The main international ports of entry for mainland China are Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.Other major cities also have an international airport, although the choice is mostly limited to East Asian and sometimes Southeast Asian destinations.
Airline tickets are expensive or hard to get around Chinese New Year, Chinese “golden weeks” and university holidays.
If you live in a city with a large overseas Chinese community (e.g. Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney or London), check with someone in that community for cheap flights or visit Chinese-run travel agencies. Sometimes flights advertised only in Chinese newspapers or travel agencies cost much less than the fares advertised in English. However, if you go and ask, you can get the same low price.
Transit through Hong Kong and Macau
When you arrive in Hong Kong or Macau, there are ferries that take passengers directly to another destination such as Shenzhen’s Shekou or Bao’an Airport, Macau Airport, Zhuhai and other places without actually “entering” Hong Kong or Macau.
A shuttle bus will take transit passengers to the ferry terminal so that their official point of entry, where they will pass through immigration control, will be the ferry destination and not the airport. Please note that the ferries have different opening hours. So if you land late at night, it may be necessary to enter either area to catch a different bus or ferry to your final destination. For example, it would be necessary to pass through immigration when travelling from Hong Kong International Airport to Macau via the Macau Ferry Terminal. For the most up-to-date information on ferries to Hong Kong, visit the Hong Kong International Airport website.
China’s airlines are growing fast. The 3 major national carriers are Air China (中国国际航空), China Eastern Airlines (中国东方航空) and China Southern Airlines (中国南方航空), located in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Other carriers include Xiamen Airlines (厦门航空), Hainan Airlines (海南航空) and Shenzhen Airlines (深圳航空).
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragon Air can fly to all major mainland cities from many international destinations. Other Asian airlines with good connections to China are Singapore Airlines , Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia and Taiwan-based China Airlines.
Most major airlines based outside Asia fly to at least one of China’s main hubs – Beijing, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou and Hong Kong – and many fly to several of them. Some, such as KLM, also offer flights to other, less well-known Chinese cities. Check the individual city articles for details.
China is accessible by train from many of its neighbouring countries and even from Europe.
- Russia & Europe – two Trans-Siberian Railway lines (Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian) run between Moscow and Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, and for the Trans-Mongolian in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
- Kazakhstan & Central Asia – From Almaty in Kazakhstan you can take the train to Urumqi in north-western Xinjiang. At the border crossing of Alashankou, there is a long period of waiting at customs and a wheelbase change for a truck from the next country. Another, shorter, cross-border route has no direct train connection; instead, take a Kazakh night train from Almaty to Altynkol, cross the border to Khorgos and then take a Chinese night train from Khorgos (or nearby Yining) to Urumqi.
- Hong Kong – regular connections link mainland China with Hong Kong, and a high-speed rail link is also being built and will be operational in a few years.
- Vietnam – from Nanning in Guangxi province to Vietnam via the Friendship Pass. The connections from Kunming have been discontinued since 2002.
- North Korea – 4 flights a week between Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and Beijing.
On the road
China has land borders with 14 different countries; a number surpassed only by its northern neighbour, Russia. Mainland China also has land borders with the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which are treated as international borders in practice. Most border crossings in western China are at remote mountain passes that are difficult to reach and cross, but often reward travellers who make the effort with breathtaking scenic views.
The Nathu La Pass between Sikkim in India and southern Tibet is not open to tourists and special permits are required from both sides to visit. The pass was recently reopened for cross-border trade and therefore there is a possibility that the tourist restriction could change in the future.
Entering China from Myanmar is possible at the Ruili (China)-Lashio (Myanmar) border crossing, but permits must be obtained in advance from the Burmese authorities. Usually you have to join a guided tour for this.
For most travellers, Hanoi is the starting point for any overland trip to China. There are currently three international crossings:
Dong Dang (V) – Pingxiang (C:凭祥) : Take a local bus from the Hanoi Eastern Bus Station (Ben Xe Street, Gia Lam District ) for Lang Son, where you will need to change to a minibus or motorbike to reach the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively, there are many offers from open tour operators; for those in a hurry, they may be a good option if they offer a direct transfer from the hotel to the border crossing. Money can be exchanged at freelance money changers, but check the exchange rate carefully beforehand. Border formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, go through the “Friendship Gate” and take a taxi (about ¥20, a bargain!) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus costs ¥5. Directly opposite the bus station is a Bank of China branch; the ATM accepts Maestro cards. You can take the bus or train to Nanning.
Lao Cai (V) – Hekou (C:河口) : You can take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai for about 420,000 VND (as of 11/2011) for a soft sleeper. The journey takes about 8 hours. From there it is a long walk (or a 5 minute drive) to the Lao Cai/Hekou border. Crossing the border is easy, you fill out a customs card and wait in line. They will search your belongings (especially your books/writings). There are plenty of shops outside the Hekou border crossing and the bus station is about 10 minutes from the border. A ticket to Kunming from Hekou costs about ¥140; the journey takes about 7 hours.
Mong Cai (V) – Dongxing (C:东兴) : In Dongxing you can take a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou (approx. ¥180) or a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (approx. ¥230, 12 hrs) (March 2006).
From Luang Namtha you can take a bus that leaves at around 08:00 and goes to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. You must have a Chinese visa beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is not far away (about 1 hour). Customs clearance will take another good hour. The trip costs about 45,000 kip.
There is also a direct Chinese sleeper bus service from Luang Prabang to Kunming (approx. 32 hrs). You can board this bus at the border when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. However, do not pay more than ¥200.
The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan to western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. In winter, it is closed to tourists for a few months. Crossing the border is relatively quick as there are few overland travellers and relations between the two countries are friendly. A bus runs between Kashgar (China) and Sust (Pakistan) over the Kunerjab Pass.
The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest and through impressive mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours, but it is possible to travel to Nepal from Tibet
Between Mongolia and China there are two borders. One is the Erlianhot (Inner Mongolia)/Zamyn-Uud border and the other is the Takshken (Xinjiang)/Burgan border.
From Zamyn-Uud take the local train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamyn-Uud. Then take a bus or jeep to China Erlian. There are local trains leaving in the evening and arriving in the morning most days. The border opens around 08:30. From Erlian there are buses and trains to other places in China.
The border crossing closest to Almaty is in Khorgos. There are buses operating almost daily from Almaty to Urumqi and Yining. There is no visa on entry, so make sure both your Chinese and Kazakh visas are in order before attempting this. Another important crossing is at Alashankou (Dostyk on the Kazakh side).
It is possible to cross the Torugart Pass to/from Kyrgyzstan, but the road is very rough and the pass is only open in the summer months (June-September) each year. It is possible to arrange crossings all the way from Kashgar, but make sure all your visas are in order.
Alternatively, though less scenic, is a gentler crossing at Irkeshtam south of Torugart.
Between China and Tajikistan at Kurma there is a single border crossing, which is open from May to November on working days. A bus runs across the border between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Khorog in Tajikistan. Make sure both your Chinese and Tajik visas are in order before using this border crossing.
One of the most popular border points is in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia. There are bus services available from Manzhouli to Zabaikalsk in Russia. Additionally, there are also ferries which cross the Amur River from Pinghe to Blagoveshchensk as well as from Fuyuan to Khabarovsk. Further east, there are land border crossings at Suifenhe, Dongning and Hunchun. Make sure both your Russian and Chinese visas are in order before you start your journey.
Crossing over to North Korea by land is possible at the Dandong/Sinuiju border crossing, but must be arranged in advance as part of a guided tour from Beijing and is usually only possible for Chinese citizens. In the opposite direction, the border crossing is quite easy if you have arranged it as part of your North Korea tour. There are other border crossings along the Yalu and Tumen rivers, but they are not necessarily open to tourists. Your tour operator will need to ensure that both your Chinese and North Korean visas are in order before you attempt this.
There are four road border crossings from Hong Kong into China: Lok Ma Chau/Huanggang, Sha Tau Kok/Shatoujiao, Man Kam To/Wenjindu and the Shenzhen Bay Bridge. A visa on arrival is available for some nationalities at Huanggang, but visas must be arranged in advance for all other border crossings.
The two border crossings are at Portas do Cerco/Gongbei and Lotus Bridge. A visa on entry can be applied for by certain nationalities at Portas do Cerco. In Gongbei, the Zhuhai railway station is located right next to the border crossing, from where there are regular train connections to Guangzhou.
Border crossing with Afghanistan and Bhutan is currently not possible for travellers.
Hong Kong and Macao
There are regular ferry and hovercraft services between Hong Kong and Macau and the rest of the Pearl River Delta, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Ferry services from Hong Kong International Airport allow arriving passengers to travel on directly to China without having to clear immigration and customs in Hong Kong.
2-day ferry service between Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan.The service is once or twice a week, depending on the season.
A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao with Shimonoseki.
From Shanghai and Tianjin there is a ferry service to Incheon, one of the port cities close to Seoul. Another line runs from Qingdao or Weihai to Incheon or from Dalian to Incheon.
Hourly ferries (18 departures per day) run between Kinmen and Xiamen, with a journey time of either 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the port. There is also a regular ferry that runs between Kinmen and Quanzhou, 3 times a day. The ferry between Matsu and Fuzhou runs twice a day and takes about two hours. From mainland Taiwan, passengers can take the Cosco Star from Taichung and Keelung to Xiamen once a week.
Golden Peacock Shipping operates a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong between Jinghong in Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers do not need a visa for Laos or Myanmar, although most of the journey takes place on the river bordering these countries. the ticket costs ¥650
In autumn, several cruise lines move their ships from Alaska to Asia and good connections can usually be found from Anchorage, Vancouver or Seattle. Star Cruises operates between Keelung in Taiwan and Xiamen in mainland China, stopping at one of the Japanese islands along the way.