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Need to Travel to China? Yes, It’s Possible, However…

Sept. 10, 2021
The requirements are daunting for all but the most determined.

Fed up with Zoom and itching to get on an airplane to China to check on things? Meet a new supplier? Launch a new program? Fix a quality problem? For months now, many of us have been waiting for the green light to go. Good news/bad news. Yes, we can go, but it’s difficult. Here’s how.

First, you’ll need a valid business visa, and requirements have grown very strict during the pandemic. Those trickling through typically have significant business interests; e.g., ownership in companies, senior leadership roles, or residency permits. If you previously had a 10-year multiple entry business visa, for example, you will need to complete additional paperwork, including advance health declarations approval from the Chinese Embassy prior to travel. Best to check with the Chinese Embassy for the latest requirements.

Next, you’ll need proof of vaccination as well as two negative Covid tests within 48 hours of boarding: IgM antibody and nucleic acid tests. The Chinese embassy in the country from which you are departing from is responsible for collecting test results and issuing Certified Health Declaration Forms. Only certain labs in the USA are authorized by the Chinese Government for testing purposes. As of April 2021, China began accepting vaccination records from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, according to the Washington Post.

Failure to comply with the quarantine conditions or testing, or any attempts to deliberately conceal health conditions can result in being sentenced to up to three years in prison. This applies to both Chinese and foreign nationals.

For discussion, let’s assume you’re flying into Shanghai. Upon landing, you’ll have a compulsory quarantine for 14+7 days. (Yes, there are a few who do it; we have two professional connections going through this at the moment.) The first 14 days will be in a government-appointed “hotel,” and the last 7 days will be a self-quarantine in a location of your choice. Depending on quarantine location, government facilities may be very basic with no air conditioning, no refrigerator, and limited or no WiFi. For the self-quarantine portion, one of our colleagues had a sensor installed on his door to ensure he stayed put. Cost of both quarantine periods are the responsibility of the traveler.

For all 21 days of quarantine, you’ll have to arrange, in Chinese language, for food and any other supplies you may need to be delivered to your door. You won’t be able to use cash or international credit cards for these transactions that require interacting with a person. Cashless transactions require special apps tied to a bank account in China, which will be impossible for you to set up without a residency visa. Instead, you’ll have to rely on a local Chinese friend to do all of your ordering, set up deliveries, and of course you’ll need to figure out how to reimburse him or her.

After your 14+7 quarantine, you’ll need clearance to move around China: and yes, there’s an app for that. Your phone is the primary way you’ll be tracked and traced with a QR health code. When you go to any public building (hotels, restaurants, industrial parks, airports, train stations, etc.) you’ll need to show your QR “green code” on your phone that proves you’ve been vaccinated, haven’t had any positive test results, and haven’t come into contact with others who tested positive.

If your suppliers are not based in Shanghai, you will need to be aware of the risk level of the area(s) through which and to which you are traveling. Monitoring of COVID cases and contact tracing is coordinated nationally, by province, by city, by district … including down to the street level. Areas with Covid cases are divided into three categories: low, medium and high-risk. When returning to Shanghai from other provinces and cities, the following will apply:

  • To return to Shanghai via a low-risk area or from a low-risk area, you need to maintain a green code on your phone.

·        To return to Shanghai via a middle/high-risk area or from a middle/high-risk area, you need to quarantine for 14 days and have two negative Covid tests.

Another thing to be aware of: Areas can be recategorized from low to medium/high risk on a moment’s notice, depending on the ebb and flow of Covid cases. As of this writing, there are 55 medium/high risk areas across China.

Costs are also a big issue.  Airplanes typically used for passenger travel have been taken offline, reducing overall capacity and driving seat prices way up.  Two unrelated professional connections of ours recently completed travel to China at outrageous rates.  In August, one family of six spent US $60,000 to fly from LAX >> Guangzhou >> Shanghai. Another spent US $30,000 from the East Coast to Shanghai for three seats. Paperwork hassles aside, seat prices like these make travel even more unrealistic. 

The bottom line…travel to China is possible but not yet practical.  The cost of your time will be significant if multiple quarantines are involved. You’ll need close allies to coordinate basic sustenance (food, water, shelter) on the ground. These realities will make for tough travel in the coming months.

Even after you’ve made arrangements, changes in policy may come at a moment’s notice without warning, requiring surprise paperwork prior to travel.

Disclaimer: Please note the above information was to the best of our knowledge at the time of this writing. Rules change often and should be confirmed in real time if you’re planning any travel. CMD accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information, which is subject to change on a moment’s notice.

Having lived and worked in Asia for several years, Jennifer Clement helps executives navigate Asian business strategy. Jennifer is a Business Acceleration Leader for Complete Manufacturing and Distribution (CMD), a company that helps companies worldwide accelerate results with Asia initiatives, including  market strategy, sourcing, manufacturing, logistics, quality management, facility construction, business process outsourcing, continuous improvement, e-commerce, and more. 

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