With Christmas right around the corner and Chinese New Year coming up fast, many expats in China will no doubt be feeling the urge to hit the road. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ebbing and flowing around the world, however, would-be holiday makers are likely to run into a thicket of travel protocols and travel restrictions in and out of China. Finding accurate, dependable information on where and how to travel during the upcoming holidays is at best confusing, at worse outright maddening. I’ve compiled what, at the time of writing, is up-to-date information in the hope that it’ll prepare you for the mafan that lies ahead.
Source: Artur Tumasjan
Before going any further, a disclaimer: This is a fluid situation. In fact it’s an overflowing river of fluidity. Finding accurate information is tough, and trying to find details that remain unchanged for more than a couple of weeks exasperating. It’s incumbent upon you to stay up to date as the situation continues to evolve. Take this article as more of a rough guide than gospel. The clock is ticking on the accuracy of this information…
Entry into China
China is currently allowing citizens from a surprisingly wide range of countries across Europe, Asia and beyond to apply for visas for work and family reunification purposes. The chances are that you already know the status for your exact situation. COVID testing procedures and quarantining measures will vary depending on where you’re coming from and the city or province to which you are traveling or returning to. Typically, you’ll be required to submit a negative nucleic acid test that was completed within five or three days of your flight. Whatever the test result, on arrival you’ll be required to submit to 14 days quarantine at your own expense, although you can now request “7 + 7” quarantine if you have your own digs in certain cities. This means being observed in a hotel for seven days and then self-quarantining at home for the next seven days.
Again, this is an evolving situation, so be prepared for changes to the rules and regulations. Expats already in China who are looking to leave during the holidays should check with their employer and the Chinese embassy/consulate nearest you for any potential changes to visa and re-entry requirements. If you’re a teacher, your employer probably won’t want you traveling outside of your city at all, and if you’re a journalist, your visa will currently be cancelled if you leave — but you probably already know this.
US, Canada, Australia and England
The US has restricted entry of any foreign national who has been to or passed through China, despite the fact that the US is in a much worse state COVID-wise than China. However, US nationals are free to return from China without submitting to a mandatory quarantine upon arrival, as is the idiocy of the system.
Travel from China to Canada is mainly restricted to Canadian citizens and legal residents. Some non-Canadians can apply for entry in special circumstances. Visit the immigration page of the Canadian government to learn which hoops you need to jump to through for that.
People coming from China can enter the UK with nothing more than a non-enforced home quarantine, but with a new variant of the COVID-19 virus currently raging there, many countries around the world are restricting travel to and from the UK. Brits in China planning to go home for the holidays should seriously consider if it’s a smart idea, especially as China has currently banned all entries from the UK, whatever their visa status. Essentially, if you’re British and you leave China right now, you won’t be allowed back in.
Since December 1, Australia has suspended all inbound arrivals except for the repatriation of residents and their immediate family members.
Singapore and Cambodia are open… mostly
Entry into Singapore from China is currently allowed. No quarantine is necessary if you’ve been in mainland China for the past 14 days and applied for an Air Travel Pass in advance, but a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is required. With a negative result, visitors can travel freely throughout Singapore, providing they download and use the TraceTogether app and wear a mask in public places at all times. Singapore appears to currently have the least restrictions on travel from China for both Chinese citizens and foreigners. This may have something to do with the fact that in 2019 alone, Chinese travelers spent 3.2 billion dollars in Singapore!
China does not currently allow leisure travelers from Singapore, and returning China visa holders will need to quarantine upon arrival just like everyone else. Only those entering under the FastTrack system, design to facilitate high-level business travel, will be exempt.
Cambodia is open to all with a negative PCR test. No quarantine is required, but there is a fun/nightmarish wrinkle. Every foreign arrival gets tested at the entry port along with the group they traveled with, meaning all passengers on your flight. If everyone on your flight tests negative, then off you go to have fun. However, if even one person on your flight tests positive, all of you must quarantine for two weeks. It’s a role of the dice, for sure. Also, government-issued quarantine accommodations in Cambodia during a global health emergency are not likely to be Michelin starred.
Japan and Korea
Japan is closed, although foreign nationals who already hold valid visas can apply to re-enter. It would seem that Japan is doing its best to keep the country as COVID-free as possible in the run-up to the already-postponed Summer Olympics.
Anyone can enter South Korea, but all visitors must submit to a test and a compulsory 14-day quarantine, regardless of the test result. This, along with the mandatory quarantine on return, makes it all but impossible for China expats to visit South Korea during the upcoming holidays.
Other popular holiday destinations
Some Chinese citizens have been granted special visas from the Thai government to visit tourist hot spots like Phuket and Koh Samui. Visitors are not required to quarantine upon arrival, but this seems to only apply to Chinese citizens. The travel restrictions to Thailand have been in a state of flux recently though, so stay up to date if the Land of Smiles is on your radar.
Maldives anyone? The beautiful islands of Maldives are open to all with a negative PCR test. No quarantine is required. However, Sri Lanka, another island in the Indian Ocean, is currently closed to all non-residents.
Indonesia (home of Bali) is closed totally until at least 2021. It seemed at one point that Bali was going to reopen back in September, but in the end that optimistic idea was scrapped.
Now we come to a different sort of obstacle, one that may prove prohibitive for many of us regardless of travel restrictions: cost. Due to the relative scarcity of flights coupled with the general global weariness about boarding one, ticket prices have increased dramatically. There are some reasonably priced flights, but you may have to look a little harder than in the past.
All in all, very few countries in Asia are allowing entry for non-citizens right now. But if you’ve been itching to go somewhere off the beaten path, like Armenia, Kosovo, or Botswana, for example, then you’re in luck. Quite a few of these more obscure travel destinations are throwing caution to the wind and welcoming foreigners with open arms. Whether or not you should take them up on their offer is debatable, however, especially if it means you’ll struggle to get back into China afterwards.
If you’re like me, you’ll choose to stay put on the mainland a little while longer. In my mind, everything still seems a bit too dicey and unpredictable to justify the risk. There are, of course, some bright spots on the horizon, namely the roll-out of vaccines around the world. The vaccine won’t matter much for Christmas and Chinese New Year travel in and out of China, but perhaps the summer travel season will be a different story.
For now, international travel can be done, but it’s going to require a bit more legwork, preparation and risk than usual. Be ready, stay safe and, if you do go, have fun.
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Keywords: Travel restrictions in and out of China
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