China just added three new cities to its 144-hour visa-free transit program, making it easier than ever to visit some of China’s most famous landmarks—including Xi’an’s terra-cotta warriors—during a long layover.
Starting on December 1, 2019, international travelers from 53 countries, including the United States, can enter the cities of Chongqing, Xi’an, and Ningbo without an advance visa during layovers of up to 144 hours (or six days), China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on October 23.
Most travelers are familiar with the terra-cotta army at Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an, but they should also consider extending any layover that takes them through the other two cities that now qualify for visa-free transit.
Chongqing in southwest China is the gateway to the Three Gorges valley along the Yangtze River. It’s also famous for its spicy local style of hot pot. Located on the Yangtze River delta just south of Shanghai, Ningbo has been an important harbor city for centuries. Now travelers can visit the Ningbo Museum during a long layover to discover the area’s history and marvel at the building’s design by architect Wang Shu, who in 2012 became the first Chinese citizen to win a Pritzker Prize.
According to China’s National Immigration Administration, this addition brings the list of cities up to 27 that allow travelers to enter for 144 hours without a visa. Travelers from 53 nations, which include most European nations and Canada, had already been able to apply for these temporary tourist visas upon arrival in such cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Tianjin.
Chengdu—which is famous for its panda breeding sites—was added to the list in January 2019. But the new visa-free transit policy allows for even more flexibility so that travelers transiting through the Chengdu airport can also stay in 10 nearby cities in the Chengdu area for up to 144 hours without a visa.
For visa-free transit in China, you don’t need to apply for anything in advance, but you must be able to prove that you will only be transiting through the country for a period of less than six days. When you land in China for your layover, find the visa-free customs counter and present your passport and your ticket for your next flight to prove you’ll be departing for a different country within the 144-hour timeframe. You’ll also need an entry/exit card with your travel information (flight number, purpose of visit, etc.) filled out. You can pick these up in the customs area.
U.S. citizens planning on visiting and staying in China for their entire trip will still need to apply for an advance visa through the closest Chinese embassy at least one month before their departure. These visas cost $140 and allow multiple entries over the course of 10 years. The visa-free transit program is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the complicated and expensive Chinese advance visa process. Of the 452,000 international travelers who visited China under this visa-free policy between January 2013 and September 2019, 100,000 visited in 2018, an increase of 24 percent from 2017, Xinhua reported.