Beijing & Shanghai 144-Hour Visa Free Policy

Although we recommend all travelers obtain a Chinese visa to join our North Korea tours, since January 2013 a visa-free transit policy has been available to international travelers of most western countries transiting through Beijing and Shanghai to a third country by flight. This policy began as a 72-hour visa-free transit, but as of December 28, 2017 it was upgraded to a 144-hour visa-free transit in both Beijing and Shanghai. To be eligible, one must meet certain criteria at the time of arrival into China.

If eligible, you can use this visa-free transit policy in lieu of a Chinese visa to join our tours to North Korea which fly between Beijing/Shanghai and Pyongyang. If our tour enters or departs China by train instead, this policy DOES NOT apply and you will need a Chinese visa in all cases.

What do I need to be eligible?

Officially, all that is required for eligibility are the following three items:

  1. A passport from one of the 53 qualifying countries (listed at the bottom of this page)
  2. A confirmed and valid airline ticket showing departure within 144-hours of arrival to China to a third country. You must be leaving China to enter a third country (you cannot use this policy to return to the country you came from). Your ticket should be printed in hard copy.
  3. A completed arrival/departure card (not the yellow one provided on your flight — you’ll find the correct blue/white card nearby the 24/144-hour visa-free transit desk itself)

VERY IMPORTANT: Although the above items are the only official requirements of China, the airline check-in desks in your originating country will almost certainly require further documentation to allow you to board your flight to Beijing/Shanghai. Please read ahead carefully for the entire process and be fully prepared with ALL documentation to minimize the risks.

What is the process?

Check-in

When you check-in at your originating country for your flight bound for Beijing/Shanghai, notify the airline representative that you intend to apply for the 144-hour visa-free transit on arrival to Beijing/Shanghai. You will need to show this airline representative your confirmed and valid airline ticket to a third country, but in addition, some international airline counters are not well informed about this visa-free transit policy and you often must present all (or some) of the following documentation:

  1. A passport from one of the 53 qualifying countries (listed at the bottom of this page)
  2. A confirmed and valid airline ticket showing departure within 144-hours of arrival to China to a third country. You must be leaving China to enter a third country (you cannot use this policy to return to the country you came from). Your ticket should be printed in hard copy.
  3. Proof of visa to enter your third country. **When possible, we provide a scanned copy of your DPRK visa which you should print as supporting documentation. However, this CANNOT be guaranteed. The DPRK embassy often does not issue physical visas until just days prior to your tour.
  4. Proof of accommodation in Beijing/Shanghai.
  5. We have been supplying our North Korea travelers, at their request, with letters that they can present at check-in, explaining the 144-hour visa-free transit policy and that the physical DPRK visa is only received in China, where the DPRK has an embassy. This has provided much comfort to check-in counters and has helped to make check-in a smooth process.

Airline representatives often keep copies of all (or some) of this documentation, so print multiple copies. The airlines can be incredibly vigilant on confirming that you have all of the proper documentation as if you are denied entry in China for lack of documentation, the airline you used to fly into China is liable for any charges to bring you back to the home country.

Arrival into China

After landing in China, it’s a simple and straightforward process, but one that is not standardized even between terminals in the same airport. See below for the process across relevant terminals in Beijing PEK and Shanghai PVG.

In Beijing Capital International Airport:

Terminal 2 – The yellow arrival card you received on your flight isn’t necessary, instead you’ll need to fill out a white and blue card situated to the right of the 24/144-hour visa-free transit desk. You must then line up at the 24/144-hour visa-free transit desk to have your documentation checked before heading through immigration as normal.

Terminal 3 – The yellow arrival card you received on your flight isn’t necessary, instead you’ll need to fill out a white and blue card situated to the right of the 24/144-hour visa-free transit desk. If you are lucky, your flight will disembark in front of this desk, but some airlines will disembark in front of immigration first. If this is the case, head left, as you must go to the 24/144-hour visa-free transit desk to have your documentation checked before going through immigration. The process in Terminal 3 often takes far longer than Terminal 2.

In Shanghai Pudong International Airport:

Terminal 1: The yellow arrival card you received on your flight isn’t necessary, instead you’ll need to fill out a white and blue card situated at the normal immigration line. Line up at the far right immigration line indicating the 144-hour visa-free transit. The process will occur at the immigration desk itself once you get to the front of the line.

Terminal 2: The yellow arrival card you received on your flight isn’t necessary, instead you’ll need to fill out a white and blue card situated at the normal immigration line. Make your intention for the 144-hour visa-free transit known to an official, and they will take your passport and airline ticket for processing and usually direct you to counter 2 for immigration itself. You’ll also get an official-looking transit sticker here instead of a stamp!

Great, you’re now in China. You can now proceed as normal, see the Great Wall of China and other sights within the bounds of either the Beijing or Shanghai municipality and then check-in for the flight to your third country when necessary. The stamp/sticker for your visa-free transit will be checked by immigration officials as you depart China.

This same process as above will occur in reverse when you depart Pyongyang bound for Beijing/Shanghai. Air Koryo or Air China will want to see the above documentation to allow you to board the flight back to Beijing/Shanghai. You will need to prove you can enter the third country, so ensure you have an appropriate visa if necessary.

What else do I need to know?

VERY IMPORTANT: There is fine-print regarding qualifying flights for this policy, please read the below carefully:

– Your connecting flight from Beijing/Shanghai MUST be to a third country. You cannot, for example, have a round-trip flight such as Kuala Lumpur – Beijing – Kuala Lumpur. A three-country route such as Kuala Lumpur – Beijing – Pyongyang is required and strictly enforced.

– Your flights in and out of Beijing/Shanghai must be direct without any domestic stopovers in China. This applies both when entering China from your originating country and when exiting China to your third country. The following, for example, is NOT acceptable even if it’s a connecting flight: Bangkok – Guangzhou (in China) – Beijing – Pyongyang. It must be Bangkok – Beijing – Pyongyang.

– Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan DO QUALIFY as a third country. For example, Ho Chi Minh City – Beijing – Hong Kong is acceptable.

– You MUST fly in and out of the same airport. The policy states that you must stay within the municipality of either Beijing/Shanghai for the duration of your visa-free transit. You cannot, for example, enter Beijing and then depart Shanghai.

– Some airline check-in desks will require printed copies of your flights, NOT electronic copies on your phone. Come prepared with multiple printed copies.

– You CANNOT use this policy to enter or exit China via train. If you have joined one of our tours which takes the train either in or out of North Korea via China, you will need a Chinese visa for any leg that takes the train.

Are there any risks?

Using the visa-free transit policy carries certain risks. Although you may hold the above documentation, this does not guarantee boarding. Some international airport counters remain uninformed about this policy and you are at the whim of the airline’s policy. In the past, a few of our customers have been denied boarding in their originating country. For this reason, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND all travelers obtain a Chinese visa to join our tours. Using this visa-free transit policy will be at your own risk. Uri Tours cannot be liable for costs incurred as a result of using this visa-free transit policy.

For your consideration, see the following past issues:

October 5, 2015: One of our American travelers was denied boarding on Delta at the Tampa airport for lack of Chinese visa. In this incident, he made it through check-in without a problem but was denied at boarding even with boarding ticket on hand. Furthermore, this was only a connecting flight to Detroit. Since his final destination was to Beijing, counter staff held him resulting in missing his flight.

May 1, 2015: One of our American travelers was nearly denied at the UA counter of Newark, NJ to Beijing because she did not have the physical DPRK visa in hand. To date, we’ve been okay with UA passengers producing just the Air Koryo itinerary, but this incident further proves that you’re at the whim of each individual check-in counter representative.

April 2015: We had one client denied exit out of Moscow. The Russian authorities did not believe people can get tourist visas to North Korea. If you are transiting via Moscow to join one of our tours, get the Chinese visa.

Citizens of the following countries are eligible for the 144-hour visa-free policy:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYROM), Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

**Note: If you do not qualify to benefit from the 144-hour visa-free policy, China has a 24-hour visa-free transit policy that allows travelers from most other countries to enter China for less than 24 hours with proof of an onward flight itinerary.

Does this visa-free transit policy sound suitable for you? Take advantage of this policy when joining one of our group tours or private tours by flight through either Beijing or Shanghai!

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