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I will give a quick summary of my desired plan:

  1. Arrive in Shanghai via cruise (1st entry).
  2. Leave to SE Asia for a few months via train.
  3. Come back through China via Vietnam by train and go to QingDao to take ferry to South Korea (2nd entry).
  4. 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:

  1. 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.

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You aren't going to be able to do a transit without visa on any of these trips. You need 3 entries (something I have never heard of from China), or else a multi-entry visa.

Since you say you're American my understanding of the current rules (note that they changed in November of 2014, ignore anything from before then!) is that you'll get a 10 year multi-entry visa. The only thing that varies is the days per admission. This was no difficulty for us but we have a long string of visas with no overstays or other trouble and she's China-born which makes for more liberal rules. (As it stands now I have 60 days/entry, she has 90 days/entry even though we only requested 60.)

Edit: I looked this up on TIMATIC which is what the airlines themselves use to check the rules:


TWOV (Transit Without Visa):

Visa required, except for Holders of confirmed onward airline tickets for a max. transit time of 24 hours.

Transit incl. multiple stops within China (People's Rep.), with a total transit time of max. 24 hours, is permitted.

  • Not applicable at Fuzhou (FOC) and Yanji (YNJ).
  • Nationals of USA are not permitted to use the multiple-stop transit within China, if transiting through Tianjin (TSN), Weihai (WEH), Wuhan (WUH), Xi'an (XIY) or Zhengzhou (CGO).

Visa required, except for Nationals of USA holding confirmed onward airline tickets to a third country, provided arriving in and departing from the same city:

  • at Beijing (PEK), Chengdu (CTU), Chongqing (CKG), Dalian (DLC), Guangzhou (CAN), Hangzhou (HGH), Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA), Shanghai Pudong (PVG), Wuhan (WUH), Xi'an (XIY) or Xiamen (XMN) for a max. transit time of 72 hours, starting from 00:01 on the day following the day of entry.

  • at Guilin (KWL), Kunming (KMG) or Shenyang (SHE) for a max. transit time of 72 hours;

  • All transiting passengers are subject to a check by immigration. Passengers in transit must hold passports or passport replacing documents that are accepted for entry into China (People's Rep.).

  • Not applicable at Beijing (PEK) if staying in the international transit area.

  • Leaving the transit area is allowed.


Note that it specifically says "airline tickets". While it is meant for airlines people sometimes connect between airlines and other means of transport, if it was permitted they would say so.

The reason fro the TWOV rules is the visa costs meant people would connect elsewhere rather than in China and that was lost business. People like you aren't going to take other routes anyway, they don't need to offer you TWOV to get you to pass through China.

Also, when you get on the train doesn't matter--the clock would go to when you passed through the border control leaving China. That will either be at the border itself or at least after the last stop the train makes in China.

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    Thanks for the reply. One clarification - you have a long string of Chinese visas or other country visas? Also, can you provide a source or a more detailed explanation of why you are certain I would need a visa with 3 entries, perhaps in relation to the exemption rules as specified in my original post? – GreenieMeanie May 31 '15 at 22:37
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    @GreenieMeanie A long string of Chinese visas--that's how they would know there were no overstays or other problems. As for why your entries don't qualify--there are two things. First, it's for air travel only. Second, if the arrival and departure locations differ you're limited to 24 hours--pretty hard to do by train. – Loren Pechtel May 31 '15 at 22:42
  • QinqDao to Beijing is 5 hours by train with regular schedules. Assuming I could get from the port to the train station in say 2 hours, and from the Beijing arrival station to the Trans-Siberian station in another 2 hours, that would leave me still with another 15 hours before the Trans-Siberian would depart, so I don't understand why I couldn't use the 24h visa exemption rule as long as it applies to trains as well as flights, and as long as I could book BOTH train journeys in advance and provide proof at each station. That's why I need to definitively know if it is only for flights or not. – GreenieMeanie May 31 '15 at 23:56
  • Even though the Trans-Siberian train would still be in China and not reach the Mongolian border for awhile, perhaps that is the real issue? But as far as reaching the ferry port to initially getting on the first departure point of the train, that is for sure doable in 24h. But again, I can't find any good information that goes into detail about exactly what time windows are considered. Most sites are assuming a flight, so obviously the time between departure and no longer being in China is very short and non-negligible, while the Trans Siberian would still be chugging along several more hours. – GreenieMeanie Jun 1 '15 at 0:07
  • @GreenieMeanie The transit without visa provision is exclusively for those travelling internationally by air into one city and leaving the same city again by international air travel. It is not available, nor intended for those who are travelling domestically within China. If you are found to violate the provisions in this way, you may be deported and denied future entry to China. You need to obtain a multi entry visa; or alternatively you need to obtain several single entry visas. – Calchas Jun 4 '15 at 12:03
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TL/DR: I think you waaayyy over thinking this.

Getting a 10 Year Multi Entry Chinese Visa is almost trivially easy for US Passports provided you don't have some extraordinary circumstance. You lose nothing by applying. Many passport agencies tell you exactly what to do.

Note, this doesn't exempt you from registering with the local authorities. Many hotels will automatically do this but ask to make sure.

Visa-free transits are limited to connecting/stopover flights originating and terminating outside China.

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