China: visa-free stopovers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu

By Chris Chamberlin, February 19 2014
China: visa-free stopovers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu

China's Transit Visa Exemption Program lets you spend 72 hours in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu or Chongqing without the hassle and cost of applying for a single-entry visa.

It's a boon for business travellers flying through China: you'll have up to three days (and nights) for meetings, presentations and of course those lunches and dinners over which all-important personal relationships are forged.

But there are a few things you need to know before you go.

Who qualifies?

Any traveller with an Australian or New Zealand passport is eligible for the visa waiver – in fact, the program extends to citizens of 45 countries – as long as you're flying into Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing or Guangzhou.

You also have to be travelling onwards to a third country directly from those cities, such as flying from Australia to Europe via Guangzhou with China Southern.

If you're just flying into Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing or Guangzhou and then heading straight back home again you'll have to obtain the appropriate visa (or an APEC card) before boarding your flight to China.

How to enter China on a 72-hour transit visa

On arrival into China, look for the 72-hour Transit Visa lanes at passport control.

(In Shanghai’s Pudong airport, we’ve spotted them in between the ‘foreigner’ and ‘Chinese national’ desks.)

Advise the immigration official that you are transiting China for a short period before heading to your next destination, and produce a copy of your confirmed airline reservation clearly showing an onward flight within 72 hours of your arrival.

Rules for transit passengers

Passengers arriving into Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing and who are entering China under this program are required to remain within the administrative precincts of their city of entry.

The guidelines are slightly more lax for travellers arriving into Guangzhou – ‘visa-free’ travellers are allowed to roam within the province of Guangdong which includes Shenzhen.

Extending your stay

Other than where absolutely necessary, visitors can't ask for an extension of their visa-free stay.

Where an unforeseen situation arises – say, you require treatment of a sudden illness or there’s a flight cancellation – contact the Municipal Public Security Bureau (MPSB) from within China. Your hotel  concierge should be able to help in this.

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 744

Why does China want to make it difficult for foreign business travellers?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

Because the officer with the keys is on leave today.

22 Mar 2013

Total posts 28

Because this is how Chinese are treated to enter foreign countries.

16 Dec 2011

Total posts 45

Because they are communists ?

Excuse my ignorance. Does this visa exemption rule include 2 hour transits in PVG before taking a flight to HKG, with respect to Australian passport holders?

If you're actually entering the country for that short period after arriving from somewhere other than Hong Kong, then technically yes, you could make use of this exemption.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

14 Feb 2014

Total posts 32

Does this apply if you're flying in on any airline or just specific few?


04 Sep 2012

Total posts 72

Any airline, but you have trouble convincing check-in staff that you don't need a visa. I am Australian and in May last year it took 30 minutes to convince SQ at Perth check-in that a visa is not needed for Beijing. "ALL Australians require a visa for China". Suggest you take a printout from a website such as Beijing Airport where they detail the requirements.

That's a good tip F8!

It's annoying when the check-in staff don't know the rules (or aren't willing to look them up), but if you have something in black and white to show them from an official source, it certainly can't hurt!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Aug 2012

Total posts 74

I had a similar difficulty recently convincing the QF staff at any level in Adelaide to let me travel to Shangai without tourist visa for 3 day visit. [via SYD]. they did eventually but glad I had plenty of time for check in.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 995

If the airline is being difficult, tell them to look it up in Timatic.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

21 Feb 2014

Total posts 3

Here is a good video on YouTube re the 72 hour visa as well as an overview of Guangzhou. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jan 2013

Total posts 5

Does HK count as a "Third Country" for this purpose?
Can you fly SYD-PVG stay 71 hours and then fly to HK as your final destination?  

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 995

According to all reports thus far, yes HKG counts as a "3rd" country.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Apr 2014

Total posts 10

No, HK and Macau do not count as a "third country". I found this out the hard and expensive way as i had to wait an extra day in hk and pay almost $200 for an express visa into china. if i had flown in directly from bkk then i would have been ok.

I'd be challenging that Phillip – all credible online advice points to HK being regarded as a separate 'region'.

Were you turned back by your airline when trying to check in, or by the Chinese border authorities at the airport?

For Hong Kong details, see: and

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Apr 2014

Total posts 10

I was stopped at check in and told that HK and Macau didn't count. The only way they would let me check in to a flight was if I held a valid China travel visa. Only option they gave me was to apply for an express visa which cost $1400HKD and had to wait a whole day so had to rebook my flight as well. Mind you this was flying CX too.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 995

"(In Shanghai’s Pudong airport, we’ve spotted them in between the ‘foreigner’ and ‘Chinese national’ desks.)"

I went through Pudong under this visa free system last November. I didn't see any such desks and used the normal "foreigner" lane.

It appears that they only had the special desks set up for a few months when the visa free option first started until all the staff were aware of how it worked.

Hi Himeno,

Sorry, just saw this. The 'spotting' was done by yours truly in mid-December in Shanghai, where these lanes were clearly signed.

18 Aug 2017

Total posts 1

Thanks for this.  Does it work in reverse ie if you stop in to China on the way back to Australia from visiting a 3rd country?

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