Reopening China:
Travel Restrictions in 2023

When COVID-19 began spreading in 2020, the Chinese government set some of the harshest travel restrictions of any nation in the world.

Under its zero-COVID policy, domestic and international travel were severely limited, and most inbound international flights were grounded. Even the average Chinese citizen was subject to control measures that curbed travel between major cities and provinces during periods when cases were surging.

Now, three years later, Chinese authorities are finally opening up the country again. In January 2023, the government began loosening COVID-related travel restrictions—including the requirement for a negative PCR test result prior to travel—and allowing international arrivals and domestic travel once again.

However, due to ongoing geopolitical tensions and Chinese authorities' abrupt decision to shift their Covid management strategy, travel to mainland China in the post-COVID era can still be confusing. Read on for an overview of China's reopening, what's changed regarding entry and exit requirements, and everything else you need to know to visit China.

Booking a flight to China

Chinese national government restrictions for US travelers

Provincial travel restrictions in China

FAQs about China travel restrictions and reopening

Where to find updated China travel restrictions

Always travel well-informed with VisaCentral

Chinese national government restrictions for US travelers

While airlines are now flying in and out of China more than they have in the last three years, capacity is still not up to pre-pandemic levels. During the pandemic, many airlines retired parts of their fleets, laid off staff, or changed their operations. As a result, it may take time to return to pre-pandemic capacity for international flights entering China.

As a result, direct flights into China are more expensive than travelers may anticipate. Though this is likely to change over time as capacity recovers, it's certainly a consideration to keep in mind when planning a trip to China in 2023. Fares have regularly been in the $1,000-and-up range.

Booking a flight to China

Though China does have visa-free policies for travelers from some nations, in most cases American citizens are still required to obtain a valid Chinese visa to enter the country. The type of visa will depend on the nature of a traveler's trip, but a tourist visa is the most common way that US travelers enter China.

If you had an existing visa from before the COVID-19 pandemic, it's best to ensure you still have a valid visa by checking with your nearest Chinese consulate or embassy. It's also important to ensure your passport has sufficient validity left (at least six months). If not, you may need to obtain a new passport before you go.

Fortunately there is no longer a requirement for foreign nationals to quarantine upon arrival in China, removing a huge barrier for international travelers. In addition, negative PCR tests are no longer required before boarding a China-bound flight.

That being said, a negative test result using a 'rapid' antigen-style test is still recommended. While airlines are reportedly refraining from checking these tests prior to boarding, local authorities or China customs officials may spot-check at random. Fortunately, rapid tests are now relatively cheap and convenient to take before you fly.

There is one requirement that still remains: International arrivals, including US travelers, do need to sign a health declaration form prior to arrival. This form and any negative rapid-test result can be logged online or in the China Customs app.

Provincial travel restrictions in China

Whether you're traveling for business, leisure, or both, you may want to travel in and around China's provinces, visit the Tibet autonomous region, tour China's southern and eastern coasts, or visit Hong Kong, Macau, or elsewhere. In the past three years, domestic Chinese tourists traveling with a Chinese passport have been severely limited in traveling in between regions during surges in infections.

However, both Chinese citizens and foreign travelers are now permitted to travel within and around China without the need to test or quarantine. By all measures, domestic travel is recovering to pre-pandemic levels, with many Chinese citizens eager to get out after being stuck under COVID restrictions for so long. In addition, international travelers who are leaving China for Hong Kong—or flying from Hong Kong into Mainland China—do not need to take a COVID test prior to travel.

FAQs about China travel restrictions and reopening

Please note that this information is subject to change. For the latest on China travel restrictions, always check government sites directly as noted below.

How do I know if my passport is valid for travel to China?

In order to be valid for travel to China, your passport's expiration date should be at least six months after your return flight. If it doesn’t have sufficient validity left, you may need to get a new passport before you go.

I have a visa for China issued before March 2020. Can I use it to enter China?

Yes. If your visa has not reached its expiration date, it is still valid. You should now be able to use it to enter China, though it's best to ensure its validity by checking with your nearest Chinese consulate or embassy.

Am I able to travel to China for tourism?

Yes. The Chinese government is once again issuing visas for tourist visits to China. Allow ample time for processing ahead of your departure in case of delays.

What are the COVID-related requirements for entry to China?

International travelers are no longer required to quarantine upon arrival in China or show a negative PCR test before boarding a China-bound flight. A negative rapid-test result is still recommended, however, in case you are checked at random. Foreign nationals, including US travelers, also need to sign a health declaration form prior to arrival.

Is it safe for US citizens to travel to China?

Since March 10, 2023, the US Department of State has recommended reconsidering travel to China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws and the risk of wrongful detentions.

Still, travel to any foreign country involves risk. While relations between Washington and Beijing have cooled somewhat, the average Chinese citizen or American citizen is not affected by these day-to-day fluctuations in geopolitical relations.

Of course, the usual common-sense guidance applies when traveling in mainland China or elsewhere: Be aware of Chinese law and customs and always follow local laws, familiarize yourself with the location of the nearest police station, and monitor local media to know about any changes on the ground.

What happens if I get sick while traveling in China?

In the wake of COVID-19, the idea of getting sick abroad is a key concern for many people. But rest assured that medical treatment and medical facilities are readily available in China. Just ensure you have adequate travel insurance before departing on your trip, and familiarize yourself with your provider's policy restrictions. If you are concerned about a worst-case scenario, it's best to purchase a policy that includes medical-evacuation coverage.

Will I be expected to wear a mask in China?

Many Chinese citizens may still wear masks even though COVID-19 is now considered endemic. Mask-wearing was more of a cultural norm in Asia even before the pandemic, and the practice still persists. Though it may not be required by local laws, mask-wearing may be an expectation or sign of respect in some settings in China in a post-COVID-19 world.

Where to find updated China travel restrictions

Though Chinese authorities have shown their intent to open up the country to tourists, things are always subject to change. The best way to keep abreast of any changes in China's border policy and entry rules—including any changes to tourist visas—is to stay tuned to updates from your nearest Chinese embassy, and to check the official guidance coming from the State Department.

Always travel well-informed with VisaCentral

After so much time closed off to the world, it's a good thing that China has relaxed its travel restrictions and opened up its borders again. With a little forward thinking and research, travelers should feel confident about booking a trip.

Before planning your trip to China as a US citizen, it's crucial to stay informed about the current travel policies, COVID-19 measures, and visa requirements. An experienced visa specialist can help you navigate the complexities of border-crossing requirements. Contact VisaCentral for a quote today.

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