How the 72 Hour Transit Without Visa Works in Beijing China

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Visa entry requirement change frequently. I will not update this post. Check travel.state.gov for the latest information.

I just spent 70 hours in the Beijing area without a visa using China’s 72-hour Visa-Free Transit rules.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.10.40 AM

As a recap, you can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa if:

  • you fly into Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG or SHA), Guangzhou (CAN), or Chengdu (CTU)
  • fly out of the same airport
  • stay in the city/province the entire time
  • arrive with an onward ticket to a third country
  • departing less than 72 hours after arrival
  • hold a passport from one of 51 countries including the United States

The key one not to overlook is that “third country” rule. You cannot fly into Beijing from one country and fly right back to that same country. For instance, New York to Beijing to Los Angeles doesn’t work. New York to Tokyo to Beijing to New York does work.

  • How did the 72 Hour Visa Free Transit work?
  • What did we do upon arrival?
  • Are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau “third countries” for the purpose of the visa?
  • What did we squeeze into 70 hours?
  • Do I recommend using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit program?

How to Get the Non-Visa

Upon arriving in Beijing from Hong Kong, we followed the signs toward immigration. Immigration was handled at a number of counters with who should use each line listed in lights in Chinese and English above each counter.

I was looking for a counter that said 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit in lights, but I didn’t see one. Instead we found this sign at the end of the counters, directing us to a counter that was closed.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.10.40 AM

A Chinese immigration agent, seeing me looking at the sign and the closed counter told me “Counter Number 1” and pointed to the other end of the counters, just before the e-gates that Chinese citizens can use to enter without talking to any agents.

The counters were not visibly numbered, but the last one looked different than the rest. This counter actually had APEC in lights over it, but I confirmed with a nearby agent that this was the correct line, and I saw another American a few people ahead.

When I got to the front of the line, I handed the agent my passport and my entry card. I then showed him my itinerary for my next flight to Seoul on the United app on my phone.

I should have printed out the itinerary of my flight leaving Beijing to hand to him, but I hadn’t thought of it until I was on the road already.

The agent looked at my phone and asked where it showed my name to be sure it was my departing flight, which I pointed out. He asked me to write the date and flight number of my departing flight on my entry form. (Don’t do this in advance; he’ll tell you where.)

Then he stamped my passport and let me in. The stamp said I had to leave China in three days.

Three days later, as we flew out of Beijing, we went through the normal immigration and got the exit stamp that everyone else seemed to get. When leaving Beijing, there was no special line or procedure for folks with the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit stamps.

What We Did with 72 Hours

Wednesday

  • 5:20 PM: touchdown in Beijing
  • 7:00 PM: arrive at hostel, have a beer, explore our hutong, and eat dinner

Thursday

  • 8:00 AM: picked up by our tour guide for 2 day-1 night hike of Great Wall. I will review this tour separately; it was awesome!

Friday

  • 4:00 PM: dropped off after tour. We just rested and caught up on work emails for the next few hours.
  • 9:00 PM: head out, it’s Friday night!

Saturday

  • 7:00 AM: wake up and head to Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
  • noon: leave hostel in taxi for the airport
  • 3:20 PM: take off for Seoul

We accomplished a ton, and we could have even seen a lot more if we had done a one day Great Wall hike and hadn’t had to take breaks for a few hours to keep up with work.

I highly recommend spending close to 72 hours in Beijing to see the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.12.55 AM
Wild Section of The Great Wall near Jiankou

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau

Remember that requirement that you need to fly into the mainland Chinese city from one country and fly out to a third country? Do Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau count as other countries for these purposes?

I can say that flying from Hong Kong to Beijing counted for us as entering from a foreign country.

Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan all have separate immigration from mainland China, and flights from all three places come in to the international terminal in Beijing.

I have read in comments here and elsewhere that Macau and Taiwan also work like Hong Kong worked for us.

Share your visa-free travel stories in China in the comments.



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32 COMMENTS

  1. Scott I have a 12 hour layover in Beijing and plan to head to the Great Wall for a few hours – looking forward to your review. I arrive on Air China in first and depart on Thai in first. I wont be checking any luggage. Do you know if I can leave my carry-on in one of the first class lounges? Would I be required to go through immigration first or could I first visit a lounge to drop my carry-on then pass through immigration and get the 72 hour stamp?

    • I don’t think any airport will let you leave a carry on in the lounge. I’m not sure whether you can access lounges before immigration because I didn’t look for them.

      • Dave, there are no lounges before immigration. I flew CA first from LAX a few weeks ago. We arrived into Beijing’s terminal 3 and it was a straight shot to immigration and security before you can even access the lounge. And the luggage lockers in the CA F lounge are electronically controlled so you can’t leave your bags there for longer than 4 hours.

  2. Rules have some language about needing to notify the airline that you plan to use the 72hr visa free before arrival. Did you have to do that? Also can you check through baggages in Beijing without having to deal with them there? Thanks.

    • I don’t check baggage, but I can’t imagine being allowed to do it three days in advance.

      I didn’t notify my second carrier. Dragonair in Hong Kong did confirm my flight out of Beijing with Asiana though.

  3. I did this last year in Beijing. I had not realized that it was possible to leave Beijing, to visit e.g. the Great Wall. How did you ascertain that this was allowed as per the terms of the transit without visa? Given how polluted Beijing is, I would have welcomed the chance to visit the Great Wall. I transited in from Seoul, and out to LAX (on Air China in F).

    • Because I had read many trip reports on the subject. I think the rule is that you have to stay in the metro area. Many parts of the Great Wall are in Beijing.

  4. Do the tickets/itineraries needs to be booked separately, or can they be booked on the same multi-city itinerary?

    Thanks!

    • The flights do NOT need to be on one itinerary. My Dragonair flight (HKG-PEK) was an Avios award and my Asiana flight (PEK-ICN) was a United award.

  5. Scott, what hostel did you stay at in Beijing and can you comment on it’s suitability for a family of 4? Looking to do a China trip next summer.

  6. Scott-

    is it 72 hrs from when your plane lands or once you get the visa. I’m arriving at 7 am in the morning, but leaving at 1:40. Of course I could hang in the airport for a few hours and I would be checking in by 10:30 or so.

    Paul

    • I think it is from scheduled landing to scheduled departure. Our airline to Beijing checked our ticket out of Beijing closely before issuing our boarding pass to Beijing. I think they were looking at that detail.

  7. Very cool… nice use of your time! When preparing your itinerary, did you read about any accounts of repercussions should one have an unforeseen delay? Lost passport, illness, transportation, for eg.? I’m wondering if China’s definition of a ‘gross violation’ differs from that of a westerner?

    • No, I didn’t. In case of anything that would send me over 72 hours (besides a delayed flight when I already had the exit stamp), I’d make it a point to contact Chinese and US authorities ASAP.

  8. It was a breeze when I did this recently. I flew to Beijing from Singapore and the biggest hassle was at the airport in Singapore. The woman checking me in had to go check with her supervisor about it and they had to count (Literally. I saw them counting on their fingers in the distance.) how many hours I’d be in Beijing. Once in Beijing, there was a lane that was clearly marked for 72 hour transit visas and it was probably only an extra 10 minute wait over the other lines (he also made me write my onward flight info on the entry form). And I agree that printing out your onward itinerary is a smart idea. The guy in Beijing inspected mine very carefully, so I just think it makes the entire process easier.

  9. I have a 13-hour layover in December with my family of 7, so thanks for the information and the picture of the sign to look for! With such a short layover, we don’t want to waste any time looking for the right line. We are hoping to find a tour guide that can pick us up at the airport and take us straight on to the Great Wall, so I am looking forward to that trip report. We are considering Mutianyu, which is the section closest to the airport. Would appreciate any tips on how to find the least expensive tour options!

  10. PRint out your itinerary. I did this in February with no problems as I printed my itinerary but another group of Americans people didn’t print it. The Chinese were none too thrilled with that.

  11. I fly in December IAH-PEK-ICN-PVG; one and half days stay in Shanghai and continue to AKL. Do you think it might be any problem using 72 hours rule in Shanghai, because of earlier transit connection in PEK (but still flying to PVG from ICN)? I would think it should work.
    Thanks,

  12. Here’s a very interesting one for everyone to take heed:
    I took advantage of this 72-hour transit. Originally my outbound flight to HKG was the next day. While in Shanghai I decided to move my flight out to fully take advantage of the full 72 hours.
    Well, apparently I overstayed my visa by doing this because the visa (while good for UP TO 72 hours is issued based upon your outbound flight) so I was only given a 24 hour stay.
    $165USD and 2 hours of questioning and paperwork at the airport immigration (almost missed my outbound flight) I was able pass immigration.

    • Thanks for the tip. They clearly hand write on the stamp in your passport when you must leave, and in my case it was 3 days after arrival (9/13) because that’s when my flight was. Yours probably said 1 day after your arrival.

  13. We are going to have a 72hr stop over in November. Can you post the contact details of the tour guide you used please.

  14. Do you must pick up your luggage if you have the 72 hour visa?.. or can you leave it and it would be automatically checked in for the next flight?

  15. Hi guys- i am doing a 72 hour visa transit in Beijing from Hong Kong with the 3rd destination of Doha, Qatar. I just realized I am over the 72 hour by 1 hour and 50 minutes. The 72 hours will expire at midnight and our flight is at 1:50. If we arrive at the airport early and get through immigration before midnight will my husband and myself be ok? Any feedback is appreciated.

    • While I can’t say for sure, I’m very confident you’ll be just fine, Laura if you arrive early to the airport and have passed immigration before midnight. The visa duration isn’t defined by when you’re on the plane but rather when you’re officially in China and once you pass immigration, you’re technically in limbo and not within a country.

  16. we’re very confused on this 72 hour visa business. We are looking at tickets from Anchorage, AK to Beijing and then flying to Seoul, South Korea for the olympics. So we’ll have a round trip from beijing to seoul and back. We’d like to spend 72 hours in beijing on the way back to alaska. Does this work?

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