Saturday, January 07, 2017

Entering Xiamen, China with the 72-Hour Visa Free Transit

China has always intrigued me for years. It is one of those still somewhat ambiguous countries that exudes a sense of mystery, or perhaps, utter bewilderment? China seems so near, yet so far to the rest of the world. Not geographically speaking, but socially and politically. She is I guess in the similar basket as dear old mother Russia, which by the way I still have to visit. Shall I say this is the result of the western idea and media propaganda?

But I consider myself a world citizen so I always try to stay neutral, albeit, I have to admit that I will always have my own personal biases. We all do. It’s predictable nonetheless. To contest is lying.

So when China released a new travel advisory granting 51 countries the 72-hour free transit to 18 major cities in China in 2015, I was thrilled. I hate applying for a visa and this is just what I have been waiting for. In addition, many city destinations on the list have direct flights to the Philippines. I visit the Philippines on a yearly basis because of family and I usually combine this with side trips to other Asian countries.

Thus, China here I come!

Xiamen

Very cool to see a predominantly Chinese folk religion country greeting passengers at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport a Merry Christmas. That is what I call embracing multi-cultures.

I picked Xiamen among the 18 Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xian, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Tianjin, Nanjing, Qingdao, Changsa and Hangzhou) offering the 72-hour free visa because it has a direct flight to Cebu via Xiamen Air.

The free stay policy only applies to “transit passengers” from 51 countries which include the Netherlands.

Further reading on conditions, which countries the policy apply, needed documents to show and procedure, please go here: China’s 72-Hour Visa – Free Transit

Here is my experience so far:

My 4-week Asian trip last December and January covered 4 countries with Xiamen, China as my first destination where I availed of the 72-hour free visa transit arrangement with an onward confirmed travel to the Philippines.

I flew with KLM (Amsterdam to Xiamen non-stop flight), and when I dropped my baggage off at Schiphol I made sure to inform the lady at the baggage drop off counter about my 72-hour transit plans. Whenever I fly with KLM, I always make use of their online check-in service and just deposit self-service my check-in bag when I arrive at the airport. It is very convenient and easy peasy. She confirmed that I indeed have to inform the travel desk at my gate of departure about my plans and that she has flagged my details in the system about it. Well, thank you very much!

At the departure gate counter, I approached one of the KLM ladies and informed her about my travel plans, however, I was met with a question mark face. She has no clue about the 72-hour free visa transit. I insisted that informing them is part of the procedure so she further asked the other ladies at the counter but unfortunately no one knew. They basically did not know what to do? Strange. One of the ladies pointed me to the man in a security uniform who was standing a few metres away in front of the eager passengers already lining up for boarding.

It just so happens that boarding was about to start and the man in uniform was now busy inspecting the travel documents of each passenger passing through. The flight was a full one so you can imagine how packed the departure gate was. I reckon it was not that convenient to just approach him, so instead, I decided to line up for boarding. I realised that I will eventually get my turn anyway when he inspects my passport, and then I can inform him of my travel plans.

Indeed, when my turn was up and I informed him of my plans, he quickly called another security personnel to take note of my name, passport details and seat number. I can sense that he was a little bit irked why I didn’t inform them ahead of time. His other colleague even told me that I should have informed them beforehand. Well hello, tell that to the KLM ladies at the travel desk departure gate who does not have a clue?!

The flight was uneventful and during take off I was delightfully entertained by the cool Delft blue inflight passenger safety video of KLM. Genius!

delft blue

KLM has been giving Delft blue houses filled with genever gin as a gift to its business class passengers since the 1950s. We have a number of them here at home as a collection. And in 2015 KLM released this infight safety video portraying over one-thousand hand-painted Delft blue tiles explaining the safety precautions during flight.

delft blue

You can watch the full KLM inflight safety video here: KLM inflight safety video and also the making of the Delft blue safety video with over one-thousand hand-painted Delft blue tiles: Making of the Delft blue inflight safety video


Just had to take this inflight picture of the clouds. I am guessing this is somewhere in Kazakhstan. When flying economy long haul it is always best to take the window seat.

Just before landing, a steward informed me that I have to report to the travel desk after deplaning. Well, I need not do it because I was met by a jolly and very friendly Chinese airport personnel. He held a paper against his chest with my full name on it spelt correctly. Ah, that is nice, a special Chinese welcome I should say =)

Interestingly, I was the only one in the flight that will be availing of the 72-hour free visa transit.

We had a little chat, in English of course, about Xiamen and what I plan to do in the city, as he penned down my details in a form and then leading me to the 72-hour free visa transit desk, which is just before the immigration gate counters. He was an all-smiles man, with a very inviting aura and who was always giving little laughs every time I say something. I guess it was his way of being friendly. He only said goodbye when an immigration police officer appeared to take over the task.


Escorted here by the jolly and friendly airport personnel to the 72-hour visa-free transit desk.

The police officer at the 72-hour free visa transit desk, who was a more solemn and serious type, noted down my details and the hotel where I am staying in Xiamen into the system. He further inspected my travel documents, including my confirmed booking/ticket to my onward final destination. This is imperative because the 72-hour free transit visa is only allowed for transiting passengers to another country. They also check your visa to your final destination. As a Netherlands passport holder, I do not need a visa to my final destination, the Philippines.

He also told me that I should inform the airline ahead of time next time when I plan to avail of the 72-hour free visa transit. He further explained that they have not received any call. The airline normally calls them ahead of time before arrival to report any passengers availing of the free transit visa. I told him I did but the KLM ladies at the gate desk did not know about it, but eventually the security personnel at the departure gate of Schiphol managed to handle it.

There seems to be some loose communication between KLM/Amsterdam and Xiamen airport/immigration. Perhaps because this is a newly placed policy and not many passengers have availed of this arrangement yet?

Hmm, I guess it is similar to launching a new version of a software. It can be bug-gy for the first weeks and months, haha.

NOTE TO KLM: Please, kindly train all your ground personnel about the China 72-hour free visa transit! It will make the whole experience smooth, not only for your staff but for the passenger as well. Thank you!

xiamen

Waiting for the immigration police officer at the 72-hour free visa transit desk.

After half an hour at the 72-hour free visa transit desk, I queued up at the immigration gate and was stamped with an entry for 3 days.

I was informed that the 72-hour is applied on a 24-hour period basis starting on my date and time of arrival. I arrived Monday morning at around 10:00 which means the 72-hour clock starts at this hour. I should then be leaving 72-hours later (3 days later) which will be Thursday morning. My onward flight was scheduled at 11:00 Thursday which means I will be at the airport between 08:30 and 09:00 passing through immigration control before 10:00.

I am sure the Chinese immigration will not be tediously strict when it comes to just a few hours difference but I made sure to get a flight out of the country that falls under the 72-hour period. I did not want to take any chances. The less hassle for me and for them, the better.

In addition, I was only allowed movement within Xiamen. They did not inform me this but I specifically asked about movement restrictions because I planned on taking a Hakka Tolou day trip. Helaas, my plans on visiting the ancient Tolou clusters in nearby Nanjing will have to wait until the next time. *sigh*

xiamen

Outside at the arrivals of Xiamen Airport for all international flights including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

After exiting immigration I searched right away for the ATM but thought I will just change my Euros. I normally take with me €100-200 cash just in case the ATMs are not working or will not work with my bank card. Usually, it works but it makes me feel good that I have a backup plan. It happened to me one time in Manila where I had to pay for some silly terminal fee and I do not have pesos anymore and none of the ATM's was working or works with my bank card! I had to draw a credit draft from my credit card from a bank branch inside the airport. So unnecessary. So bringing cash is always a fall back for me.

I exchanged my €100 for some Yuan, it was approximately ¥735+- in the local currency. This went a long way! Just imagine ¥12 cab rides in the city, ¥1 bus rides, ¥10-25 snacks, ¥75-150 restaurant meals for 1.

TIP: Do inform the airline of your plans during check-in or at the gate prior departure. Make sure you have printed out your hotel bookings, your onward confirmed ticket and if needed, visa of your onward final destination.

MORE TIP: From January 30th, 2016, passengers transiting in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang can stay for up to 144 hours. Further reading here: 144-hour visa-free transit in selected cities in China

xiamen

In the taxi here en-route to Xiamen city centre. I made sure to print out my hotel booking in Chinese because it is rare to find anyone who can speak English in Xiamen. let alone a taxi driver. Taxis are cheap in Xiamen, but the buses were way (dirt)cheaper! 1 Yuan flat rate to anywhere in the city!

More stories soon about my travels and experiences in Xiamen, China.

Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Xiamen (Fujian), China

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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