72 Hour China Visa Nightmare

The day had come. We were heading to the airport to start our three week vacation and leaving Korea for good. I was almost giddy with excitement and nerves by the time we reached the airport. We had arrived hours before our flight partially due to excitement and partially due to the fact that we simply had nothing left to do in Seoul. We had finished our to do lists of accounts to close, bucket items to cross off and favorite foods to have one last time. We were ready to go. That is until we got to the ticket desk and were told that they could not let us board our flight because we would be violating the 72 hour China visa regulations.

Hong Kong Skyline

Those who know me know that I do not handle last minute drastic changes very well to say the least (does anyone out there?) We were planning on taking advantage of the 72 hour layover visa option available like we had during our visit to Shanghai. If you have a flight leaving China within 72 hours of arrival and continues into a third country (aka not the one you just came from) immigration will let you into the country for no more than 72 hours without a visa (which costs a whopping $200 per person for Americans). Well we had a flight from Seoul to Beijing. Then another one two days later from Beijing to Kathmandu, Nepal. No problem, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. Here’s where it got sticky. The flight from Beijing to Kathmandu had a layover in another Chinese city. According to our airline, this voided the opportunity for the 72 hour layover since we touched down in China again, even though we were not going to leave the airport for the two hour layover. We would have to change our flight so it directly left China.

This was a huge upsets that was only magnified by the fact that we had only 40 minutes before our flight was boarding and most of the ticketing counters were closed seeing as how it was already past ten o’clock at night. You could see the sympathy in the ticketing agents eyes as we went to the only open ticketing counter and looked at their flights which only offered flights with layovers back in Seoul, also not allowed for us. Thank goodness for airport wifi because with only ten minutes to spare, we booked new flights on Kayak.com and were able to sprint (literally, unabashedly, flailing of the limbs type of sprint that is only seen in airport terminals) to our gate which would take us to Beijing. Moral of the story is to check, double check, even triple check visa regulations before booking that flight.

But alls well that ends well. And we booked new tickets that took us from Beijing to Hong Kong instead and were able to see one of the most infamous skylines in the world as our consolation prize for hours (ok, it was about an hour, but the longest hour of my life) of stress and struggle with the airline companies. Since our layover in Hong Kong was short, but thankfully we didn’t need a visa, we decided to head straight for the Star Ferry and across the harbor in order to see the skyline.
Hong Kong Skyline


  • Sushma Gupta

    Great and a very useful blog. Keep sharing.


  • Kelly

    Wow, what a mess! My husband and I recently traveled to Rio de Janeiro and had alllll kinds of visa and travel troubles, many of them at the last minute, so I totally sympathize. Glad it all worked out and you got to have an unexpected extra adventure!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      ahhh! it can be the worst! but thankfully most of the time it works out to be just fine ; )

  • Johlet

    WOW that’s a nightmare! I hate troubles especially at number 99. :( Came accross your blog now! Loving it!
    I’m also a travel blogger and would love if you can go have a look at my blog. :)

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i’m so glad that you found us! thanks for following along!

  • http://whereintheworldisnina.com/ Where in the World is Nina

    Uhhh!!! I hate last minute hiccups but it’s all part of the life for a traveler. Did you guys have to pay for a whole new ticket? Did you get any kind of refund?! How horrible to have to do that minutes before a flight. Glad it all worked out though!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      me too! we got a refund on our tickets but had to buy new ones that were sadly but not surprisingly more expensive since it was so last minute : (

  • http://jennafinch.blogspot.com/ Jenna

    Wow, what a crazy hour that must have been. I would totally have lost it too. So glad you were able to sort it out. Hong Kong on the other hand, is beautiful. It was one of those cities that I instantly felt like a could spend a couple of years in! Glad it all worked out for you guys :)

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      thank goodness for a husband that keeps it together! i would have been in a puddle of tears by the end of it! and yes, i loved hong kong, i wish we had more time there!

  • http://inkandadventure.blogspot.tw/ Jamie | ink + adventure

    I definitely would have had a panic attack… I’m glad you were able to work it out! Hong Kong isn’t a terrible place to have to go, either 😉

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i agree, once we figured it all out and found out we got to spend some extra time in hong kong, it worked out : )

  • Emily P

    Ahh, this is why traveling stresses me out so much. That’s absolutely crazy, but I’m so happy it all worked out for you!!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      heck yes. i hate things like this! but thankfully it doesn’t happen that often

  • Rachel Murphree

    Wow, that is a stressful situation! I’m glad you got a different flight and were able to visit Beijing.

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      tell me about it! thankfully it all worked out! thanks to jeremy, not me ; )

  • http://www.sunshine2thesquareinch.blogspot.com/ Beka Johnson

    Oh China! Why you gotta be crazy like that?! Glad you came up with an impromptu plan B so quickly =)

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      bahaha, thank goodness for iPads and wifi ; ) oh and a husband that stays cool during pressure

  • http://www.melaniefontaine.com/ Melanie Fontaine

    I’m glad you made it work in the end, but, man, does this sound like stress! I’m sure I would have freaked out! But at least there’s such a thing as the 72-hour-layover that gives people the opportunity to spend a few days in China without having to deal with visa. I’m going to China this summer for a couple of weeks, but since I have relatives in China obtaining a visa is not so much work for me, which I’m really grateful about! :)

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i was just about to! thank goodness jeremy handled it all. just standing there listening to the agent stressed me out! and i agree, we’ve taken advantage of it twice now and it’s so nice! much better than having to wait in the airport for hours! it’s so nice that you don’t have such a hassle with going there!

  • Saxon @ Let’s Drink Coffee, Da

    Man, that SUCKS! But at least you got to see HK! Glad you guys were able to solve the problem within that one hour – that’s very impressive!

    I’ve heard of several Chinese cities loosening visa regulations to boost tourism purposes, but I feel like a lot of regulations in China are open to interpretation and it would terrify me to actually put my trust in something I read online! Although getting to see several of those cities for a short time without visas would be very enticing!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      exactly! i’m so glad that everything worked out the way we wanted (kinda ; ) i am always nervous going through immigration especially in china because i always feel like we read something wrong or did something wrong!

  • http://www.diariesofanessexgirl.com/ Kate Hall

    Woah, this does not sound fun at all! I would have freaked out, I can’t handle last minute changes either. Glad to hear you got it sorted with minimum stress!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i absolutely hate it! it’s the last thing that you want to go wrong when you travel!

  • http://treasuretromp.com/ Nicole @ Treasure Tromp

    We tried to take advantage of the 72 hour rule. We had 13 hours between flights but ended up having to stay they ENTIRE TIME in the Shanghai airport because the baggage holding room was closed and so were ALL the ticketing agents. By the time we could get rid of our baggage we didn’t have any time to explore the city :(

    I’m so happy that it ended up working out alright for you!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      what?! that’s horrible! the first time we used it was in shanghai but we had only 10 hours and used up every one of those minutes because we got on the wrong bus! still so worth it though haha. and it just means that you’ll have to head back to china : )

  • kristy

    The same thing happened to me when I was trying to fly from Thailand via Kuala Lumpur to Beijing where I would be flying home to Canada the next day. They didn’t know anything about the 72 hour visa free thing even though the Chinese consulate told me about it. I convinced them to let me on the plane to KL and then in KL a oblivious agent let me right on the plane! So stressful!!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      oh no! that’s horrible! and so last minute! i’m glad that it all worked out in the end though!

  • http://www.lifeplus1.me/ Lifeplus1

    Ugh! I would have had a heart attack! Foreign immigration has a knack for making innocent travelers feel like criminals. I’ve ended up in the ‘box of shame’ at Heathrow for a technicality like this one. Seriously makes you want to throw up.

    When do we get to hear about Nepal?! :o) Anxiously awaiting details…


    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      oh no! that’s horrible! i hate dealing with immigration but thankfully it all worked out. and nepal is coming up next week!! get ready!

  • http://unlockingkiki.com/ Kaelene Spence

    Ugh that sounds so stressful! I probably would have had a bit of a meltdown but thats great you guys were able to sort it out and make the best of it!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      haha i just about did! but once we got on that plane i didn’t care anymore!

  • http://www.perpetuallycaroline.com/ Caroline L.

    That sounds like such a nightmare – China’s SO weird about visas. I usually just have the two-year multiple trip ones so I go back whenever I need to without much of a hassle, ha. HK and Beijing are my two favorite Chinese cities – glad you got to say hello to both!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      that’s so awesome! in the end we wish we would have just paid for the visa. hindsight is 20/20 though huh?

  • http://alexfahey.blogspot.com/ Alex Fahey

    Question- why couldn’t come back to Korea?

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i think it’s to discourage people from taking a three day trip to china without paying the visa. they want to make sure that it’s a true layover on your way to somewhere else

  • http://straightupzblog.com/ Z K

    Agh! How stressful! I had a similar experience in Berlin trying to get to London, but the whole issue ended up being that we booked the wrong flight and would just be in Berlin an extra day. An immense crisis in the moment, a funny story later.

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      it’s the worst! i’m sorry you had to go through a similar experience! at least it’s all good in the end : )

  • Casey

    All’s well that ends well :) Although I am the same way, that situation I wouldn’t handle well… I don’t like surprises when I travel! But looks like it ended up working out and you got a good memory out of it!

    • http://lostintravelsblog.com/ Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      ahh i HATE travel surprises! they’re the worst! but this was the biggest one in the three years that we’ve been traveling so i’d say that’s pretty good!