Know Your China 72-Hour Transit Without Visa Rules (aka Twitter is a Lifesaver!)

Workers on Breaki had one transportation goal for my upcoming Asia trip: stop in Shanghai long enough to ride the maglev, for i am a high speed rail fan* as much as i am a fan of flying. and now that you can stay in China for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, i was set! yay! this transit without visa (TWOV) is great for several reasons:

  1. tourist visas are expensive — $140 for US citizens
  2. the last time i tried to get a Chinese visa, the consulate returned the wrong passport and i missed my flight
  3. i have this irrational fear of visiting China without my parents. the two times i’ve been before, they were always traveling with me and were my buffers/interpreters/navigators/planners. i have been to countless countries where i don’t speak the local language, but for some reason visiting China intimidates me, so i’m ok with minimizing my time there.

what i knew about the 72-hour transit without visa rule is that you have to a) be a citizen of certain countries (US, ✓), b) be coming in from one country and departing to another (✓), c) traveling by air (✓), and d) visiting (and not leaving) a certain list of cities (Shanghai, ✓) — full list of rules and a FAQ here. i booked an award ticket (route partially shown — basically going to South Korea for a week, then Japan for a week):

SFO-PVG-ICN (SF-Shanghai (overnight)-Seoul)

the only bad thing is that i was flying on United’s not-so-fantastic 747s — at least i was able to get BusinessFirst seats thanks to the generosity of my million-miler mom (#spoiled, i know, but to be honest i thought the miles were coming out of my account as that’s what the agent told me when i upgraded). i saw a short while ago that business class availability had opened up on Asiana (a South Korean airline) and i was excited to be able to check out their Business Smartium class, which even without looking you can tell is better than United’s dated (and cramped) 747 BusinessFirst.

so, i was now booked like this:

SFO-ICN-PVG-ICN (SF-Seoul-Shanghai-Seoul)

totally pleased with myself for snagging this, i didn’t think anything of it until today, when i saw this tweet:

i figured now was as good a time as any to double-check the rules, so i did. at which point i realized i violated one of them — the originating country of my flight in to China is the same my flight out of China. ack! (btw, in the following tweet i was talking about not leaving the airport in China, not not-leaving the airport while connecting, but i’m glad Seth and Bruce [yes, i’m making myself on a first-name basis with them] confirmed my fears that Country A – China – Country A under any circumstance is illegal under TWOV.)

THANK GOODNESS FOR TWITTER. (also, if you’re not following every single account you see above, you should. nao.) someone tweeted me that they knew of Australians who would visit China over a weekend and violate the Country A – China – Country A rule, but i don’t want to chance it.

also, THANK GOODNESS FOR FREE AWARD CHANGES as a 1K elite on United. i had a lot of trouble trying to change things around because i was booked under the old redemption system and it involves coaxing the phone rep to coax their supervisor (to potentially coax someone else) to reissue the ticket. at first i tried to route my flight back to Seoul via Tokyo, but they wouldn’t let me, and then i tried to switch back to my original nonstop flight to Shanghai (as the ticket was originally issued) but they said no, you can’t stay in Shanghai overnight (only 4 hours allowed) because you’re already stopping twice (in Korea and Japan) — when this is/was(?) clearly permissible.

eventually i HUACA’d (Hang Up And Call Again) and got a new agent who was able to do the necessary coaxing to produce a ticket. PHEW.

the morals of the story

  • know and abide by the rules — and especially if you make plans well in advance, double-check everything (especially visa rules) well enough before departure to make sure your plans haven’t changed such that you are now violating existing regulations, or that the regulations haven’t changed so plans you thought were valid are now no longer. related, though, you should always be monitoring your itineraries for changes!
  • twitter is awesome.

also, since i’m on the topic, be sure your passport is valid for long enough — see this timely article on Jaunted that just came out today.

* my high speed rail fanboyness

i love HSR. zooming through the countryside! my “done” list is shorter than i’d like, but i hope to grow it:

  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain (below)
  • Eurostar

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