China guide head arrivals

Take a pen on the plane for your flight to China, since on your flight, you will be an given arrival (and departure) card to complete. In your passport, you will have received a Chinese visa that you will need to reference when filling out your card. It’s pretty self explanatory.

guide arrivalcard

  1. On arrival at the (most likely Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou International airports), you will first go through health temperature scanners that will look for anyone with a fever or higher than normal body temperature. During times of higher than normal H1N1 (Bird Flu) scares, they may additionally do other screenings.  Just keep following the “Foreigners” signs…guide airport arr foreigner
  2. If you do not have a visa, and are taking advantage of the 144 or 72 Hour Transit Visa program, follow the signs for that special line.
    china guide 144 hour transit visa sign        China Visa Free Sign
  3. From there it’s onto immigration (if you have a Chinese Visa, join the FOREIGNER line, not the Chinese Citizen line), where they will check your passport, take your arrival card, photograph you, typically fingerprint you before stamping your passport and letting you move on.
    guide airport arr hall        guide airport arr passport
  4. After passport control, they will wave you through towards luggage claim.
    guide airport arr carousel        guide airport arr trolleys
  5. Once you collect your luggage, you will go through China Customs, where sometimes they will x-ray your bags on arrival, but more often than not, let you walk through.

Welcome to China.

Arriving into: for detailed passenger guide for arrivals (or departures)…
Beijing Visit the official site of Beijing Capital International Airport (in English)
Shanghai Visit the official site of Pudong International Airport (in English)

e-channel at China Immigration

For those who have crossed the border here a few times have noticed about half the border are these pods or plexiglass glass gates people are walking through. It’s a way to “skip” filling out the immigration form, talking to a customs official by simply placing your passport on the scanner, the door opens, and you then go inside the “pod”. In the pod they take your thumbprints and scan your face. Once they see this matches you on the file, the door to enter (or leave) China is complete.  No stamps, no talking to a customs official, no customs forms, and normally no line or a very fast moving line.

china echannel gates

Frequent traveling foreign passport holders with Z visas can apply to use the e-channel (the one with the Plexiglas gates) to speed through immigration lines upon returning to China. 

The primary prerequisites for obtaining this permission is to have an “e-passport” enabled with a microchip and a valid visa and residence permit with at least six months of validity.   

You have to sign up when arriving on an international flight. When you get to the immigration area, go to the e-channel lanes. One of the booths next to the E-channel lanes is for E-channel registration. Talk to one of the officers and they’ll get you setup. There is no fee, and the form is in Chinese and English.  The application form is essentially a consent form permitting the registering officer to collect “biodata,” (photo & thumbprints).

china echannel enroll

Using the e-Channel

At the e-channel terminal, travelers are required to scan the passport photo page at the receptacle. This will open the door to the e-channel. Inside, a scan of one’s face will be taken as well as of the thumbs on a fingerprint scanner. Once successfully scanned and proven a match, the exit doors will open, and the traveler can proceed over the border. In case of any problems at the e-channel, the normal border crossing channel will need to be taken.  The entire process takes about 10 seconds.


One of the problems with the e-channel is that you don’t have a stamp in your passport and so while it may make your airport experience easier and faster to go through the ec-hannel, there are many aspects of life in China that we still need to prove that entry stamp, such as local police registration for the temporary certificate (when renting an apartment, etc); at the bank for certain transactions; at a hotel, etc. 

New Visa – Need to Re-Apply

If you get a new China visa, you need to re-apply to the e-channel. You need to take a new photo, new fingerprints, and wait for it to activate – same as if I applied for the first time.

Your Passport

It is not only Chinese law, but common sense to ensure you carry your passport, containing your valid visa with you at all times. Documentation is essential to Chinese custom.  You will need your passport to check into hotels, to travel by airplane or train domestically, to use an internet café, when using a credit card in some stores, when ordering something for delivery, and at any time a police, local official or hotel manager requests.

Do not leave your passport in your hotel room. I strongly suggest making a couple of photocopies of your passport and Chinese visa. If staying privately, keep a copy of your PSB Registration with you at all times.  Place one in each checked suitcase, keep on in your carry one, and fold one into your wallet – just in case.

You WILL NOT be permitted to travel domestically without your passport.

Jet Lag

If arriving from North America, expect that when you arrive you’ll be fine for the 1st day (excitement will strangely overcome exhaustion — even on your 10th trip here) — however, expect that you’ll wake up unusually early the next morning (typically 4 or 5 am). The 2nd day is the killer — you need to really prepare yourself to want to stay up all day, and try not to nap — otherwise you’ll be thrown for the next few days.

If arriving from North America, if you can, avoid planning anything from about 4pm through the evening on the 2nd day, aim to get to bed at around 9pm, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your body clock adjusts.

HOWEVER, on return home, (the worse direction for Jet Lag) expect 2 days of total exhaustion and restless sleep.