China reopens to tourists after three years of COVID-19 restrictions
After three years of pandemic border restrictions, China is fully reopening to foreign visitors — including tourists.
In a Chinese-language statement posted on its website on Monday, China's Embassy in the United States said the country would resume issuing all categories of visas for foreigners from Wednesday.
Travellers holding multi-year visas issued before March 28, 2020 — the date China closed its borders to most overseas visitors in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out — would be allowed to use them so long as they had not expired, the statement said.
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Chinese authorities last month declared a "major and decisive victory" in their handling of the coronavirus outbreak that had swept the country following an abrupt relaxation of Beijing's "zero-COVID" policy late last year.
Monday's announcement also comes as Beijing seeks to revive the world's second-largest economy and its domestic tourist industry after a year of tepid growth exacerbated by pandemic measures.
In 2022, China registered 115 million cross-border trips, far below the 2019 pre-pandemic level of 670 million. Foreigners accounted for 97.7 million of those trips in 2019 — a figure that dropped to just 4.47 million last year as COVID restrictions kept almost everyone but residents out.
According to the embassy's statement Monday, visa-free entry will resume to the southern island of Hainan and for cruise ships visiting Shanghai.
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Visa-free entry will also restart for foreigners traveling from Hong Kong and Macao to neighbouring Guangdong province and tour groups from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states visiting the provinces of Guilin and Guangxi.
China scrapped quarantine for international arrivals in January in a partial reopening met with an outpouring of joy and relief from citizens — both the hundreds of millions isolated inside the country for the past three years and those overseas separated from their loved ones.
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Travellers to the country are still required to take a COVID test 48 hours before departure and need to fill in the results in their customs health declaration forms.
In an advisory updated March 10, the US State Department urges American citizens to reconsider any travel to China, including Hong Kong and Macao, due to "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" and the risk of wrongful detention.