China opens borders to tourists after 3 years of restrictions

China’s embassies abroad will resume issuing various categories of visas to foreigners from March 15, 2023

Updated - March 14, 2023 07:35 pm IST

Published - March 14, 2023 03:36 pm IST - Beijing

File picture of tourists queueing to visit the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. The country will reopen its borders and allow tourists back into the country after 3 years

File picture of tourists queueing to visit the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. The country will reopen its borders and allow tourists back into the country after 3 years | Photo Credit: Getty Images

China will, starting March 15, 2023, fully reopen its borders and allow tourists back into the country after three years of pandemic restrictions.  

The country’s embassies abroad will resume “issuing various categories of visas to foreigners Wednesday,” the Department of Consular Affairs of the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said.

Foreigners “with valid visas issued before March 28, 2020 will be allowed to enter China”, the National Immigration Administration said in a notice, adding that it had “decided to adjust policies of foreigners’ visas and entry from 0:00 on March 15, 2023 in order to better coordinate COVID-19 prevention and control with economic and social development, and to facilitate personnel exchanges between China and other countries”. The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi in a notice on its website on Tuesday confirmed it would, starting Wednesday, “resume issuing various types of Chinese visas” and “Chinese visas that were issued before March 28, 2020 and remains within valid period will be reactivated.”

The announcements marked the withdrawal of the last remaining travel restrictions that had been in place for close to three years. Since early 2020, China had some of the most stringent travel restrictions of anywhere in the world, and was essentially closed off from international travel.

Starting last year, Beijing began to allow small batches of foreign students back into the country, with many, including thousands of medical students from India, seeing their education put on hold for more than two years as well as having their graduation plans disrupted.

China ended the “zero-COVID” policy in early December 2022, and starting January 8, 2023, opened its borders for family reunions and ended the mandatory quarantine for international arrivals.

This followed the Chinese government downgrading management of COVID-19 from a Class A to Class B infectious disease, no longer allowing for lockdowns and quarantine.

The sudden lifting of restrictions in December caught Chinese hospitals by surprise, seeing shortages of medicines, a wave of cases around the country, and for several weeks, crematoria reporting long waiting periods due to elderly deaths.

By January, however, the country had largely returned to normalcy with the wave of cases subsiding earlier than most experts expected, seeing a boom in domestic tourism and consumption.

On Monday, the new Premier Li Qiang, speaking in his first press conference following the conclusion of the annual National People’s Congress which last week formally endorsed President Xi Jinping’s third five-year term, defended the transition away from zero-COVID. While the move was welcomed by most people in China who had grown weary of lockdowns, it was also criticised for the messy ending as well as the wave of elderly deaths due to low vaccination booster rates.

“At a major stage when the virus became less pathogenic and with the increase in China’s capacity for pandemic control, we have improved and adjusted our COVID response measures and achieved smooth transition by putting COVID back to the category of Class B infectious disease,” he said. “China is a country with a large population and unbalanced development, yet it only took us less than two months to achieve a smooth transition in COVID response and restore normal economic and social order in relatively short span of time.”

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