Travel to China has been anything but easy. The visa process was time consuming, expensive, and generally limited to only one year. Why the restrictions? Not surprising, each country (US and China) blamed the other saying they were just being reciprocal. This was sloppy government work at its finest.
However, two recent developments have changed the rules dramatically for travel to China.The first help came a few months ago when U.S.Customs and Border Protection (CBP) finally issued regulations regarding the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). This was a major advancement in immigration clearance for U.S. business travelers entering other countries, including China. Instead of joining the typically long lines at immigration for foreign visitors, having the ABTC means going to the very short pre-clearance line instead. As I said in another post, this can easily save travelers thirty minutes to an hour or more, depending on the arrival airport.
The second change was more recent. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in Beijing last week, the President announced a major change in visa requirements. The reciprocity with China now means that instead of applying for a visa every six months or a year (two years for a business visa with prior visa approvals), the countries agreed to a 10-year visa. This has been pretty much the international standard for a while now so why it took so long to bring these two countries into the current century is anyone’s guess.
Best news for travelers, the 10-year visa is available for both business and leisure travelers while student visas will be five years. Whenever there are changes like this, there are winners and losers. The losers are simple: The agencies that have long been making a huge amount of money annually assisting travelers with visa applications.
As for winners, this will no doubt lead to increased travel to China. I mentioned before that the cruise industry is poised to make China the number one destination in the world. Because of the language difference, English-speaking tour operators will be a long-term growth industry. New hotel development has been pretty strong in China the past few years but this may lead to changes increasing the pace in certain cities. The Chinese airlines also will benefit from increased travel, both from more non-stop flights between the countries as well as transit between cities within China.
China also has been in the forefront developing high-speed rail. In some cases, this makes more sense than air travel but be warned, at least as this time there may be few – if any – people working at the train stations that speak English. This should change over time.
My husband, who travels to mainland China very frequently and benefits greatly from both of these changes, offers this advice to those desiring to see China: The people of China are very gracious and patient with visitors but leave discussions about politics and religion at home. Instead, travel there to enjoy the stunning scenery, their history, their culture, and the wonderful people. Oh, and you can enjoy real Chinese food there, very different than what we typically eat in the U.S.
Arguably, it is easier to make a case that the greatest beneficiary of these changes will be the U.S. economy. My husband has been saying for years that the Chinese have long had a fascination with America. The longer holding period for visas, coupled with the strong economy and emerging middle class in China, will be an economic boon. The US Travel Association claims that Chinese visitors spend on average greater than 60% more than typical tourists. Projections call for a fourfold increase in Chinese visitors with estimates that this will create nearly a half million jobs in the U.S. within seven years and bring another $85 billion into the economy. This will also drive not only revenue from tourists but also exports to China because of their interest in owning U.S. goods. Needless to say, anyone who is fluent in Chinese in this country will be in very high demand.
For those who love diving into the details, check out the White House Fact Sheet.
My personal travel to China has been more limited but when my visa expires, you can be sure I will apply for a new one. Knowing it is good for ten years, planning travel to China is much easier now.