China’s Visa-Waiver Policy Boosts Inbound Tourism: Foreign Visitors Up 152%

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After the pandemic-induced slump, China’s simplification of visa procedures appears to have paid off, with foreign visitors in the first half of the year soaring 152% compared to the year before.

In the first half of the year, 14.64 million foreigners visited China, marking a 152% year-on-year increase, according to the National Immigration Administration.

China, historically a major player in outbound tourism, is now focusing on boosting its inbound arrivals. Recent visa-free policy changes appear to have helped increase the number of foreign visitors to the country.

Over 8.5 million visa-free entries were recorded from the period between January to June this year, making up 58% of inbound travel, reflecting a 190% increase year-on-year.

Despite this growth, current numbers still fall short of the pre-Covid benchmark of 15.53 million foreign visitors in the first half of 2019.

China’s National Immigration Service reported processing 287 million inbound and outbound trips in the first six months of 2024, a 71% year-on-year increase. These included 137 million visits by mainland residents, 121 million by Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan residents, and 29.2 million by foreigners.

China’s Visa Waiver Policies

China has simplified visa procedures with more than 40 countries and has mutual visa waiver agreements with more than 20, according to reports. New Zealand, Australia and Poland are the latest countries to join the country’s expanding visa waiver program.

In November, China introduced a one-year trial for visa-free travel for citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. In March, this program was expanded to include Ireland, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

China initially announced the visa-free policy for a trial period until November 30 this year, but has now extended it until December 31, 2025.

Travelers with ordinary passports from these countries can enjoy visa-free stays of up to 15 days for business, tourism, family visits, or transit purposes.

The Chinese government has also relaxed entry regulations for tourists arriving via cruise ships. As of May 15, such visitors can stay in China visa-free for up to 15 days.

The expanded visa-free transit policy, effective since last November, now includes citizens from 54 countries. They can stay up to 144 hours without a visa in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, provided they have a valid onward ticket. Cruise ship passengers also benefit from this exemption.

Beijing’s Inbound Growth

Beijing also saw a significant increase in foreign visitors in the first half of 2024, with over one million visiting the capital, a 257% year-on-year increase, according to data from the Beijing General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection.

Over 159,000 foreign nationals from the 12 visa-exempt countries have entered the city under China’s visa-free policy this year, according to the Beijing exit and entry authority. Foreign nationals coming to Beijing can now also apply for a temporary driving license upon arrival at the airport.

The border inspection office is also helping local travel agencies organize international group tours more efficiently. In the first half of the year, more than 30,000 foreign visitors came to Beijing as part of such tours, a 30-fold increase compared with the same period last year.

During the same period, 33,700 eligible foreign travelers utilized China’s 144-hour visa-free transit policy, a seven-fold increase year-on-year.

Easing of Entry for Hong Kong and Macau Residents

In other related developments, China will also now allow Hong Kong and Macau permanent residents to apply for multiple-entry travel visas to mainland China, each valid for five years.

From July 10, foreign permanent residents of these cities can apply for such visas, though each stay cannot exceed 90 days, as announced by the National Immigration Administration.

The government said the initiative aims, to further facilitate exchanges between mainland Chinese people and those in Hong Kong and Macau, aiding them to “better integrate into the overall national development.”

Non-Chinese residents from these regions traveling for short-term purposes like investment, visiting relatives, tourism, business, and seminars can apply for the permit through authorized services. However, the permit does not allow holders to work, study, or engage in news coverage activities on the mainland. Those intending to do so must apply for other visas or residence permits.

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