If we will have a layover in Guangzhou, can we get a free short term visa in China? That’s the question I asked myself, when we were about to book a flight from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur via Guangzhou. We had to choose between several flights of the same price and one had a pretty long layover time in Guangzhou, about 18 hours. That would be enough to visit Guangzhou and return to airport, I thought. And so I googled “free visa in China”.
Turned out that there really is such an option. And not just one option. You can apply for 24, 72 or 144 hour (6 days) visa free transit. However, 144 hour visa free transit is possible only if you are arriving to Shanghai, Jiangsu or Zhejiang.
72 hour visa free transit – Guangzhou
At first, to apply for 72 hour visa free transit in China you should be from one of 51 countries, whose passport holders currently are eligible to receive it. That includes 24 Schengen agreement countries (also Latvia), 13 other European countries, USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and 6 Asian countries. Check the full list on Travel China Guide!
Next – you should be arriving and leaving from the same city. Except for those who are traveling to Shanghai, Jiangsu or Zhejiang, and who can apply for 144 hour visa free transit in China.
And you should be able to show an onward ticket with confirmed seats.
Remember – with 72 hour (the same as with 144 hour) visa free transit you are limited to where you can travel in China, and in some cases (depends from a city that you are arriving to) you can’t even leave area of the city. But is it really a problem? I don’t think so. Of course we always can want for something better. But having an option to leave the airport and spend your day exploring the city, in my opinion, is much, much better than just sitting and waiting for the next flight, and relying on expensive airport restaurants.
It’s also a great option for those who want to visit just one city in China (or few in some cases) for couple of days. Because this way you don’t need to apply for Chinese visa in advance.
Layover in Guangzhou – Free accommodation from China Southern Airlines
If you are flying with China Southern Airlines and you have an 8+ hour (max 48 hours) layover in Guangzhou, then you can get a free transit accommodation. Additionally China Southern Airlines provides you with a free transfer from the airport to hotel and back. And breakfast also is included for free.
What a nice finding it was, because information about this service we found absolutely accidentally. Two weeks before our flight from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur via Guangzhou we started to look for hotels in Guangzhou. Cheapest ones aren’t too expensive, and it made us happy.
But then we also checked the website Sleeping in Airports, to see what if we choose to spend a night at the airport, will it even be possible. And there, at the end of Guangzhou Airport page, we found this information – if you are flying with China Southern Airlines and you have a layover in Guangzhou, then you can get a free accommodation. Really? Turns out yes.
But remember one thing – you need to choose the hotel from the website of China Southern Airlines yourself! This way you will confirm, that you are interested in free transfer accommodation provided by the airline. And you need to do it not later than 24 hours before your flight.
Read more about free transit accommodation in Guangzhou! There you will also find more information about this service, provided by China Southern Airlines.
What happened in our situation? We were so happy to learn, that we will not need to think about hotel and transfer during our layover in Guangzhou, that we missed the fact, that we need to choose the hotel online. If you read our previous article, about our stopover in Dubai, then you will know, that we realized it just an hour before departure. Then I quickly sent an email to China Southern Airlines, and now I will share with you, what happened next.
Layover in Guangzhou – Our experience
It’s 2 AM. We are in Dubai International airport. And just few minutes ago we boarded our plane to Guangzhou, third largest city in China. The plane is big. It looks quite old. But the seats are comfortable. And there is a lot of legroom. Even though I feel bad, that we forgot to book a free hotel in Guangzhou, I’m now too tired to think about it for too long.
Oh, the media player here looks so cool! It works so well! And there are a lot of good movies. Ok,… but that’s not for me, not now. All I want is to have at least few hours of sleep. I navigate to music section, click on Chinese pop music, and some nice music starts to play in my earphones. I fall asleep few minutes later.
To be awakened by Una later. I open my eyes, and I don’t know if we are flying already or not. We are flying already for some hour? Ok. On the table in front of me now there is a glass of juice and some bun. I eat the bun, drink the juice and fall asleep again.
During the next 7-8 hours I wake up several times, for very short moments. And every time I’m awake I remember about that mistake we have made – we forgot to book free transit hotel, provided by the airline. Sh*t! I feel so tired and exhausted. Everything hurts. 4 long flights in 6 days, a lot of walking and very little of sleep has taken its toll on me.
We sleep for most of the flight, and wake up only when breakfast is being served. After breakfast and all these hours of sleep we feel much better.
Entering the airport I’m a bit worried. Will we get that free transfer accommodation or not? Anyway, we have decided to go to transfer accommodation counter and ask. Another thing that worries me is baggage check. Not that I’m carrying something illegal, but I just don’t want to unpack my bag one more time. Right after the landing captain of the plane announced, that there will be baggage screenings at the airport. I didn’t understand all of what he was saying, but from what I heard it sounded like some special and more serious inspection.
But everything goes well. At the airport we go to transfer counter. Friendly staff check our boarding passes and passports and tell us that we can get free accommodation. All we need to do is acquire free transit visa and go to transit accommodation counter. Ok!
To acquire transit visa (stamp in your passport) we fill arrival cards. These cards are super simple. Next we need to go to free transit visa counter. There is no queue. So 10 minutes later we are already on the other side of the airport, at transit accommodation counter of China Southern Airlines. Finding them was easy, because at the transfer counter they gave us a special map of the airport. And here it’s the same as easy. We show our passports and boarding passes, and a moment later we are already choosing a hotel from a big catalog.
Hotel on the second page looks perfect, and we don’t even look further. Anyway we will spend there just one night, not even all night. Because at 5 AM we will go to the airport, for the next flight.
– So you are taking this one? That’s only 4 star, you can take also 5 star hotel.
– Yes, we will take this one.
One signature, and that’s it. Was it our lucky day? Maybe. Anyway, I recommend you not to risk and to choose hotel online, from the website of the airline. Half an hour later, the same lady invites us and few other passengers, who have arrived a bit later, to a minivan, which takes us all to the hotel.
Our hotel is huge and it’s much better, than we would choose ourselves, especially for just a layover. And there everything is the same as easy. Boarding pass. Passport. Here is your card for the doors of the room. Bus to the airport will wait for you tomorrow at 5 AM. Perfect!
Heading out to Guangzhou
Despite the fact, that we would love to rest for an hour or two, we decide to take a quick shower and head out to Guangzhou instead. Because it’s just one evening, that we will be here this time.
One more thing that we have forgotten to prepare for is internet in China. Many popular sites and applications, that we are used to, are blocked in China. Facebook is blocked. Google and services of Google like Google Maps are blocked. Instagram is blocked. And the list goes on. While I don’t worry about Facebook and Instagram – I can survive a day without them – heading out to a city I don’t know in a country where I can’t even read anything WITHOUT navigation sounds quite challenging for me.
But I find a workaround. Apple Maps on my iPad works in China. And they show such a useful information like public transport routes. Then I find, how to get to the central part of Guangzhou. At first we need to take a bus, which stops just in front of our hotel. And then – metro.
About metro I don’t worry. I just read online about prices and how you pay for it in Guangzhou. And I also write down name of the first and last stop. But the route of the bus I save as a screenshot on my iPad. I don’t have GPS on my iPad. So I know I will need to follow, how the bus is driving, and try “to guess our location” on my own. For example, I know from looking on the map on my iPad, that once the bus turns to the right, there should be 2 stops, very close to each other, but the next stop should be after longer ride, once we will cross a bridge.
And, you know, it works for us!
However, to you I can recommend to prepare for it in advance. Just Google “how to use Facebook in China” and you will learn how to use VPN to use internet in China the same like at home.
In metro it really is easy. You choose your destination and pay. At first only we don’t understand why the ticket vending machine isn’t taking our money. Turns out it doesn’t take 20 RMB (CNY) banknotes. Girl standing behind us helps us (she isn’t speaking English), giving us 5 RMB banknote. She declines to take a change. Thank you!
After wandering around in the city for few hours and having our Chinese dinner (we ordered using signs) we return to our hotel the same way as we came.
What we notice in this short time. There are quite a lot of people cycling on small bicycles. There are many more or less strange looking electric scooters. People don’t really pay attention to you. It’s loud, especially in the evening. Loud music, that can be heard from quite a distance, can be coming also from a shoe store. There are bright neon signs everywhere. A lot of neon signs.
And now we will want to return to China.
If you have any more questions about visa free transit & layover in Guangzhou, contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.