When I travel, I love taking advantage of free stopover opportunities. It’s a great way to see part of the world I otherwise wouldn’t get to see. Many airlines offer free stopovers in their home country. As an incentive for tourists, some countries waive visa requirements for stopover passengers. This is the case with China. Starting in 2013, they began offering visa-free access to some of their most exciting cities. This is an easy stopover to make and there is no entry fee. In this guide, I will explain, step-by-step, how to make a 144-hour visa-free stopover in Beijing.
I made this trip shortly after this visa free option was introduced. At that time, China only allowed transit passengers to stay visa free for 72 hours. Evidently, the program has been a success. Visa free access has been expanded to many cities throughout the country and the duration was extended to 144 hours.
Beijing Visa Free Requirements
In order to be eligible for a 144 hour visa free stay in Beijing, you must meet the following requirements:
You must have proof of onward travel to a third country.
You must be able to show a valid reservation with a set date of travel. Your destination must be outside of China and the country where your trip originated. For example, if you fly from Los Angeles to Beijing, you must arrive with a ticket to a third country outside of China or the United States.
You are allowed to fly to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. They are considered international destinations in this case.
You must be from one of the 53 eligible countries
Listed in alphabetical order, the eligible countries are:
Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States
You must not travel outside of the Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei area
You are permitted to travel freely within this region. If you have plans to travel outside of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, you must get a tourist visa.
For example, you can’t enter China visa free in Beijing and travel to Shanghai. Even though Shanghai also offers visa free transits, this trip is not permitted. To make that trip you would require a tourist visa. You must enter and exit China from the same visa free zone to be eligible.
You also cannot leave the visa free zone that you entered. Using the same example, you cannot travel from Beijing to Shanghai, and then return to Beijing to exit the country. That is against the rules as well.
You must enter and exit through an eligible port
For the Beijing visa free region, these ports are:
- Beijing- Capital International Airport and West Railway Station
- Tianjin- Tianjin Binhai International Airport and Tianjin International Cruise Home Port
- Hebei- Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport and Qinhuangdao Port
To be eligible for visa free entry, you can enter by air, rail or sea. You can enter at one port and exit at another as long as they are within the same visa free region.
How to do the Visa Free Transit, Step-By-Step
Most tourists make this trip through Beijing Airport. This guide will walk you through the process. If you arriving by cruise ship or rail, the process is basically the same.
Step 1: Get your Documents in Order
- Your passport- It must be from one of the 53 eligible countries listed above. It also needs to have at least 3 months validity.
- Proof of onward travel to a third destination- The document must show the date that you will be leaving China. Remember, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are also considered third destinations in this case.
Step 2: Check-in
When checking in for your flight or cruise to one of the eligible ports of entry, the agent may ask to see your China tourist visa. Just tell them that you are making a 144 hour visa free transit. They will likely ask to see your ticket to a third destination out of China just to verify that you are eligible.
For more information, check out my article Providing Proof of Onward Travel: 7 Options Including the Fake Ticket Method.
Step 3: Arriving in Beijing
When you arrive at the port of entry in Beijing, you’ll need to locate the proper desk to get your 144 hour entry permit. Most entry ports have a separate desk for visa free travelers. It will be marked “24/144-hour International Transfer (Apply for Leaving Airport).” This desk is usually located off to one side in the same room as the regular immigration counters.
Note: If you are arriving late at night or very early in the morning, the visa free desk may be closed. If this happens, just head to the regular immigration line for foreigners.
This happened to me when I landed in Beijing airport. I proceeded to the normal immigration line and they were able to process me there. I didn’t even have to fill anything out. They just stamped my passport and sent me through. No questions asked. The process was surprisingly fast and efficient.
Step 4: Apply for the 144 hour permit
When you arrive at the visa free desk, you will be given a form to fill out. It’s called “Arrival Card for Temporary Entry Foreigners.” The form asks for standard information such as your name, passport number, date of exit, and where you’re staying. After you turn in the form, they will stamp your passport and send you to immigration. There is no charge for visa free entry.
Step 5: Pass Through Immigration and Customs
After you fill out your form and get your stamp, continue to immigration. They will check your passport and stamp then send you on your way. Next, you will continue on to customs. Most likely, you will just walk right through without stopping unless you have something to declare.
Step 6: Leave the Airport
After passing through customs, you are free to leave the airport and travel freely in the Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei area. The easiest way to get to central Beijing is by train. The rail system is very efficient and modern.
Some Helpful Tips
- Free luggage storage- If you don’t want to carry around all of your luggage during your time in China, the airports are offering free luggage storage for visa free travelers.
- Tax refund- Visa free travelers are eligible for a retail tax refund for certain purchases in China. You can apply for the refund at the airport. For a step-by-step guide to purchase eligibility and refund instructions, check out this excellent article from Travelchinaguide.com.
- Don’t stay longer than 144 hours or 6 days- If you overstay your visa free permit, could be fined or not allowed to re-enter China on future trips.
Things to do in Beijing
6 days in Beijing is plenty of time to see all of the most spectacular sites that the city has to offer.
The Great Wall of China
If you only do one thing during your time in Beijing, make sure this is it. The Great Wall is one of the most impressive sites that I’ve ever visited.
From Beijing, you can easily reach several sections of the wall in just a few hours. You can book a day trip from your hostel, hotel, or many tour agencies around the city. It is also possible to visit some sections independently.
For a breakdown of what each section has to offer and recommendations of how to get there, check out this great guide from China Highlights.
I ended up booking a day trip to the Jinshanling section with the hostel I was staying at. I spent most of the day hiking along the wall pretty much by myself. It was a great experience.
The Forbidden City
Another must see in Beijing. The Forbidden City is the former home to China’s emperors. It is the world’s largest palace complex.
This is the central square of Beijing city. It is also one of the largest squares in the world. In and around the square, you will find some of the most famous sites in Beijing including the Great Hall of the People, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and the National Museum of China. Located to the North is the Forbidden City.
This square is the location of several significant cultural events in Chinese history including the famous 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The Summer Palace
This site was the summer vacation home of the emperors. Now it’s a beautiful park where tourists come to take a stroll and relax.
The Temple of Heaven
This religious complex was used for ceremonies by the Ming and Qing dynasties.
This is the site of the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Today, it is used to host exhibitions and events. The Beijing Olympic Park will be used again in 2022 when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics.
This park contains the highest point in the city of Beijing. After a short hike to the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Beijing and the Forbidden City. This is a great place to wander around and get the lay of the land.
Eat Some Chinese Food
Beijing is definitely a food city. When wandering around you’ll happen upon some excellent street food options. For recommendations, check out this guide from Projectpengyou.org.
When in Beijing, you also need to try the Peking Duck. It is China’s national dish and the recipe was born in Beijing. For a list of the best Peking duck restaurants in the city, check out this article from Timeoutbeijing.com.
My Experience Making the Visa Free Stopover in Beijing
As I said earlier, I made this trip shortly after the visa free program was introduced. I scheduled my stopover on my way home to Los Angeles from Australia. The cheapest ticket was on AirChina and included a 12 hour layover in Beijing. Rather than spending 36 hours in transit with a 12 hour flight from Sydney to Beijing and another 12 hour flight on to Los Angeles, I decided to extend the layover to take advantage of the visa free program. At the time China only permitted transit passengers to stay in the city for 72 hours.
During my 3 days, I packed in all of the top sites.
Day 1: I arrived in Beijing early in the morning and checked into Leo Hostel. Because my time was limited, I wanted to make sure I could see the Great Wall. I reserved a tour at the hostel for the following morning. Next, I made my way into the city center to begin exploring.
First, I spent about an hour wandering around Tiananmen Square. Next, I made my way to the Forbidden City. I spent the majority of the day there exploring the ancient imperial city. After that, I made the hike up to Jingshan Park for a bird’s eye view of the city. After a full day of sightseeing, I headed back to the hostel to enjoy a few beers.
Day 2: Early the following morning, a guide picked me up for my tour of the Great Wall. I went to the Jinshanling section where I spent the day hiking along the top of the wall. It was a small group tour with about 8 people total. We had the wall to ourselves. Unfortunately, the guide was pretty useless. She couldn’t answer any of our questions and didn’t even accompany us to the wall.
I don’t really care for tours anyway so I didn’t mind. I’m just as happy exploring by myself. After I got back to the hostel, I read the Wikipedia article on the Great Wall for a bit more information that the guide couldn’t provide.
Day 3: For my final day in the city, I planned more sightseeing. I used Beijing’s excellent public transportation to make my way to the Temple of Heaven and a couple more sites throughout the city. For dinner, I treated myself to a whole Peking duck and a few cold Chinese beers before heading back to the hostel.
Early the next morning, I made my way back to the airport to catch my flight home.
Getting a Chinese tourist visa is a hassle. The visa free stopover gives tourists an easy way to experience China without having to worry about a visa. The deal is even better now than I went because you are allowed 144 hours or 6 days visa free. I hope to make this stopover again on a future trip to explore another part of China like Shanghai or Xian.
Have you made a visa free trip to China? Share your experience in the comments below!
For more visa free stopovers, check out my list: 17 Free Airline Stopover Options and How to Make Them
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