Layovers Can Be a Good Thing! The 72 Hour China Transit Visa

When it comes to mainstream travel destinations, China is still a relative newcomer.  Even as the country becomes more and more popular for travelers, China still has a number of hoops to jump through in order to get an entry visa.  But for those travelers who are looking for a quick visit or to get out of the airport during a long layover, China has recently rolled out the convenient 72 hour direct transit visa option.

What is the 72 Hour Transit Visa for China?

The 72 hour transit visa for China is a great way for travelers to do a bit of sightseeing in China during a flight layover, without having to get an actual tourist visa for ChinaIn the past, travelers who were connecting on a flight through China and onto another country had to stay in the airport.  For example, if you were flying from LA to Phnom Penh and found a great rate through a Chinese airline (such as China Southern or China Eastern), then you would have a layover in China on the way to your final destination.

If you have a long layover, then this would definitely be a bummer having to sit at the airport…especially if you were really wanting to do a bit of sightseeing!

Now with this special visa, you are able to leave the airport and do a bit of exploring between flights!

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Exploring Beijing, China

The 72 Hour Direct Transit Visa for China is ONLY for Airline Passengers

Recently we have read some posts from other travel bloggers who have shared inaccurate information about the 72 hour transit visa for China.  So want to be very clear about this:  As of the date of this post, the 72 hour visa for China is ONLY available to airline passengers!  You cannot enter China via any land or sea border on this visa, nor can you travel between mainland China and Hong Kong.

If you have read otherwise, then please take note.  Feel free to check the Chinese consulate’s website here for more details, or for updated information.

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** NOTE:  This 72 hour “visa” is essentially a special airport transit permit, which is different than the standard G transit visa for China – the type of visa you will need if you fly into China and depart a different way, like via cruise ship.China United - Peanuts or Pretzels

Eligible Travelers & Airports for the Chinese 72 Hour Direct Transit Visa

As of the date of this post, passport holders from 51 countries are eligible for the Chinese direct transit (72 hour) Visa.  These include the US, UK, most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, a few countries in South America, and a couple from the Middle East.


In addition, only certain airports participate in this special visa program.  Currently, major airports such as PEK in Beijing, CAN in Guangzhou, and PVG & SHA in Shanghai participate in the program.  However, other participating airports around the country include:  CTU, CKG, SHE, DLC, XIY, HGH, KWL, and KMG.

This information is still changing, as China rolls the program out in more airports.  Please be sure to visit the Chinese Consulate website for the most up-to-date visa information.

USA passport

Requirements for a Chinese 72 Hour Direct Transit Visa

There are some important requirements to keep in mind if you want to take advantage of the Chinese Transit visa program.  First of all, you MUST have an onward ticket to a third country prior to your arrival in China.  They will not grant you the visa unless you already have your ticket booked — so if you are a “go with the flow” spontaneous type of traveler who books last minute tickets, be aware.

Also, you must be traveling to a different country than where you began your journey.  For example, you can’t fly from NYC to Shanghai, use the transit visa and then return to LAX because your origin and your destination country are the same!

So basically, your onward ticket cannot take you back to the country you departed from.

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Just off of the famous Beijing pedestrian shopping road in Guangzhou are some beautiful temples to see!

How & When to Apply for the Chinese 72 Hour Visa

It is recommended that you notify your airline in advance of your departure that you intend to obtain this visa to travel within China during your stopover.  This way, they can let immigration know ahead of time.  You will be granted the special visa permit at the airport upon your arrival.

** NOTE:  I have read recently that Beijing’s PEK airport now allows you to apply for this upon your arrival at the airport.  To be sure, we recommend that travelers check directly with all of these Chinese airports to find out more about their specific policies and application procedures regarding this special transit visa for China.

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Exploring the famous Tinan’men Square in Beijing, China

Restrictions on the China 72 Hour Direct Transit Visa

Being a special visa, the 72 hour direct transit Chinese visa comes with special requirements.  First, you MUST depart from the same airport you entered.  So you cannot fly into Beijing, and out of Shanghai. 

The New 72 Hour Transit Visa for China

Technically, you are supposed to only stay in city area of the airport you flew into.  However, I’m sure people are leaving Beijing to visit the Great Wall, which is a bit outside of the city.

** If you do want to transit in other ways (such as flying into Shanghai and cruising out to sea), then you will need to look into getting a G Visa — which is different than the 72 hour airport only visa.  To apply for the G visa, you will need to do this in advance with the Chinese Consulate and follow the same application process as you would for most other kinds of travel visas to China.

The 72 Hour Chinese Airport Visa is a Convenient Alternative for People with Layovers in China!

Welcome to Guangzhou, China!
Welcome to Guangzhou, China!

Overall, we are so happy to see that China has made it more convenient for airline travelers to explore during a long layover.  I can’t imagine connecting to an international flight through China and having to sit in the airport for up to 72 hours without being able to leave!  Not only would I be bored out of my mind, but it would drive me crazy knowing an amazing country is just outside those windows, and I am not allowed to see it.

The China 72 hour direct transit visa is also a great way for travelers to Asia to be able to add another country to their trip, even if it is for just a couple days.  While you can only see one city, there is definitely a lot you can see and do in 72 hours.

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