Here’s my short guide to the invaluable visa-free transits in China. The deal- you have up to 72 hours to take advantage of your layover and go explore the city! (Yes, you can leave the airport!) This applies to most major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, etc).
So here’s my experience. We landed on Christmas Eve at around 6am, the visa control was packed and chaotic, and there seemed to be no one working… and no one to ask. (Correction: nobody to ask who spoke proper english! This really surprised me) Yep, a not so merry start.
We luckily had booked a tour to see the Great Wall of China, and we were therefore provided with paperwork (which we had printed) which was written in Chinese and apparently granted us a ‘speedy access’. After standing in a queue for already 40 minutes with nothing happening, we hurried over to the ‘special access’ line immediately, where there seemed to be someone working, to see if they would let us through. Somehow, they did. After the temporary entry stamps in our passports, we left the long queues behind us (we definitely saved ourselves over 2 hours!!) and we crossed to the other side, feeling proud and content for being only of a select few granted the freedom to leave the airport!
If you don’t have any ‘special paperwork’ like we did (through booking a tour), I would advise you to literally run to the visa zone as soon as you land. (We knew what we would have to deal with again on the way back and we were unfortunately without any chinese paperwork to help us get through faster!) Head straight to the Visa-free transit line on your far left, fill out your arrival form and make sure you have proof of your ongoing flight (show your boarding pass). Regardless, you will still probably be waiting for at least 30 minutes.
We had 2- 12 hour layovers (before our trip to the Philippines and on the way back). We prioritised The Great Wall and The Forbidden City to see over these 2 days.
THE GREAT WALL
We had booked a private car to take us to Mutianyu (the closest part of the wall to the airport) as I read that getting there on your own may be difficult (I may be wrong!). At a hefty price of €77 each, we were driven to the wall (about an hour to get there) and it cost about another €13 (100 Yuan) to take a cable car to get up to the wall. (Please note: it may be called a cable car, but it’s actually the equivalent of an open ski lift, prepare yourself for a very high up and unsteady ride to the top!!) The private tour was pricey, but when you’re on a layover and pushed for time (and in below freezing temperatures) we decided it was a worthwhile investment- and it was. The wall is not something to be missed!
If you go to the Mutianyu wall, make sure you take the toboggan on the way down the mountain. I was skeptical about it, and slightly terrified… but it was probably the most fun thing I have ever done- I’m serious!! (I lost my GoPro footage of this annoyingly!!) But more or less, you’re speeding down the mountain for 6 minutes on your own toboggan down an open metal shoot and it’s exhilarating (You can see the shoot in the images below). You will have a lot of fun, so I suggest you do it (Tip: go for it and scream all the way).
THE FORBIDDEN CITY
On the way back, we tackled the Chinese metro and headed to Tianyamen East/West, which involved a couple of changes, and we entered the Forbidden City (costs 20 Yuan- just under €3). The scale of the ancient emperor city really will take you by surprise, it was incredible. After exploring for a while, we left to go eat some authentic chinese food! This really was an experience, and if you haven’t gotten the jist of chop sticks yet, you better start learning! (Please note: think twice before you order that noodle soup, it took me probably 45 minutes to finish it!) When it comes to ordering food, portions can be quite big so don’t order too much, I couldn’t finish and I eat a lot! No one will speak english probably either, so get your hand movements and facial expressions on point (from living in Italy, I’m pretty good at this by now!)
We had a successful 2 days in Beijing, but I cannot wait to go back to the city and to explore the rest of the country with more time! What’s your experience with a China transit?! Have you visited Beijing? Leave me a comment, I want to hear your experience!
To find out more information about the 72 Hour Visa-Free Transits, click here