Photo by Roman Sigaev/Shutterstock
Photo by Zhao jian kang/Shutterstock
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is approximately 40 miles north of Beijing.
After a failed first attempt at making it out of the second busiest airport in the world, I was on a mission to see the Great Wall of China on my next layover. Here’s what I learned along the way.
During a recent trip, my sister and I had a layover in Beijing and wanted to see the city. We thought we wouldn’t need an advance tourist visa, but airport security turned us away at immigration and we quickly found out we were wrong. Not knowing what we were doing, we ran in circles for three hours and wasted our first layover. Our return flight to the United States included another 14-hour layover at Beijing Capital International Airport, but this time we were determined to make it out.
The night before our departure, we outlined each security step we’d need to pass so, when the time came, we would be ahead of the hoards of tourists trying to secure their own visas. It worked, and we made it through security, to the Great Wall, and back to the airport in about nine hours.
In 2018, more than 100 million passengers, both international and domestic, passed through BCIA. If you find yourself there on your next layover, here’s a step-by-step guide to getting a temporary tourist visa once you’ve arrived in Beijing and what exactly you should do with it.
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A temporary tourist visa allows travelers from 53 countries, including the United States, to travel around Beijing and other areas of China for up to 144 hours, or six days. One stipulation is that your port of departure must be the same as where you enter, meaning you cannot fly into BCIA and leave from a different airport. (The temporary tourist visa application differs from a longer-term visa application, which you can obtain ahead of time via a Chinese consulate.)
Once you’re off the plane, head straight for the Foreigner Fingerprint Self-Collection Area. Scan your passport, provide your fingerprints, and retrieve your ticket.
Head to the E11 counter, where you’ll find the temporary entry permit application. Fill out a standard arrival and departure card, providing your name, address, flight numbers, passport number, and reason for visiting. Give it to the desk agent, along with your passport, and be prepared to answer any questions the agent might have about your temporary stay in China.
After the agent has collected your arrival card and granted you the visa, which will be stuck to one of your passport pages, tuck your departure card away for safekeeping and head to the China Immigration Inspection Line for Foreigners. Scan your passport and the boarding pass for your upcoming flight. Collect your baggage, go through customs, and exit the terminal. There is luggage storage available in all terminals, and the rate depends on the size of your luggage and the length of time you leave it. Keep your receipt, as you’ll need it to collect your luggage before your next flight.
If you have 7 to 8 hours
Located in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City dates back to the early-15th century, when the 178-acre complex was commissioned by the then-emperor as an imperial palace of the Ming Dynasty. The area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Now also referred to as the Palace Museum, it is home to art exhibitions, gardens, and exquisite architecture.
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