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Flying free: How China's visa-free entry is impacting Europeans

CGTN correspondents across Europe

 , Updated 20:59, 09-May-2024
Flying free: How China's visa-free entry is impacting Europeans

A few months ago, China decided to allow 15 days of visa-free entry for citizens of Malaysia plus seven European countries – France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. In March, that list was extended to include Austria, Belgium, Hungary and Luxembourg.

In its Flying Free series, CGTN Europe explores the impact of the changes.


Simplified entry route a boost to Franco-Chinese ties


China has been boosting its tourism sector with the introduction of a simplified entry status for some countries.

‌It is part of a bid to return to successful pre-pandemic tourism levels. "It's true that after the period of COVID-19, the world had a tendency to turn in on itself," said Olivier Gregory, a travel website editor, based in China. "I think that tourism, in many countries, suffered a serious blow.‌"

Some 97 million foreign nationals visited China in 2019 but that number plunged to just four million in 2022. "I think the idea of introducing a two-week visa-free period is both a simple and efficient way to show again the attractivity of the country both for business travel and also the tourism industry," said Gregory.

‌According to Chinese government data, 214,000 people from six countries, including France, enjoyed visa-free entry to China in December - a 29 percent increase on the month before.

‌The policy move is linked to 2024 being the year of Franco-Chinese tourism and shows the two countries have cultural ties that are just as important as the serious geopolitical points of view discussed at presidential level.


Austrian students hope for easier access to Chinese study visas


The high school exchange program 'Youth For Understanding' (YFU) says in 2022 it had to turn down several Austrian high school students who wanted to go to China because of Covid-related visa rejections. The organization is hoping that the relaxation of visa restrictions will be extended for longer trips.

"The countries where you do not need a visa are more attractive," YFU's Judith Haidacher told CGTN. "Visas are always a big issue. Now we are hoping for an easier process with the visa to send a lot of students to China."

At Vienna University many students would like to study abroad and experience Chinese faculty life for a semester. "Then you can really see what society there is really like and be a part of it and learn all of it basically, more than you would as a tourist," explained Viennese university student Hannah Leindl.

Study visas became available again after Covid travel restrictions were lifted. 

Before the pandemic struck, the process had been relatively smooth, according to Tamara Rossmann who spent a year in Shanghai. The sinology student said her pre-pandemic visa application in 2018 was fast and easy. 

"I had to wait about one month and then I got my visa. It was very easy, yes, but that was before corona," she explained.

Unless student visa rules are loosened, people hoping to study in China will continue having to wade through application forms. But Tamara says the experience abroad is definitely worth it.

Watch the video above to see CGTN's Johannes Pleschberger speak to the Austrian students.



We'll drink to that: Italian winery owners toast visa-free travel


Italian companies with business ties to China say the Chinese government's trial of visa-free travel will help boost exports.‌

China is already one of Italy's top-10 export markets: Before the pandemic 50,000 bottles were sent there each year. But the easing of paperwork will help to grease the wheels of global business. 

The Mazzei family has been in the winemaking trade in the heart of Tuscany's Chianti Classico region since 1435, becoming a brand synonymous with Made in Italy excellence.‌ Giovanni Mazzei, a ‌25th-generation winemaker, says that while China can be a difficult market to penetrate, it has enormous potential.‌

"We invest a lot in the market," he tells CGTN. "I used to live in Asia, in Hong Kong, and I started developing China myself. So, I think the fact that we're spending more time there really helps us to understand Chinese culture."

Watch the video above to see CGTN's Hermione Kitson meet the Mazzei family. 


Hungarians embrace increased opportunities


For Hungarians like David Panajoth, China's new visa-free entry program as a gateway to personal and professional opportunities.‌ Panajoth found success in China's entertainment industry, starring in movies and China’s version of The Bachelor

"I got so much from China, from the Chinese people, all the opportunities," he tells CGTN. "Chinese people love to give opportunities to foreign people."‌

After finding success on screen, Panajoth teamed up with local partners to open a modeling agency. He operates the business from Hungary but is excited about returning to China, thanks to the new China-visa free travel program.‌

Travel expert Viktor Vereb notes the 13 weekly flights from Budapest to China: "We are connected to four destinations in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Ningbo. Beijing and Shanghai were there before the pandemic.”‌

This enhanced connectivity opens new avenues for cultural exchange, business opportunities, and mutual understanding.‌

Watch the video above for more from CGTN's Pablo Guttierez.


Chinese tourist destinations now accepting foreign bank cards


The Chinese State Council has approved guidelines on payment services for foreign visitors as part of the visa-free scheme. 

Recently, the people's Bank of China, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism and other the departments have asked national and provincial tourist resorts to ensure foreign bank cards are accepted.

Alongside that major tourist attractions are being asked to ensure staffed-ticket desks are available that support cash payments.

Zhou Yang from the Temple of Heaven tourist destination told CGTN all ticket offices will accept foreign banks cards and an english version of the WeChat payment app has been launched so visitors can buy tickets online.

"We have seen a huge increase in the number of foreign visitors this year. From January to March, near 90,000 foreign visitors have come to the Temple of Heaven. That is a year-on-year increase of over 1,000 percent," Zhou said.

Watch the video above for more from CGTN's You Yang.


China-Serbia Visa-Free Travel Strengthens Tourism Ties


Since the establishment of a visa-free travel agreement in 2017, Serbia has become a favored destination for Chinese tourists. Direct flights connecting Chinese cities to Belgrade have contributed to the surge in travel convenience.

Upon arrival, visitors are greeted with Serbian hospitality and the sight of both nations' flags, signaling the close bilateral ties. The appeal of Serbian cuisine and landmarks enriches tourists' experiences. 

This flourishing tourism trend underscores the robust relationship between China and Serbia, evident in Belgrade's bustling streets. 

Watch the video above for more from CGTN's Yang Chengxi

Flying free: How China's visa-free entry is impacting Europeans

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