Rumors that Beijing would waive visas for travelers have been making the rounds for some time now. But that's all it was – a rumor. This is all set to change however, according to an official announcement made on December 5. From January 1, 2013, visitors stopping over in Beijing on transit will be allowed to stay in the city for up 72 hours visa-free. But as with any new rule in China, there's some fine print worth reading. Who exactly qualifies for this exemption, and are there any strings attached? And is there even any reason for us to get excited? Read on to find out more.
Who can take advantage of the visa waiver?
Travelers from 45 countries will be allowed to take advantage of this 72-hour visa waiver program, and according to Li Baochun of the Entry & Exit Administration, this list could get longer if the need arises. For a full list of countries click here. However, travelers must be on transit via Beijing; in other words, Beijing cannot be the final destination. What's more, visitors cannot travel to other Chinese cities and must show that they satisfy the entry conditions of their destination country.
Hang on, let's back up a bit. Only people en route to another country who stop over in Beijing are applicable – which rules out all tourists coming specifically to China. And since most connecting flights are part of the overall ticket package (in other words, you rarely have much or any flexibility in choosing the departure time of your connecting flight out of Beijing) and usually only involves a layover of a couple of hours, this visa waiver rule is pretty much useless to the average traveler. So, if you thought that this means a quick 3-day visa-free business or leisure trip to China, think again! However, if you ever do happen to find yourself stuck at Beijing Capital Airport for a significant chunk of time on your way to, let's say Japan, you could consider leaving the airport and heading to the Forbidden City for a quick tourist snapshot without having the hassle of applying for a tourist visa!
And if you're wondering when the 72-hour countdown begins, the clock only starts ticking once you've been approved for the waiver and not as soon as the plane touches down as some people may mistakenly believe.
How to apply for the visa waiver
1. Have valid identification and proof of onward flight to another country within 72 hours.
2. Travelers must declare their intent to take advantage of the 72-hour visa waiver rule to the airline. However, no clear instructions are yet provided on when or how travelers should contact the airline about this. The new rules are also not clear on whether to notify the airline prior to boarding the flight for Beijing or whether they can notify the airline on board or upon arrival. For this reason, we recommend contacting your airline about this well in advance.
3. At the customs gate, travelers must fill out the relevant entry forms.
What conditions must I satisfy to get the visa waiver?
1. Traveler must be a member of one of the 45 approved countries
2. Have valid identification
3. Is eligible for entry in the country of his/her destination
4. Holds proof of an onward flight to another destination within 72 hours. This proof should state the exact departure date and seat number. In addition, this onward flight must be bought in advance; travelers cannot purchase an onward flight upon arriving in Beijing
5. Travelers who take advantage of the 72-hour visa waiver must stay within the city.
Other things you have to know
Those who use the visa waiver must abide by a set of rules that include carrying valid ID at all times, registering at the local police station within 24 hours if not staying at a hotel or guesthouse and leaving the country from Beijing Capital Airport. In the case of unforeseen circumstances such as a sudden illness or flight cancellation, travellers must go to the Entry and Exit Administration immediately to apply for a valid visa. All travellers will have to pass through special X-ray equipment that checks body temperature to satisfy China's health and quarantine policies. And that's not all: travellers arriving with pets in tow are not permitted to take their pets with them when leaving the airport. However, blind people can take their guide dogs with them provided they have the proper paperwork.
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