In an effort to clarify some of those questions, we reached out to the Entry-Exit Bureau, border control, a visa specialist working in a government SOE and an overseas Chinese embassy. Here's what we've learned.
How Is This Different From Before?
This latest announcement (quoted at the bottom of this article) suggests that the entry suspension has been lifted for anyone who holds a valid residence permit tied to work, reunion or personal matters. It also suggests that holders of those permits which expired after March 28 can reapply by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to Chinese embassies or consulates.
Before September 28, according to the statement the Ministry put out on March 26, anyone trying to enter (or re-enter) China wouldn't be able to do so with a visa or residence permit valid before 28 March. Re-entering China after this period required applying for a new visa, which has had special requirements (such as PU Letters) in the past.
Two Sources Say That Valid Residence Permit Holders Can Now Exit and Re-Enter China Without Applying for A New Visa
We called the China Immigration Inspection Agency (bianjian, 边检), who handle border checks, at 3136 6000 and asked if this means foreigners currently in China with a valid residence permit can leave China and be allowed back in. The officer just repeated the requirements of entry, the three types of valid residence permits. We asked if there were limits to the number of times you can enter China, and got the same response.
So we asked an in-house visa agent at a government SOE if foreigners in China can now take international trips. He gave an emphatic YES. It’s still day 2 of the new rule, but maybe we can allow our hopes to bubble up a bit. Just a little. In any case if you can take international trips, you will still need to quarantine when you return.
We also got the Chinese Embassy in Singapore on the phone. They said if you are a foreigner currently in China, you can travel internationally and return to China as long as you have one of the three types of residence permits. That's a confirmation from a Chinese embassy, which is... cool.
The Embassy in Singapore Says Expired Permit Holders Can Reapply Without a PU Letter (Under Certain Circumstances)
The Chinese Embassy in Singapore also said that if your residence permit expired after March 28, you can reapply for a new visa by bringing your old expired residence permit, your passport, and your Singaporean residence permit. Your expired Chinese residence permit needs to be of the three qualifying types according to the new rules. No PU letter is required in this circumstance. Though you will need to be a Singaporean resident, if you don’t have a Singaporean residence permit, you can contact the visa center to determine your case.
If other countries follow this process, expired residence permit holders would have to re-apply at a Chinese embassy in a country of their residence. So if you're stuck in Bangkok on a visitor's visa, you might have to leave. Check with the local Chinese embassy.
You Still Have to Quarantine When You Return
The current quarantine situation, according 12345 information hotline, is that when you land in Shanghai you will first be transported to get a nucleic acid test. During the health inspection, you can apply for a 7+7 quarantine — that's 7 days in a hotel then 7 days at your apartment in Shanghai. You will need to prove you rent or own an apartment in Shanghai. They didn’t specify what kind of proof, but we imagine a lease agreement, a landlord's contact or a previous registration form might do.
The elderly, children and pregnant women can apply to spend the entire 14 day quarantine at home. The hotel stay in a designated quarantine hotel costs about 200-400rmb per day and meals are an additional cost.
The Obstacles That Remain
There have been no developments on tourist, student and business visas. The policies in the March 26 statement still apply for everyone else mentioned in that statement, including anyone looking to take advantage of the 24/72/144-hour visa-free transit policy.
Probably not a lot of those around because flight tickets to Shanghai are still very, very expensive.
The third obstacle, based on our experience with the last bit of breaking travel ban news, is that it may take some time before the information bleeds out to the various Chinese embassies and consulates around the world.
Our best advice for anyone looking to get back into China is to not book a ticket until you've checked. With. Your. Local. Chinese. Embassy.
The Full Text of The Statement
National Immigration Administration
Announcement on Entry by Foreign Nationals
Holding Valid Chinese Residence Permits of Three Categories
(Unofficial Translation for Reference Only)
September 23, 2020
In view of the current COVID-19 situation and the need of epidemic prevention and control, adjustments are now made to the Announcement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Immigration Administration on the Temporary Suspension of Entry by Foreign Nationals Holding Valid Chinese Visas or Residence Permits issued on 26 March 2020.
Effective from 0 a m., 28 September 2020, foreign nationals holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion are allowed to enter China with no need for applying for new visas. If the above three categories of residence permits held by foreign nationals expired after 0 a.m., 28 March 2020, the holders may apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates on the condition that the purpose of the holders' visit to China remains unchanged. The above-mentioned personnel shall strictly abide by the Chinese regulations on epidemic prevention and control.
Other measures in the Announcement issued on March 26 will continue to be implemented. While ensuring effective epidemic control, the Chinese government will continue resuming people-to-people exchanges in a step-by-step and orderly manner.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China
National Immigration Administration of the People's Republic of China