Travelling to mainland China soon? Thinking about utilising their transit visas? Think very carefully. Despite being in operation a while now, it appears not everyone everywhere knows about it. Here’s my account of what happened during my journey from Cairo to Guangzhou.
As always I arrive at the airport and check in on time, to do this requires going through security to get to the check-in counters but the security guy isn’t having any of my phone itinerary and orders me to go to Egypt Air’s office for a piece of paper saying the same thing as my phone. After a second attempt, I get to the check-in and all goes smooth, the guy even offers me which seat I want which in this day and age surprises me. With the formalities done I bid him farewell go through more sets of security and make it to the airside of the airport. I spend my last few Egyptian pounds on some water and wait at the assigned gate.
When it comes to boarding my passport is checked again by a tall man with thinning hair in a grey suit. He is ferociously thumbing through my passport looking for a visa. When I tell him there isn’t one as I am only entering on a 72 hour visa he is reluctant to note the UK Government Travel Website and refuses to believe there is a 72 hour visa, they are like a broken record telling me over and over that I can only stay 24 hours, that I cannot travel and cancel my ticket! While Cairo airport wasn’t as bad as I’d heard, the Egypt Air staff are a very disorganised bunch, though I don’t begrudge the guy as I understand his professionalism and we part on reasonably good terms.
The next night – having spent the whole of what’s left of the previous night and all day waiting at the airport hotel for the same flight, the whole debacle begins again as it’s a new shift with different guys thus I have to explain to the new faces before me (as the guys from the previous night haven’t left any clues for them). The new crew also refuse to believe me saying their system is right and up to date. It takes forever for them to spot the 72 hour visa rules by which time I think I am going to miss my plane for a second night running (I’ve paid to amend the ticket and don’t really want to spend another night in a hotel even if it is Le Meridien). After what seems an eternity they give the go ahead. I ask about the gate as I expect trouble and they say they will put a note on their system.
Sure enough at the gate is another guy furiously thumbing through my passport, he says I have no visa. I ask him politely to check his system. Thankfully the guys at check-in have made good on their word and I’m cleared to go through more security and into the boarding waiting room. The call comes to board and on the way down to the air bridge I spot yet another passport check. My anxiety levels rise but mercifully no problems.
After nine hours in the air my nightmare is not over. It is a predictably grey evening in Guangzhou with the coast no clearer. I get to the special lane for 24 and 72 hour visas. To qualify you need on onward flight to a third country but they now add the stipulation that I need a hotel booking (not noted on the UK Government website or anywhere else that I’ve seen).
However irksome the situation I am a little more at home with the Chinese, though the young official mocks me to his mate when I show him my onward travel details on my phone (I have no idea why as this is standard practice so I assume he just wanted to look like mr cool guy mocking a foreigner). His efforts are wasted as he fails to get a response from me or for that matter his buddy and eventually I’m free to go.
All of this for what is supposedly an operation already up and running – albeit to a stand still. My suggestion to fellow travellers in the case of China is to just get a visa as the 72 hour programme is riddled with half truths and potholes. By the time I arrived at the baggage reclaim carousel I found it empty and have the further inconvenience of having to track down my bags at LOST BAGGAGE, so yeah, get a normal visa for mainland China.