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[How To:] Fly Out of Shanghai During Lockdown

***cue Mission Impossible music***
2022-04-14 12:00:00
From the directly and minutely useful to information on living your best self in the world. How To is our regular column on how to accomplish things in the city.

How amazing would it be to be sitting on a plane that's landing in... Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Bangkok, Sydney, New York, Toronto, LA... anywhere else, right now.

It's difficult. But possible. Get your wallet out. And get ready for a lot of preparation and planning.

Let's start with a disclaimer: The information that follows is as complete a guide as we could manage in a time when rules change daily, policy is not standardized, and no official sources have explicitly outlined the process for how to leave China through Shanghai right now. As much as we would have liked to offer a well-researched, 100% verified, iron clad guide with official resources on how expats can currently leave the city, legally, with their kids and pets, a lot of the information in this article relies on hearsay from WeChat groups and anecdotal evidence from colleagues and friends who are getting or who have managed to already get out.

So yeah, it's the classic disclaimer: There are "grey areas" ahead. Grey areas! Classic!

Shouldn't one of the largest airports in the world located in an international city publish information on what the current requirements are to enter it? One would think.

Shouldn't the city provide a list of legal options how their residents can travel to an airport? That would be nice.

Why do government-appointed hospitals like the Shenpu clinic only publish their information in invite-only WeChat groups but not on a public WeChat account or on their website? Who knows.

The article below will be updated if and when more information comes to light or official policy changes. If you are reading this on WeChat, please scroll down and click on "Read More" for a more up-to-date version on our website.

Initial Concerns: Flights, Routes, and Prices

Ever since China closed its borders on March 28 2020 the number of flights and light routes to and from Shanghai have been reduced drastically. As an example, in the pre-Covid era, Lufthansa used to have two flights per day to Frankfurt. Now, it's just two flights per week on their regular flight schedule. To matters worse, airlines often get their flight routes suspended for a period of time if they arrive with too many positive cases on an inbound flight.

At any rate, flight availability during lockdown has been consistent with pre-lockdown, with the prices pretty much the same. A last-minute flight within the next 3 - 4 days to Europe (in our example, Frankfurt) is over RMB 30k economy class one way, unless you take a much slower route through Hong Kong. If you book for a more than 5 days ahead, however, prices go down to a more reasonable RMB 8-10k.

Remember "rescue flights" circa Covid 2020? Embassies organizing emergency charter flights for people to get out of at-risk areas?

Yeah, no. No one's doing that this time.

Step 1 Is Being Able to Get Out of Your Compound

We can't find the official statement declaring this to be the case but all the anecdotal evidence we've seen says that people have been able to leave their compounds, even during lockdown, by showing a valid flight booking to a neighborhood committee or building management. Just start talking to them as soon as possible about your plans. In some cases, it's taken some time to convince them but we've also heard of other cases were it wasn't a problem at all — as long as you guarantee that you won't be coming back any time soon.

If you leave they won't let you back.

One less resident / family to worry about passing all these tests is a great thing for them.

You Need Recent PCR and Antigen Test Results

You need a PCR test taken within 48 hours to leave Shanghai, according to this announcement. The PCR test taken during regular tests at your compound is valid and can be used, as long as it shows up in either the HealthCloud app, Alipay, or WeChat.

You also need to have a recent Antigen self-test uploaded in the right app. Here is a link on how to get that sorted.

So. But. Back to that PCR test. If you don't have the results of one from the past 48 hours before your flight, you have to include that as part of your preparation for leaving. The only option that we could find to get a PCR test with a quick turnaround is Jiahui Hospital. Book through their MiniProgram (search JiahuiHealth on WeChat and open the MiniProgram). If you take the test from 9am to 11am, your results will be available at 4pm the same day. You download the results from the same MiniProgram in PDF form in English. It costs 120RMB.

Biotecan, which was one of the go-to options for testing pre-lockdown, is currently closed.

Plan Your Schedule on Your Flight Day

Since you'll need a same-day PCR test, arrange transportation at least 10 hours before your flight so you have enough time to swing through to get the PCR test done and have enough time to get to the airport.

Here's an example of a flight day schedule that would work. In this scenario, we've got an evening flight, with enough time to do all the running around in the morning.

  • 9:30 Van pick-up us at compound
  • 10:00 PCR test at Jiahui Hospital
  • 10:10 Van takes us to Pudong Airport
  • 11:15 Arrival to Pudong Airport
  • 16:00 Receive PCR test results
  • 16:30 Check-in
  • 20:10 Departure

Getting to the Airport

By Car: We've spoke to Didi, Meituan, Ctrip, and several limousine services, and they all have confirmed that at this point there's no legal way for them to take passengers to the airport.

So, the phone numbers that you've seen floating around WeChat groups are actually private drivers that have managed to get a 通行证 (tōng xíng zhèng, sometimes translated as Epidemic Pass) for another purpose, and now they drive private passengers for money. It's not strictly legal but... here we are.

Prices are insane, ranging in between RMB 1.5K and RMB 12K, depending on how many days in advance you book and how much time you'll need to get your PCR test done and drive to the airport.

One option we've heard good things about is Airport & Hospital Shuttle Service, an english speaking agency that works with licenced car campanies and helps find a suitable car and driver. They can organize transportion from Pudong and Puxi to the airport as well as to/from hospitals. Their number is 139 1621 8425, Mon-Sun, 9am-7pm. Prices and details here.

When you book a driver ask if they have the 通行证 for going to Pudong.

By Shuttle Bus: Currently, the shuttle bus only operates between Hongqiao Airport and Pudong Airport. Which means that if you live in Puxi closer to the airport, the cheaper option might be to get a car to Hongqiao Airport and then get the shuttle to Pudong.

By Walking: You see that thing on Reddit from the guy that actually walked to the Pudong Airport? Took him 9 hours! Legend.

In times of great difficulty and adversity, a hero can emerge...

That guy is, truly, the hero we all deserve.

So You've Made it to the Airport...

The official policy says you need your PCR and an Antigen test to get in the door but some of the people we talked to said all they needed was their HealthCode. ...Okay?

Several reports mention that the airport is currently totally empty and there's nowhere to buy food or drinks, so bring those yourself. Also, even though the airports are mostly deserted, they're running on a skeleton staff; be prepared for long check-in lines.

Traveling with an Expired Visa

You must have a valid visa to leave China. But if you don't, you'll need to try to get an extension. The China Entry-Exit offices only have one hotline dealing with all inquiries and all their physical locations are currently closed. As of this writing, no opening date has been announced. We called them at their hotline (12367) and they confirmed that they have also stopped services, unless it's a real emergency, like someone's relative has passed away and they need to fly out immediately. In this case, there will be emergency staff on-hand.

This happened to one of our colleagues. They said:

"The woman on the phone spoke very good English, and she was very, very nice. She said that they are a general hotline for immigration but for my circumstance, she will send my information to Shanghai Immigration Offices, with a request to extend my current visa."

Don't abuse this and make up a family emergency just to get a visa extension. It might make things for those with an actual emergency more difficult. Plus, that's terrible karma. We're just saying there is negotiating room.

Finally, if your visa has just expired but isn't too, too expired, another option is to accepting and paying a fine when leaving China through Pudong airport.

What About Newborns?

If your newborn hasn't left China since it was born, it needs a "China Travel Document (旅行证)" even if it has a foreign passport. You need to apply for this document at the Hukou City of the Chinese parent, and you need to present the baby in person to take the photo and verification, so that's currently not possible.

What About Leaving with Pets?

We spoke to Lee-Anne of Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA):

"Leaving with pets is extremely challenging, and right now, the Shenpu clinic that processes the pre-flight checks for the Animal Health Certificate from Shanghai Customs is closed. There is an invitation-only chat group to assist pet owners with flights departing in April. In this group, Shenpu is collecting the necessary passenger and pet medical information for Customs and setting health check appointments. April flight passengers need to provide all relevant information to be assisted, and must show a negative PCR test within 48 hours to attend a pre-flight health check appointment."

Unfortunately, this chat group is by invitation only and we aren't able to publish more info on it. Group members, including SCAA staff, several veterinary clinic staff, and pet-related chat group members can invite people departing with pets in April as needed.

The Shenpu clinic is not providing any other veterinary services at this time. There's hope the Shenpu will open up in the coming weeks. Follow their WeChat account to get notified about any changes.

Lee-Anne also mentions that, "if pet owners didn't secure a pet spot for a summer departure many weeks ago, a majority of airlines are fully booked for cabin and excess baggage pets. This includes out of PVG, as well as several Mainland China cities from now through to early and even late August."

Although there is hope of airlines adding flights, similar to their previous summer schedule, opening up more pet transport spots, there is no guarantee this will happen. If your ideal flight route and schedule is already fully booked for pets, SCAA suggests researching alternate Mainland city departures, and even alternative destination cities or (where feasible like across the EU) a nearby country, to eventually get home together with your pet.

See also: [How To]: Take Your Pet Out of China - Here Is What Has Changed in 2021

So, You Wanna Come Back...

If you've managed to get out of China, keep in mind that getting back into the country is significantly more difficult. Flights into China are extremely expensive and often get cancelled. Regulations on what you need to return constantly change, and if you manage to come back, you have to quarantine in a hotel. Good news is that the quarantine was recently reduced from 14 days to 10 days. Hey!

But the most important thing to consider: Chances of catching Covid are not insignificant everywhere in the world right now. If you catch it, it won't be possible for you to return to China easily.


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For a list of consulates click here.