One of the expenses with traveling to China as a US citizen is the cost of the visa — currently, $160. On top of that is the added cost of mailing your passport back and forth if you do not live near a Chinese Consulate. Another challenge is that in order to obtain a Chinese visa, you need to provide proof of travel. This means, you have to have a ticket to China before you can apply for a visa. The risk here is that there’s always a chance of having your visa application denied.
Until recently, Shanghai and Beijing had a Transit Without Visa (“TWOV”) program for US citizens, a program which turned out to be less than stellar. Prior to January 1st, 2013, you could travel without a visa in Shanghai for up to 48 hours and in Beijing for up to 24 hours. 24 hours does not offer enough time to see all the sites in Beijing and 48 hours is definitely not enough to experience all of Shanghai.
So late last year, Beijing and Shanghai introduced a 72 hour TWOV program for US citizens. With this program, if you are traveling through Beijing or Shanghai to a third country, you do not need a visa. For example, if you flew into Shanghai, stayed for 3 days and flew onward to Hong Kong, then you do not need a visa. But, if you just flew from the United States into Shanghai and plan to fly directly back to the United States, then you will need a visa, regardless of how short your stay in Shanghai may be.
So how can you take advantage of the many deals to Shanghai and Beijing?
Use Points and Visit Another Country to Avoid the Visa Fee
Since our business in China is normally short in nature, we would usually use British Airways Avios points that we transfer from American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards and redeem on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. It takes just 7,500 Avios points each way from Shanghai to Hong Kong and 10,000 Avois points from Beijing to Hong Kong. So instead of US – Shanghai – US, our itinerary would be US – Shanghai – Hong Kong – Beijing – US.
This new itinerary gets us an added bonus of spending a few days in another country.
How to visit Beijing and Shanghai on the same trip?
With this 72 hour TWOV program, instead of flying US – Shanghai – Beijing – US, flying US – Shanghai (up to 3 days) – (anywhere outside of China) – Beijing (up to 72 hours) – US would save you the process of obtaining a visa and the $160 fee.
What are the caveats?
The TWOV program does not allow you to leave Beijing or Shanghai. For example, you will not be able to visit X’ian and the terracotta warriors while you are in Beijing. You must stay within the municipality of either Beijing and Shanghai.
What do you need?
Chinese immigration will require proof of an onward departure ticket. If you have an electronic ticket, bring a copy of the invoice with you. Do not have them in electronic form. When you arrive in either Shanghai or Beijing, go straight to Immigration (this is not the Transit/Transfer Desk). Tell the immigration officer that you will transiting and show them your onward departure documentation. They will tell you to wait for a few minutes while they verify your documentation and provide you with an entry stamp and a rectangular 72 hour permit stamp.
How to Deal with Uninformed Airline Check-in Staff on Visa Requirements?
The Timatic Visa Database that all airlines use to validate whether or not someone can board an international flight is your friend. Below is the text straight from the Timatic database. Have a copy of this and if it is still an issue, have them read the section on Timatic specifically regarding Transit Without Visa.
CHINA (PEOPLE'S REP.): 72-HOUR VISA-FREE TRANSIT AT BEIJING AND SHANGHAI Effective from 1 January 2013, nationals of 45 countries transiting through Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG and SHA) to a third country and holding confirmed onward tickets are permitted to enter China (People's Rep.) without a visa, for max. 72 hours. Passengers must arrive in and depart from the same city. This facility is available for nationals of Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland (Rep.), Italy, Japan, Korea (Rep.), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Fed., Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and holders of British Citizen passports.
- You can visit Beijing and Shanghai without a visa for up to 72 hours in each city
- You must transit to a third country, returning back directly does NOT count
- Use the $160 saved on delicious food!
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