Number of foreign visitors to China more than double in first half

China’s visa-free policy appears to be succeeding in attracting more visitors as the number of foreigners entering the country more than doubled in the first six months of the year. In total 14.64 million foreigners visited the country in the first half of the year, up 152.7% year-on-year, according to the National Immigration Administration (NIA). The number of visa-free entries made by foreigners passed 8.5 million, accounting for 58% of inbound trips and representing a year-on-year increase of 190%, according to the Administration. But the number of foreign visitors is still short of reaching pre-Covid levels, when 15.53 million foreign travelers visited in the first half of 2019.

With the country facing a slump in domestic tourism as a result of the flagging economy, China has gradually been increasing the number of countries whose citizens can visit for up to 15 days for business, tourism and family visits. The new visa-free rules cover more than a dozen countries in Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. A further 23 countries have mutual visa exemptions, including Thailand, which was added to the list this year. Singaporeans and Malaysians can visit for up to 30 days at a time. The country also expanded its visa-free transit policy to 54 countries last November. Citizens from these countries can stay for up to 144 hours in Beijing, Shanghai and 20 other cities if they have a valid onward ticket to another country. There are further exemptions for cruise ship passengers stopping over.

The National Immigration Administration said it had processed a total of 287 million inbound and outbound trips in the first six months of 2024 – marking a 70.9% rise year-on-year. These included 137 million journeys by mainland residents, 121 million by residents from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and 29.2 million by foreigners.

Various measures to make travel easier for international visitors have also been introduced, including the use of domestic payment apps linked to foreign bank accounts or cards. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has also increased the amount foreign passport holders are allowed to spend on mobile payment apps, raising the amount allowed in a single transaction from USD1,000 to USD5,000 and the annual cumulative limit from USD10,000 to USD50,000. The authorities have also ordered all hotels to welcome foreign visitors, the South China Morning Post reports.