China has reopened its borders to foreigners and will once again start issuing a range of visas to foreigners from Wednesday, March 15 the country’s foreign ministry said, the first time travel restrictions have been suspended since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The move marks the latest step towards reopening China to the outside world, as Beijing breaks with the strict zero-Covid strategy that defined its pandemic response the last three years..
In addition to new visas being reviewed and approved, those issued before March 28, 2020 that remain valid will once again allow entry to China, said a notice posted Tuesday on a social media account affiliated with the foreign ministry’s consular affairs bureau.
The notices also appeared on the websites of several overseas Chinese missions, including its embassies in the United States and France.
The updated immigration policy will also allow for the resumption of visa-free travel for those arriving on cruise ships to Shanghai as well as for certain tourist groups from Hong Kong, Macau and countries within the ASEAN regional grouping, the notice said.
The move would “further facilitate the exchange of Chinese and foreign personnel”, it added.
China received 65.7 million international visitors in 2019, according to data from the UN World Tourism Organization, before sealing itself off from the rest of the world during the pandemic.
China only began emerging from its strict Covid-19 containment strategy in late 2022, after rare protests against President Xi Jinping’s policy broke out across the country.
In early December, Chinese authorities effectively ended the regime of mass testing, lockdowns and long quarantines but the abrupt reversal led to a spike in Covid cases.
Beijing announced in late December that inbound travellers to the country would no longer need to quarantine from January 8, but kept in place visa restrictions on foreigners.
The announcement that China will resume issuing visas to foreigners comes after an important session of the country’s parliament, which saw Xi confirmed to a third term as president and his close ally Li Qiang named premier.