China 72-hour Visa-Free Transit Disaster (again)

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It’s my birthday today and for it TPOL gave me the gift of a huge headache at Chinese Immigration. I’ve written about how I’ve written about my visa problems. I thought I had this problem under control but disaster struck again today.

Enthusiastic about flying Air New Zealand from AKL-PVG, I initially neglected to notice that my flight going into Shanghai and leaving from Shanghai connected in Japan. This is a violation of the Visa-Free transit rule because technically I am going from Japan to China and back to Japan. To comply, I needed a flight from China to somewhere else before Japan.

Spotting this error, I booked a day trip to Hong Kong and presented this information to the agent. He passed this on to his superior and, twelve hours later, I am finally going to Hong Kong. The first few hours of my birthday were not spent in Shanghai as planned. Instead, I was in a detention room being grilled about my itinerary. The agent did not believe I had a real itinerary and insisted that my only way out of the mess was to take the 10AM flight back to Tokyo. Hours of arguing, joking, calling the airline to explain to her my ticket did nothing.

Exhausted and broken, I considered booking a direct flight to the US in coach so I could be done with the drama. While rationalizing how a 13 hour would be a mental challenge, a new agent approached me with a much warmer demeanor.

He asked to see my ticket and offered to help me. Perhaps it was my stellar Mandarin skills or my nonsensical babbling but I’m happy and exhausted to say that I’m at the gate bound for HKG.

The takeaway of the story is that I am still awful with visas. The lesson of the story is to forget the transit visa nonsense and buy the ten year multientry solution. That would’ve saved me time and money, though I wouldn’t have this great story to tell.

20 COMMENTS

    • Actually it wasn’t my fault, so you can drop the ‘seriously.’ I had a compliant third country ticket. It started off as miscommunication and ended up being an angry, suspicious agent. I will post the full story later.

  1. Wow. Have to start interpreting the requirements better.

    @Christian, people don’t want to fork over the $ for the visa even if it’s for 10 years..

    • I’ll never be able to interpret the requirements better no matter how hard I try. The reason I always mess it up and the reason I recommend a 10 year visa is because there are too many moving parts with the visa free option. First, you have to deal with the airlines in the foreign country saying you can’t go. (In this case they were right but in others they were wrong). Then you have to make sure you are flying into the city directly and leaving from that city. (Of course, your airline could change the routing and you quickly forget this.) Then you have to factor in the time you can stay. Then you have to make sure you are transiting to a 3rd country. Whenever I fix one mistake, I make another.

  2. First off, Happy Birthday. I’ve personally done the visa-free travel to China on multiple occasions (and cities) and never had an issue with Chinese authorities. In fact, the only issue, if you would call it that, would be airlines in foreign destinations en-route to China that heavily scrutinized my paperwork to make sure they were in compliance with the rules (if they aren’t, they are liable for paying for your return trip to the origination city.) The best way to avoid any issues is to print out EVERYTHING and have that available. Flights, hotels – everything. Double, triple, quadruple check to make sure you are in compliance, including timing issues to make sure you don’t exceed the allotted time frame.

    From your post, it is difficult to ascertain when you realized of your mistake (hey, everyone makes a mistake, but this is a big one – remember, you’re dealing with a Communist country.) You definitely want to have your things in order. With that in mind, did you realize your mistake once you landed in Shanghai or prior? If after you landed in Shanghai, I assume you were making the new reservations right in front of the immigration officials. If that is the case, I think you’re super lucky they eventually let you continue on…..They could have held you and just sent you back on your way to your origination city.

    While a 10 year visa might be the answer for some, for others it isn’t (whether it’s money, time constraints, etc.) The Chinese visa-waiver program is really a great problem and they’re actually expending it to more cities and allowing you to stay even longer.

    • Indeed – the visa-free transit seems to be an experiment where they’re slowly expanding one step at a time, perhaps with the eventual goal of giving some form of visa-free entry for some countries’ citizens. Good to see 144-hour (six-day) visa-free transit for Shanghai, which also has the benefit of allowing you to roam in a much larger area (incl. for example Hangzhou and Nanjing) and leaving out of a different airport in the region, which is not otherwise possible under visa-free transit. But the ten-year visa is really worthwhile for anyone who travels to China with any frequency – the cost is low given the long validity and the Chinese visa procedures are pretty streamlined (much, much easier and friendlier than the Russians, for example).

      • Definitely doing 10 year, no more laziness and stupidity. I’ll write more about this later but the 144 hour thing is not worth the hassle. Either I mess it up myself or the ticketing agent in the foreign country makes a big fuss about how I can’t board without a normal visa. No more!

    • I agree with all of this. I will elaborate in more detail in a post but here’s what happened: Air China wouldn’t let me leave from NRT to PVG. They said my route was invalid for transit rules. Even when I’m in compliance I (like you said) get push back from the airlines, so I didn’t believe them. Nevertheless, I booked a flight to Hong Kong before I boarded just in case. When I arrived in Shanghai, I showed them my intended itinerary, (PVG-NRT-DFW) to see if I really was doing it incorrectly (at this point I was fairly sure that I had made this grave mistake). Showing them that was a bigger mistake then the original booking. When I went to show them the HKG booking, the crazy lady thought it was fake even though my time stamp proved otherwise. Honesty is not the best policy.

    • based on staying up for 12 hours and disoriented while writing it, I’ll give myself a pass on the error. maybe i’ll keep the error so I won’t forget that day of misery.

  3. Hi great post.. I will be doing crazy trip: JFK-FRA-PVG-SIN-HKG-LHR. My questions are the following.
    I will be boarding a Lufthansa fly in JFK. Do I have to mention the 144 visa requirement at check in time. I will have print outs of everything. Last question, I will be taking Maglev to Jintao Tower and any must thing to do in 12 transit.

    Thanks…

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