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Visiting Beijing Without Visa - New 72-hour Visa-free Transit Policy


Beijing at night
If you step over at Beijing Capital Airport and you have to wait long for your next flight, you might be wondering if you can leave the airport and take a walk around the city. This is the same question I asked myself a few days ago. I arrived in Beijing from Taipei at 4:00 p.m., and my next flight was at 1:30 p.m. of the following day. I really disliked the idea of idling around at the airport for so many hours, so I decided to try and find out if it was possible to go out without having a visa.

The answer is yes. And it is extremely easy. We often hear in the news that China has severe human rights issues, and we imagine that there must be strict control of personal freedom, police everywhere etc. I do not doubt that when you challenge the authorities you will sooner or later get into trouble. And, of course, websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogger are blocked (but, strangely enough, newspapers like Time or Der Spiegel can be accessed without any problem). But except for that, as a visitor, you don't notice any particular restriction. The one day visa is a good example of this.

I arrived at Terminal 3. After the body temperature control there are the passport control for Chinese nationals and foreigners, and the domestic and international transfers. On the left there is a “special line”. An officer was standing by the counter, apparently doing nothing. I walked up to him and explained my situation: “I will fly to Rome tomorrow at 1:30,” I said. “Is it possible to go out of the airport and visit the city?”
“Show me your ticket,” he said dryly. I gave it to him and he took a brief glance at it. Then he pointed to a desk: “Fill in the arrival card and come back.”

I did as I was told. I wrote my name, passport number, flight number, but left the purpose of the visit and the address in Beijing blank. I went back to the special line and handed the paper to the officer, who checked my passport, ticket and the arrival card. Then he put a huge stamp on my passport, writing by hand the date of my arrival (December 19th) and the day of my departure (December 20th) and gave me passport and ticket back. I was about to go to line up at the passport control, but he made a gesture indicating the exit behind his counter. “You can go,” he said.
This was the simplest bureaucratic procedure I'd ever seen. I got a one day visa for Beijing within just a couple of minutes. 

Don't forget that in order to get this visa, you need to have a ticket that shows you will depart within 24 hours and your luggage must have already been checked in (if your luggage arrives in Beijing with you, you won't be given the visa).

Outside of Dongzhimen Subway Station
I walked directly to the shuttle train and went to the arrival hall. From there I took the Airport Express which goes to Dongzhimen Subway Station, in Beijing's city centre.

I had a walk around Dongzhimen and then I took line 2, changed at Jianguo Station into line 1 and went to Tiananmen. Unfortunately, Beijing was terribly cold and I couldn't really enjoy my one day visit. After one year in Taiwan, which has a pleasant temperate weather all year, Beijing's piercing cold was too much for me.

The good news for all those who will step over in Beijing is that from January 2013 the immigration authorities at Beijing Capital Airport will be able to issue 72 hours visas.

Update:

On the 1st of January 2013 a new regulation came into effect. Travellers who step over at Beijing International Airport and are provided with a plane ticket for a flight that leaves Beijing after a maximum of 72 hours can easily obtain a 72 hours visa free entry, valid only within Beijing. 

The procedure is the same as I described above. Just fill in the arrival card, go to the special line left of the Immigration Inspection and give your passport, the ticket for the next flight and the arrival card to the officer. Within a few minutes you will get a stamp on your passport that will allow you a 72 hours stay in the PRC capital. This new policy is valid for citizens of the following 45 countries:

On the right you can see the China Immigration Inspection
and the desk where to fill the arrival cards. The special line
to get your 72 hours visa is on the left, where people
are queuing

-- Austria;
-- Belgium;
-- the Czech Republic;
-- Denmark;
-- Estonia;
-- Finland;
-- France;
-- Germany;
-- Greece;
-- Hungary;
-- Iceland;
-- Italy;
-- Latvia;
--the Republic of  Lithuania;
-- Luxembourg;
-- the Republic of Malta;
-- the Netherlands;
-- Poland;
-- Portugal;
-- the Republic of Slovakia;
--the Republic of Slovenia;
-- Spain;
-- Sweden;
-- Swiss;
-- Russia;
-- the United Kingdom of Britain;
-- the Republic of Ireland;
-- Cyprus;
-- Bulgaria;
-- Romania;
-- Ukraine;
-- the United States of America;
-- Canada;
-- Brazil;
-- Mexico
-- Argentina;
-- Chile;
-- Australia;
-- New Zealand;
-- the Republic of Korea;
-- Japan;
-- Singapore;
-- Brunei;
-- the United Arab Emirates;
-- Qatar.






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