China Finally Reopens to Tourists—What You Need to Know

After three years of COVID border restrictions, the Chinese embassy and consulates in the United States will begin issuing tourist visas again on March 15.

East Nanjing pedestrian shopping street in Shanghai during the evening

Shanghai awaits.

Photo by David Veksler/Unsplash

A little more than three years after China’s Hubei province first went into lockdown in an effort to prevent the global spread of COVID-19—a move soon followed by border closures the world over—China will finally begin welcoming international tourists back to the country on March 15.

During a press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced that all visas that were issued prior to COVID border closures remain valid and will be reactivated, and that the issuance of all visas, including tourist visas, will resume effective March 15.

China had been the last major holdout in terms of pandemic-era border restrictions. The move comes after China dropped its quarantine requirement for passengers arriving from abroad in early January but stopped short of allowing leisure travel to resume. Prior to that, arriving passengers had to quarantine for five days at a hotel, followed by three days at home.

Up until now, those arriving in China still needed to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to departure. It is unclear whether a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of COVID vaccination will still be required going forward—but it appears so based on remarks from the Foreign Ministry.

Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday that China has “improved predeparture COVID protocols for some countries and allowed the replacement of nucleic acid tests with antigen tests before boarding. . . . In light of the evolving COVID situation, China will continue to better facilitate the safe and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals based on scientific assessment. We hope all other parties will do the same and make cross-border exchange much easier.”

For precise requirements regarding visa applications and processing times as well as China entry procedures, U.S. travelers should call or visit the website of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., or one of the five consulates general of China, which are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston.

Since the relaxing of restrictions on January 8, the number of inbound and outbound travelers to and from China has notably increased along with the number of international flights to and from the massive Asia hub, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The ongoing restrictions have also prevented most Chinese nationals from traveling abroad. But China recently began allowing some Chinese outbound group tours to take place to select countries “on a pilot basis,” according to Wang Wenbin, who added that the plan is to increase the number of countries that Chinese travelers can visit—although he did not provide a list of the specific countries where group tours from China will resume.

Immediately following the news that the issuance of tourist visas to China is back on, global tour operator Intrepid Travel announced that it intends to resume international tours to China by June this year. Intrepid offers 14 different China itineraries ranging from 7 to 40 days, including an 11-day China Real Food Adventure, a 12-Day China Family Holiday, and the 12-Day Premium China itinerary.

“Now that it is permitted, I predict that travelers will rapidly begin returning,” stated Maggie Tian, Intrepid Travel’s general manager for China. “We cannot wait to welcome back the rest of the world and support our local communities that have been patiently waiting for this day to come.”

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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