China Travel Restrictions 2021/2022: An Explainer (Updated)

Posted by Written by Arendse Huld Reading Time: 24 minutes

This article was originally posted on December 30, 2021, and last updated on April 15, 2022, to reflect the latest China travel restrictions.

UPDATE (April 15, 2022): China appears to have rolled back plans to cut quarantine time for international arrivals. On April 12, Caixin, along with other domestic media outlets, reported that China had launched a pilot program in eight cities to reduce the total quarantine time for international arrivals from 14 to 10 days (see second April 13 update below). However, articles sharing this news have since been removed. Moreover, new articles from state media reiterated China’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, stating that ‘Trying to ‘live with the virus’ […] is no choice for China”. Despite the retraction, it is possible that China did indeed have plans to reduce quarantine time for international arrivals, but given the recent outbreaks across the country, and particularly in Shanghai, it seems likely that the authorities deemed it an inopportune time to begin rolling out this pilot program. Quarantine times for inbound passengers will therefore continue to be a minimum of 14 days for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE (April 13, 2022): On April 11, 2022, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) held a press conference in which it doubled down on the “circuit breaker” measures it imposes on inbound flights, in order to contain the number of passengers with COVID-19 that arrive in China. Under the “circuit breaker” measures, the CAAC suspends inbound flights if a certain number of passengers on a given route are found to have tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in China.

Moreover, according to a readout of the press conference, the CAAC reiterated the need for stricter closed-loop management in airports, calling for the need for the “complete separation” of international and domestic aircrafts, crews, passengers, support personnel, facilities and equipment, and areas. It will also step up COVID-19 prevention measures in airports, such as increasing test frequency for staff and crew and strictly implementing disinfection measures for passengers throughout different areas of the airport.

UPDATE (April 13, 2022): China has launched a pilot program in eight cities to test looser quarantine control. According to a Caixin report, China is trying out reduced quarantine times for residents in locked-down communities, overseas arrivals, and close contact with positive cases in 8 cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Dalian, Suzhou, Ningbo, Xiamen, and Qingdao. Under the pilot program, centralized quarantine requirements for these groups will be shortened from 14 to 10 days, after which they will have to spend a week under observation at home. Meanwhile, a high frequency of nucleic acid and antigen tests will be carried out for relevant individuals over those 17 days. The pilot program was launched on April 11, 2022 in a piecemeal manner and will run for 4 weeks. It is read as an effort of China to explore the optimal isolation period for COVID-19 and a potential sign that China will ease its stringent COVID-19 control measures gradually.

UPDATE (March 24, 2022): France announced it has canceled three flights by Chinese airlines in retaliation to an order by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on March 21 to suspend four Air France flights from Paris to Tianjin, in effect from March 28 onward (link in Chinese). The suspension of the Air France flights came after a March 11 flight on this route (AF382) was found to have carried 12 passengers that later tested positive for COVID-19.

The CAAC implements strict rules on COVID-19 prevention measures for airlines and routinely suspends and cancels inbound flights to China if they have carried passengers that later test positive for COVID-19. The rules appear to be applied indiscriminately across all airlines – the CAAC’s March 21 announcement also suspended several flights from other domestic and foreign carriers – but this has not dissuaded some countries from condemning the measures and taking retaliatory action. In January this year, the US suspended 44 US-China flights by Chinese carriers in retaliation to the suspension of inbound flights to China by US airlines.

The flights affected by France’s decision are two Air China flights from Paris to Tianjin (CA934) and one China Eastern flight from Paris to Taiyuan (MU570). 

UPDATE (March 17, 2022): Deputy Director of the Transportation Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) Xu Qing confirmed that some inbound international flights to Shanghai would be rerouted to other cities in mainland China. The order comes as Shanghai grapples with its largest COVID-19 outbreak to date, which has been linked to imported cases.

Speaking at a routine press conference on March 15, Xu Qing stated that a total of 106 flights would be rerouted from Pudong International Airport to one of 12 cities in mainland China, including Chengdu, Dalian, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, and Kunming, for a period of six weeks (March 17 to May 1).

The CAAC has not yet released a list of the flights that will be rerouted but has confirmed the order will affect five airlines and 22 flights routes. The affected airlines are Air China, China Eastern, Shanghai Airlines, Jueyao Airlines, and Spring Airlines

  • China Briefing continues its coverage of updates on China travel restrictions on foreign nationals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In this article, we provide an overview of the latest China travel restrictions, including the latest regulations on flights to China, how to obtain a Chinese visa, China entry requirements during COVID, and current China quarantine rules.
  • For regular COVID-19 updates, you can check our COVID-19 tracker, which is updated every weekday.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, China has imposed a strict “zero Covid” policy to prevent the spread of the virus and keep cases as close to zero as possible.

This policy has been largely successful, with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in 2021 numbering in the low thousands, far below that of many other countries.

Despite high hopes at the beginning of 2021 that China would begin to relax its rules and entry requirements, the recent Delta and Omicron outbreaks have only impelled the government to double down on prevention measures, including reducing the number of international flight routes, increasing the length of quarantines on arrival, and amping up domestic prevention measures.

In this article, we explain how foreigners can enter China – from booking a flight to obtaining a visa to undergoing pre- and post-flight testing and quarantine – and offer an overview of China’s domestic COVID-19 prevention measures and policies.

Flights to China

Despite hopes that China would gradually begin to ease border restrictions and allow more international flights into the country, the worsening global pandemic and the spread of the highly contagious Delta and Omicron variants have led the authorities to take tougher prevention measures during the winter and spring period. As such, on October 29, 2021, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced that it would be reducing the number of international passenger flights in and out of China to just 408 per week from the period between October 31, 2021 and March 26, 2022. This is a 21.1 percent reduction from the same period in 2020.

The CAAC is responsible for approving direct international flight routes to and from China, as well as the airlines approved to operate on these routes. Below is an overview of the flight routes currently approved by the CAAC for the period from October 31, 2021 to March 26, 2022. Note that this list may not be exhaustive, and any given flight is subject to last-minute delays and cancellations. Passengers planning on flying to China are advised to keep a sharp eye on updates from the airline.

CAAC-Approved Direct Flight Routes to Mainland China
Country Departure City Destination in China Airline(s) Status Update
Singapore Singapore Shanghai China Eastern, Singapore Airlines From Mar 21: Two Singapore Airlines flights (SQ830) suspended.
Chongqing Singapore Airlines
Chengdu Air China
Guangzhou China Southern
Nanjing Scoot
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Xi’an China Eastern
Hangzhou Air China
Shenzhen Singapore Airlines
Wuhan China Southern
Japan Tokyo Guangzhou All Nippon Airways, China Southern, Japan Airlines
Fuzhou Xiamen Airlines
Xi’an China Eastern
Shenyang China Southern
Hangzhou Air China, All Nippon Airways
Dalian Japan Airlines
Shanghai Air China, China Eastern, All Nippon Airways, Spring Airlines
Harbin Spring Airlines Japan
Nanjing Spring Airlines Japan
South Korea Seoul

Wuhan T’way Air From Mar 14: Two flights suspended (TW615).
Jinan T’way Air From Mar 14: Flights canceled (TW605).
Weihai Jeju Air
Dalian Korean Air
Shenyang Korean Air, China Southern From Mar 14: Two Korean Air flights (KE831) suspended.
Yantai Air Seoul, China Eastern
Changchun Asiana Airlines From Mar 28: Four flights suspended (OZ303).
Harbin Jeju Air, Asiana Airlines
Tianjin Korean Air
Guangzhou Korean Air, China Southern From Mar 7: Two Korean Air flights suspended (KE865), one flight route canceled (KE869/70).
Shenzhen Shenzhen Airlines
Hangzhou Air China From Mar 14: Flights canceled (CA139/140).
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Beijing Air China From Mar 14: Two flights suspended (CA124)
Chengdu Asiana Airlines
Shanghai China Eastern, Spring Airlines From Mar 21: Two Spring Airlines flights (9C8570) suspended;
Ningbo Spring Airlines From Mar 21: Flights canceled (9C8625).
Qingdao Qingdao Airlines From Mar 14: Weekly flight QW9901 canceled; Weekly flight QW9902 suspended for two weeks.
Jeju Xi’an Jin Air
Thailand Bangkok Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Kunming Kunming Airlines, Lucky Air
Shanghai Shanghai Airlines, Spring Airlines, Juneyao Air, China Eastern
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Guangzhou China Southern From Mar 14: Four flights (CZ3070) suspended.
Laos Vientiane Guangzhou China Southern
Kunming Lao Airlines From March 7: Two flights suspended (QV815).
Myanmar Yangon Guangzhou Myanmar Airways International, China Southern
Kunming China Eastern
Pakistan Islamabad Wuhan China Southern
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Shanghai Shanghai Airlines
Guangzhou China Southern, Malaysia Airlines From Mar 14: Two Malaysia Airlines flights (MH376) suspended.
From Mar 28: Two Malaysia Airlines flights (MH376) suspended.
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines, Malaysia Airlines From Mar 14: Malaysia Airlines flights canceled (MH390).
Indonesia Jakarta Shenzhen China Southern
Fuzhou Xiamen Airlines
Kunming Citilink
Wuhan Lion Air
Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan Hangzhou Royal Brunei Airlines
The Philippines Manila Guangzhou China Southern
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Shanghai China Eastern Suspended
Tianjin Philippine Airlines From Mar 21: Four flights (PR314) suspended.
Bangladesh Dhaka Guangzhou US-Bangla Airlines, China Southern From Mar 14: Two US-Bangla Airlines flights suspended (BS325).
Kunming China Eastern
Nepal Kathmandu Chongqing Himalaya Airlines
Azerbaijan Baku Beijing Azerbaijan Airlines
United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Shanghai Etihad Airways
Kuwait Kuwait Guangzhou Kuwait Airways From Mar 14: Four flights suspended (KU419).
Saudi Arabia Riyadh Guangzhou Saudia
Iraq Baghdad Guangzhou Iraqi Airways
Australia Melbourne Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Guangzhou China Eastern
Sydney Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Guangzhou China Southern
Hangzhou China Eastern
Shanghai China Eastern
New Zealand Auckland Guangzhou China Southern
Shanghai China Eastern, Air New Zealand
Germany Frankfurt Shanghai Lufthansa, China Eastern
Hangzhou China Eastern
Poland Warsaw Tianjin LOT Polish Airlines From Apr 4: Two flights suspended (LO93).
From Apr 18: Four flights suspended (LO93).
Beijing Air China
France Paris Shanghai China Eastern
Beijing Air China
Guangzhou China Southern
Tianjin Air France, Air China From Feb 21: Final scheduled Air China flight suspended.
Spain Madrid Shanghai Iberia Airlines
Hangzhou Iberia Airlines
Greece Athens Beijing Air China From Mar 21: Four flights suspended (CA864).
Netherlands Amsterdam Shanghai China Eastern
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Guangzhou China Southern From Feb 7: Four flights suspended.
Austria Vienna Shanghai Austrian Airlines From Mar 7: Two flights suspended (OS75).
Beijing Air China
Switzerland Zurich Shanghai SWISS From Feb 7: Four flights suspended.
Denmark Copenhagen Shanghai SAS
Finland Helsinki Shanghai Finn Air, Juneyao Air
Russia Moscow Shanghai Aeroflot
Beijing Air China
Zhengzhou Air China
Qingdao Air China
Turkey Istanbul Guangzhou Turkish Airlines From April 8: Two flights suspended (TK72).
United Kingdom London Shanghai China Airlines Only one flight scheduled on March 26. Flight may be rerouted.
Egypt Cairo Beijing Sichuan Airlines
Hangzhou EgyptAir
Chengdu Sichuan Airlines
Ethiopia Addis Ababa Shanghai Ethiopian Airlines
Kenya Nairobi Guangzhou Kenya Airways From March 14: Two flights suspended (KQ880).
Changsha China Southern From Feb 7: Two flights suspended.
South Africa Johannesburg Beijing Air China
Shenzhen Air China
North America
USA Los Angeles Beijing Air China
Tianjin Air China
Guangzhou China Southern From Jan 31: Eight flights (arriving in CAN on Tuesdays) suspended;
Four flights (arriving in CAN on Sundays) suspended.
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Shenzhen Air China
New York Shanghai China Eastern
Dallas Shanghai American Airlines From Feb 21: Two flights (arriving in Shanghai on Fridays) suspended.
Detroit Shanghai Delta Air Lines
San Francisco Shanghai United Airlines
  Seattle Shanghai Delta Air Lines
Canada Vancouver

Chengdu Sichuan Airlines
Xiamen Xiamen Airlines
Nanjing China Eastern
Toronto Shanghai China Eastern
Xi’an Hainan Airlines
Guangzhou China Southern
Note: The above routes are confirmed for the period between October 31, 2021, and March 26, 2022. The list may not be exhaustive and is subject to change.
Last updated: January 19, 2022

Note that not all of the above flight routes have regularly scheduled flights; some may only have as few as one or two scheduled flights during the period between October 31, 2021, and March 26, 2022.

To see the dates of currently scheduled flights approved by the CAAC, look up the departure city and destination on the CAAC website’s flight search (Chinese only).

China travel restrictions

China has imposed strict travel restrictions on international arrivals since March 2020 to stop the introduction of COVID-19 cases from abroad. Since then, the restrictions have successively been loosened and tightened again in response to the changing situation of the pandemic worldwide.

In addition to the reduced frequency of international passenger flights, restrictions include limited visa availability (including a suspension of tourist visas) and strict COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements before and after arrival in China.

Overview of past China travel restrictions

China has been adjusting its travel/entry policies from time to time based on the global pandemic situation, and so far, it has implemented four major phases of travel restrictions.

Phase I: China first imposed travel restrictions on March 28, 2020. At this time, foreigners from all countries were prohibited from entering China on most types of visas. Exceptions were given to those who held diplomatic, service, courtesy, or C visas; those traveling to China for necessary economic, trade, scientific, or technological activities; or out of emergency humanitarian needs. New visas issued after March 28, 2020 were not affected.

Phase II: The Phase I restrictions were temporarily lifted in September 2020, when foreigners with valid residence permits for work, personal matters, and reunion, would be allowed to enter the country without needing to re-apply for new visas.

Those whose visas or residence permits had expired in the meantime could re-apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits, without requiring a new invitation letter. The re-application had to be on the condition that the purpose of the visa or permit holders’ visit to China remained unchanged.

Phase III:  On November 3, 2020, due to the worsening pandemic in several areas of the world, China re-imposed the initial rules set out in March of 2020 for foreign nationals from the following countries: the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and South Africa.

Under this policy, foreigners from these countries will need to fully follow the entry rules set during Phase I restrictions. New visas issued after November 3, 2020 were not affected.

Phase IV: In early March 2021, China announced that travelers who have received Chinese COVID-19 vaccines and obtained the vaccination certificate can enjoy streamlined visa applications from March 15, 2021. We discuss this in more detail below.

Obtaining a visa to China

At present, foreigners are permitted to enter China if they have a valid residence permit or a corresponding visa obtained after March 28, 2020 (except for foreign nationals from the countries exempted in Phase III). Foreign nationals from the countries listed in Phase III are only permitted entry if they have obtained a visa or residence permit after November 3, 2020, when the Phase III restrictions were imposed.

Below is an overview of the types of visas that are currently being issued by Chinese visa offices.

Permitted Visa Types During COVID-19
Permitted purpose or skill set Visa type(s) Required documents*
Visiting a critically ill immediate Chinese family member or attending/arranging the funeral of an immediate Chinese family member (including parents, spouse, children, grandparents, grandchildren).

Family members (including spouses, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings) of foreign citizens who have permanent residence in China.

Q1, Q2, S1, and S2 visas – Photocopies of the medical or death certificate of the family member- Proof of relationship (birth certificate, marriage certificate, Chinese household registration, certificates letters from the local police bureau in China, notarial certificate of kinship, etc.)

– Invitation letter from the relatives in China

– Photocopy of the inviter’s Chinese ID card

Foreign crew members of aircraft, trains, and ships, motor vehicle drivers engaged in cross-border transport activities, and the accompanying family members of crew members of the above-mentioned ships. Crew visa (C visa) Guarantee letter or an invitation letter issued by a relevant foreign transport company, or an invitation letter issued by a relevant entity in China.
Resumption of operation and production, including for necessary economic, trade, scientific and technological purposes.

Highly qualified talent with skill sets that are urgently needed in China.

Work, business, or talent visa (M, R, and Z visas) – Invitation letter from the company in China stating the specific reasons and necessity of visiting China.

Invitation letter (PU) issued by the Provincial Foreign Affairs Office or Commercial Department, or work permit issued by a competent department in China.

– Formal letter from the company in the applicant country stating the specific reasons and necessity of visiting China.

Diplomats, government officials Diplomatic visa, service, or courtesy visa
*Documents required in addition to standard application materials. Chinese visa offices in different regions may have varying requirements for documentation. Applicants are advised to consult their local visa office to confirm the specific documents required for their situation.

Last updated: December 29, 2021

In addition to the above scenarios, foreign nationals who have been inoculated with a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine can enjoy an easier visa application procedure with looser requirements, although they are still limited to the above visa types. The applicants will be required to provide the vaccination certificate along with the other application documents.

The loosened application requirements are:

  • Standard application procedure – the same as before the COVID-19 pandemic – for foreign nationals and their family members who travel to China for purposes of “resuming work and production”.
  • A looser definition of ‘emergency need’ for application to a humanitarian visa. The definition can be expanded to include reuniting with family in China, elderly care, and visiting relatives.
  • APEC business travel card holders can apply for a business visa (M visa) by presenting the original valid APEC business travel card and an invitation letter issued by the inviting party in mainland China.

The below visa types are currently not being issued:

  • Tourist visa (L visa)
  • Student visa (X1 and X2 visa) (except for South Korean nationals)

The following visa-free policies are also currently suspended:

  • 24/72/144-hour visa-free transit policy
  • Hainan 30-day visa-free policy
  • 15-day visa-free policy for foreign cruise group tours through Shanghai Port
  • Guangdong 144-hour visa-free policy for foreign group tours from Hong Kong or Macao SAR
  • Guangxi 15-day visa-free policy for foreign tour groups of ASEAN countries

Pre-flight requirements

Since July 20, 2020, the CAAC has required both foreign and Chinese passengers flying into China to obtain COVID-19 negative certificates, known as green Health Declaration Certificate (HDC) codes, before boarding if they are flying from or transiting in any of these countries.

Pre-flight COVID-19 testing

Passengers must take two COVID-19 tests within 48 hours of boarding the direct flight to mainland China. The tests must consist of one nucleic acid test (PCR test) and one IgM antibody test. Passengers that take a flight from a third country before transferring to a direct flight to mainland China must take two COVID-19 tests in both countries before boarding the flight to China.

The COVID-19 tests must be done at facilities designated or recognized by Chinese embassies in the host country. The Chinese embassies will carefully assess the testing capacity of host countries and formulate travel procedures when testing conditions are met. Check the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website for lists of designated testing facilities in the country of departure.

On January 4, 2022, the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. released updated rules for passengers traveling to China from the U.S. Under the new requirements, travelers must arrive in the city of departure seven days before the date of departure of the direct China-bound flight. During this period, they must undergo two rounds of COVID-19 tests, one on the seventh day prior to the flight departure and one within 48 hours of the departure flight. Passengers must also undergo self-monitoring and fill in the Personal Health Monitoring Form.

For example, if a passenger is planning to take a direct flight from Dallas to Shanghai on January 21, 2022, their testing and health monitoring schedule would be:

  • January 14: Arrive in Dallas and take one nucleic acid COVID-19 test at an approved testing center.
  • January 14 to 21: Undergo self-monitoring and fill out the Personal Health Monitoring Form.
  • January 19 to 21: Undergo another round of COVID-19 tests composed of either two nucleic acid tests from two different approved testing clinics or a combination of different COVID-19 tests, depending on the passenger’s vaccination status.

The announcement also specified the type of tests that passengers must take depending on their vaccination status.

Passengers that have been fully vaccinated with an inactivated vaccine (e.g. Sinopharm and Sinovac) can take a nucleic acid test for all of the required COVID-19 tests.

Passengers that have been fully vaccinated with a non-inactivated vaccine (e.g. Pfizer and Moderna), are partially vaccinated, or have not been vaccinated must take a nucleic acid test for the initial test seven days prior to the departure flight, and then take a nucleic acid test, and an S and N protein IgM antibody test within 48 hours of departure.

Applying for a green HS/HDC code

After having taken the requisite COVID-19 tests in the country of departure, passengers must apply for a green HS code (for Chinese nationals) or a green HDC code (for foreign nationals). Foreign nationals can apply for HDC codes by registering on the MOFA website and Chinese nationals can apply for HS codes on the WeChat mini program “防疫健康码国际版”.

The following documents are required when applying for the HDC code:

  • Negative COVID-19 test results (usually PCR and IgM)
  • Flight itinerary
  • If the applicant is fully vaccinated, a vaccine certificate and the Letter of Commitment on COVID-19 Vaccination must be completed and signed by hand by the applicant or by their legal guardian.
  • Other (check the local MOFA website for a detailed list of required documents as each departure city may have different requirements).

The HDC and HS codes are valid for two days from the date of the earliest COVID-19 test.

The green HDC code must be obtained in the country from which the direct flight to China departs and cannot be obtained in a third country. If you are transferring from a third country before getting a direct flight to mainland China, you must ensure that there is enough time between flights in the transit city to obtain the requisite COVID-19 tests and apply for the green HDC code.

When flying from a third country, travelers must also take two COVID-19 tests (PCR and IgM antibody) within 48 hours of boarding the flight in the origin country and apply for a green HDC or HS code in the origin country.

Travelers are advised to check the guidance of the airline they are flying with for information on airport COVID-19 testing facilities and for any other COVID-19 restrictions or requirements of the origin or transit countries that could interfere with travel plans.

China quarantine rules

All passengers arriving from overseas must undergo between 14 and 21 days of centralized quarantine in a government-designated hotel at the point of entry in China. The cost of the quarantine hotel must be covered by the passenger, and generally ranges between RMB 350 (US$55) and RMB 600 (US$94) per day, depending on the quality of the hotel. The passenger generally cannot choose which hotel they will be quarantined in, although sometimes they will be given the option to choose between different price points.

During this time, you will not be permitted to leave your hotel room for any reason. All travelers must quarantine in separate hotel rooms, but children under the age of 14 are permitted to quarantine in the same room as a parent. You will also be required to take regular COVID-19 tests throughout the duration of the stay at the quarantine hotel.

Some cities will also require an additional seven days of health monitoring in the arrival city before you can travel to other cities in China. Health monitoring restrictions vary between districts and cities but may involve home quarantine (if you are a resident of the arrival city), restricted movement (such as only within the community where your house or hotel is situated), and regular COVID-19 tests and temperature checks.

If traveling to another city in China after completing the centralized quarantine and health monitoring, you may be required to undergo an additional seven to 14 days of quarantine, either in a designated quarantine hotel or under observation at home, depending on the local requirements of the city or district.

Some people can apply for an exemption to centralized quarantine and get permission to quarantine at home for all or part of the 14 days. Those people include those who are:

  • Older than 70
  • Younger than 14
  • Pregnant
  • With an underlying medical condition

China provincial travel restrictions

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 across provinces and cities in China, there are several domestic prevention measures in place for domestic travelers. The most common is the requirement to show a green health and travel code either before taking a train, plane, or bus to a different city or upon arrival.

Some cities will also require travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test taken in the last 48 hours, either before boarding the chosen mode of transport or upon arrival at the destination (or both).

Note that many hotels have temporarily stopped accepting foreign guests due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some that do accept foreign guests may also require them to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 48 hours, even if the city itself does not impose this requirement.

If you are staying in any other specialized or restricted area, such as a school, university campus, or government facility, you may also be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test to enter even if there is no city-wide requirement. It is therefore advised to call ahead to ensure that the hotel or other accommodation can accept foreign guests and to confirm which documents are required to stay there.

Quarantine requirements for domestic arrivals depend on whether the traveler has been to a medium or high-risk area (keep reading below for more details on China’s risk tier system).

All arrivals from high-risk areas within China will be required to undergo 14 days of centralized quarantine. The requirements for arrivals from medium-risk areas vary slightly from city to city.

For example, the city of Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, requires all travelers who come from medium-risk areas must undergo seven days of centralized quarantine and a further seven days of health monitoring at home. Shanghai, on the other hand, requires travelers from medium-risk areas to undergo 14 days of community health monitoring, where they can stay at home (if they are a resident of the city) but have limited movement and must undergo regular testing.

Travelers can search the latest local travel requirements by entering the departure and destination city in the travel policy search tool on the State Council app or WeChat mini program. This service is currently only available in Chinese.

To find the tool in WeChat, search “疫情服务” (yìqíng fúwù – pandemic services) and then choose “出行防疫政策查询” (chūxíng fángyì zhèngcè cháxún – travel pandemic prevention policy search) under the “tools” section (实用工具 – shíyòng gōngjù).

In general, if you are traveling from a low-risk area, you will not be required to quarantine, although negative COVID-19 tests may be required.

Measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on service sector

On February 18, 2022, the country’s main economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), along with other government bodies, issued a list of supportive policies for the service sector, which, among other things, bans local governments from implementing lockdowns and travel restrictions without approval from the central government. Specifically, the policy list outlines several “must nots” for local authorities, which include:

  • Must not stop people from low-risk areas from returning to their hometowns;
  • Must not arbitrarily expand the scope of medium and high-risk areas;
  • Must not subject people from low-risk areas to measures such as centralized quarantine without authorization or arbitrarily extend the period of centralized quarantine;
  • Must not lock down cities or districts in breach of epidemic prevention regulations or unnecessarily interrupt public transport without approval;
  • Must not shut down or extend shutdowns of restaurants, supermarkets, scenic spots, movie theaters, and other service providers without a policy basis.

The policy measures will hopefully make it easier for people to travel between different regions in China, in particular those living in areas with medium and high-risk areas, and help boost domestic consumption.

China’s COVID-19 risk level system

China imposes a three-tiered system for determining the risk level of a given jurisdiction in China. The risk level is divided into low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk. The three levels are also color-coded: green for low risk, yellow for medium risk, and red for high risk.

These color codes also correspond to the color code of the health and travel codes that people must present in order to move freely around the country. We explain these codes in more detail below.

The risk levels are assessed based on the number of new cases:

  • Low risk: areas with no confirmed cases or no new confirmed cases in the past 14 days.
  • Medium risk: areas with no more than 50 new confirmed cases, or 50 total, in the past 14 days and no cluster outbreak in the past 14 days.
  • High-risk: areas with more than 50 confirmed cases and a recorded cluster outbreak in the past 14 days.

As of December 30, 2021, there were two high-risk areas and 71 medium-risk areas in China. Check our COVID-19 tracker for the latest numbers.

China’s National Health Commission also launched a WeChat mini program for citizens to check out the infection risk level of a certain area and for frontline workers to check the countries and cities visited by a traveler in the past 14 days. A ‘visit’ in a given city or region constitutes a stay of over four hours in total.

The program also allows users to check if they have taken the same public transport as a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

China health code

As part of the domestic COVID-19 prevention measures, citizens are required to present a green health or travel code to enter public places and travel between cities in China.

There are two main health codes required for traveling within China: The Health Code (健康吗/随身吗) and the Travel Code (行程卡). Both health codes are embedded into the popular messaging app WeChat, operated by Tencent, and the payment app Alipay, operated by Alibaba. The travel code can also be downloaded as a standalone app.

To obtain the codes, residents must input information, including an ID number, home address, health status, contact history, and residence history, into the apps. The apps will then generate a green, yellow, or red QR code depending on their travel and contact history.

The health code tracks the holder’s health status based on location services and the information they have provided. Most cities use the same health code, which will update automatically to the local version based on the phone’s location services (see image below). However, some cities, such as Beijing (which uses a mini program called the “Health Kit” (健康宝)), have their own standalone apps or mini programs. You may therefore have to register for a separate local health code when traveling to certain cities.

China travel restrictions - Alipay health code

The travel code, meanwhile, tracks and lists all the cities you have traveled to in the last 14 days. It will turn yellow if you have traveled to a medium-risk area or red if you have traveled to a high-risk area in the last 14 days.

The travel code has recently also added an asterisk (*) next to cities that currently have a medium or high-risk area, even if other areas of the city are low-risk and the holder has not traveled to the medium/high-risk areas. Some cities and districts may impose additional requirements on inbound travelers who travel from a city with an asterisk, such as COVID-19 testing, even if the person hasn’t traveled to the medium/high-risk area and the code is green.

The significance of holding a green, yellow, or red health code differs in different cities and regions. A green health code generally means citizens can freely move around and travel to different cities, although some cities and regions will still require inbound travelers to quarantine or self-isolate upon arrival. The yellow or red code may subject the holder to seven and 14 days of quarantine respectively, at home or at a designated hotel.

Generally speaking, as long as you are traveling from a low-risk area, the green color in your health code system won’t change. But if you are from medium or high-risk areas, your travel to other Chinese provinces and cities will probably be restricted and you will be required to quarantine upon arrival.

Fast track channels with foreign countries

China has set up fast track channels with various countries that will make it easier for those traveling for essential business or official visits to travel to and from China. So far, China has signed fast track agreements with Germany, France, South Korea, the UK, Japan, and Singapore.

In addition to the above, in November 2021, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Shanghai announced that it had reached an agreement with the local Foreign Affairs Offices (FAO) to implement a US-China fast track program in early 2022. Details of the fast-track program have yet to be released.

To qualify, applicants must get a letter from the local Chinese embassy granting approval for the fast lane program. Fast track travelers are required to undergo COVID-19 testing before departure and after arrival in China. Those who test negative after arrival in China are not required to undergo centralized quarantine but must adhere to a strictly monitored itinerary for the first 14 days and take regular tests.

According to the European Chamber of China, supporting measures to facilitate the return of foreign nationals to China for urgent or necessary purposes are being conducted at a local level, including in Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong, Shanghai, and Tianjin.

In Shanghai, the MOFA and the Shanghai Municipality Government have issued two channels – a normal channel and a fast track channel – to facilitate the entry into China of employees essential for business operations.

The fast-track channel is only applied to employees of companies whose country of origin has signed a fast-track agreement with China.

Employees entering Shanghai following the fast-track procedure will be allowed to start work within 48 hours after arrival, subject to negative COVID-19 test results. Those entering Shanghai following the normal procedure will be subject to a 14-day quarantine at a designated central facility. Please see our article here to understand the detailed application procedures.

For South Korea, in addition to the other fast track privileges, China has also resumed issuing visas to South Korean students, employees hired to work in China, and those with residence permits.

China recognition of foreign vaccines

In April 2021, China confirmed it would accept US travelers inoculated with American-made vaccines. The Chinese Embassy in the United States issued a notice on April 21, 2021, allowing US passengers vaccinated with American-made non-inactivated vaccines to depart from Dallas and enter the Chinese mainland. The accepted American-made non-inactivated vaccines include vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The Notice required that passengers must get all the required shots before their trip to China. China-bound passengers are still required to provide positive IgM antibody test results as well as negative PCR test results.

Will China travel restrictions be loosened in 2022?

When discussing China in 2022, some of the most pressing questions on the minds of businesspeople are whether the country will allow quarantine-free entry, reinstate tourist and business visas, and relax its zero-Covid policy.

The short answer, unfortunately, is not likely.

China’s zero-Covid policy has proven, thus far, to be extremely effective at preventing the spread of the virus through the population, even with the arrival of the more infectious Delta variant. As of December 23, the total number of confirmed cases in China was just 4,245.

Although the prevention measures would be considered drastic in other parts of the world, they largely have the support of the wider Chinese population. This is helped by the fact that, due to the highly targeted nature of the lockdowns and travel restrictions, only a very small proportion of the population is affected at one time – usually only those living in the district or housing community in which a case was detected – thereby allowing the majority of the population to live life as normal.

In addition, the recent spread of the Omicron variant has given even more credence to China’s prevention strategy and has only led it to double down on its current policies. This is compounded by the fact that China’s domestic booster vaccines (which have been used to administer 2.695 billion doses as of December 20, 2021), appear to be weaker against the new Omicron variant than previous strains. China recorded its first Omicron case in December 2021, although the variant has thus far not spread further in the population.

The latest outbreak and concerns over the spread of the new variant have led the government to discourage people from traveling during Chinese New Year – the single most active travel period in China – for the third year in a row. Measures to deter people from traveling have also been put in place, such as prohibiting online travel agencies from selling tour tickets.

Apart from genuine concern for the health and well-being of the population and stability of the healthcare system, China also has political and economic reasons for remaining unwavering in its zero-Covid stance.

During the first wave of COVID-19 in Wuhan in early 2020, the government found itself the subject of a rare bout of criticism from the general population as case numbers and the death toll rose. The government has since worked hard to regain the confidence of the people, and one way to do this is to ensure the basic livelihoods of the people – by providing fiscal stimulus and support, but above all else, by ensuring that COVID-19 is not permitted to spread as it did in early 2020.

On the other hand, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on China was devastating – as it was in most of the world – and yet the country has succeeded in mostly bouncing back without reopening to foreign travel. One of the major contributors to the post-COVID recovery was domestic consumption, which has been greatly boosted by low COVID-19 numbers allowing a return to normal work and productivity.

In short, the economic impact of keeping borders closed is far lower than the impact of COVID-19 spreading through the population.

So, is there no chance of eased restrictions in 2022?

Many have speculated that China will begin to ease restrictions after some of the major events in 2022 are over, namely, the Beijing Winter Olympics in February and the 20th Party Congress in Q4 2022. As discussed above, there are many other issues of concern for the government with regards to reopening quarantine-free international travel. The restrictions are therefore likely to continue after these events are over.

There are, of course, some situations that could help convince authorities to ease some restrictions. One is the roll-out of a highly effective vaccine. China is developing its own mRNA vaccine, which is expected to hit the market next year. In addition to a domestic vaccine, the mRNA vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and Fosun Pharma is now under administrative review, while the Shanghai-based biopharma firm Everest Medicine has signed a license agreement with the Canadian biotech company Providence Therapeutics to produce and sell its potential mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in China. Everest Medicine hopes to complete the China factory by the end of the year.

In addition to an effective vaccine, an effective drug to treat COVID-19 could also mark a significant step toward reopening. On December 8, 2021, China’s top medicine regulator, the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) approved a neutralizing antibody combination therapy against COVID-19, which can be used for adults and adolescents with mild to moderate symptoms who are at risk of developing more severe symptoms. Clinical trials show a significant reduction in hospitalization and death, and the drug has already been used on patients in China.

As it currently stands, however, China is not ready to fully reopen quarantine-free travel, and restrictions are expected to persist. The next best thing may be opening travel corridors with specific countries or regions that have high vaccination rates and low numbers of COVID-19 cases, such as Singapore. There have been discussions of a Hong Kong-Singapore quarantine-free travel bubble since November 2020, but each round has subsequently been tabled after outbreaks in one of the two jurisdictions.

About Us

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at

Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Russia, in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative. We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.