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China to Implement One-Year Visa-Free Policy for 5 European Countries and Malaysia

by Rahil M
0 comment

Industry experts are calling this move “one of the largest relaxations” in the visa-free program in decades.

China is set to launch a one-year visa-free policy for citizens from six countries, namely France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, starting from December 1, 2023. The announcement, made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, is part of China’s efforts to facilitate cross-border people-to-people exchanges in support of the country’s high-quality development and opening-up.

Under this new policy, residents from these six countries holding ordinary passports will be able to enter China without a visa and stay for a maximum of 15 days. The permissible reasons for visits include business, sightseeing, visiting family and friends, and transit.

Industry experts are calling this move “one of the largest relaxations” in the visa-free program in decades. It is anticipated to result in an unprecedented influx of foreign tourists and entrepreneurs to China, providing a significant boost to the country’s economy, especially in the inbound tourism sector, which is still recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany’s ambassador to China, Patricia Flor, expressed her support for the decision, stating on the social media platform X that the German diplomatic missions in China welcome the initiative to offer German citizens a visa-free stay of up to 15 days in China starting in December.

Xu Xiaolei, a marketing manager at China’s CYTS Tours Holding Co, sees this program as potentially one of the largest in decades. He believes it will lead to a substantial increase in foreign tourists from the six countries, particularly during the upcoming Christmas holidays, which traditionally mark a peak period for travel. Xu urged relevant parties, including travel companies and airport authorities, to make adequate preparations for the expected surge in foreign tourists.

CYTS Tours has already introduced inbound tourism products targeting citizens from six countries, with the markets of Germany and the Netherlands leading the recovery, according to media reports.

China’s tourism market has experienced an uneven recovery, with outbound tourism rebounding rapidly while inbound tourism has been slower to recover. Data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism revealed that in the first half of 2023, the inbound tourism sector only reached 12 per cent of the same period in 2019. In 2022, China welcomed approximately 20 million inbound tourists, accounting for 14 per cent of the annual volume in 2019.

This move follows China’s mid-November expansion of its visa-free transit policy to include citizens from Norway for a 72/144-hour stay, bringing the total number of applicable countries to 54. Additionally, China eliminated the 48-hour COVID test requirements for inbound arrivals from August 30. These measures were implemented after China resumed 15-day visa-free entry for citizens of Singapore and Brunei in July.

Dong Shaopeng, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies under the Renmin University of China, sees the expansion of the visa-free policy as aligned with China’s commitment to further opening up. He views this as a proactive move to energize foreign private investment and business visits, countering speculations of a ‘foreign capital exodus’ as suggested by some foreign media. Dong emphasizes that this measure could synergize with other policies released by the Chinese government this year to attract more foreign investment.

The implementation of the visa-free policy for citizens from the five European countries and Malaysia coincides with the strengthening bilateral trade and economic relations between China and the European bloc, as well as China and Southeast Asia. In the first 10 months of 2023, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU were ranked as China’s largest and second-largest trading partners.

The Chinese government has indicated its commitment to further improve policies related to visas and the inbound tourism sector. This includes optimizing Chinese visa application procedures and gradually phasing out visa application appointments, according to an official from the Foreign Ministry during the China International Travel Mart 2023 held in Kunming in November.

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