Is entry to China possible amid COVID-19 pandemic?

Huang Yixuan
Two years have passed since the pandemic broke out, with strict border restrictions. Recent adjustments on inbound policy shows some relaxation of immigration policy.
Huang Yixuan

Two years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, with strict border restrictions hampering international travel.

For expats going away for Christmas and New Year, the frequently asked question is: "Can I come back to China after holidays?"

Good news is that with the epidemic prevention and control becoming a regular practice, China has implemented some inbound policy adjustments based on the current situation.

Starting from September 2021, the Chinese embassies in countries including the United Kingdom, France and the United States have successively announced the adjustments of the visa requirements for foreigners entering China, and the cancellation of the notice on "the temporary suspension of holding valid China's visa and residence permit entry."

It indicates the following foreign individuals holding valid residence permits on work-type, personal affairs (S) and family reunion (Q) can enter China without applying for a new visa.

  • French nationals entering China from France.
  • Foreign nationals entering China from the UK.
  • Foreign nationals entering China from San Francisco and Seattle, USA.

This also means that more Chinese consulates abroad are expected to resume the reentry policy for foreign individuals who are holding a valid permit, a latest KPMG report said.

Who are eligible to enter China?

Currently for most major countries, the following foreign individuals can enter China with no need to apply for new visas:

  • People with special courtesy visas, such as government officials and diplomats traveling for personal reasons, as well as those from the same group traveling for official purposes on diplomatic and service visas.
  • People with valid C-visas (which are issued to foreign crew members of aircraft, trains and ships, motor vehicle drivers engaged in cross-border transport activities).
  • Foreign people with China's Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card.
  • People with valid visas issued after March 28, 2020.
  • Foreign nationals holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion.

Note: If the visa you hold is a multi-year and multi-entry business, tourism or family-visit visa issued before March 26, 2020, it is not currently valid for entry.

Aside from those meeting the above requirements, eligible foreign individuals can apply for such types of visas as:

  • Visa for emergency humanitarian reasons (Q1, Q2, S1 and S2 visa).
  • C-visa (for crew members).
  • Visa for resumption of work and production (F, M, R and Z visa).

Emergency needs

Specifically, the eligibility criteria for visa application "out of emergency humanitarian needs" was broadened as appropriate in March.

Foreign family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents, including spouses, parents, children and other close relatives living together (i.e. siblings, grandparents and grandchildren), may submit visa applications for the purposes of reuniting with family, taking care of the elderly, visiting relatives, attending funerals or visiting critically ill relatives.

Generally, an applicant for this visa should provide photocopies of a medical certificate or death certificate, proof of relationships (including birth certificate, marriage certificate, Chinese household registration, certificate letters from the local police bureau in China, notarial certificate of kinship, etc.), an invitation letter from relatives in China, an inviter's Chinese ID card, and a requesting visa letter from an applicant.

Holders of valid APEC business travel cards may apply for the M-visa (business visa) at the Chinese embassy or consulate by presenting the original valid APEC business travel card and the invitation letter issued by the inviting party in the mainland of China.

Applications for other types of visas, such as tourism visa (L), transit visa (G), etc, are currently not accepted.

As the entry policies varies with the temporal epidemic situation in different regions, you'd better contact directly or check the official website of the Chinese embassy or consulate in your country or region for the latest and detailed information about application requirements and procedures.

Before boarding and after landing

Note that although China's immigration policy for foreigners has somewhat been relaxed, the airline boarding requirements by China for "double negative certificates" remain unchanged.

Passengers traveling to China have to present a certified negative test result of a COVID-19 PCR nucleic acid test, and serum-specific IgM antibody test results from a designated testing institution (both tests must be taken within 48 hours before boarding) to the Chinese embassy for a green health code with a "HS" logo for Chinese nationals or a green Health Declaration with a "HDC" logo QR code for foreign nationals.

Upon arrival, inbound passengers are required to quarantine for at least 14 days. Testing on arrival and for release from quarantine may include blood tests, as well as oral, nasal and anal swab tests.

Local quarantine requirements can vary significantly among cities, and regulations may change when there is an outbreak of COVID-19 or an important event such as a political meeting or sporting competition.

Take some of China's major cities as examples:

  • Shanghai (14+7): 14 days in a designated hotel and seven days for health monitoring, with six nucleic acid tests.
  • Beijing (14+7+7): 14 days in a designated hotel, seven days at home, and then seven days' health monitoring.
  • Nanjing (14+14): 14 days in a designated hotel and 14-day home quarantine.
  • Tianjin (14+7): 14 days in a hotel and seven days at home.
  • Chongqing (14+7+7): 14 days in a hotel, seven days at home and seven days of self-monitoring of health.
  • Guangzhou (14+7+7): 14 days in hotel, seven-day home quarantine and seven-day self-monitoring.

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