Traveling to China After Reopening – What’s Changed?
We offer the latest advice on traveling to China in 2023, including information on current Chinese visa application requirements, pre-flight testing, and travel tips.
UPDATE (September 20, 2023): In a bid to attract more international visitors, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) introduced a simplified visa application process on September 20, 2023. This revision primarily focuses on the visa application form and entails two significant changes. Firstly, applicants are now required to list their travel history from the past year instead of the previous five years. Secondly, the educational background section has been streamlined to only request the highest level of education achieved.
These adjustments, according to MFA spokesperson Mao Ning, are intended to reduce the time applicants spend on visa forms and enhance overall efficiency. The MFA reaffirmed its dedication to fostering people-to-people interactions between China and other countries, emphasizing China’s commitment to high-quality development and global engagement.
UPDATE: On August 28, 2023, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin made a significant declaration. Starting from August 30, 2023, travelers heading to China will not have to undergo mandatory pre-entry COVID-19 nucleic acid tests or antigen tests.
In March 2023, China announced that it had resumed issuing all types of visas, giving the official greenlight for foreign travelers and tourists to return to the country. This announcement followed months of gradual dismantling of COVID-19 travel restrictions, which saw the lifting of quarantines, vaccine and testing requirements, and travel codes.
Domestic and international travel requirements have since been further relaxed so that there are currently almost no additional steps to take in relation to COVID-19 in order to travel to China.
However, foreign travelers may still be confused when planning for their China trip, as it adopted a progressive approach for lifting restrictions, and the latest information is scattered across a series of announcements. Below we answer some common questions on China travel after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
Which Chinese visas are currently available?
China resumed issuing all types of visas in March 2023. All of the same types of visas that were available prior to the pandemic are now available for application again.
The visas that are currently available to travel to China are listed in the table below.
2023 Chinese Visa Application Guidelines
|Visa type||Applicable situation||Main features|
*In case of private affairs, relevant supporting documents shall be provided upon request
** The family member includes spouses, parents, sons or daughters under the age of 18, or parents-in-law.
*** Some embassies only accept S1/S2 visa applications of people who have family members who are foreigners working in China, instead of studying in China.
* Some applications require a PU/TE letter
Note that if you obtain a long-term visa, such as a work or student visa, you are required to convert the visa into a residence permit within a prescribed period of time, usually 30 days.
Is my 10–year Chinese visa still valid?
All multiple entry visas that were issued before March 28, 2020, that are still within the validity date can now be used to travel to China again. This includes 10-year visitor visas issued to citizens of the US and other countries. Note that you are usually only able to stay in China for a period of up to 60 days on this type of visa, and you will need to apply for another long-stay visa if you wish to stay longer than 60 days.
If the visa has expired since March 28, 2020, you will be required to apply for a new visa before you can travel to China.
How do I apply for a Chinese tourist visa in 2023?
In most cases, foreigners must apply for a visa in order to travel to China. This is done through your nearest Chinese Visa Application Service Center, not the consulate or embassy. You must either be a citizen or have residency or another right to stay (such as a visa) in the country in which you apply for the Chinese visa.
The requirements to apply for a visa vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for and the location in which you apply for it. It is therefore important to check the website of your local Chinese Visa Application Service Center for application requirements.
Note that the duration of short-stay visas, such as tourism or business visas, can also vary depending on your specific situation, where you apply, and your nationality.
China does offer some visa-free options for short-term travel. These include 144-hour, 72-hour, and 24-hour visa-free transit, which allows foreign travelers to enter China through designated ports and travel around a limited area for up to six days, provided they are continuing on to a third country after departing the country.
For more information on visa-free travel to China, see our Complete Guide to China’s Visa-Free Policies.
What are the COVID-19 testing requirements to travel to China?
According to the latest information, starting from August 30, 2023, travelers bound for China will no longer be required to undergo COVID-19 nucleic acid tests or antigen tests before their departure.
The removal of these testing requirements marks a substantial shift in the entry process for individuals traveling to China. With the withdrawal of COVID-19 testing prerequisites, travelers will no longer need to present negative test results or undergo testing procedures prior to boarding their flights to China. This change is set to significantly streamline the travel process and eliminate a significant barrier that had been in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Airlines are no longer required to check the COVID-19 tests before boarding, and there are no testing requirements upon arrival in China.
However, you may be asked to show the health declaration code, which you receive after filling in the health declaration form, as the border force conducts spot checks.
If you report any symptoms, you may be taken aside for additional testing. If you test positive, you will be permitted to self-isolate in your place of stay or seek medical help if required.
It’s important to stay updated with any further announcements or changes that may arise, as travel guidelines and policies can evolve in response to the ongoing global situation. Travelers are advised to refer to official sources such as the Chinese government’s official websites and diplomatic channels for the most accurate and up-to-date information before planning their trips to China.
Are there any restrictions on traveling within China?
China has removed all domestic travel restrictions, meaning that people are now free to cross provincial and regional borders without having to show negative COVID-19 tests or health codes.
Note that if you enter China on one of the short-term transit entry permits, you are not permitted to travel outside a certain designated area, which will depend on your port of entry. For information on where you can travel on this entry permit, see our article here.
Do I need to take any COVID-19 precautions while traveling in China?
COVID-19 is still present in China, and it is therefore advisable to take common sense prevention measures when traveling around the country. These precautions are the same as the ones you would take in other countries and include regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask in public, and avoiding crowded areas where possible, among others.
Mask mandates on public transport and in public areas, such as restaurants, bars, stores, malls, and parks, have been removed. However, the government still advises people to wear them of their own volition.
Wearing a mask is still mandatory in nursing homes and medical institutions. You should also wear a mask if you test positive for COVID-19.
What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 while in China?
You are no longer required to go to a quarantine facility if you test positive for COVID-19.
The current official advice in China if you test positive for COVID-19 is to self-isolate at home if you are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. If you have moderate to severe symptoms, you should seek medical help, and you may be hospitalized if your condition is serious.
It is advisable to purchase medical insurance before traveling to China, as staff in public health institutions may only speak Chinese and private healthcare is very expensive.
It is also advisable to bring fever medicine, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, as you may not be able to buy the same brands you are used to taking in your home country, and staff at pharmacies usually only speak Chinese.
(This article was originally published on June 9, 2023, and was last updated on September 20, 2023.)
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 email@example.com.
Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, Dubai (UAE), 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.
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