can stay in Liaoning Province for 144 hours before departing to a third country or region.

53 Eligible countries:7 (Chinese government website) and 3 (Xiamen University website
People holding passports from the following countries, in alphabetical order, are eligible:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lativa, Lithuania, Luxembourg, , Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Arab Emirates, The United States, Ukraine.

VISA REQUIRED METHODS

These methods are given on arrival in China and are perfect for travellers who don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a visa in advance and want some more flexibility than the visa free transit methods.

To apply for a Chinese visa, each applicant needs at least 1 passport style photo. I should not need to point out that the photo should be in COLOUR. Size on the official Chinese visa application information website says 48mm x 33mm, mine was 40 x 50mm and they happily accepted it at Hainan Haikou Airport). Some sources say 1 photo is enough, others say 2. I used two.

Method 1. SEZ VISA9
There is a little known visa called the Special Economic Zone visa, or the SEZ visa. These visas are, as the names suggest, is in certain zones only, namely Xiamen, Zhuhai and Shenzhen. The SEZ visa is applied for and given to you on arrival at the applicable ports and takes about 10-20 minutes per person. It is a type of visa on arrival/landing visa. For this visa, you do not need to go to a third country or region.

Overview:~9
Type: Landing
English Name: SEZ Visa
Chinese name: 经济特区旅游签证
Trip to third country or region required: No
Duration of Stay for Xiamen and Shenzhen: 5 days from following 12:00am, yet to check about Zhuhai
Cost: ¥90 for Xiamen10, ¥168 for Shenzhen
Geographical Restriction: Can only stay within the governing area of city of application

Sample itinerary:
Australia to Hainan to Germany: Allowed 
Australia to Hainan back to Australia: Allowed 

Eligible countries: US, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland and Spain11

~The website source talks about Shenzhen and Zhuhai only. Information for Shenzhen was confirmed by calling, and thus I assume the details, such as stay duration and cost, would be the same as Shenzhen. The source for Xiamen’s information was obtained by calling Xiamen airport directly.

How to apply:
You need:
– Ordinary valid passport (ie not a diplomatic passport) with at least 2 empty pages and 6 months validity
– At least 1 passport style photo of each applicant
– Confirmation of hotel bookings
– Visa fee in cash

Steps:

  1. On arrival at the applicable airport customs, tell them you want the Special Economic Zone visa on arrival. You will be required to show them the requested evidence listed above*
  2. Fill out the required form. Information needed includes hotel names and contact details. Hand over your photo, visa fee and have your photo taken
  3. Your visa will be issued on the spot and stuck… in a random page in your passport. Now you can leave the airport, yippee!

*Please see below for a very important piece of information!*

I strongly recommend you download all the booking information(s) before you leave your country of origin. This is because while there is WiFi in the airport in China, they are often unreliable because you may need a local mobile phone number to get an SMS verification code, or that you may not be able to stay connected. I use booking.com to book hotels and download the confirmation to their app, which can then display the hotel name and contact details, including phone number, in the local language, ie Chinese for China.

Method 2: ENTER VIA HAINAN AIRPORT1a
Overview:
Type: Landing
Name: Hainan visa on arrival
Third country required: No
Chinese name: 海南落地签政策
Total Duration of Stay: 15 days from day of arrival
Cost: ¥168 (Disclaimer: Official website says could be up to ¥1000. Not sure why. I paid ¥168.)
Geographical restriction: None! Can travel throughout whole of China!

Sample itinerary:
Australia to Hainan to Germany: Allowed 
Australia to Hainan back to Australia: Allowed 

This is another type of visa on arrival/landing visa. I like this visa a lot because not only can you apply for it on arrival, you are also allowed to go to and leave from, other cities in China, and don’t need to go to a third country! This is essentially the same as your usual tourist L visa, only the stay duration is half the time at 15 days instead of 30. The price is also a lot cheaper than the normal tourist visa. You can apply to extend the visa later in which ever city you happen to be in at the local Exit and Entry Administration Office for an extra ¥168.

To apply, you need:

– Ordinary valid passport (ie not a diplomatic passport) with at least 2 empty pages and 6 months validity

– At least 1 passport style photo of each applicant

– Confirmation of return international flights (flights out of China)

– Confirmation of hotel bookings

– ¥168 in cash, although the website says it could be up to ¥1,000

Steps:

  1. On arrival at customs at Haikou Meilan International Airport (Meilan is the name of the airport), tell them you want the visa on arrival visa. You’ll be taken aside to do this and return to the customs line after you get the visa done (Or go straight to the desk. I didn’t see the desk sign).

Please note: I was told for you to get the SEZ visa, you need to fly straight to your final destination, and cannot do layovers in other mainland China cities. In other words, these visa on arrival visas can only be given to you if the city where apply for it, is your first city of landing. They DID say can do transfers in certain airports, quote “like Guangzhou or Shanghai”, but since Haikou Airport customs is a separate small building, detached from the main airport, I had to pass through customs first for my transfer to Xiamen and thus was technically be entering China, before I actually get to the airport for the transfer.

Now whose (design) fault is that?

If you can’t find information online about this, you’d be correct. I mentioned this to the customs officers and end up getting the Hainan visa on arrival, rather than the Xiamen SEZ visa. Either way it worked out fine for me.

The officers I had at Haikou airport spoke English very well actually. I can’t guarantee you’d get the same ones.

  1. You will be required to fill out a form including the usual, your name, passport details, as well as your accommodation details including the address and contact details.

Paper or digital? At Haikou, they wanted all the details to be printed, but if I did, I’d have to have brought a tonne of papers, so I showed them the digital versions instead on my phone and they worked with that by taking a photo of the displays on my phone. Proceed as you see fit.

  1. Sign the form, hand over your passport, passport style photo, ¥168 and also, you may get your photo taken. Then proceed as usual with your new visa! Yippee!!

IMPORTANT TIPS THOU SHALT NOT IGNORE:

1. Get the address and phone number of the hotel in the local language ie, Chinese Hanzi, or if not that, at least the phone number BEFORE you leave for China. I cannot stress this enough. China takes surveillance on everyone far too seriously and you will not get this visa, or your pre-applied visa approved without the contact details of the hotels you are staying at. The officers at the airport were not willing to lend me their phones for me to search up the details, luckily, I found it on my phone. I once booked a tour in China while in Sydney, then used that to apply for my visa before leaving. Thankfully I asked the tour company for the name of the hotel I’d be staying at, because when I went to apply for the visa, the itinerary and flights were not enough, they wanted the phone number and the address of the hotel, without it, I was not allowed to apply, and I was applying on the last possible day for me to get my flight. You can get the address in Chinese in a few ways. One is to book through booking.com, they have an option to display the address in the local language. They also have an app that makes it handy, just download the info before you arrive in China, because Chinese wifi is hard to access sometimes most of the time. The other less reliable way is to search for it on the internet, but this is highly unreliable unless the hotel is a very large and well known name.

2. Normally it would make sense for you to book flights and hotels AFTER you successfully get the visa for your intended country of holiday, but China operates differently, just because. Normally to go there, you need to be invited by an invitation letter; by friends or family if you are visiting friends or family, by the company or university if you are going for business etc. As a tourist, no one is going to invite you, so instead you are required to show you have round trip flights into and out of China, and hotel reservations for your entire stay (if you intend to stay in the countryside or with friends, family etc, you are required to report to the local police station, so they can track your every move.) as part of your visa application.

THUS make sure you have:
– allotted enough time for your flights to allow you to get the visa processed (for pre-applying) which is 4 business days in Sydney, Australia

and

– booked your return flight so you do not exceed the allowed stay time in China (unless you intend to extend your stay (for visa on arrivals and visa-free transits). This second part is somewhat of a gamble as booking a flight past your initial allowed stay might mean, however unlikely, that your request for extending your stay will be declined and you will be required to get a new flight. Booking a flight that departs China within the allowed stay time might mean if your request for extending your stay DOES get approved, you will have to book a new flight anyway. If you have experience getting your visa extended while in China for any reason, leave a comment below and let us know!

Also…

I always carry extra passport photos just in case I ever need it, like if I lose my passport and need to get a new one done, at least I have the photo ready. I suggest you do the same. It is easy to get them done at home and cheaply. Simply use a free online “create your own passport photos” service from your own photos taken at home, and save it as one 10×15 cm or 6×4 inch jpg file consisting of multiple small photos. Then print it at a printing shop and cut them out yourself. Officeworks and Kmart in Australia charges around 10 cents per 10×15 cm or 6×4 inch. Just make sure you are printing a 10×15 cm or 6×4 inch sheet, not ‘passport photos’, which will jack up the price. You can find your country’s passport photo requirements online.

DISCLAIMER: I was told multiple times on separate occasions for different ports of entry, that not everyone is guaranteed the visa/entry using this method. A visa is after all a legal document that allows the holder permission to enter a country. What this means is technically the customs officer has the right to deny you entry and you will not get the visa on arrival if they feel suspicious about your intentions, or you are bringing in illegal things, or have a criminal record or anything else. If that’s the case with you, don’t forget to dump out all the illegal stuff before you arrive in China so you won’t be caught with anything at customs.

Just kidding! (Or am I?) Okay, really, for ordinary tourists, you shouldn’t have any difficulties getting approved. I wouldn’t be so worried because if you were going to be denied a visa, you can also get denied when you PRE-apply (that’s why it’s called the visa ‘APPLICATION’ process and not the visa ‘BUYING’ process), and, even if you DO get a visa approved, you can still be denied entry after arriving in your destination. Just watch any episode of Border Security.

You’re welcome.

Booking.com

A word on Romanisation of Chinese names/words:
Chinese words have 1 syllable each, and a name for anything can have more than one word. To make it easy to read and pronounce, the words are romanised and spelt with English letters. To simplify the English version, names are often written as one word, when in actual fact it is more than one word. For example, ‘Beijing’ and ‘Shanghai’ are really ‘Bei Jing’ and ‘Shang Hai’. To complicate matters, there is no uniform way to write these romanised names, and so some parts of some names that can be translated, are sometimes translated, so there could be a variety of variations of spellings. For example, in the name ‘Changsha Huanghua International Airport’, ‘Huang Hua’ means ‘Yellow Flower’, so some places might write ‘Changsha Huanghua International Airport’, others might write ‘Changsha Yellow Flower International Airport ‘. You may find ‘Nanputuo Temple‘ written in English as both ‘Nanputuo Temple’ and ‘South Putuo Temple’, because ‘nan’ means ‘south’, while ‘Pu Tuo’ is a just name.


References:

1.a http://en.explorehainan.com/en/plan/visas.shtm
You can change the language on the website in the top right hand corner.

b. The specific information on 30 visa free stay in other languages:
English: http://en.explorehainan.com/en/index/wjb.shtml
Russian: http://ru.explorehainan.com/ru/index/wjb.shtm
Japanese: http://jp.explorehainan.com/jp/index/wjb.shtml
Korean: http://kr.explorehainan.com/ko/index/wjb.shtml
Arabic: http://ar.explorehainan.com/ar/index/wjb.shtml

2. http://www.gzbjzz.gov.cn/cn/info_14876.aspx?itemid=36908

3. http://ice.xmu.edu.cn/showdown.aspx?news_id=4046

4. http://www.chengdu.gov.cn/chengdu/home/2018-12/29/content_7c081d845e9c4f7daa14c560d9e34d38.shtml

5. https://www.scio.gov.cn/xwfbh/gssxwfbh/xwfbh/liaoning/Document/1616804/1616804.htm

6. http://www.gzbjzz.gov.cn/cn/news/info_10030.aspx?itemid=40995

7. http://english.scio.gov.cn/chinavoices/2017-12/29/content_50175930.htm

8. http://english.scio.gov.cn/chinavoices/2017-12/29/content_50175930.htm

9. http://www.gdzwfw.gov.cn/portal/guide/11440000006940140C22006063001

10. Personally called, last time was May the 6th 2019

11. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/service.htm

4 thoughts on “How to go to China for a short holiday WITHOUT getting a visa in advance*!

  1. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

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