US Citizens require a visa to visit mainland China. The visa fees are steep, $140 per person. If you have a large family, the costs can add up quickly.
But, did you know that there are exemptions? If you are transiting through China by air, you can be exempted from a visa. If your transit time is no more than 24 hours, and you can show proof of your confirmed seating on your connecting flight, you can visit mainland China without a visa, you just need to obtain a free transit permit stamp, at the airport.
So, you land in Beijing, you have 20 hours to kill, now what? How do you get that Chinese visa free transit permit stamp to leave the airport?
- Exit the plane, and follow the signs to “Exit, Baggage Claim”
- Continue walking until you see the “24/144-hour International Transfer (Apply for Leaving Airport)” sign. The desk is located opposite to boarding gate E11.
- Make the line and complete an “Arrival Card for Temporary Entry Foreigners” form. The forms will be handled to you by personnel assisting in the line. Be patient, the line can be long.
- After you obtain your stamp, pass through “China Inspection and Quarantine” area located to the left of the “24/144-hour International Transfer (Apply for Leaving Airport)” line.
- Pass through immigration.
- After you pass through immigration, take the escalator to the lower level.
- In the lower level, you will be standing in the monorail station.
- Take the monorail to terminal station T3 C.
- Follow the Exit signs.
- You can now exit the airport.
This entire process can take up to 2 hours, or more, depending on the time of your arrival. Beijing airport can be quite overwhelming. Do not get angry, arm yourself with a lot of patience, remember, this is free and you are saving yourself $140 per person. The language barrier can be stressful, you will most likely only get help from other tourist in the same boat as you are. Be prepared to be pushed, shoved, walked in front of, and totally ignored. It is a different culture, the beauty of traveling and experiencing this first hand!
I highly recommend a layover in Beijing. Having at least 12 hours is necessary to leave the airport. With 12 hours, you will have ample time to return and catch your connecting flight.
I recommend planning for tours prior to your arrival, if you have a short visit, the last thing you want is to get lost trying to catch a bus or a train somewhere. Sometimes, it is better to spend a bit more money and get to your destination safely. If with limited time, I highly suggest a tour, instead of trying to trek your way around Beijing. We took a tour to the Wall of China and enjoyed every bit of the experience, you can read about our layover experience HERE.