Flying from London Heathrow to Shanghai Pudong Airport with Qatar airlines was fraught with frustrations from the outset. The biggest problem was the Visa … did we, or didn’t we need one?


We didn’t find the Chinese Embassy Visa Service Centre helpful or conclusive despite several telephone and email enquiries. When eventually a final reply email arrived from the Embassy a week or so later we were no further afield.

The Chinese Embassy website (which does need updating) states that if you fly into one airport and out of the same airport to different destination a 72 hour visa would apply. The two airports which qualify for an exemption are stated as being Bejing and Shanghai.

The information below is from the Chinese Embassy Site, and seems a little more conclusive if you wish to stay 24 or 72 hours in China.

CHINESE EMBASSY INFORMATION IF YOU WISH TO STAY 24 HOURS. Foreigners who have confirmed onward tickets and seats on international flights and directly transit through China and stay for no more than 24 hours within the airport boundaries do not need to apply for a transit visa.

CHINESE EMBASSY INFORMATION IF YOU WISH TO STAY UP TO 72 HOURS. Citizens of 51 countries (the UK is included in this list) with valid international travel documents and air tickets for a connecting flight with confirmed date of flight and seat for a third country (region) can apply for the 72-hour transit visa exemption at ports of entry in Beijing or Shanghai airports.

We had booked a hotel in Shanghai for three nights before boarding a cruise ship out of Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, so would be in China a little over 72 hours.  Finding information about staying over 72 hours proved very frustrating indeed.


Trailfinders said that we needed a Visa and they could help us obtain one for £140 each plus their fee. This was in December 2018. Checking their Website today (February 2019) it looks as though they can no longer help obtain a Visa due to fingerprint requirements, and clients now must visit the Chinese Visa Application Service Centres in person.

If you search this Visa problem online you will find totally conflicting advice. Some websites say you can arrive and stay for 144 hours without a Visa, some state the opposite. We just couldn’t get to the bottom of it.

SIMON CALDER'S ADVICE (can't thank him enough)

Eventually we remembered the travel journalist and broadcaster, Simon Calder, who has a fantastic website on all aspects of travel. Check out his website, it’s one of the most helpful, truthful and comprehensive travel website available.

In reply to an email Simon said we could obtain a 144-hour Exemption Visa at no cost on arrival in Shanghai. He also added that we would be able to leave from the cruise terminal in Shanghai. Good news for us as two Visas obtained in the UK in advance would have dented our holiday spending money by over £300 pounds.


The cruise company eventually said that we would not need Visas, but this was not long before we travelled, so it would have been too late to obtain one then in any case.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?( the good and the bad)

In February 2019 we tried to check-in online on the Qatar airline’s website - they said we couldn’t because we didn’t have a valid Visa number: a subsequent phone conversation with the airline left us in a complete quandary. It was beginning to feel that without a Visa we would not be able to fly after all.

A week later we tentatively stood inline to check in at Qatar airlines, Heathrow Airport, London**. A really nice member of Qatar check-in staff asked for our Visas, and we went through the whole sorry tale, even producing print outs of every piece of proof that we had.

We cannot fault the politeness of the check-in staff, but that only goes someway to all the frustrations we’d been through and now at the end it looked as though we would not be allowed on the flight. We had to explain our situation several times to different members of staff, and we were told that had we been with an organised group it would have been different, but as we were two individual travellers we would need Visas.

We stood with our suitcases on the unmoving airline checkin conveyor belt waiting for clearance (or not) for over thirty minutes. Various staff ran madly around, consulting each other, consulting someone upstairs, and telephoning Qatar in China before eventually someone said yes, we could fly.


The end of this frustrating saga is strange. 

When we arrived at Shanghai Pudong Airport some sixteen hours later, we had visions of an official saying no, no, no, not allowed into China without Visa, but not the case, there we immediately saw arrowed signs indicating the way to walk towards the 144 hour Visa Exemption Transit Area, and when we arrived at the Transit Area, there were ten permanently set-up booths, where all we had to do was produce our UK passport and fill in a Visa Exemption card. Fingerprints and photographs were also taken. All so simple.

I hope our experience may help you navigate your way through the many frustrations you are about to encounter if you plan to fly to China but stay for over 72 hours, but under 144 hours.

**We learned later that our New Zealand friends had exactly the same problem four years ago when flying out of Heathrow airport to Shanghai, China. Come on Heathrow, and on come on Qatar Airlines, update and stop giving passengers such a worrying, hard time!