China’s Covid-19 Travel Rules Explained

Now Shenzhen   |   July 4, 2022

(Updated July 1, 2022.)

Since closing its borders to most international travel over two years ago, China has imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing, large-scale contact tracing, quarantines and entry restrictions as part of its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy.

Yet, there are signs that it is easing border restrictions, with the National Health Commission releasing new guidelines on June 28 that reduced quarantine for overseas arrivals.

Here is what you need to know about China’s latest entry restrictions.

How can I get into China?

Inbound travel options for China have been cut drastically.

Air travel remains the main way of entering the country but international flights to the country are limited. In March 2020, China restricted both foreign and Chinese carriers to just one weekly international passenger flight per airline.

This is gradually changing, however. For example, Hainan Airlines resumed flights between Chongqing and Rome from June 23, a route that had been suspended since the pandemic started. 

The civil aviation authority can suspend flights if there are a certain number of positive Covid-19 cases among a carrier’s passengers, although those rules were eased in 2021. If between five and 10 passengers on a flight test positive for the coronavirus, the airline can choose to either suspend their operations for two weeks or continue operating at a maximum of 40 per cent capacity for four weeks. Previously, they had to suspend operations for at least two weeks.

Travel by land and sea has also been restricted since the pandemic started.

China completely closed its land border with Russia in 2020 to contain a spike in cases entering the country from its northern neighbour.

Ferries between Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China have been suspended, as has the high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province.

What are the quarantine and testing requirements?

Unless you are travelling on a “fast lane” arrangement that allows some essential travellers to skip quarantine, you will generally have to spend seven days at a government-run quarantine facility, followed by another three days in home isolation, according to new guidelines released by the National Health Commission on June 28.

However, overseas arrivals will have to undergo five tests in total at the isolation facility – on the first, second, third, fifth and seventh day – compared with four previously.

Previously the requirement was 14 days in quarantine and seven days in home isolation for most arrivals, while some travellers from Hong Kong to Shenzhen were allowed to spend half of their two-week isolation period at home.

Is everyone allowed to enter China?


Holiday travel to China is generally not allowed but people with special courtesy visas, such as government officials and diplomats travelling for personal reasons, can enter the country. Those from the same group travelling for official purposes on diplomatic and service visas are also allowed in.

China has refused to let most foreign students return to the country to resume their studies, and has stopped granting visas to international students except to those from South Korea following a visa agreement in 2020. In 2022, the foreign ministry announced that it was working with some countries such as India and Thailand to allow their students to enter China for studies.

It is still possible to enter the country for certain reasons. Mainland Chinese citizens can return home from overseas as long as they test negative for Covid-19 and obtain the health code required to verify this. Meanwhile, foreigners holding valid work, personal and family reunion residence permits are allowed to enter, as are those holding approved visa types such as air crew.

Foreigners can also apply for visas if they have family members in China. However, some visas require travellers to have been vaccinated with a vaccine recognised by the Chinese government.

Flights from certain countries, such as Britain, Belgium and the Philippines, have at various times also been banned when cases surged in those places. Travellers are advised to check the Chinese embassy website in their country for the latest information.

What documents do I need?

In addition to a valid visa or residence permit to enter China, Chinese citizens and foreigners need to obtain a health code from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure.

To apply for the health code, travellers must submit a negative Covid-19 nucleic acid test result and antibody test online. Both have to be taken within 48 hours of the flight at a lab approved by the embassy or consulate.

Travellers will also have to submit vaccination records, if any, and may also be asked to provide other supporting documents such as flight itineraries and proof of residence.

They are also advised to take direct flights when available because Chinese embassies will decline to issue health codes to transit passengers if direct flights are available.

For travellers with no direct flight to China, only one transit is allowed in general, and health codes are required from the embassy or consulate at the point of departure, and at the transit location.

Travellers who were previously infected with Covid-19 also have to report to their local embassies before flying, have a lung scan, undergo two nucleic acid tests 24 hours apart and do 14 days of self-quarantine before they can apply for a health code.

Restrictions may differ based on which country you are flying from. For example, those coming from some high-risk countries, such as Britain, may also have to take an additional nucleic acid test. Travellers are advised to check with their local Chinese embassies for the latest rules.

Are vaccinations required?

Vaccinations are not a must, but those that have been fully vaccinated with a China-recognised vaccine may be able to enter the country for a wider range of personal matters such as to visit close family members, or to take care of elderly relatives.

China began allowing travellers vaccinated with some foreign vaccines to enter in 2021. However, they may have to take a different antibody test to obtain the health code to enter China.

Most Chinese vaccines are inactivated vaccines, unlike other jabs such as the Moderna and BioNTech shots. Vaccinations may result in a positive result in the antibody test, and travellers who have been jabbed with non-inactivated vaccines may have to take a different antibody test to show that the result is due to the vaccine and not an active Covid-19 infection – a requirement not necessary for those who had inactivated vaccines.

ARTICLE FROM: South China Morning Post