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China’s new visa-free policy to boost tourism, economic exchanges

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After learning about China’s new visa-free entry policy, German tourist Krause Arthur Robert immediately booked a ticket for an impromptu trip to Shanghai.

“I read about the new policy on the Internet that it is possible without a visa to come for a short-term visit to see the city,” said Robert who adjusted his overall itinerary to include a visit to Shanghai before heading to Bangkok.

China is trialing visa-free travel for ordinary passport holders from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia to boost people-to-people exchanges and high-level opening-up.

From December 1 to November 30 next year, holders of ordinary passports from the above six countries can enter China visa-free for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends and transit for no more than 15 days.

“Now, if there is a need for business exchanges, I can simply buy a plane ticket and come to China, which is very convenient,” said Ubeda Espi Juan Rafael, a Spanish businessman and one of the 2,029 people who availed themselves of this new policy on its inaugural day.

As of 6pm on Monday, nearly 1,400 people from the six countries had entered China through Shanghai’s Pudong and Hongqiao airports under the visa exemption policy, and the Hangzhou International Airport in east China’s Zhejiang Province received over 330 people, according to statistics from local exit and entry authorities.

Meanwhile, an array of measures has been rolled out to enhance the experience for travelers exempt from visa requirements.

Hangzhou airport, for instance, has bolstered its translation services, offering assistance in multiple languages such as English, French and Italian to meet the diverse needs of passengers. It has expanded its flight schedules to popular international cities and added direct intercontinental routes.

In Shanghai, immigration inspection authorities have collaborated with airlines to optimize customs procedures, closely monitored passenger flow, and promptly opened inspection channels for efficient processing.

The visa-free entry policy is China’s latest effort to boost tourism and economic exchanges. Last month, China expanded its visa-free transit policy to include citizens from Norway for a 72/144-hour stay, bringing the total number of applicable countries to 54.

Immigration departments across China handled 123 million border entries and exits in the third quarter of 2023, a year-on-year increase of 454.4 percent, the National Immigration Administration (NIA) said.

China’s visa-free policy for travelers from six countries has yielded positive results, and the foreign ministry will continue to optimize its visa policy to provide more convenience for cross-border travel, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.

Wang, citing NIA data, said about 7,000 people from the six countries covered by the visa exemption policy entered China from December 1 to 3, accounting for 39 percent of the total number of entries from these countries.

“This policy (visa exemption) is very exciting and is quite favorable for inbound tourism,” said Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager of Spring Tour travel agency. “The increase in inbound tourists will drive consumption in sectors including transportation, dining, accommodation and shopping.”

In the view of Luigi Gambardella, president of ChinaEU, a business-led international digital association in Brussels, the visa exemption for travelers from the major European economies will also facilitate managers of small and medium-sized enterprises to travel to China for business, exhibitions, and so on, which will also enhance confidence in investing in China.

“People need to gain first-hand experience to have a real understanding of a different country and a different culture. Many people’s visits to China have changed their stereotypes of China,” said Gambardella.

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