144hr China Transit Visa
The China transit visa may be a bit complicated to understand, but it certainly beats the Chinese visa application form!
The North Korea visa is easy to obtain. We do this all the time, refusal is almost unheard-of, the process is simple, reliable, and well-established.
However, getting a Chinese visa has for many years been the hardest part of going on a trip to North Korea; rules change, there are many options, different consulates enforce different rules, and it is often simply unclear on what documents are actually needed.
There is another way though.
The China transit visa, or Transit Without Visa (TWOV) is an increasingly popular option for people coming into China but not stopping for long or using it as a way-point en route to elsewhere.
Here we will look into the various different China transit visa options and see if it is suitable for you.
If you are entering China, then leaving within a given time there are 3 main China transit visa options.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For the purposes of these China transit visa policies Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are not counted as part of China. As to their actual status in the PRC we leave that to the reader to decide for themselves as Koryo Tours has no position to state on this. Remember that rules change, not all China transit visa policies are the same for all nationalities, etc. This is not meant to be a future-proof totally authoritative piece so please check with a Chinese consulate if you have any doubt or uncertainty at all. The information given here is true at the time of writing but doesn’t include the full and complete policies for China transit visa.
This policy is actually rather long-running and has been in place for decades, however, it is rarely used as most visitors do stay more than 24 hours when coming into as big a place as China.
The 24 hour visa-free transit in China policy covers the whole country, not just the relevant cities (in contract to the 72 and 144-hour options) so, for example, you can arrive in China by crossing from Hong Kong by land and then leave within 24 hours from anywhere else in the country by plane, road, ship, or train.
In practical terms, this is used mainly by people flying in and then leaving again very soon.
You will need a copy of your onward ticket to leave the country (ideally printed) so that you can show immigration officers on entry that you are leaving within the given time. Also if you are flying into China and not holding a visa then you will need to show this to check-in staff to assure them that you are legal (ask them to check the TIMATIC system if they don’t seem to understand the China visa-free transit information) and if your final destination country requires a visa then you should be ready to show that document as well.
In almost all cases you will be permitted to enter the country and basically do what you want until you leave (as long as you leave as you said you would!).
There are some cases where the transit time is in the same airport and very short and we have heard of travellers not being allowed to pass Chinese immigration and instead being told to remain airside and to board their onward flight from there. If your point of entry to China and point of exit are different this is not a risk though.
The creation of the new 72 hours transit without visa in China (TWOV) policy was a great boon to those passing through China to go on a trip to somewhere else (for example to North Korea!). This meant that if the traveller didn’t want to get a Chinese visa they could instead stay longer than the previously allowed 24-hour maximum. Enough to do some sightseeing and so on.
The crucial difference between the 72 and 24 hours visa-free transit in China options is that the former is for the whole country; entry and exit however you like, time limit being the only limit. Also available to almost all nationalities.
The 72 hour TWOV policy is for fewer nationalities (see below) and applies to specific cities and areas only. And is only available by air.
So if one wants to enter from Hong Kong and then exit from Beijing this is not covered, only entry to Beijing (for example) and then exit from Beijing is covered, within the time allowed. This does mean that you should pay close attention to what you are planning to do. For example, in Beijing area, you can enter by plane and then spend the time in Beijing/Tianjin/Hebei province. But you cannot leave that area (in real terms there would be nothing to stop you, but you need to show a Chinese visa to check into a hotel so you would be caught when trying that for sure).
The same is true of the other areas where this policy exists, for example, Shanghai/Suzhou/Nanjing/Jiangsu area.
Check where you are going first!
How long is 72 hours? 72 hours is 3 days - but see further down for information on how long is 72 hours for the TWOV.
This is basically the same policy as the 72-hour option, just twice as long. As with the 24-hour version you should prepare a copy of your onward ticket, any visa needed for the next country, etc. This only works for flight in/out of the same place/area so again please check carefully what you are doing and where you are going so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise!
A common mistake made is to assume that because a flight is ‘direct’ it is also ‘non-stop’.
This is not the same thing.
For example, there are flights from Beijing to Bangkok which stop in Guangzhou. If you have a ticket on this flight then you will not be eligible for the 72 or 144 hour China transit visa as your flight is taking off in Beijing and landing in Guangzhou, both are in China.
So even if you are not getting off you are still not able to do this (although if you do this within 24 hours of arriving in Beijing you can use the 24 hour China transit visa as that is a nationwide policy).
So as before check carefully that you are eligible and that the tickets you hold are within the allowed time. Then you may well find yourself with the ability to visit Beijing, or Shanghai, or other places, for up to 6 days between flights. Note that this is per entry, so if you fly into Beijing, out to another place, then reverse the journey you can stay up to 144 hours each time, not in total.
How long is 144 hours? 144 hours is 7 days - but see further down for information on how long is 144 hours for the China visa-free transit.
These China transit visa policies are not designed to give people visa-free weekend trips or anything like that.
‘Transit’ means on the way between two places, so A-B-C not A-B-A. If you are in Seoul for instance and want to go to Beijing for a few days and then fly back to Seoul, then you will not be able to do that under the system of any of these China visa-free transit policies.
If you want to do this hypothetical weekend trip without a Chinese visa, then you would be best to fly Seoul-Beijing -Hong Kong – Seoul. In this latter example, you can transit in Beijing by showing simply the plane ticket to Hong Kong, even if your stay there is very short.
This can be a bit of a hassle of course, but the rules are the rules!
A few more important and crucial points to note about these China visa-fee transit policies.
This is a cause for some debate actually.
Many sources claim it would be from midnight the day the entry to the country initially happens. Meaning a 24 hour China visa-free transit could last almost 2 days, 144 hours = 7 days, and so on. In reality, we would strongly recommend you assume that the policy is valid from your ticket’s stated time of arrival until the stated time of departure.
One thing we can say for sure is that if your exit flight is delayed that doesn’t mean you will be overstaying; the authorities definitely judge the exit based on the time the flight is supposed to leave rather than when it does, so don’t panic about that!
This is something everyone should check. Most of the traditional ‘western’ countries qualify for all of these policies (with the exception of Norway) but people holding passports from South American countries, African countries, the Middle East, etc should definitely double-check with Chinese consulate and their airlines if they qualify.
As Beijing airport and most Chinese airports have no airside transit areas then anyone assuming they can transit and then being refused and having to stay airside would be in an uncomfortable position for sure.
Wikipedia maintains a current list of who qualifies for what visa online here but bear in mind that this can also be inaccurate so caveat emptor on this source as well!
As with their counterparts in any country, Chinese immigration officials can refuse you entry for any reason, and while there is no official policy on this at all there is a huge weight of anecdotal evidence at the time of writing (and for the last couple of years) that people whose passports hold stamps from certain countries are refused China transit visa on entry to many Chinese cities. This doesn’t happen all the time but the common element in a great many cases is the same thing that is it hard not to conclude that there is at least an unofficial policy about this.
The problematic stamps in question are those from Turkey – a very commonly visited country indeed. If you have stamps in your passport from Turkey then please expect to be refused China transit visa in China.
We would advise you to simply apply for a second passport (assuming your country allows this). The same is also true of visas from other countries such as Syria and Libya, but far more people visit Turkey than visit those places.
Basically if refused entry you will be told to get a ticket to somewhere else (international) and leave the country. This will be a headache obviously as it costs money and ruins some travel plans. The cheapest and most regular destinations to reach from China’s major cities (and which are also visa-free to many people) would be South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
So, if you believe there is a risk of being refused entry then maybe check in advance about flight options to those places. If your flight ends up being the next day you will simply be told to stay in the airport (airside) overnight (which is not much fun). This is not to say that arbitrary refusals are a common thing; in almost all cases the China transit visa policy is used efficiently and sensibly, but if your passport or travel history is problematic (from the immigration officials’ point of view) then please be prepared for a delay or disruption to your journey.