On 13 August, the authorities in China informed Belgium that Belgian nationals holding a valid Chinese residence permit (for work, personal reasons or family reunification) can again apply for a Chinese visa free of charge. Apart from Belgium, Chinese borders have now also been re-opened for citizens from 36 other European countries. This is very good news, especially for those Belgians and their families who were stuck in Belgium in the past half year, not able to travel back to their country of work after Chinese New Year. Since March 2020 it was almost impossible for Belgians and other foreigners to travel to China, even if you had a valid visa or residence permit.
Also other circumstances can be permitted, such as (1) Belgians who resume work or production in China and their spouse and minor children, (2) reunification of the spouse and minor children of a Chinese citizen or a person with a Chinese permanent resident identity card and (3) other exceptional events, such as illness or death of a relative. However, for these travelers a letter of invitation issued by the Foreign Affairs Office of the relevant provincial government and proof of family relationship are required.
Despite this positive evolution, the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) nevertheless advises its members to take the necessary precautions before deciding to travel to China in the following weeks or months. Not only are there still many restrictions, additionally it can be quite a challenge to get the necessary paperwork done, before your departure, but also upon your arrival in China it can be quite troublesome.
First, within three days before boarding you need to do a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 at a Belgian qualified institution. This negative COVID-19 certificate has to be sent to the following designated email address email@example.com of the Chinese Embassy in Belgium, together with a scan of your passport and a signed Health Declaration Form.
Subsequently, if approved, the Embassy of China in Belgium will send back by email a scanned copy of the Health Declaration Form with a stamp. When you go to the airport, you are required to take a printed Health Declaration Form with you.
But that is not the end: at the airport Belgian customs will ask a lot of questions about the purpose of your travel to China. The flight to your destination may be redirected to airports in other Chinese cities, such as Xi’an, Chengdu, Changsha, etc. Airplane staff wear protective clothing at all times and no hot meals are served in the airplane for security reasons.
Upon arrival in China you will need to fill out additional documents, most of them only available in the Chinese language. All passengers need to wait to exit the plane before your seat number is called. Everything is very well organized, with friendly staff, but if you are not familiar with traveling to China, it may not be so easy to manage.
Then you will have to take another Covid-19 test and, after going through customs, with again a lot of questions asked, you will need to take a bus to a designated hotel (at your own cost). In this hotel you may be separated from your partner and you will be kept in quarantine behind locked doors for 2 weeks. Temperature checks are to be done 2 times a day and you will receive three Chinese meals. At the end of the quarantine period another Covid-19 test will be done, before you can finally continue the journey to your final destination.
Travelling within China can also be a challenge. It is important to check the local procedures before booking your domestic business travels and follow the instructions from local authorities.
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