Traveling to China After Reopening – What’s Changed?

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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 (November 1, 2023): China Customs announced that it will no longer require people leaving and entering China to fill in the Entry/Exit Health Declaration Card. This decision means that from this day forward, there are no more COVID-era restrictions and requirements for travelers leaving and entering the country. However, anyone leaving or entering China who shows symptoms of or who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease is still required to declare their health status to Customs of their own volition. See our article for more details on this news here.

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 (August 28, 2023): The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin made a significant declaration that 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 
  • Issued to those who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities 
  • Invitation letter issued by the trade partner in China 
  • Issued to those who are invited to China for non-commercial purposes, such as research, lectures, and cultural exchanges 
  • Invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China 
  • Issued to those who are taking up a post or employment in China 
  • Valid “Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work” 
  • Issued to those who intend to study in China for more than 180 days 
  • Visa Application for Study in China (original JW201 / JW202 Form) 
  • The original Admission Letter issued by a school or other entities in China 
  • Issued to those who intend to study in China for less than 180 days 
  • The original Admission Notice issued by a school or other entities in China 
  • Issued to those who intend to go to China to visit the foreigners working** or studying*** in China to s, or to those who intend to go to China for other private affairs, and the intended duration of stay in China exceeds 180 days 
  • Invitation letter issued by a foreigner residing in China 
  • Photocopy of the personal information page of the inviting individual’s passport and Residence Permit (or photocopy of Z visa / X1 visa application documents) 
  • The original proof of kinship between the applicant and the inviting individual (e.g., Marriage Certificate, Birth Certificate, etc.) 

*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.

  • Invitation letter issued by a Chinese citizen or permanent resident of China 
  • Photocopy of the inviting individual’s Chinese ID card or the personal information page of the foreigner’s passport and photocopy of the Chinese Permanent Residence Permit 
  • The original proof of kinship between the applicant and the inviting individual (e.g., Marriage Certificate, Birth Certificate, etc.) 
  • Issued to those who intend to visit their family members* who are foreigners working** or studying** *in China, or to those who intend to go to China for other private affairs, and the intended duration of the S2 visa is less than 180 days  
  • Issued to family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents of China who intend to stay in China longer than 180 days   
  • Issued to family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents of China who intend to visit China temporarily  
  • “Confirmation Letter for High-end Foreign Talents” 
  • Issued to crewmembers on international aviation, sea navigation, and land transportation missions, and their accompanying family members  
  • Guarantee letter from a foreign transport company or an invitation letter issued by the relevant units in China  
  • Issued to those who plan to live in China permanently (this visa is also known as “the Chinese green card” and is notoriously difficult to acquire)  
  • The original Confirmation Form for Foreigners Permanent Residence Status  
  • Issued to those who intend to transit through China  
  • An onward air (train or ship) ticket with a confirmed date and seat to the destination country or region  
  • Issued to journalists who enter the country to conduct interviews and reporting  
  • Invitation letter issued by the domestic inviting unit  

* 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 10year 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 are applying 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. 

At the end of November 2023, China also announced a 15-day visa-free entry policy for holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, during the period from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024.

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? 

There are no longer any COVID-19 testing requirements to enter or leave China. Starting from August 30, 2023, travelers bound for China were no longer required to undergo COVID-19 nucleic acid tests or antigen tests before their departure. In addition, from November 1, 2023, onward, China Customs ceased requiring travelers to fill in and show the Entry/Exit Health Declaration Card, removing the last COVID-era travel requirement.

In its announcement scrapping the health declaration card requirement, China Customs emphasized that people leaving and entering China who show symptoms of or who have been diagnosed with an infectious disease are still required to declare their health situation to Customs of their own volition. Symptoms may include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, or unexplained subcutaneous bleeding, according to the notice. This has been a requirement since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you report any symptoms, you may be taken aside for additional testing. If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be permitted to recover 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 November 29, 2023.)

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, 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.