This article provides information on the latest travel policies in China – implemented temporarily due to COVID-19 – to help business travelers understand the current situation and develop feasible travel plans.
See also table below detailing China’s provincial quarantine policies for inbound travelers – last updated May 24, 2020.
COVID-19 is now a global pandemic, and in a bid to prevent a second wave of the outbreak at home, China has not given up on drastic measures to contain infections or possibility of reinfection.
Since March 28, the country’s borders are closed to almost all foreigners and only about 20 international flights can land in its soil each day.
A northeastern city of Shulan in Jilin province became the latest pandemic hotspot in the country after a cluster of cases emerged connected to a woman. But with a Wuhan-style lockdown, the risk level of this city has been adjusted from high risk to low risk on June 3.
With more Chinese nationals living in Russia trying to return home, which has become the largest source of imported cases, China is tightening the borders with its biggest neighbor – curbing land border crossings in the northeast and surveilling the flights from Moscow.
Within other areas of the country, provinces and cities are easing domestic travel restrictions in an effort to boost consumption and get the economy back to normalcy. But local quarantine policies and controls still exist and vary, adding to the confusion of many business travelers.
This article provides information on the latest travel policies in China – implemented temporarily due to COVID-19 – and meant to contain any internal spread of the coronavirus.
International travel restrictions
Suspending the entry of foreign nationals
From midnight (0 a.m.) of March 28, 2020, China suspended the entry of most foreign nationals, citing the temporary measure as a response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world.
According to the announcement was made by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on March 26, foreigners who hold the following visas, even valid ones, are not allowed to enter China now:
- Chinese visa;
- Residence permit;
- APEC business travel card; and/or
- Port visa.
The ban also applies on those who are planning to enter the country under the following policies:
- 24/72/144-hour visa free transit policy;
- Hainan 30-day visa free policy;
- 15-day visa free policy for foreign cruise group tours through Shanghai Port;
- Guangdong 144-hour visa free policy for foreign group tours from Hong Kong or Macao SAR; and/or
- Guangxi 15-day visa free policy for foreign tour groups of ASEAN countries.
However, those who hold the following visas will not be affected:
- Diplomatic, service, courtesy, or C visas; and
- New visa successfully applied for from Chinese embassies or consulates overseas after the announcement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, as the outbreak eases, to maintain the necessary international business activities, China is communicating with the rest of the world to relax the border restrictions.
According to the European Chamber of China, supporting measures to facilitate the return of foreign nationals to China for urgent/necessary purposes are being conducted at a local level, including in Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong, Shanghai, and Tianjin.
In Shanghai, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Shanghai Municipality Government have issued two channels – a normal channel and a fast track channel – to facilitate the entry into China of employees essential for business operations.
The fast track channel is only applied to employees of companies whose country of origin has signed a fast track agreement with China. Employees entering Shanghai following the fast track procedure will be allowed to start work within 48 hours after arrival, subject to negative COVID-19 test results. Those entering Shanghai following the normal procedure will be subject to a 14-day quarantine at a designated central facility. Please check our article here to understand the detailed application procedures.
Various countries’ embassies and chambers of commerce have been negotiating with the Chinese government to establish fast track channels. By far, China has signed fast track agreements with Germany, France, South Korea, UK, Japan, and Singapore.
On June 3, China and Singapore signed the agreement to launch a “fast track”, which will enable travelers from both sides to enter each other’s territories without serving quarantine periods, but the travelers will need to take a COVID-19 test 48 hours before departure. The “fast track” will be implemented first in Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang – and then expanded gradually.
On May 16, Beijing News, a state-run newspaper, had reported that the governments of China and Germany negotiated to set up a “fast track” procedure for personnel to travel between each other’s territories. The first charter flight carrying German businesspeople who work in China but were unable to return flew from Frankfurt to Shanghai on May 25. Passengers will need to pass a nucleic acid test before taking off and will be tested again after landing.
On April 21, the spokesman Geng Shuang of the MoFA said that China and South Korea had reached an agreement in principle on establishing a fast track arrangement for urgent essential travel between the two countries. On April 30, at another regular press conference, Geng further revealed that a batch of 10 Chinese provinces and cities will be the first allowed to receive South Korean travelers. Relevant South Korean travelers will be granted visas after they pass health screenings but will still be subject to quarantines on arrival. Chinese travelers will not be subject to quarantines in South Korea once they meet all the necessary health requirements. A similar discussion took place between China and Singapore, according to Geng.
Provincial travel restrictions
Domestically, many provinces and cities require mandatory home-based or centralized quarantine for inbound travelers either from overseas or other Chinese provinces and cities that are at medium- or high-risk level, although the policy details can differ.
Quarantine policies for inbound travelers
From April 1, the Customs authorities have said they would cooperate with local governments to carry out nucleic acid testing for all overseas passengers entering China by air, sea, or land.
Here, we have consolidated a table detailing the latest travel policies across the country for your convenience.
In Beijing, all international flights are currently being redirected to one of 12 other cities (Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, Hohhot, Shanghai, Jinan, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shenyang, Dalian, Zhengzhou, and Xi’an), which are officially called “the first entry point”. Travelers will be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine in the first entry point city. After they complete the fortnight quarantines and test negative for the virus, if they proceed to Beijing on the same or following day, they will not need to undergo another 14-day quarantine in Beijing. Otherwise, they will be subject to another 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Beijing.
Those older than 70, younger than 14, pregnant, with underlying medical conditions, or in other special situations – can apply for self-isolation at home. Others must pay for their own 14-day quarantine at designated hotels.
Domestic arrivals from other low-risk infection areas of China no longer need to undergo the 14-day home isolation after the city lowers its public health emergency response rating from level one to level two.
Similarly, from March 28, all overseas travelers arriving or transferring in Shanghai will be quarantined at designated places for 14-day medical observation. Domestic travelers may not need to be quarantined if they come from low-risk areas.