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China announces 15-day visa-free stay for cruise travelers to boost tourism

Adora Magic City, the first made-in-China large cruise ship, waits for its first commercial passengers on the dockyard in Shanghai on January 1, 2024. 

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

Travelers entering China via international cruises can stay in select provinces in the country for up to 15 days without a visa, the government said Wednesday, as Beijing attempts to boost its cruise and tourism industry.

The regulations require foreigners to enter through one of 13 coastal cruise ports in the country, according to a statement from China’s National Immigration Administration (NIA). 

Visitors must travel as part of a tour group of at least two people organized by a Chinese travel agency and depart the country on the same cruise. Tour groups can travel to Beijing or other coastal provinces. 

“The full implementation of the visa-free entry policy for foreign tourists taking cruises is an important pillar to accelerate the development of China’s cruise economy, and an important measure to promote China’s institutional opening,” NIA said in a statement. 

China’s cruise business made major strides this year, with the country’s first domestically-built cruise liner, the Adora Magic City, making its first voyage on Jan. 1, according to state-run media

On Wednesday, seven cruise ports were also added as eligible entry points under China’s existing visa-free transit policy, on top of the previous 31. 

Visa-free transit allows citizens from certain countries to stay in China without a visa for up to 144 hours while transiting to another country. In November,  Norway was added to the countries eligible for visa-free transit to China, bringing the total to 54.

The latest visa-free travel policy reflects China’s “determination and attitude” towards “opening up to the world” and is a step towards prompting better exchange between China and foreign countries, NIA said. 

China has been striving to woo back tourists since it reopened its borders last year and began restoring international flight routes, ending three years of strict COVID-19 policies.

In December, the country granted a temporary visa exemption for travel up to 15 days to citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. Beijing also enacted a mutual visa exemption agreement with Singapore in February. The scheme is valid till November this year.

Companies have also also been trying to improve foreign tourists’ travel experience. Alibaba-affiliate Ant Group recently allowed visitors to China to spend up to $2,000 a year through its Alipay mobile app without having to register their ID with the company.  

The efforts come as the country has failed to boost foreign traveler count back to pre-pandemic levels as per NIA data, even as domestic tourism in China has rebounded

Data shows that 13 million foreigners crossed into or out of China in the first three months of this year, down over 40% from the same period in 2019.

— CNBC’s Vivien Soo contributed to this report.