China’s new visa-free policy benefitting six countries may soon include more countries as inbound tourism increases.
On 24 November 2023, China announced that it is temporarily expanding its 15-day visa-free travel policy to six countries.
Citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia can travel to China without a visa for visits of up to 15 days from 1 December 2023 to 30 November 2024.
The 15-day visa will be valid for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit.
The visa gives holders access to mainland China, excluding Tibet and Xinjiang, which require special permits for tour groups.
The visa-free travel policy is part of China’s efforts to simplify entry procedures to attract international visitors and investors.
The announcement came just before the upcoming EU-China Summit in December 2023.
China previously allowed Brunei, Japan, and Singapore citizens to enter without a visa. The 15-day visa-free policy was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was reinstated for Brunei and Singapore nationals in July this year.
Visa-free policy drives inbound tourism
The new visa-free policy for the six European countries and Malaysia will be in place for at least a year. However, industry experts are optimistic that the policy will remain, with more countries being added to the list.
On 1 December 2023, China’s National Immigration Administration reported that 2,029 passport holders of the six eligible countries entered China visa-free. That is 12.5 percent higher than the previous day, 30 November 2023.
Businesspeople in Germany and Spain also welcomed the policy, seeing as it can make business visits easier.
Wang Xuan, Deputy Head of the Department of Hospitality at the University of Surrey in Southern England, said the new policy was a “positive and timely development.”
“The introduction of visa-free travel not only shows China’s willingness to welcome more visitors but also offers real benefits, saving time and money, for visitors from those listed countries,” he told China Daily.
“Obviously, we are anticipating that more countries, including the UK, will be added to the list,” added Andy Easthan, Head of Public Relations and Communications at Wendy Wu Tours, the largest operator of tours to China in the UK.
China has been implementing measures to streamline travel for foreigners in 2023. These include eliminating COVID-19 testing requirements and offering walk-in visa application services instead of online visa appointments.
The government also expanded its visa-free transit policy to 54 countries to include Norway citizens. The visa caters to individuals traveling via China en route to another destination.
Increased interest in China
According to Eastham, Wendy Wu Tours is receiving more inquiries about travel to China. The company is adding capacity for tours in China in 2024 to meet the increasing demand.
Trip.com, an international online travel agency owned by one of China’s biggest travel service providers, is also seeing the Chinese tourism market grow outside the UK.
During the first ten months of 2023, bookings from Europe to China increased by 663 percent compared to 2022 and almost 29 percent compared to 2019.
UK-China immigration policies
British nationals need a visa to visit mainland China, including Hainan Island. They are also eligible for visa-free transit if the conditions apply.
Hong Kong and Macao are special administrative regions in China. Each has its own immigration control. British citizens can stay in Hong Kong or Macao for up to six months without a visa.
However, they need a visa or resident permit for extended stays and to work, study, or do business before coming to China, Hong Kong, or Macao.
On the other hand, Chinese citizens typically need a Standard Visitor visa to visit the UK for short stays of less than six months. It covers business, study, and visiting with their partner or a family member in the UK.
Individuals in a tour group can apply for an approved destination status (ADS) visa for visits to the UK of less than 30 days.
For visits of more than six months and work or study, Chinese citizens must obtain the appropriate visa depending on the purpose of their visit to the UK.