Home World News China China’s visa-free policies lead to surge in inbound tourism

China’s visa-free policies lead to surge in inbound tourism

Belgian Tourists Taste Snacks In Houhai
Belgian tourists taste snacks in Houhai, a scenic spot in Beijing, in early April. (Photo by Vincent Oomen)

By Guo Ziyun, Bai Yuanqi,

The number of foreign travelers to China increased threefold in the first quarter of this year compared with that in 2023. China issued 466,000 visas and documents to foreigners during this period, up 118.8 percent year on year. A total of nearly 1.99 million foreigners entered China visa-free, an increase of 266.1 percent.

China has continuously introduced a series of measures to optimize its visa system, including reducing the amount of information required on visa application forms, gradually reducing visa fees, simplifying the approval process for studying in China, exempting certain applicants from providing fingerprints, waiving the need for visa appointments, and implementing visa-free policies for citizens of certain countries.

These measures have provided greater convenience for foreigners traveling, working, studying, and living in China, and have been widely welcomed by the international community. The positive effects of these policies are becoming increasingly evident.

According to the Chinese National Immigration Administration, China resumed the 15-day visa-free policy for Singapore and Brunei passport holders for business, tourism, visiting relatives, and transit purposes on July 26, 2023.

On Dec. 1, 2023, China implemented an unilateral visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. Three months later, it adopted a visa-free policy for Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg. On March 1, 2024, a mutual visa exemption agreement between China and Thailand officially took effect.

As of now, a total of 989,000 foreign nationals from these 15 countries have entered China visa-free, accounting for over 60 percent of the total number of visitors from these countries, and the number is still rising.

“I plan to take my family to China for a vacation this summer, and I really want to visit Sanya and Zhangjiajie. I saw the breathtaking scenery of Zhangjiajie in a video before, and it was truly spectacular,” said Laszlo, a resident of Budapest, Hungary, who was at a local travel agency seeking information about traveling to China.

He had been wanting to travel to China before, but his enthusiasm grew even stronger after the visa-free policy was implemented, Laszlo told People’s Daily.

Andrea, a staff member at the travel agency, said that there has been an increasing number of customers inquiring about traveling to China recently, as China has become a popular destination for international tourists.

Vincent Oomen, head of a Belgian travel agency , has been busy organizing tour groups to China recently.

“As soon as we learned that Belgium has obtained visa-free access to China, we immediately started planning travel itineraries and schedules to China,” he said.

On March 31, Oomen’s travel agency organized a group of 14 tourists to visit Beijing, Guizhou, and Guangxi, allowing them to experience the local customs and traditions up close and appreciate the charm of Chinese traditional culture and urban landscapes.

“We are still planning multiple tour groups to China, as many Belgians are eager to visit and explore the country,” he added.

The implementation of the visa-free agreement between China and Thailand has also spurred the willingness of tourists from the two countries to travel.

According to data from Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agency, on the day the agreement took effect, the number of Thai tourists traveling to China increased threefold compared to the same period last year, which also marked a surge of 160 percent compared to 2019.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin noted that many Thai people are choosing to travel to China, resulting in fully booked flights and further promoting exchanges between the two countries.

Visa-free policies launched by China have been widely welcomed by foreign business people who are eager to expand into the Chinese market. Veronique Emmenegger, the founder of a Swiss medical beauty institution, told People’s Daily, “China is an important market for us, and the visa-free policy has made my travels much easier.”

Bernard Dewit, chairman of Belgium-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said that China has implemented five measures to facilitate foreign travelers, and is actively addressing issues such as mobile payment for foreigners in China.

The country is committed to providing a safer, more comfortable, and convenient travel environment for foreign friends, which will further promote Chinese-foreign personnel exchanges, Dewit added.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto recently said that the trial implementation of the visa-free policy by China is good news for Hungarian tourists and business people traveling to China. In the spirit of reciprocity, the Hungarian government issues long-term visas to Chinese executives who come to Hungary for investment and cooperation.

Szijjarto stressed that these measures will further enhance economic, tourism, and cultural exchanges between Hungary and China.

It is reported that starting from April, there are up to 13 flights per week between Budapest and four Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Ningbo.

These visa-free policies have not only encouraged more foreigners to come to China, but also allowed people from various countries to have a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of China.

“For me, the most unforgettable part of my trip was the friendliness and hospitality of the Chinese people,” said Stefano Mirabella from Italy, who recently traveled to China.

“Before actually visiting China, I had heard some stereotypes about the country. However, during my travels across different parts of China, everyone greeted me with smiles and was willing to engage in conversations. Whenever I faced difficulties, the locals were always there to help me, without expecting anything in return. I am looking forward to visiting China again,” Mirabella said.

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