As many of us heard, China opened up its doors suddenly on January 8 after years of an extremely strict zero-COVID policy. If you do any business in China, or are just eager to cross the Great Wall off your bucket list, you may be eager to get back to China.
So how do you visit China in 2023? There's a few catches you need to be prepared for. Information is going to change fast here so please refer to the “Last Update” date below to make sure the information is current.
This article was last updated January 17, 2023
Tourist Visas Are Not Currently Being Issued
Here's the first major catch – tourist visas (L Visas) are still closed. No one is issuing them (often different consulates/embassies have different rules). So if you want to visit as a tourist, you'll have to wait a bit longer. Rumors are that it will open some time in the not too distant future.
But oh, you have an old 10 year visa that's still valid? Unfortunately, anything issued before March 27th 2020 is not valid any more and you need re-apply (more on this later).
Commercial and Family Visas Are Being Issued
Commercial and family visas are still being issued though. In fact, China never really officially stopped issuing these but the quarantine rules made it impractical for most of the population to visit China (unless you enjoyed two week hotel quarantines with a reasonable likelihood of ending up in a hospital internment camp).
You'll need the usual letter of invitation from your supplier or family in the visa application, which is easy.
But oh, you have a previous 10 Year commercial visa that is still valid? Unfortunately, anything issued before March 27th 2020 is not valid any more and you need re-apply (more on this later).
Are there Quarantine Requirements for Entering China?
Currently, the only entry requirement for entering China is a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of your departure date. Remember though, many countries have implemented testing requirements for coming back into your country (i.e. America, Canada, and many countries in Europe). Given the COVID situation in China (there's a lot of it) there's chance greater than 0 that you could catch COVID – more on that later.
Upon entering China, reports are that it's more or less business as usual.
Flights to China
So you solved your visa issues? Now on to the next hurdle: finding a flight.
Airlines are now completely free to fly to China (despite years of restrictions) – however, most airlines haven't updated their flight schedules, which will likely take weeks/months. The result? Flights are freaking expensive and require layovers.
The last time I flew to China was December 2019. I paid $600 Canadian for a direct flight to Beijing. Today that same flight is over $2500 and also requires a layover.
Flights are likely going to cheaper as airlines add more flights to China, but for the time being (especially around February as Chinese New Year happens), expect to pay a lot of money for your flight to China.
Are Any Trade Shows Happening in China in 2023?
The good news is that many of the most popular trade shows around China, including the Canton Fair, are resuming in-person fairs this year.
The Canton Fair (check out our Canton Fair guide) is scheduled to take place on April 15, 2023. Global Sources in Hong Kong will take place just before then from 11 April 2023 to 14 April 2023.
It remains to be seen how enthusiastically exhibitors will turn out for various trade shows in early 2023 but expect there to be a lot of pent-up demand from exhibitors as time progresses and trade shows to be as vibrant as ever.
COVID in China
There's A LOT of people in China getting COVID right now. Peking University in China (well respected) estimated 900million people (64% of the population) have gotten COVID since the start of the pandemic, and most of that occurred very recently. Literally nearly everyone I know in China has gotten COVID in the last few weeks.
What does that mean for you?
- You have a reasonable likelihood of catching COVID in China (good time to get a booster)
- Suppliers may be temporarily closed when visiting
- Masking is still a thing (and in fact, was somewhat common even before COVID, as in many Eastern Asian countries)
Testing booths, QR codes, and other COVID monitoring restrictions common in China during the pandemic have mostly gone away except for in high-risk areas (i.e. hospitals)
Is Hong Kong Fully Open for Travel?
And how about Hong Kong? (Hong Kong has set its COVID rules separate from the Mainland)
Hong Kong officially opened to tourists in late 2022 but got rid of quarantine only recently. Unlike Mainland China though, most Westerners do not need visas to enter Hong Kong, so visiting Hong Kong is quite a bit easier than the Mainland.
When visiting Hong Kong, you'll also need a PCR test taken within 48 hours of your flight but there's no quarantine upon arrival.
In Hong Kong, masking is still legally required in most public indoor spaces (legally required, not “morally required” like other countries such as the Philippines). They have, however, removed the Vaccine Pass they had required to enter many places.
Entering China from Hong Kong, as of this writing, also remains a bit of a crap-shoot as only certain border crossings are open and there's a quota/lottery system in place. This will likely be removed at some time in the near future, but as of January these restrictions are in place.
China is officially open although getting there is still tricky in terms of getting visas and also getting access to flights. As the year progresses, traveling to China should only get increasingly easier and hopefully by the end of the year it will be back to normal, more or less.
Have you visited China recently? Let me know about your experiences below.