China Opens Borders To Tourists, Resumes Issuing Visas

China is once again open to the world. The question is how open the world is to visiting China…

China resumes issuance of visas for foreigners

At the start of the pandemic, China pursued a zero-COVID strategy, and closed its borders to the world. Not only did the country stop welcoming most foreigners, but a lengthy quarantine in a facility was also required. With the endless coverage we’ve seen of the country’s lockdowns, it almost seemed inconceivable that “easy” travel to China would ever become a thing again.

That all changed in early 2023. China was dealing with an unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, and the government realized a zero-COVID strategy was no longer practical. As a result, China pursued exactly the opposite approach, and decided to end most restrictions and “let it rip.” As it impacts travel, the country ended its travel quarantine requirement.

The catch is that up until now, China hasn’t actually resumed issuing visas for foreigners. This has meant that Chinese nationals have been allowed to travel freely, while foreigners haven’t been able to travel to China, even if they had valid visas issued before the pandemic.

That has finally changed. As of March 15, 2023, China has resumed the issuance of visas to foreigners, in line with pre-pandemic policies. Chinese embassies are once again issuing all types of visas to foreigners, including visas for tourism, business, and medical affairs.

Furthermore, visa-free entry is being resumed for select travelers, including for entry to the Hainan province, for cruises to Shanghai, for the Guangdong province for those from Hong Kong and Macao, etc.

China is once again issuing tourist visas

Will people be open to traveling to China?

It’s nice to see China once again opening to the rest of the world. After all, it’s a country with 1.4 billion people, and with a lot to offer in terms of culture, history, food, etc. I imagine China will see a significant number of business travelers, as well as travelers visiting friends and family.

However, pre-pandemic, China was also a pretty popular destination for tourists who didn’t otherwise have any ties to China. I know I’ve been a countless number of times. With that in mind, I’d be fascinated to see what visitor numbers are like for China in the next couple of years.

I have to imagine that a lot of people who would have previously visited China aren’t necessarily comfortable doing so anymore, or are at least hesitant. That’s nothing against the people of China, but rather reflects concerns that many people have about the government on a variety of levels.

The other challenge with travel to China is that international capacity to and from the country is nowhere near where it was pre-pandemic. That’s largely due to lack of demand, but it’s also because China added all kinds of flight bans that were largely made reciprocal, which limit how much service foreign airlines can offer to China (and in turn, limit how much service Chinese airlines can offer to other countries).

China isn’t part of the Open Skies agreement, so airlines can’t just freely add as many flights to China as they want, pending airport slots. Rather everything in this regard is a bilateral negotiation, and that can get heavily political.

How many travelers will be interested in visiting China?

Bottom line

China ended its travel quarantine at the beginning of 2023, and is now resuming the issuance of visas as of March 15. This is a significant development, since for the first time in around three years it will be possible to visit China in the same way as you could before the pandemic.

Personally I think China has an uphill battle in terms of attracting visitors (aside from business travelers and those with family ties), but I could be wrong.

With China having reopened, would you consider traveling there? If not, what would it take for you to visit?

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