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If you want to travel to China, you basically need permission in the form of a visa. You usually have to apply for this a few weeks in advance at the consulate in your home country.
There is one exception. For some regions, China has created the possibility of a visa-free transit.
This means you can enter without a visa if you leave China for a country, that is not your entry country. For us it was Germany - China - Hong Kong. Germany - China - Germany is not possible, because than its not a transit.
We tested this for Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze Delta region and got the 144 hour visa without problems.
Actually, this is not a visa, but a visa exemption or a visa-free staying permit.
The 144-hour visa is available at Shanghai´s Pudong and Hongqiao Airports, Nanjing Lukou or Hangzhou Xiaoshan. The whole thing also works at Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal and Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. Even if you arrive at Shanghai train station for long-distance trains from Hong Kong, you are entitled to claim the 144-hour visa.
Claiming and being entitled in China is such a thing. There are always cases where tourists are not admitted to the 144-hour visa. There are suspects, that old visas from Afghanistan, Turkey and some other countries in their passports could be the reason. But better research yourself.
You can apply for your visa exemption for Shanghaiat home. Which is not absolutely necessary. But you can check here, if you are basically entitled according to your data. The final certainty about whether you are allowed to enter without a visa, you will get in China right at the immigration. In the online application, you get a QR code.
The 144 hours are calculated from 00:00 of the day after the entry. From this point you can stay 144 hours without a visa in China.
For example, you arrive on Saturday during the day and can stay until 23:59 until Friday.
We arrived from Munich at Shanghai Pudong International.
After leaving the plane, you first get to the fingerprint scanner terminals. If it's your first visit to China, you'll need to have your fingerprints scanned here and get proof of that. Keep that up.
Then you enter the immigration hall, where you follow the signs "144 Transit" and go all the way to the left.
There you fill out the blue Arrival and Departure Card. You do not need the yellow one, that is handed out on the plane.
Supposedly, there are also terminals that print the Arrival and Departure Card based on your QR code from the online application. We did not find these terminals.
So queue up at the 144 hours transit counter. That queue was quite short in our case. The queue for the normal visas, however, was relatively long.
When it's your turn, you'll have to fingerprint again. Also keep your passport, the onward ticket to a third country and the hotel reservation ready. If you have not booked a hotel, then get an official address of the accommodation in advance. For example, a business card or a screenshot of the accommodation´s booking confirmation. We have lived with friends, who live in a serviced apartment. We have shown a photo of the hotel's business card and phone number. After some inquiries, the Immigration Officer finally put the sticker for the 144-hour visa into our passports. Do not forget, that you have to register with the local police within 24 hours after entering the country, otherwise you will face a fine.
A hotel reservation is certainly an advantage, because the hotel takes care of your registration with the police for you.
Since we could not show a booking confirmation, as we lived with our friends in the serviced apartment, the immigration officer called the serviced apartment and even our friends to ask, if we really live there.
So take the guidelines really seriously and stick to the full specifications.
When leaving, we had no problems. The airport is really well organized, so we had a relatively short wait overall.
Upon entering the airport, you and your luggage will be screened. After that, check in and drop off your baggage. Than depart China through the immigration and finally pass the security check.
With the 144-hour visa, you even have the theoretical opportunity to complete a tour of China without expensive visa fees. This is because Hong Kong and Macau issue their own visas and are not part of the 144-hour visa exemption. Only Mainland China is relevant for the 144 Visa. Below we explain, how you can save the cost of the China Visa.
A round trip could look like this:
You travel from one country, for example, Germany to China in Shanghai. Now you can visit Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze Delta region for 144 hours.
You will then travel to Hong Kong on time and have a look at Hong Kong for three days.
Then it goes back to Mainland China. You fly to Beijing and travel there again with 144 hours of visa-free transit. Yes, Beijing region also offers a visa exemption. Visit Beijing, the Great Wall and the region for six days.
The next flight will take you back outside Mainland China. Macau, Taiwan or South Korea would all be suitable.
Stay there for as long as you like and then fly to, for example, the Terracotta Warriors Army in Xi'An. You will return by visa-free transit. But you can only stay in this region for 72 hours.
In this way, you can easily complete a three-week tour of China and save yourself hundreds of Dollars visa fees and the hassle of completing the application.
We have not tested this option ourselves, but have heard about it quite often.
Always remember that with the 144 hour visa option, or indeed 144 visa-free transit, it is the unsafer option as opposed to a conventional visa. You're practically traveling to China without knowing for sure if you're allowed to enter.
The savings of money and time can certainly be worth the thrill.