I will give a quick summary of my desired plan:
- Arrive in Shanghai via cruise (1st entry).
- Leave to SE Asia for a few months via train.
- Come back through China via Vietnam by train and go to QingDao to take ferry to South Korea (2nd entry).
- Come back via the ferry to QingDao, then take train onto Beijing to take Trans-Siberian to Moscow (3rd entry).
I am trying to figure out how many entries I should apply for on my visa. I could possibly skip step 3 and not go to South Korea (even though I would really like to), but the other plans can't be changed for the rest of my trip to work. Is it really difficult to get a multiple-entry visa for an American? I am trying to figure out how much confirmed bookings etc I need to make and how detailed to be on my itinerary. It seems to be a huge hassle and I wish I could just skip China altogether, yet alas it is not possible.
Would either step 3 or 4 be eligible for the 24-hour visa-free transit rule, and would it really be possible with the distance covered to come in under 24 hours? I am confused by a few things that I have researched online. Some sites say that the 24-hour exemption rule is only valid for flights, while other specify that boats or trains will work also. Even if I took a train, would I still need to pass through an airport or something like that?
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g294211-c188665/China:Visa.Free.Transits.html (implies flights only).
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/ (implies trains and boats are valid also).
However, when I read the FAQ on the same website, it again seems to contradict itself:
I plan to take a flight to Beijing for 3 days, and then take Trans-Siberian train from there to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. Am I eligible for this trip?
Visa is required if you visit China this way. 72 hour free transit policy is for air passengers only. That is to say, you have to leave by air from the same airport. For passengers who plan to enter or leave China by train or cruise, they should apply for either Chinese transit (G type) or tourist (L type) in advance.
So, if I already had a L tourist visa in advance and had used all my entries, could I do this or not, even though I would be taking a train into Beijing, not a flight? Or is this different for the 24 hour vs 72 hour rule?
Also, is there anyone or any agency that I could talk to this about or perhaps directly the consulate? I have tried talking to some visa agencies, but the reps are just reading scripts and don't really know or understand the subtleties of my trip. I really don't want to screw this up and would prefer to speak to an authoritative source about this, but would also welcome feedback or insights from response.