*Updated Sept. 7, 2013
Beijing Skyline Night

For citizens of most countries, China hasn’t made it so easy to visit; visas must be granted, and in many cases, there must be a personal or business invitation by a Chinese resident or company for the visa to get issued. In addition to all that, before the visa is even issued, the visa-issuing embassy wants to see flights booked and hotels reserved; this can be harrowing since the visa is never guaranteed (usually you can get away with just showing the embassy an itinerary of your intended flight before you check out, though).

However, recently China has tried to boost its tourism by allowing certain cities to implement their own rules. Citizens of 45 different countries, including Australia, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan, can now stay up to 72 hours (3 full days) when flying in to one of the accepted airports in four major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Citizens of the 45 countries (listed towards the bottom of this post) have been able to stay for 72 hours when flying in to Beijing’s Capital Airport (PEK) and Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (PVG) or Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) since January 1st of this year. This past week it was announced that Guangzhou has been approved to be the third city that offers such a waiver, for tourists connecting in or traveling through Guangzhou Baiyun Airport (CAN). The 72-hour visa-free program for Guangzhou will begin in a few days, on August 1, 2013.

A 4th city, Chengdu, China, has been approved to also offer this 72-hour visa-free exemption, but a date has not been set yet as to when it will get implementedUPDATE (Sept 7, 2013): Chengdu is now the 4th city, and the first in western China, to offer the 72-hr visa-free stays like the other three cities. 

Keep in mind: 

  1. This program does NOT allow eligible citizens to simply make a round trip flight to one of the aforementioned cities and then return home; rules specifically state that destination country and country of departure cannot be the same. This program was designed primarily to boost tourism in some of China’s largest cities for travelers who are already stopping there, en route to somewhere else, such as with a layover. 
  2. Confirmed tickets to a third country, as well as approved travel documents/visas for third country, are required before they will allow you to utilize this waiver.
  3. 72-hour visitors are required to register at a police station with their transit permits within 24 hours of entry. However, registration takes place automatically when checking into a hotel, so this is basically intended for those who might crash at a friend’s or family member’s place.
  4. Remember that it is only travel through these particular airports where travelers may be eligible for the 72-hour waiver; if coming into these cities via rail, ship, or even an airport that is not on the list in the same city, you will be denied the ability to leave the airport.
  5. When eligible travelers are granted the right to leave the airport through this program, they are not allowed to leave the borders of that city! That means that you must stay in either Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou during the entirety of the 72 hours.

Countries whose citizens are eligible for the 72-hour visa-free program:

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States. *Citizens and passport-holders of Singapore, Brunei, and Japan were already eligible to visit China through these designated ports for up to 15 days without visa. 

Airports where eligible travelers can depart for up to 72 hours:

  • Beijing – Capital Airport (PEK)
  • Shanghai – Pudong International Airport (PVG)
  • Shanghai – Hongqiao International Airport (SHA)
  • Guangzhou – Baiyun Airport (CAN) *Aug 1, 2013
  • Chengdu – Shuangliu Airport (CTU) *Sep 8, 2013