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Chinese Outbound and Inbound Travel Rules Roundup

To help keep the travel industry up to date and informed, we’re tracking all the latest developments and regulations regarding travel into and out of mainland China.

First published: 22 March, 2021
Last updated: 26 September, 2022

To help keep the travel industry up to date and informed, we’re tracking all the latest developments and regulations regarding travel into and out of mainland China. This post will be regularly updated with any new or changing policies.

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Inbound

– As of 28 June 2022, quarantine for international arrivals has been cut to a universal 7 days in a designated quarantine facility, plus 3 days of home isolation. Previously, quarantine ranged anywhere from a total of 14 to 28 days, depending on the destination in China. In late July 2022, the Chinese CDC said it was considering a further reduced quarantine time of just 3 days. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s quarantine policy has relaxed more quickly than the Chinese mainland’s, dropping to a 3+4 model in August 2022, and ending hotel quarantine entirely from 23 September 2022.

– As of mid-June 2022, foreigners can apply for visitor’s visas for entry to China for the purposes of business or family reunion. From 24 August 2022, foreign students with a residence permit can enter China without a new visa; since 19 August, visa applications are being accepted for X1 visas for study of six months or longer. From 24 August 2022, holders of APEC business travel cards can also enter China without a new visa. Before summer 2022, entry into the country was only permitted for foreign residents with work permits.

– From 31 August 2022, China’s General Administration of Customs has introduced measures to simplify and streamline the entry process, no longer requiring international arrivals to show their COVID test results, infection history, and vaccination status on arrival. However, inbound arrivals to China are still required to do a number of tests before and after arrival – generally PCR tests both 48 and 24 hours before travel, which must be submitted to the local Chinese embassy to be checked manually in order to issue an electronic “Green code”, which is required for departure to China. You can find a country-by-country list of requirements here.

– Travelers to China can now transit through a third country on their way – although they will need to do another test in the transit country and apply for travel “Green codes” from the Chinese embassies both in the departure origin country and the transit country.

Outbound

– On 24 September 2022, plans were announced to restart group tourism from mainland China to Macau in November 2022. This will be the first time outbound group travel is allowed since China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism required Chinese travel agents to stop the sale of outbound group and package travel (from a minimum of a flight + hotel package) from 27 January, 2020.

– In September 2021, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) advised against international travel over the Mid-Autumn Festival and October National Day holiday period (source). This reiterated an announcement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on 25 May, 2021, reminding Chinese citizens that they should not leave the country for any non-essential reason. (Source)

– On 6 August 2021 a spokesperson from China’s National Immigration Administration said that the issue or renewal of passports would only be prioritized for Chinese studying or working abroad, and those without the urgent need to travel internationally should postpone any plans to do so. (Source) This suspension of passport renewals for the purpose of leisure travel was confirmed again by China’s National Immigration Administration in February 2022.

– On 19 September 2022, president of the China Tourism Academy Dai Bin expressed that with the accumulation of policies, stress testing, and accurate COVID prevention experience, China’s inbound and outbound tourism market will usher in a period of steady recovery from the end of this year and the start of 2023, and the industry should start making preparations. (Source)

– In August 2022, chief researcher at Tongcheng Research Institute (related to Tongcheng Travel) Chen Chaogang said, “the reopening of international travel from the second half of this year to the first half of next year is worth looking forward to.”

 

– On 15 February 2022, Chief Epidemiologist at China’s CDC, Wu Zunyou, said that Chinese scientists were looking at ways to adjust China’s COVID prevention policies to allow for the resumption of international exchange. He said he was cautiously optimistic about the pandemic ending in 2022. (Read more)

– Another leading epidemiologist, Zeng Guang, has called for China to start thinking about opening up. He posted about this on Weibo on 28 February 2022, and in a later interview with Caixin, expressed that “In the near future, at the right time, the roadmap for Chinese-style co-existence with the virus should be presented.” However, speaking to Beijing News, he said there was “no need to open the country’s doors at the peak of the global pandemic.” (Read more)

– These other factors and events all have potential to affect China’s reopening: COVID cases in China; the spread and severity of the virus outside of China; the 20th National Party Congress in mid-October 2022. Previously planned for September 2022, the Asian Games in Hangzhou are now rescheduled for September 2023.

Macau is the only destination outside of mainland China to which Chinese citizens can travel for leisure, with no quarantine on arrival or return. Adjustments to this policy are made regularly, based on if there are any outbreaks of COVID-19 in mainland China – if there are, then travelers who have recently been in those areas are required to quarantine when they arrive in Macau. Travelers to Macau are allowed in through the Individual Visitor Scheme, but group tourism from mainland China is set to resume from November 2022.

– Plans to reopen the Hong Kong-mainland border for quarantine-free travel in December 2021 were put on hold indefinitely with the arrival of the Omicron variant.

Vaccinations and China’s Zero COVID Policy

In late September 2022, China’s CDC released an article about the country’s exit plan from COVID. The article stressed that everyone should get a fourth COVID vaccine, and that additional efforts should be made to reach the 10% of Chinese who remain unvaccinated (source).

By July 2022, China’s vaccination rate is 90.2% (source). However, vaccination rates are lowest among those aged 80+, and also below average for the age group aged 60 and up. Campaigns are underway to encourage older people to get vaccinated, but COVID vaccination is not mandatory.

Destinations outside of China are mixed in whether they recognize WHO-approved Chinese vaccines, which could impact future outbound travel if travelers are required to be fully vaccinated. Many countries – including the US, Australia, and Finland, to name a few – accept all WHO-approved vaccines, but others do not, meaning that Chinese visitors would either need to quarantine on arrival, or might not be able to enter at all.

Effective 1 March 2022, the EU has recommended that member states accept all EU- or WHO-approved vaccines for non-essential travel. However, the EU has also stated that member states could choose to require negative PCR tests and/or quarantine for vaccines that are only WHO-approved, which includes Sinovac and Sinopharm. Ultimately, the decision will be up to member states, with Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain already accepting Chinese vaccines. Switzerland also accepts these vaccines.

Flights

Introduced in March 2020, China’s “Five One” policy limited international air carriers to flying one route, once per week, with suspensions for carriers if any passengers tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival. This has been loosened for many airlines, with additional weekly flight routes added, but carriers are still being strictly reviewed and generally can only operate each route once per week.

China’s circuit-breaker policy suspends flights as a consequence for having positive cases on board a previous flight. This policy has been loosened as of 7 August 2022. Now, for flights where 5 or more passengers test positive, if that number accounts for 4-7% of passengers, then the flight will be suspended for one week. If the number of positive cases is 8% or more of passengers, that flight will be suspended for two weeks.

 

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