When heading to Asia, India, or Australia there is a very high possibility you will have a layover in Beijing. Usually these layovers are not quick, and you can easily find yourself spending 24- 48 hours here. This airport is gigantic, with 100’s of stores, restaurants, and coffee vendors to keep you entertained, but if you’re looking to spend this time getting to experience Chinese culture here are a few tips.
Passengers from specific countries are allowed to visit specific Chinese cities on their layovers without a visa, for 72 hours. To be eligible you must have your passport and airline tickets in hand for your connecting flight.
In my instance I was heading to Japan and had an 18 hour layover in Beijing. The plane landed around 3 pm and I headed to immigration. Here I went through the standard immigration process. I told the attendant I was looking to get a 72 hour tourist pass. The helpful worker pointed me to another desk with signs noting ‘72 hour Visa-Free Transit’. They asked a few questions, required my passport and connecting flight information, and off I went. It was an extremely fluid and easy process.
Now by all means feel free to venture out on your own. However, keep in mind that you have a very finite amount of time. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, you are liable for the predicaments to come, dealing with the repercussions of missing your international flight. So for me it gives me a little peace of mind knowing I will get back to the airport on time.
I chose a local tour company, specializing in layover tours. I chose the Mutianyu Great Wall tour, as it suited my time limitations and was a good price. I was greeted at the arrivals terminal by a very friendly tour guide who was eager to get going. We drove through the Chinese countryside out to the truly majestic Great Wall. I spent time walking along the miles of historic wall, and taking some truly amazing pictures of the view. On our way back to Beijing, we talked openly about life in China, talking about education, politics, and all things in between giving me a real taste of the Chinese lifestyle. In a timely fashion I was dropped back off at the airport hotel in time to get a good night’s rest for my early morning flight.
On my way back I had an even shorter layover, but messaged my tour guide if there was anything I could see in that short amount of time. He had a few suggestions, so on my way back from Japan I went through the same process. Meeting at the arrivals terminal I was whisked off to Beijing to take a walking tour through the city. Getting to see some of the eclectic night markets, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the beautiful National Performing Arts Center. Like clockwork, the tour guide had me back at the airport 3 hours before my flight and I was ready to go again.
One thing to always remember is that time is of the essence with these short layovers. The lines at immigration may be long, there might be traffic in the busy streets of Beijing, or many tourists waiting in line at the various historic sites. Any number of things can take away the precious minutes of your layover. So do your best to be mindful of the time, make sure you know how far your location is from the airport, and always plan on getting to the airport at least 3 hours before your international flight.
If you follow these simple tips, you can make the most of your short layover in Beijing.
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