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China announces 15-day visa-free stay for cruise passengers to boost tourism

Adora Magic City, the first large cruise ship made in China, awaits its first commercial passengers at the Shanghai Shipyard on January 1, 2024.

Future publications | Future publications | Getty Images

Travelers entering China via international cruises can stay in some provinces of the country for up to 15 days without a visa, the government announced on Wednesday, as Beijing tries to boost its cruise and tourism industry.

The regulations require foreigners to enter through one of the country’s 13 coastal cruise ports, according to a statement from China’s National Immigration Administration (NIA).

Visitors must travel as part of a group of at least two people organized by a Chinese travel agency and depart the country on the same cruise. Tour groups can travel to Beijing or other coastal provinces.

“The full implementation of the visa-free entry policy for foreign cruise tourists is an important pillar for accelerating the development of China’s cruise economy, and an important measure to promote China’s institutional opening-up “, the NIA said in a statement.

China’s cruise industry has made great strides this year, with the country’s first domestically built cruise liner, the Adora Magic City, making its maiden voyage on January 1, according to state media.

On Wednesday, seven cruise ports were also added as eligible entry points under China’s current visa-free transit policy, in addition to the previous 31.

Visa-free transit allows citizens of certain countries to stay in China without a visa for up to 144 hours while transiting to another country. In November, Norway was added to the countries eligible for visa-free transit to China, bringing the total to 54.

The latest visa-free travel policy reflects China’s “determination and attitude” toward “opening up to the world” and is a step toward better exchanges between China and foreign countries, the NIA said.

China has been scrambling to woo tourists since it reopened its borders last year and began restoring international air routes, ending three years of strict COVID-19 policies.

In December, the country granted a temporary visa waiver for travel of up to 15 days to citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. Beijing also signed a mutual visa waiver agreement with Singapore in February. The program is valid until November this year.

Companies have also tried to improve the travel experience for foreign tourists. Alibaba subsidiary Ant Group recently allowed visitors to China to spend up to $2,000 a year through its Alipay mobile app without having to register their ID with the company.

The efforts come as the country has failed to return the number of foreign travelers to pre-pandemic levels, according to NIA data, even as China’s domestic tourism has rebounded.

Data shows that 13 million foreigners entered or left China in the first three months of this year, a drop of more than 40% compared to the same period of 2019.

— CNBC’s Vivien Soo contributed to this report.

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