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I've had some conflicting information. I can't find anywhere on the internet that says those who are able to have a free 72 hour transit visa to China, need to prove they have somewhere to stay, however someone on the flight check in desk has suggested i won't get the visa without proof I am staying somewhere overnight.

Everything I have read has suggested all I need is to prove that I am just transiting in China for less than 72 hours with an onward flight to a 3rd country. Do I need to have a hotel or hostel booking?

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As far as I know, no. You do need a place to stay however, right?

As you correctly mention, no official sources mention the requirement of a hotel booking. The relevant text from TIMATIC is given in this question and no hotel booking is mentioned. This well-informed blog does not mention it and neither does the FAQ of the Chinese embassy to Canada or this guy's trip report. He does mention however:

The agents at the airports know next to nothing about the 72-hour visa-free transit rule.

And I've come to make similar experiences. Stand your ground, ask for a supervisor or read the rules on their screen with them if necessary.

However you do have to stay somewhere when in China and you do have to put down an address on your arrival card at immigration. This could be any address but I wouldn't just make one up.

Also remember you have to register within 24h, which is done by the hotel if you stay there, or if you stay with a friend they have to go to the police station to register you (even though I know of a lot of couchsurfers/airbnb hosts skipping this step).

(Finally, it is not a "72 hour transit visa" but a "transit without visa".)

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    So this matches pretty much everything I experienced. The landing card has the normal "Place you will be staying", however when i asked the flight attendants, they just wrote Beijing, China for me. This was not questioned by the immigration official. – Jarede Mar 30 '16 at 8:53

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