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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.
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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