Beijing – Our problem with the 72-hour transit visa (China)

Categories: Travel reports, Asia, China

Now we have been on a world tour for over 150 days and everything worked exactly as we had planned in advance 🙂 That something had to go wrong at some point was almost clear – and today was unfortunately that day. We had problems getting in from Japan to China with our booked flight ticket…

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Our original travel plan for China

For the country of China we had originally planned a longer stay in our first travel plans, as there are many places and sights here that we would have liked to see, such as Beijing (Chinese Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc.), the modern metropolis Shanghai, the terracotta army in Xian, the panda breeding station in Chengdu, a Yangtse cruise, the Longsheng rice terraces and the Karstberge at Guilin. And in the end we would have liked to have taken the Tibet Train to Lhasa in the Himalayan Mountains. For this we had planned in our first plans of the world trip 2-3 weeks.

China, Travel Planning 2015, Across the Country, Travel Report

Our original travel plan for China

The visa for China

To enter China, you need a visa. We wanted to apply for this (as well as the visa for Vietnam) before our trip around the world to the Chinese Consulate in Frankfurt. The problem, however, is that a China visa is only valid for 3 months from the time of issue and this would not have fit into our schedule or itinerary. Alternatively, we could have applied for the visa somewhere while travelling abroad, e.g. at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney. But since the processing can take several days, this was too uncertain for us.

The free 72-hour transit visa for China

Relatively new was the possibility of getting a free 72-hour transit visa for various Chinese cities on site. These cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xian, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Tianjin, Nanjing, Qingdao, Changsha and Hangzhou. And it is precisely this free transit visa that we wanted to use to integrate beijing into our world tour at least.

China, 72 Hours Visa, Travel Report, Beijing, Experiences, Requirements

The 72-hour transit visa for China

Our problems with the 72-hour transit visa

The condition for the 72-hour transit visa in China isthat the country from which you enter China is different from the one you travel back to from China after 72 hours. Since we are travelling in from Japan (Country A) and then to Vietnam (Country B) we thought that this would be a perfect fit for us and should not cause any problems. But we were taught a better one.


Diagram, China, 72 hours visa, travel report, Beijing, experiences, requirements


At Tokyo-Narita Airport, we went directly to the China Eastern check-in desk to check in for our flight from Tokyo to Beijing. We also immediately informed the employee that we would like to apply for a 72-hour transit visa in Beijing so that she can communicate this information to the Chinese immigration authority. But then she suddenly said that this visa does not apply to us, because on the way to Beijing we still have to make a stopover in Shanghai by plane and have to make an immigration stop there. And the regulations say that you can only use the 72-hour transit visa if you come to China with a direct flight. On our china Eastern plane ticket was Tokyo (Narita) and Beijing as the place of departure and no stopover was mentioned.

China Eastern, 72 Hours Visa, Travel Report, Beijing, Experiences, Requirements

Our flight from Tokyo to Beijing with China Eastern

So with our booked flight there was no possibility for us to enter China visa-free 🙁 Beautiful crap! And now?

Booking a new direct flight to Beijing

Of course, we had already bought the next flight of our trip from Beijing to Hanoi. So we had to come to Beijing somehow. We were a bit perplexed at the counter and didn’t really know what to do. The airline employee also didn’t know any real advice, as China Eastern does not offer a direct flight from Tokyo to Beijing and she couldn’t rebook us on another flight of another airline. So the only option for us was not to take the flight and somehow buy another direct flight to Beijing.

Luckily, there was free internet at Narita Airport. So laptop opened and researched which direct flights were still possible today. In the end, there were two providers: the Japanese ANA Airline, whose ticket price for today was more than 2,000 euros per person. Well, thank you. The other airline was Air China. Luckily, there were still a few free seats for a direct flight from Tokyo to Beijing in the afternoon. The price was still expensive at 570 euros, but we had no other choice. So we didn’t think long and quickly secured 2 tickets for this direct flight.

On the Air China tickets is also neatly noted under “transit stays” that it is non-stop flight. When booking, make sure that you have a non-stop flight to your destination in China or if it is a direct flight with a stopover in another city, as with our first flight ticket.

Air China, 72 Hours Visa, Travel Report, Beijing, Experiences, Requirements

Our flight from Tokyo to Beijing with Air China

Since the terms are not entirely clear, we might like to take this opportunity to briefly explain the difference between a direct flight and a non-stop flight. A non-stop flight is a flight connection between 2 places without any stopover – literally without stopping during the journey. A direct flight, on the other hand, means that the flight is carried out between the two locations and that a flight number is available for the entire flight. However, a direct flight does not mean that it has to be flown through. There may also be one or more scheduled stopovers (e.g. for refuelling) on a direct flight. In most cases, the passenger then continues the flight to the stopover on the same aircraft. On a direct flight, however, there can also be a scheduled change of aircraft or even an airline change on code-sharing flights.

The questions about entering China at the check-in counter

After we bought the new air ticket from Air China, we were curious if this time everything would run smoothly. At 12 o’clock the check-in opened and when we were at it we said again that we would like to apply for a 72-hour transit visa in Beijing. And then the questions started: which hotel do we stay in in Beijing? Which country do we travel to after that? Which flight with which airline do we then have and what the ticket numbers are? Do we have a visa for Vietnam? Where to go to Vietnam? And so on…

We assume that the 72-hour transit visa is not used often so far (as of 2015). For many things that the system wanted to know, the nice lady at the check-in was also a bit overwhelmed and had to get help from her supervisor. In total, our check-in lasted a full 45 minutes – and in the end we held our boarding passes in our hands. Unbelievable, what an effort that was! At 3:30 p.m. our plane went to Beijing and 4 hours later we landed at Beijing Capital International Airport.

Update: In the meantime, there is even the possibility to enter China visa-free for 144 hours (i.e. 6 days). More information can be found here. In addition, one should always look at the current travel advice and security warnings of the Foreign Office.

Entry with the transit visa in Beijing

Now it was still coming to China. Fortunately, the immigration authorities have their own counter for transit visas, to which we have also gone immediately. And look, everything went very fast here. Our onward flight was checked and if it was actually only 72 hours and then we had the stamp in our passport. At last!

This was the first time today, after 5 months of planned world tour, that something did not work smoothly. In the end, however, we have achieved our goal and will now have to deal with China Eastern, as we would of course like to have replaced the ticket price of our original flight. Let’s see how that goes.

China Eastern’s poor customer service

Of course, we contacted China Eastern afterwards and complained about the booking of our flight. And it was a long back and forth, but after 4 months and endless mails we have now got the ticket price back. However, we were deducted a cancellation fee of 39,- € per ticket. We find this an absolute outrage! In May we were still writing:

Unfortunately, neither our website nor your tickets have shown that this is not a direct flight. We are very grateful for your message and have passed the issue on to our appropriate department for our website so that they can solve this problem and avoid similar problems in the future. I have passed on your two tickets to the appropriate department for a full refund, from where a full refund will be made.

Although it is demonstrably “nonstop” on the ticket and the error in the English booking system has still not been fixed, we were told that the German website is now on the agenda and therefore we have to pay the cancellation fees. It may be that it is now visible on the German website – at the time of booking it was certainly not. The employee of China Eastern also became very unfriendly at some point and said that if it doesn’t suit us, we can turn on our lawyer. Because of the airline you already have extreme problems and because of the new booking additional costs during the trip, and then the (although it was their mistake) insist on the cancellation fees of 39,- €. We find this an incredibly embarrassing approach to dealing with customersfor such a large international airline. In any case, we will no longer book with China Eastern Airlines under such conditions and with this poor customer service.

All travelogues from China

We find China incredibly exciting as a travel destination. The culture, the history, modern cities, UNESCO world heritage sites - the country is really huge and there is so much to see. So far we have only seen a small part of China, but we are certainly planning a longer trip there in the future.
Reiseberichte China Hong Kong: Explore tourist attractions & things to do
Hong Kong: Peak Tram & the viewpoint from Victoria Peak
Hong Kong: Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery & the Big Buddha
China: Beijing – Our problem with the 72-hour transit visa
China: Beijing – Tian’anmen Square & The Temple of Heaven
China: Beijing – A daytrip to the New Summer Palace
China: Beijing – Local Street Food at Wangfujing Snack Street
China: Great Wall of China – The Wall Section at Mutianyu
China: Great Wall of China – The Wall Section at Huanghuacheng
China: Beijing – The Forbidden City & Jingshan Park
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