Visa-free China entry approved at all cruise ports, tourists allowed to stay for up to 15 days

By Ji Siqi

Foreign visitors are now allowed to stay in China for up to 15 days without a visa if they reach via international cruises, Beijing announced on Wednesday in its latest attempt to buoy the cruise industry and boost inbound travel.

Coming into effect on the same day, the new regulations allow foreigners travelling in tour groups of at least two people to enter China visa-free through all 13 cruise ports in the country, from Liaoning province’s Dalian in the north to Hainan island’s Sanya in the south.

“The full implementation of the visa-free entry policy for foreign tourist groups taking cruises will provide policy support for the development of the cruise economy and cruise industry and create a new engine for high-quality development,” said Mao Xu, director general of the Department of Foreigners Management at the National Immigration Administration (NIA).

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China’s first home-grown cruise liner, the Adora Magic City, made its maiden voyage on January 1. The vessel has been widely touted as a breakthrough in the nation’s shipbuilding and high-end manufacturing.

The new visa policy will also help attract more visitors to China, facilitating exchanges with other countries, Mao said.

The policy is an extension of a pilot scheme from 2016 that had restricted the entry point to only the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal. That scheme was suspended during the pandemic and resumed last year.

Travel agencies handling the trips must be registered in mainland China, according to the NIA notice. The whole tour group also must enter and exit China at the same time, and visitors may travel to Beijing or any coastline province during the 15 days.

In the past year, Beijing has launched a series of charm offensives to lure back foreign travellers amid a tourism slump and an economic downturn that had spilled over from the pandemic.

In December, China started allowing travellers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia to enter the country without a visa for 15 days for business, tourism, family visits and transit. A mutual visa-exemption agreement between China and Singapore also came into effect in February.

China has also been expanding its visa-free transit policy, bringing the number of covered countries to 54 after including Norway in November. Citizens from those countries do not need a visa to enter China as long as they have booked an onward ticket to a third country or region.

On Wednesday, seven cruise ports were also added as eligible entry points under the visa-free transit policy, on top of the original 31. Most of those are airports, and the majority allow for visa-free stays of up to six days, including the newly added cruise ports. But three of the 38 entry points allow for only three days of visa-free stays.

Currently, 21 international cruises operate out of Chinese ports, according to official data.

Despite Beijing’s efforts, the number of inbound foreign travellers has remained below pre-pandemic levels.

In the first quarter of this year, 13 million foreigners crossed the border into or out of mainland China – four times the figure in the same period last year but around 40 per cent fewer compared with the first three months of 2019, according to NIA figures.

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