New Chinese Visa Regulations Help my RTW Trip

September 10, 2016

Maybe I am a bit of an overplanner when it comes to travel. The truth is, though I do like to be meticulous about where I’m going to sleep and how I’m going to get there, everything else is usually left to chance: daytime activities, meeting friends, nightlife, shopping, cultural sights, etc. This trip is no different.

I recently started working for a travel visa processing company in San Francisco. As a result, I have my ear to the ground regarding new visa regulations, particularly in China, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. I knew, having visited China in 2002 (by plane) and 2008 (by ferry), that I needed one of their genuine, overpriced tourist visas – currently $140 for Americans – whose duration is pretty much subject to the whims of immigration or consular officers.

I even had the chance to try out one of their 24-hour transit visas when I passed through Beijing Capital International Airport a few years ago. At the time, I didn’t know I’d be doing this; I assumed that because I had an international connection within a few hours of my arrival, I would just be granted entrance to the terminal.

Not so for China, and a few other countries. Even if you have a short stopover to catch a connecting flight, some countries require you line up at immigration, show your outbound ticket, and get your passport stamped.

In Beijing, this process was tedious; we had a full flight and nearly everyone was continuing on to another country. There was one person manning the transit visa immigration counter (different area than immigration for arrivals), and I left the desk with only 15-20 minutes to board.

However, for this trip, bureaucracy is on my side. I took advantage of one of The Flight Deal’s offers and found a one-way flight from Dallas into Shanghai for $400. At the time, I just wanted a cheap destination in SE Asia and would have settled for almost anything. My brother and his wife are in Hong Kong, and it would be good to take the train down to see them before heading into Cambodia. I flirted with the idea of just flying from HK to Manila for TBEX, but decided the typhoons and rain would make the Philippines a less than relaxing diversion in September.

So why is Shanghai a desirable destination, considering the last time I saw it, it was covered in iPhone 3 dust?


Shanghai is one of a select few areas of China that allow foreign visitors a free 144-hour transit visa. As of January 30th, 2016, citizens of certain countries can transit through Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang for up to six days without a visa.

This sounded too good to be true, so I had to investigate. The consulate general in San Francisco knew nothing about it, nor is there any information about this particular transit visa on the embassy page for DC; the only ones listed were the standard 24- and 72-hour transit visas for all airports.

Eventually, I did get the information I needed from Shanghai’s immigration website. Although many travelers are able to take advantage of this new transit visa, there would be just as many who couldn’t:

1. To quality, you have to be arriving from one country and departing to another. I’m flying into China from the US and heading to Hong Kong. In other words, you couldn’t fly from Perth and return to Sydney.

2. What threw me was whether you had to be arriving and departing from the same port, e.g. Shanghai Pudong International Airport. It appears, however, that as long as you stay in the region for the duration of the transit visa, you can leave from an alternative port. I’ll be leaving from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.

3. Most important: you have to have a ticket in hand showing your departure date and time. This wouldn’t have been possible if my brother weren’t in Hong Kong… maybe if I had a friend in Shanghai. Of course, I could have a plane ticket ready, but physically getting a Chinese train ticket to me is trickier.

This only works by train if you’ve booked the sleeper from Shanghai to Hong Kong because the overnight train requires you go through immigration before boarding; taking the high speed train to Shenzhen North Railway Station or the G train to Guangzhou South and then transferring to a HK train wouldn’t work because you’d be entering a different area of China without a valid transit visa.

However, there’s still the matter of getting the physical ticket. Getting a ticket when you’re already in Shanghai is simple enough, but in the US…? Difficult. There are websites that will reserve Chinese train tickets in advance, but none of them will deliver your tickets outside China or Hong Kong; they’re designed to accommodate travelers on tourist or business visas who don’t want to wait in line at the station.

This is where I just got lucky: my brother is based in Hong Kong. I ordered a train ticket to be delivered (at twice the cost of what I might have paid in person) to him in HK, and – fortunately for me – he’s flying over to the US for a business trip in advance of my departure. He’ll be able to hand me my ticket, which I will then fly all the way back to China, to present to immigration as proof of departure. Crazy, and perfectly legal.

Why go through all this?

Because why just book an easy plane ticket, arrange a tourist visa, and arrive knowing what’s going to happen? I like the uncertainly. I like the challenge.

I’m a bit of a gambler, and there’s nothing like the feeling of my heart jumping out of my chest when I’ve got a large bet on the felt and the outcome is uncertain. Win, lose, or draw, the excitement is what makes the game worthwhile.

In this case, I’m gambling I’ll be able to board my plane in Detroit without getting any guff from the gate agents. I’m gambling I’ll be allowed to enter China and not be turned away, forced to buy an expensive flight back to the states. No matter how much preparation I do, my heart will still be racing at those critical stages, and I’ll be riding that feeling all the way to Cambodia… and Dubai… and back.

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One Response to New Chinese Visa Regulations Help my RTW Trip

  1. […] and Twitter feeds, you probably know I had a bit of a scare the last few days. My plan to use the 144-hour transit visa to visit Shanghai was solid: arrive at Shanghai Pudong Airport on the 25th, show them my international train ticket […]

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