Getting a visa to go to China can be confusing, time-consuming, and expensive, but for those of you who just want to pop in for a couple days like I did, there’s an easier way. It’s called the 72 hour visa free rule and to qualify for it, all you have to do is prove that you are in transit to a third country, and obviously show proof of your flights out of China (and back home) within 72 hours.
The good news is that’ll give you just enough time to see things like downtown Beijing, and the Great Wall of China. The bad news is that it only applies to flights in and out of Beijing, and from my personal experience, everything was a bit of a hassle, and the people all seemed to hate me. Seriously, I’ve never stayed at a hotel before where I dreaded having to interact with the front desk staff because they made me feel like a burden for being there.
Anyway, the hassle and frustration was all worth it to see the Great Wall of China, and get a taste of some interesting yet delicious street food, so if you’re able to create a layover while you’re in transit between other countries, I’d say go for it. I did a shit ton of research on the best areas of the Great Wall of China to see, how to get there, and what else there is to see in Beijing, and ended up having pretty good luck with everything considering I was able to get zero help there. So here’s what you need and what you need to do to qualify for the 72 hour visa free rule, and later I’ll post what you can do while you’re in Beijing for 72 hours!
What You Need to Qualify for the 72 Hour Visa in China
Although as soon as you get to the Beijing airport the 72 hour visa free rule is heavily promoted everywhere (I assume in an attempt to drive tourism to people in transit), there isn’t a ton of information about it on the internet back home (that is, on U.S. websites). I actually got the full details during my layover in Beijing on my way to Tokyo when the only website I could get on at the airport was the Bejing Tourism site which had the 72 hour visa free rule plastered on the front page with all of the information:
You must be in transit between two DIFFERENT countries. For example I was in Japan and stopped in Beijing “on my way to” the Philippines. You cannot back to the same country you left from.
You must fly into and out of Beijing International Airport (PEK)
You must have at least 3 blank passport pages, and a visa (if required) for the third country you’re heading to.
You must have proof of ALL of your flights; your flight leaving Beijing, AND your flight going back to your home country, plus any flights to places in between.
Proof of your hotel reservation.
The inbound and outbound forms they give you on the plane or before customs.
How to Get the 72 Hour Visa for China
Pay close attention because I didn’t read or find out about some of these things until the night before my flight to Beijing when I was neurotically triple checking everything I needed just to get into the damn country without them taking away all of my GoPro batteries and portable phone chargers again.
Inform the person at the ticketing counter when you’re getting your plane ticket from the first country (BEFORE your flight to Beijing). They must make a note of it and inform the airline and airport before you leave. This is when you’ll first be asked to see proof of all of your flights; I almost didn’t qualify because I was missing one flight from the Philippines to Indonesia, even though I had a flight from Indonesia back to Tokyo and my return flight flight home to the U.S. from Tokyo.
Go through the customs line for foreigners, and once you get to the counter, inform the person that you’re doing the 72 hour visa free visit, and show proof of your flight out of China within 72 hours. You might also be asked to write the flight info down on your entry card. Once approved you’ll get a visa stamp in your passport with the date you’re allowed to stay until.
Once cleared and out of the airport, you’re supposed to inform your hotel that you have a 72 hour visa, or if you don’t know where you’re staying, you’re “supposed to” inform a local police station…
So, now that you know HOW to get into China with a 72 hour visa free pass, stay tuned for What You Can do in 72 Hours in China!
Alyssa is a self-made, full time travel blogger who loves adventure and typically travels the world solo. She's been to 53 countries and 6 continents so far, and believes she has mastered the art of chasing waterfalls, traveling solo, wine drinking, and making budget-traveling look good. Curious to know how she started this career? Check out the About section above!