top of page

COVID travel restrictions ease for foreigners coming to China

With over one billion people vaccinated, life is slowly returning to normal in China. Though foreign travel to China has been discouraged to prevent the spread of any new COVID-19 strain, there are exceptions and visa protocols for those who need to enter the country.

On March 15, 2021, restrictions were eased for a select number of travelers from 23 countries. Those coming for work or humanitarian reasons -such as reuniting with family- can apply for visas, as can holders of the APEC Business Travel Card.

Residents may also return. All categories, however, must have been vaccinated with Chinese-made vaccines at least 15 days earlier.

Despite rumors that the country would only grant travel visas to people who had gotten the China-created Sinovac vaccine, the Chinese embassy in the United States confirmed that travelers with vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson would also be eligible.

China already has a Fast Lane agreement with Singapore, allowing business travelers, as well as with South Korea.

The "Return2HK" program was launched last September 15 and allows 2,000 eligible people from Macao and the Chinese mainland to enter Hong Kong per day without quarantining.

Half will be permitted to enter via the Shenzhen Bay port and the other half via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port. Proof of a negative Covid test will still be required.

With a population of over 1.4 billion people, and an urbanization that has grown immensely in the past twenty years, the risk of a virus mass transmission has become a reality in China.

In March 2020, China closed its borders to nearly all travelers when the pandemic started spreading throughout Europe. Currently, foreigners who wish to enter the country must go through certain protocols.

There is a special visa application channel open to deal with necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities. These require additional special visa application procedures, including the need for an invitation letter (PU, TE, or Invitation Verification Notice) issued by the Chinese government. Among the three type invitation letters, the PU letter is the one used for M-visa, Z-visa, or Q1/Q2-visa.

The PU Invitation Letter can be applied via a China based entity or company, which must liaise with the Foreign Affairs Office of the district where it is registered and receive a list of required documents, which need to be submitted back to the Foreign Affairs Office.

The District Office sends the application documents to the Foreign Affairs Office of the local Municipal Government, which ultimately issues the PU letter for the foreign invitation.

Additional conditions may apply. The invitee should be an employee of the China-based company, and documentary proof, such as a copy of the existing China work permit, or the Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit for a new contract.

In case of urgent business activities, the government will consider whether foreigners are eligible for entry if there are important projects to be implemented.

Foreigners with valid residence permits for work, personal matters, and reunion, would be allowed to enter the country without needing to re-apply for new visas.

If the residence permits had expired – after March 28, 2020 – the holders could re-apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant documents to the Chinese embassies or consulates. No invitation letter would be required.

This policy doesn’t apply to foreign nationals from the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and South Africa.

There are also protocols for foreign nationals and their family members inoculated with Chinese vaccines. Travelers who have received Chinese COVID-19 vaccines and obtained the vaccination certificate will enjoy facilitation for visa applications.

No PU letter is necessary in this case. They only need to provide the documents required before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to remember that authorities may request a China-attested translation of the vaccine certificate if the inoculations took place overseas.

This special business visa is based on the humanitarian requirement, for the invitee to deal with necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities.

If travel to China is urgent but it is impossible to get a PU letter or other invitations, a foreign national can arrange for a proxy at a legal firm to represent him/her in the country. This could involve financial reviews, legal matters, or contract negotiations, among other issues.

All travelers arriving in China must present two negative tests - PCR and antibody tests - taken within 48 hours of travel.

For the newly qualified visitors, entry depends on having received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines at least 14 days prior. They must apply for a visa in advance, and show their proof of vaccination on arrival, as well as the negative tests.

Arrivals are screened once more at the airport. Those failing the checks will be sent to government facilities and may be asked to quarantine between 14 to 21 days, depending on the region. This might take place at a government facility or at home.

As of October 27, 2021, China has reported 109,264 cases and 4,849 deaths of COVID. About 75% of the population is fully vaccinated.

According to the National Health Commission, China now has at least four high-risk areas and 154 medium areas, with different forms of epidemic control such as quarantine and travel restrictions implemented. It is important to stay informed before traveling since things can change quickly in China and regional lockdowns have been imposed every time there are new outbreaks of the virus.


Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is one of China and Hong Kong’s

most trusted business setup advisory firms

bottom of page