Since early 2023, China has gradually emerged from its self-imposed three years of COVID-19 isolation, a process that started with removing the requirement for arriving international travellers to undergo five days of mandatory quarantine on arrival, plus three further days of home isolation, from 8th January this year.
That significant shift from the country’s nonsensically unworkable “zero COVID” policy was a welcome first step, but it didn’t help the return of tourists, with visa restrictions for foreign visitors remaining in place, and pre-departure PCR testing still the norm for international arrivals.
China’s progressive relaxation
China has “progressively” (a.k.a. rather belatedly) joined the rest of the world with its COVID-19 policies this year.
- In March 2023 pre-departure PCR testing was scrapped, replaced with the option to complete a self-swab ART test within 48 hours of departure, and simply report the result on a health declaration form.
- Tourism visas also started to be issued once again, paving the way for a full reopening.
- In July 2023, China reinstated visa-free travel for Singapore citizens, with the 15-day visa waiver for leisure and business travellers brought back to life, after more than three years.
- In August 2023, the self-declaration self-swab pre-departure testing mandate within 48 hours of departure for international arrivals was scrapped. This made China the last country in the world to remove pre-departure COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated international arrivals.
Health declaration form scrapped
Despite nearly making it to a full pre-COVID travel experience with the most recent relaxation in August, China retained its requirement to complete the “Exit/Entry Health Declaration Form” before travelling to the country from overseas, or from Hong Kong.
The QR code generated by the form then had to be presented to your airline and/or at the airport upon arrival, and was required for all arrivals – returning citizens, long-term residents and short-term visitors.
Thankfully from 1st November 2023, it is no longer a requirement to complete the “Exit/Entry Health Declaration Form” before you travel to China.
With visa-free travel for Singaporeans restored and testing scrapped, this restores the travel process to China to fully pre-pandemic norms.
Only 11 countries globally now have some form of specific COVID-related entry restrictions, according to IATA Timatic.
Singapore has retained its SG Arrival Card (SGAC) with Electronic Health Declaration for completion by all inbound international travellers, even post-pandemic, despite not imposing any such restriction on returning residents prior to COVID-19.
The exception is for returning residents arriving via the land border with Malaysia, who are exempt.
SIA’s China destinations are being reinstated
Earlier this year, Singapore Airlines announced a surprise suspension for three of its routes to and from mainland China, with regular flights to Chongqing, Shenzhen and Xiamen seeing a rather sudden cessation of service later that same month.
Last month a fourth city in China joined that suspension list, with the final Chengdu service operating on 24th October 2023, and no planned future flights on the schedule.
Thankfully last week we were happy to report that all four of these cities will be returning to the network later this year, using Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft.
- Chengdu will restart on 3rd December 2023, with four times weekly flights, increasing to daily during January 2024 but then reducing to three times weekly from February 2024 onwards
- Chongqing will restart on 26th November 2023 with three times weekly flights
- Shenzhen will restart on 26th November 2023 with daily flights
- Xiamen will restart on 3rd December 2023, with daily flights
Plenty of KrisFlyer Saver award space is available on these routes, given their relatively short-notice restarts.
These flights will supplement the carrier’s wide-body services to and from Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, which now even offer a First Class cabin in the case of Beijing and a Suites cabin in the case of Shanghai (from January 2024).
The Guangzhou route will also see some Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft operating from February 2024.
Visa-free travel for Singapore citizens
Since 26th July 2023, China resumed 15-day visa-free travel for Singaporeans, once again permitting those holding ordinary Singapore passports to enter the country without a visa for tourism, family visits, business or transit, provided their stay in China is no more than 15 days.
The visa-free benefit has only restored for citizens of Singapore and Brunei at this stage – not Japanese travellers, who were also eligible prior to the pandemic.
Those holding other nationalities will still need to apply for a visa to visit China, except when travelling to Hainan Island, which allows those holding 59 nationalities to travel visa-free for up to 30 days, though onward travel from Hainan to Mainland China for non-Singaporeans is not permitted without a relevant visa.
Finally China has ditched the last of its COVID travel restrictions, removing the requirement to complete its health declaration form before travel for both visitors and its own citizens and residents returning home.
Singaporeans can already enjoy hassle-free China trips once again, thanks to the reinstatement of 15-day visa-free entry approval in July 2023, and now there’s also no need to conduct a pre-departure ART self-swab before you travel to the country, since late August 2023.
Singapore Airlines is scaling up flights to China this winter, restoring four cities to its route map in November and December, for a total of seven destinations, and there’s plenty of award space on offer.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)