If you're in China on an L (Leisure), F (Fun), or other dubious visa, you probably need to leave the mainland every 60 or 90 days or face a giant fine and other dire repercussions. It doesn't matter where you go, Antarctica and Macau are both acceptable, but most end up jetting to Hong Kong. If you don't have a place to stay, a weekend in Hong Kong including a flight and hotel will cost at least 3,000rmb, and that's with none of the shopping or dining that you'll naturally want to do.
So how do you leave and come back on the cheap? Well, for around 1,200rmb round-trip you can go to a little island called Jinmen (also known as Kinmen), a part of Taiwan so close to the Mainland that the PRC and ROC used to shoot cannonballs over the water at each other back in the day when Grandpa Zhou fought in the war. This counts as leaving the Mainland — same as going to Macau or Hong Kong. You'll need to go to Xiamen first, then take a forty minute boat ride, pass through Taiwan immigration, then turn around and come right back. The best part is you can do this all in one day.
You can leave Shanghai in the morning and return later that night. If you're not in a rush, drop an extra 1,000rmb and stay in Xiamen for a few days and enjoy some of the freshest air in China, solid street food on Zhongshan Lu, and some cheap home-brewed beer at Amoy Brau (73 Daxue Lu). We found a five-star hotel for 400rmb a night, complete with a massage pool, full gym, and KTV. There's beaches too, but you're better off swimming in one of the pools by the beach and avoiding that murky soup of sticks and boat fuel called "the ocean". Good vibes down in Xiamen; loads of old colonial architecture. Nice place to spend a few days with your significant other.
Here are the two realistic ways to get there:
Eight hours one way from Hongqiao Station, 320rmb each way. If you're in no hurry, do it, and peep the lush Fujian mountain scenery on the way down. Unfortunately, even the 7am train will land you in Xiamen at around 3pm, and the last boat returns from Jinmen at 5.30pm so you're really pushing it. There's no way to do the train round trip in one day. Luckily you can find flights for around the same price as a train if you book early enough.
Just ninety minutes one way from Hongqiao Airport. I booked my flight four hours before departure and paid 875rmb round trip with tax on Spring Airlines
, the airline that's cheap because you have to buy water and listen to ads on a loudspeaker for most of the flight.
Once you get there, breathe in that smog-free air and take a 20rmb cab to Wutong Matou (五通码头) at 2500 Huandao Lu (环岛路). This is where you take the boat to Jinmen (金门). Yes there's another dock but that's way on the other side of the island and the ferry takes longer; stick with Wutong.
Ferry tickets cost 160rmb one-way, and boats leave roughly every ninety minutes. It's painless and there's no line at immigration. Noticeably better attitudes over here than on the Hong Kong border, too. All you need to do is take the boat forty minutes to Jinmen, then turn right around and take the next boat back to Xiamen. You'll have to change some RMB to Taiwan money to buy the ticket back, but that takes about thirty seconds. You might have 30–40 minutes to kill, and there's a decent cafe with Taiwanese food, coffee and free wi-fi right next to the port. Pick up a few bags of that Kinmen beef jerky and some 62% baijiu.
If you time it right, this boat/immigration process will take about two hours, or you could spend the whole day in Jinmen. Be careful though because the last boat to Xiamen departs at 5.30pm, and there are not many places to stay on the island. Camping may be an option. Jinmen is the total opposite of Hong Kong. Almost no businesses, no tall buildings — just temples and military zones for days. No sidewalks. Most people ride motorbikes and wear helmets. The cars, buses, and trucks move around harmoniously. It's low-tech in a refreshing way, but there's also a military presence that would probably respond pretty damn fast in an emergency. You probably don't want to go wandering too far off the road.
The area I explored was like a Buddhist village, with lots of cool old dragon buildings and detached houses that you'd never see in Shanghai. One downside: all of these houses are guarded by dogs. Yours truly got barked at and harassed by not one but six different large-breed dogs. One huge mutt chased me down the block barking to the point where I picked up a brick because I thought he was gonna come at me. Luckily an old man appeared and coaxed him away. Later, I sat outside the 7-11 drinking Taiwan beer and eating popcorn chicken while a particularly vicious beast barked at me non-stop from across the street. I was back in Shanghai a few hours later, and about 1,400rmb lighter.
A few notes. Before you go, check if you need a Taiwan visa
. People from the USA, Canada, several European countries, Korea, Japan, and many other places can get a 90-day visa-upon-arrival for free, but citizens of other countries will need to apply ahead of time. Mainland citizens will have to apply for a Taiwan visa about a week before this trip. Check the weather too, because the ferries may not run if a storm hits. Also, as we've already stated, this is a military island, so don't go wandering around too much or you might not ever come back. Watch out for those dogs.
If you're up north and need to do a cheap visa run, check out our article
about going on a bizarre, rainbow dinosaur adventure to the Mongolian hinterlands for even cheaper visa run.
We're also got an in-depth guide to getting a visa in Shenzhen right here
. And if you want the most current visa information, check out the China Visa
subreddit over on Reddit. Good luck.