Using the New 144-Hour China Transit Visa in Shanghai
Traveling through China shouldn’t be a hassle, but regulations haven’t always made it easy. This week is one of the biggest times to travel for Chinese people, and plenty of international guests find themselves stuck looking for plane tickets in or out. Americans are charged $140 for tourist visas, and all nationalities transiting through any major hub have to get a China visa (china 24 or 72 hours) even if they’re just catching a connecting flight leaving the same day; often, these immigration booths are undermanned and slow, opening up the potential for missed flights and unnecessary stress. Surely there must be a better way.
Well, as of January 30th, 2016, there is. The municipalities of Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang started offering transit visas valid for up to a week. Let’s be clear: these aren’t always the best for tourism, but if your travel plans meet certain criteria, it can make traveling through China cheaper and much less painful.
What do you need?
1. Transportation to one of the three municipalities – Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang – whether by train, boat, or plane.
2. Proof of onward travel within 144 hours. In actuality, you can get up to 167 hours if you time it right, e.g. arriving at 1 AM. The clock doesn’t start until 12:00 AM the day after arrival. Equally important is that you have a ticket arriving from one country and departing to another; no roundtrip tickets will be accepted. In other words, you can fly in from LAX, stay in Shanghai for a few days, and continue on to Hong Kong.
3. A valid passport, with at least six months validity
In my case, I decided to really test the system by purchasing a one-way Delta flight from Detroit into Shanghai Pudong Airport on the 25th, and a train from Shanghai to Hong Kong on the 30th. Technically, this is proof of onward travel, as the sleeper train requires passengers go through immigration prior to boarding, but I had a feeling it might make things difficult boarding in the US and disembarking in Shanghai.
The first challenge is checking in for your flight to China. Some check-in agents need to be reminded about transit visas, and as this 144-hour one is new, you had better arrive earlier to ensure there’s no rush checking your bag and getting on your flight. Even with the train ticket in hand and a link to the Shanghai Immigration page, it took 20-25 minutes for the airline to verify I was okay to travel. However, once at the gate, the staff just needed to be told I was transiting through Shanghai and I was good to go.
Next challenge: Chinese immigration.
Because you haven’t received a China tourist visa, the process takes a little longer for those seeking to stay in Shanghai for 144 hours. Immigration will thoroughly check your proof of ongoing travel, and confirm you will depart China within the time limit. In my case, this meant scanning my train ticket and manually typing the details, before finally stamping my passport.
There you have it. One week in China with no additional fees. If you don’t qualify for this particular transit visa, be sure to visit our China page for the latest information.