144 Visa-Free Hours in China

Visiting China has never been so stress-free! You can now come to most visit-worthy cities without a visa for 72 or 144 hours!

The same week that the Land of the Free imposed a xenophobic travel ban, my husband’s family came to visit us in China without visas! In the past, the process would have been long and expensive. But since the beginning of 2016, passport holders of 53 countries/regions can enter certain Chinese cities for either 72 or 144 hours on a special visa-free transit.

All you need is a departure ticket within the allotted time period and the address of your accommodation. You don’t need to worry about doing anything in advance. Just arrive at the airport, register your address of stay at the check in counter and make sure not to overstay your welcome.

Although we had read a lot about this new visa-free option we were still understandably nervous about it. Fortunately, everything went smoothly. Isaac’s family flew into Shanghai from Hong Kong and got into a ridiculously short immigration line dedicated for the 144-transit. Once again, they had to show their return flights, register their address of stay and finally smile for an obligatory photo. That was it!

Their departure from China would have been completely painless too if it wasn’t for the pair of fake handcuffs that they were taking home for us. But that’s a story for another time… Even though they flew in from Hong Kong on one airline and were leaving to the US on another, there were absolutely no issues. Did you know that most China-USA flights let each passenger check in two 23-kilo bags for free?

You can find out more about this visa-free transit, including the list of nations who are eligible, here. Please keep in mind that there are many specific rules about which airports you need to fly in/out of and you can’t freely travel to other cities by train, bus, etc. Otherwise it’s all pretty self-explanatory.

Cities with the 144 hour visa-free transit include Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong. Those offering a 72 hour visa-free transit pretty much include all visit-worthy Chinese cities: Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xian, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Tianjin, Nanjing, Qingdao, Changsha and Hangzhou.

Shanghai has already welcomed 39,000 visa-less foreigners since the beginning of 2016. Join them by booking your flights today!

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Returning Home to China & the Quirks of Chinese Airports

Chinese airports have free hot water dispensers, alcohol and tobacco stores sell crabs and many other quirks of traveling through China!

On December 23rd I left China for the first time since it became my home 5 months ago. Isaac and I visited Thailand and had the tropical honeymoon of our dreams! 10 days later, our bags were packed and we were headed back home, to China.

Compared to our slightly chaotic journey to Thailand that you can read about here, going back was a breeze. We giggled as we filled out our immigration forms, ticking “returning home” as the reason for our visit. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that we actually live in China!

We had just spent 10 days in paradise and loved every moment of it. From sunbathing on the white sand beaches scattered with colorful shells, swimming in warm crystal-clear water to getting woken up by palm-tree hopping monkeys, it was perfect. But we were still excited to return home.

There were many things that we missed about China, including:

  • Toilets where you can flush toilet paper
  • No giant spiders, ants, lizards or snails watching you pee
  • Hot water in every sink and shower
  • Taxi drivers who know their way around the city and don’t refuse to look at a map it they don’t
  • Not-spicy food that actually isn’t spicy!
  • Street food that doesn’t give you diarrhea
  • Being able to buy alcohol in a store whenever you want
  • Stores selling wine
  • Finally, the lax rules resulting in a sense of freedom that can only be found in China

Sadly, people always tend to miss whatever they don’t have at a given moment. So, naturally, once we were back in China we missed the fresh air, clean ocean, ridiculously cheap food and of course, Thai weather! It was fascinating to see how different Thailand was to China, despite their proximity.

Since this was our first time experiencing Chinese airports, let me list a few things that surprised us about them:

  • Fresh crabs are sold EVERYWHERE. Even the alcohol and tobacco store specialize in crab!
  • Hot water dispensers can be found near all sitting areas and even on some planes! It’s free and mostly used for instant noodles. Finding cold (or room temperature) water on the other hand can be a challenge…
  • There are free charging points all over the place. USB slots and regular Chinese sockets are available for everyone to use. Did you know that you can plug standard European and US chargers into Chinese sockets? It’s not recommended, but my laptop hasn’t blown up yet!
  • WiFi is also free and relatively quick by Chinese standards, so don’t forget to show off that you are traveling on Facebook.
  • Airlines will sometimes have fun free promotional activities. Southern China took photos of us against an airplane backdrop and gave us free photo-key chains!
  • On over-night layovers, you can sleep just about anywhere. Forget hard seats or the smelly floor, if it’s late at night, find a closed restaurant and sleep on their comfortable benches. They won’t kick you out and will set up quietly as to not wake you up at 6 AM.

To summarize, Chinese airports are quite amazing! You can snack cheaply on instant noodles, chicken feet, pocky, buy freshly squeezed orange juice (15 RMB or $2) and drink a beer (10 – 25 RMB or $1-3) while streaming shows and charging your electronics! Oh and don’t forget the crabs! I’m just not sure if they are ready to eat, raw or even still alive when you buy them…

SMLXL

 

Anything is Possible at a Chinese Airport

30 minutes from one plane to another? Anything is possible at a Chinese airport!

Isaac and I moved to China in July 2016 in hopes of discovering Asia and traveling as much as possible. During our first 5 months here we visited Shanghai many times, took a train up to Beijing, explored an ancient water village and hiked in a rain forest during a typhoon just to mention a few of our many adventures! Until recently, however, we hadn’t experienced Chinese airports…

We booked our flights with Southern China airline from Shanghai to Phuket and then from Bangkok back to Shanghai way back in August. Using Skyscanner we got a great deal and only spent about $250 on two round-trip flights with one layover each way. It was a bargain!

Leading up to the flight, the agency that we booked with, Vayama, kept changing our flight times every two or three weeks. We didn’t think much of it, until the week before our flight we received an email saying that our flight there was a day before our expected departure! Since Isaac had to work, we had to call and change the flight – unfortunately, the only other option they could offer us was two layovers on our way there.

Reluctantly, we agreed and headed to the airport on the day of our flight. As soon as we checked our luggage, the panic arose – our luggage could only go as far as Wuhan Airport! This meant that during our one hour layover we had to get off the plane, pick up our bags, check them in again within 45 minutes of our flight… this left us 15 minutes from landing to the closing of the gate.

We called Vayama and Southern China but neither was willing to accept responsibility. Their solutions were to take a flight that arrived in Phuket a day later, or we had to risk missing the flight and having to pay for a new one ourselves. Worried and angry, we boarded our plane and hoped for a miracle.

Murphy’s law was taunting us at full blast. The plane was already moving a whopping 20 minutes before expected departure! But then we had to wait in on-ground plane traffic and ended up taking off late. We began descending right on time despite the late take-off, but surprise surprise, we landed late again.

The plane drove right up to those roll-up stairs, near an entrance to the airport but, of course, we were told not to get up yet. That’s when the plane started driving… away from the airport! Frustrated, we watched the airport shrink the distance, jumping up frantically the moment it finally stopped, in the middle of nowhere. The gate was closing in 5 minutes!

Pushing past people while yelling apologies, we ran out of the plane. That’s when we saw a man in a neon vest, holding our checked-in suitcase. No way. He somehow recognized us and shooed us onto a private mini-van. Turns out the plane drove out of the way just for us!

The van took us to a “staff-only” door at the back of the airport. The friendly neon-vested guy ran us through all the check-points, helped us skip the lines to check our bag and sent us off to the security check with half an hour to spare!

Thanks to Southern China, it took less than 30 minutes plane-to-plane! Not only is that outright impressive but they saved us hundreds of dollars in booking a new flight and changing all our reservations.

Some things are only possible in China!!!

SMLXL

 

All About Line Eleven (Guest Post)

KCIS is located at the end of Shanghai’s metro line 11. Read more about the line here.

Megan Ackerman wrote this chapter of the KCIS Survival Guide.
This guide was sent to all new teachers coming to teach at the Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao.

Line 11 is the metro line closest to us here in Huaqiao! There are several great stops along the way. Here are just some of the many wonders of Line 11.

Huaqiao: Stop 1. Where we reside. If you get on here you usually get a seat!

Anting: An old Germanized area. Several German pubs and a mall with many food options. Also, there is an old town that makes for a lovely hour walk. This is the beginning of when you start to see some more foreigners.

Shanghai Circuit: This is where Formula 1 is held, a cold event to check out usually held right after winter when the weather is starting to become nice!

Nanxiang: Okay, I know another mall; however, this mall has a CityShop, which is a lovely foreign food store. There are several places to eat different than the Anting mall and if you walk about 5 km down the road there is a Carrefour. Carrefour is a nicer food store that has many items! There is also an old church like structure that could make for a nice walking trip.

Jiangsu Road: Now, you are in the middle of SHA! Get off here to exchange to Line 2 to enter deeper into the city.

Xujiahui: This tends to be extremely crowded. It is the exchange for Line 1. To be honest, avoid this stop because it is always busy!

Oriental Sports Center: Towards the end of the Line you will find the Sports Center. Sometimes there are big events; but mostly, it is just a nice area to have a walk to take a picnic.

Disney: Disney is at the end of Line 11. So, if you ever need to tell someone where you are living just say, “Do you know where Disney is on Line 11 – the complete opposite way!”

The metro is an interesting place and you never know what you might see! Take some time for a nice metro ride and embrace local living!

With the rapid development of the metro system Exploreshanghai.com is not completely up to date, but it is an excellent APP to download or use online. It allows you to check the first and last trains to and from each station which is super handy as the metro doesn’t run particularly late. There is also a route planning function that will help you get from A to B the fastest way and will give you an approximate travel time and an exact cost. The Shanghai metro has 364 stations! It’s one big beast… to find out more try shmetro.com

Important Bus Routes:

228: Zhaofeng Road Metro Station – Dongcheng Avenue

Significant Stops: Metro Station – E Mart – Colorful Apartments – School – MixTown

101: Zhaofeng Road Metro Station – Kunshan South Railway Station

Significant Stops: Metro Stations including Zhaofeng, Guangming and Huaqiao – Huaqiao town center – Decathalon sports shop – Kunshan South Long Distance Bus Station – Kunshan South Railway Station.

“The Blue Bus” will get you into Shanghai for 5RMB in 45-60 minutes. It starts around the corner from the Hanting Hotel and stops outside E-mart before barreling along the highway into Shanghai where its final destination is Zhongshan Park Metro. Usually you need a sought after “21 Century” community card to get on, but the card scanners will often allow you to subtly slide a fiver into their hand. It’s a comfy and convenient way to get into the city! You might also be lucky to get a card with your apartment!

Living in Huaqiao: Get from A to B Without Dealing with X, Y, Z (Guest Post)

Huaqiao is located just outside of Shanghai, but public transportation is great here! Read more…

– written by Olivia Hall for the KCIS Survival Guide. This was given to all new teachers coming to the Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao.

A hub in its early stages of development, Huaqiao boasts wide avenues (well, Lu Di Da Dou) hinting at the possibility of flowing traffic at some point in the future. Despite technically being part of Kunshan City in the Jiangsu province, our connection to central Shanghai via the line 11 metro makes us feel a little more connected to the rest of the world. The metro isn’t our only transportation connection though, as there are community buses to Shanghai, and buses taking us to high speed railway station. And, once you get your own set of wheels, you’ll be away!

Getting around doesn’t need to be difficult but we have to admit it can be dangerous! Since arriving in Huaqiao, I’ve encountered all sorts when it comes to transportation. I’ve seen an old woman yelling at young man during the aftermath of a crash between a cycle rickshaw and an e-bike. I’ve encountered youth holding out real estate flyers determinedly as construction trucks whiz by on the highway. I’ve even been involved in a crash myself, when the bus I was on collided at low speed with a car in heavy traffic. In a few short months all of the staff at KCIS have similar stories to share.

This section aims to provide you with the tools and skills to get around safely in Huaqiao:

Bus/Metro:

The bus and metro are probably your most accessible forms of transport as you read this! Hopefully you’ll be able to snag yourself the convenience of a scooter or bicycle in the new few weeks, but for now squeezing in with every man and his dog is really your only option!

A Shanghai Public Transport Card is your best option for getting around. You can pick one up at any metro station.

The card will cost you 20 RMB and can then be loaded with any amount to be used for future adventures. Scan the card as you enter the bus (1 RMB) or metro station (3-10 RMB).

To exit the metro, scan the card again. You can view you remaining balance at this point and check what the journey cost you.

For important bus routes and line 11 stops scroll down.

Scooter:

Electric scooters are all the rage in China! Seemingly, they have enough room for a whole family and it’s not uncommon to see them used to transport anything from live chickens to washing machines.

Prices range from 1000 – 5000 RMB, if you’re willing to spend more you won’t regret it as a higher voltage (38v/48v/64v) and a larger bike will give you a faster and smoother ride! Also, the battery on some of the smaller bikes is easily removed which has resulted in them being stolen. Your bike should come with a rain poncho, helmet, lock and charger if you buy new but you can also find used scooters if you shop around. A three-wheel cart is also another great inexpensive option. Should you need any upgrades, tire replacements, or help with your bike the shops are usually quite efficient.

A few scooter etiquette tips:

  • Don’t unplug anyone else’s scooter unless you know for a fact that their scooter has been fully charged. If you need a charge, get to school before 7 AM to snag a spot.
  • Don’t bring a multi plug… the power strip can’t handle it!
  • Don’t park your scooter or bicycle in front of the power strips if you aren’t using them.
  • Always ride on the correct side of the road, even though you see everyone else doing as they please – foreigners stand out from the crowd here! Keep in mind that you’re a staff member at KCIS and everyone knows it!

Bicycle:

Bicycle is an incredibly easy way to get around. There are plenty of places to purchase a bike depending on your need and budget.

E-mart: Cheap single speed commuter bikes for as low as 250 RMB. Some even come with a basket!

Giant: A range of road, mountain and commuter bicycles with Shimano gears. The starting rate is 1,300 RMB with some room for negotiation. You can find the store on the left side if you follow Huayang Rd from Lu Di Da Dao past the post office and over the bridge (Google maps is wrong!).

Merrida: Offers similar options to Giant at a similar price. There are two stores: one behind McDonald’s along the river front, near the bridge, and the other in Huaqiao township on Huaxi Rd close to Hua’an Rd. Take Bus 100 and get off in the center of Huaqiao when you turn onto Guangming Rd. Walk from there. Google maps will help you find your way onto Huaxi Rd. This shop is closer to the Giant shop if you’re hoping to do a convenient comparison of bikes.

Decathlon: Provides middle of the range options starting at round 500 RMB. You can even purchase a fold away bike! From the school head north along Jishan Rd, past Guangming Rd. Turn left onto Huaji Rd and look to the left for the large distribution center. Take Bus 101 and keep your eyes peeled to the left.

Not too many taxi drivers speak English so our best advice is to have the address written in Chinese or make sure you know how to pronounce key locations such as E-mart (E-mar-ta). Most of the drivers around the area know Kang Chiao and will get you to the school for 16 RMB on the meter or 20 RMB in a tuk tuk from E-mart. Using Uber is another option if you’re willing to work through setting up the APP in Chinese. Our specialists can help (give them chocolate!!)

Are We There Yet? Prague – Ohio Delay

No one from our group of twelve had problems at any airport security checkpoints or got even close to being sent back to Prague on our long journey to Cleveland through London and Chicago. This was especially surprising seeing our diverse nationalities, religions, frustrating visa requirements or the confusing nature of our university trip that required a tourist visa rather than a student one. Many of us were sweating bullets over the possibility of having problems with our transit visa in London and about the intimidating officers at the U.S. passport control. Ironically enough, those were only parts of the entire journey that actually went through as planned.

Seeing Home Dried My Tears was originally published on an expired domain created for the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program sponsored by Prague Freedom Foundation that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.

No one from our group of twelve had problems at any airport security checkpoints or got even close to being sent back to Prague on our long journey to Cleveland through London and Chicago. This was especially surprising seeing our diverse nationalities, religions, frustrating visa requirements or the confusing nature of our university trip that required a tourist visa rather than a student one. Many of us were sweating bullets over the possibility of having problems with our transit visa in London and about the intimidating officers at the U.S. passport control. Ironically enough, those were only parts of the entire journey that actually went through as planned.

Everyone arrived at the Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague on time and with as great an attitude as one could muster at 6:30 in the morning. No one forgot their passport, had an overweight bag or forgot to take their scissors out of their carry-ons. The flight itself was uneventful in a good way and they didn’t even check our transit visas at the passport control in Heathrow. The problems began as we sat by our gate waiting for boarding to start and our excited chatter was interrupted by a delay announcement due to technical problems. Half an hour of hopeful waiting turned into a four-hour delay during which our only compensation was a £5 food voucher. Unfortunately, airport food and £0.99 filtered coffee weren’t enough to prepare us for what was to come.

The flight from London to Chicago was long and traumatizing to some – including a very unhappy baby sitting near several unlucky members of our group. But the selection of movies and games in combination with the free beer and wine helped pass our time. However as much as the pilot tried to catch up on lost time, many passengers, us included, missed our connecting flights. Arriving in Chicago was chaotic as we were rushed towards passport control with our new boarding passes. There were no problems with our visas and not a single suitcase was left in Heathrow, but we weren’t all on the same flight to Cleveland. Half of us were scheduled to fly out on the first flight next morning instead of the last flight of the day.

Not wanting to split up the group, Bibiana and Iva used a combination of charm and (I assume) stern looks to persuade American Airlines to put us all on one flight. Since this was only possible for the 6:55AM flight we had to go out into the cold and squeeze into a small shuttle like cattle. The well-humored driver managed to make us all laugh at the silly situation and it wasn’t long until we reached our destination.

Westin was a pleasant surprise as the hotel was very nice and the beds very comfortable. We had to rush to dinner to get our $35 worth of food and drink. Steak was the most popular option at my table and we enjoyed our first proper meal in the U.S. while discussing politics, journalism and our life stories. After agreeing on a 4:45AM meeting time the following morning we went back to our rooms. After almost 17 hours of travel it was a relief that my last concern of the day was how to arrange the 6 pillows on my bed to get the best nights’ sleep.

Sleeping in a nice big bed and the promise of a short flight to Cleveland had us all in a good mood for our last bit of travel. Everything went smoothly at the airport and we got a chance to discover a bit of American culture while observing a young man wearing blue pajama pants tucked into his boots. His baggy green shirt attracted even more attention as he walked through security unaware that he was our first example of what we were warned about – the overly-casual dressed American. Before arriving at our gate I had also discovered that there are stores dedicated primarily to selling popcorn and that you could buy sim cards in pharmacies.

Our last flight was on the smallest plane that most of us had ever seen. My dilemma at take off and landing was whether to look left or right from my seat 10B which was an equal distance from both windows: the plane only had 3 seats in each row. After a short 45 minute flight we were finally in Cleveland surrounded by advertisements for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We had to rush to get our bags from taking another spin around the conveyor belt and were greeted by Candace Bowen. An hour later we finally arrived in Kent State Hotel, only 13 hours after our expected arrival. We were still excited about the last and best surprise of our long journey. Candace must have gotten a kick out of our reaction to seeing our ride from the airport – a large white limo that seemed bigger and much sturdier than the plane that we had just gotten off of.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.