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Visa Free Policy in China for 15 Days

Since October 1, 2016, the 15-day visa-free policy has been operating for foreign tour groups entering China from Shanghai by cruise, which means you can experience local culture and life without the inconvenience of applying for a Chinese  visa.

Here’s the most important information you may need for planning a trip to Shanghai and other Chinese coastal provinces.


cruise ship
  • You should be part of a tour group organized by a travel agency legally registered in mainland China.
  • Your tour group must have at least 2 members.
  • You should hold valid international travel documents, usually passport.
  • You should enter China from Shanghai by cruise and depart from China on the same cruise ship.
  • Your stay in China should not be more than 15 days, beginning from the day after arrival.

Note: You should book your tour at least 2 weeks in advance so that your travel agency has enough time to apply the visa-free cruise trip for you. Feel free to contact us if you’re planning a 15-day visa-free cruise trip to China.

How to Calculate the 15 Days?

The 15 days start from 00:00 after your arrival by cruise in Shanghai and end  exactly 360 hours (15 days) later.

  • For example, if you enter Shanghai by cruise at 8 am on December 1st, 2020, your permitted stay period begins counting down from 00:00 on December 2nd and you can stay until 23:59 on December 16th, which means your visa-free cruise trip may actually be longer than 15 (but less than 16) days – depending on your times for arrival and departure.

Do I Need to be Hosted by a Registered Travel Agency?

cruise over the ocean

Yes. If you come to Shanghai by cruise, you need to be part of a tour group organized by a travel agency legally registered in mainland China. Two or more people can form such a group.

The receiving travel agency will declare the tour group name list to Shanghai Immigration Inspection Authority at least 24 hours in advance. Only after examination and approval of the Shanghai Immigration Inspection Authority can  visa-free entry procedures be conducted for the tour group.

What If I Decide on Board to Join a Group, Instead of in Advance?


If you apply to join a 15-day visa-free tour group on board, you need to confirm with the cruise company and the host travel agency first. The travel agency will first submit an emergency application and later adjust the list of passengers who are enrolled.

Only after examination and approval of the Shanghai Immigration Inspection Authority can the visa-free entry procedures be conducted for these individual passengers.

What Documents Are Required for Visa-Free Entry?

  • Your own valid international travel documents (usually passport) are required as proof of identity upon departing the ship.
  • Arrival and departure cards are no longer needed.
  • No entry or exit record will be stamped on your travel document.
  • Your status will be recorded electronically by the Immigration Inspection Cruise Management System as you disembark or board the cruise ship.

Is It Possible to Travel to Other Port Cities in China?

the Bund in Shanghai

Yes. Tour groups can call at and depart from any port within the permitted areas in China, as long as the group travels together on the same cruise ship.

You may only travel within the following areas for the 15-day visa-free policy:

  • Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and provinces including Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan.

Can I Transfer to a Third Country (Region) by Means of Other Transport?

Tianjin cruise port

If you don’t join in the 15-day visa-free tour group and don’t leave China with the same cruise ship, there are two options that may be available to you, on condition that you have booked tickets to a third country (region) and your transit application declared by the cruise company is approved by the immigration inspection authority:

  • If you plan to transfer to a third country (region) by other transport within 24 hours after entering China, you can hand in a 24-Hour Visa-Free Transit request to the Shanghai Immigration Inspection Authority and exit within the stipulated time.
  • According to the 144-Hour Visa-free Transit policy, Shanghai and some cities nearby allow travelers from 51 countries to stay for up to 144 hours (6 days) without applying for a Chinese visa. You can transit to a third country (region) by other transport and leave China within 144 hours of arrival.
  • Possible entry ports include airports, cruise ports, and railway stations in Shanghai as well as Nanjing Lukou International Airport and Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport.

See more information here about the 144-Hour Visa-free Transit policy.

What if I Need to Overstay or Exit Earlier?

hotel room
  • Those visa-free passengers who need to stay in the country for more than 15 days due to force majeure or humanitarian reasons or need to stay for other reasons, can go to the local exit and entry administration with the relevant proof and a letter from the travel agency that hosted them and apply for a temporary stay certificate.
  • Those who have to withdraw from the tour group and leave the country due to illness, bereavement or other force majeure, can handle the procedures by providing their international travel documents and a letter of proof issued by their travel agency.

What Documents are Needed to Check in to a Hotel During the Visit?

If you have entered China by a visa-free cruise, you can check in to a hotel with your own valid international travel documents and a copy of your tour group name list stamped by the Immigration Inspection Authority.

Who Should I Contact If I Want to Learn More About the Policy?

  • Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection: 086-021-31366000
  • Pujiang Immigration Inspection: 086-021-31366700

Take a Visa-Free Cruise Tour with China Travel

Eating Shanghai Xiaolongbao

Eating Shanghai Xiaolongbao

Since the cruise entering from Shanghai can call at and depart from any port within the permitted areas in China, China Travel can definitely offer some private journeys to tour group members. Most importantly, we can arrange trips from cruise terminals including visa exemptions (based on your nationality of course), which will help your excursions more convenient and time-smart.

Here are three local tours we recommend for your cruise trip:

We can also help you to create a 15-day visa-free cruise tour to make the most of your time and meet your interests.

Elben Pan
Always Traveling, Always Writing.

For an authentic travel experience, contact one of our travel advisors. Our local experts are always ready to create a hassle-free tour for you.

 Tailor-made My Trip