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Monday, February 9, 2015

Maximizing China's Transit Without Visa (TWOV)

Have you ever wanted to visit China, but didn't want to pay for a visa?

Typically, China requires those who enter the country to have a visa, even if it's just to connect to another international flight at the airport on the same day.

However, there is a program that allows certain passengers who transit through a Chinese airport without a standard visa, or transit without visa (TWOV), for no fee. There are variances at different airports, but in Shanghai, Beijing, and other major hubs, a transit passenger can have up to 72 hours in China without a visa IF they are connecting to another flight out of the country.

To qualify for TWOV, transiting passengers must:
  • Arrive at the airport from outside China.
  • Depart the airport within 72 hours of the time-stamped arrival;
  • Have a confirmed onward flight to a third country;
    • You must show a printed itinerary, boarding pass, or receipt showing your flight.
    • It does not have to be part of the same reservation; it can be a separate booking.
    • You cannot return to the country from which you came.
    • You cannot fly to another Chinese airport before leaving for a third country.
      • For the purposes of TWOV, Hong Kong and Macau are considered separate from China. 
  • Be a citizen of a country on the approved list for TWOV.
    • The United States is on the list.
Passengers not meeting the requirements above must acquire a visa to enter China. The visa costs US$140 (as of 2/6/2015) for US citizens, but China made a change that makes the visa valid for 10 years and multiple entries. Prior to that, the visa would have been for one single entry.

The visa indeed costs more for US citizens than for others, frankly because it's reciprocal... the US charges Chinese and other citizens US$160 to apply for a tourist visa.

Many itineraries to Vietnam will route through one of the major Chinese airports. In December, I flew from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) on American Airlines (AA), which then connected to a Vietnam Airlines (VNA) flight to Saigon (SGN).

Entry and exit stamps from China,
along with the blue TWOV stamp.
I wanted to stay in Shanghai overnight, so requested a TWOV when I reached immigration inspection at PVG. I had prepared a printed itinerary showing my confirmed flight on VNA the next day and handed that over to the immigration officer, who retrieved special stamps to indicate TMOV on my passport.

There is also an immigration form to fill out (typically handed out on your flight before arrival). When you're stamped in, they take the entry half of the form, and give you a stub that you must present when you go through exit immigration.

Thanks to China's fee-free TWOV, my wife and I were able to explore Shanghai for exactly 23 hours overnight.

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