How to Travel to China During the COVID Pandemic

airport during covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly brought the travel world to its knees this year yet you’ll be surprised to know many foreign teachers are successfully returning to their classrooms in China right now.

The second wave of infections in both Europe and North America is having an effect on China’s arrival requirements, however, so you must keep up to date with travel restrictions!

What happened to foreign teachers when the pandemic hit China?

Like every country the world over, China saw a split between expats who hurried back home and those who decided to bunker down and wait it out. The latter included those who willingly took the long-lockdown-road in China and those who simply waited too long and found it too difficult and expensive to leave.

China did remarkably well during the pandemic: it came down hard and fast with restrictions, immediately. It was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first country to effectively reopen, at least domestically.

As life started to return to our new normal, schools reopened and classrooms filled up but, unsurprisingly, there were fewer foreign ESL teachers available.

What does this mean, for potential ESL teachers?

A consequence of this year’s colossal mess is that China is currently going through a tremendous surge in ESL teacher-recruitments. The country is, quite literally, desperate for new foreign teachers given the fact that many of those who did leave simply have not come back, for various reasons.

High numbers have turned to online teaching from their home country and others simply took on teaching contracts closer to home. You know, just to be safe and make a shorter/faster/cheaper U-turn in case of this foreseen second-wave of infections.

So, that now leaves China with a seemingly insatiable need for new ESL teachers. That means higher salaries than usual and better and more enticing packages, overall. We don’t expect the trend to continue forever but hey, if you’ve been thinking of heading to China to teach English, now is the perfect time to make the move.

Who can return to China during the pandemic?

The list of allowed flight is ever-changing in China, right now. At the time of writing, for example, UK flights are banned although we imagine these restrictions will ebb and flow as winter progresses in the northern hemisphere.

Do note that these restrictions apply to countries where the flight originates, not the passport you’re holding. If you’re British but living in Germany and want to fly to China from Germany, then you need to check the eligibility of flights from Germany. Be informed!

How to travel to China during the pandemic

The current pandemic crisis will not be over any time soon (regardless of exciting vaccine prospects) especially not throughout the whole world. This means the current pandemic will dictate the way you travel to China for the foreseeable future.

For now, 3 main factors determine if and how you can travel to China:

  1. Your passport
  2. Your country of departure
  3. Where, in China, you will land

Your nationality is the #1 thing to take into consideration, even though we know so many ESL teachers are currently living outside their home country. And that’s where #2 comes in.

As for #3, note that there can be huge requirement differences among Chinese provinces. The country is massive, and varied, and not every province has ridden the pandemic wave in the same way. For inbound travelers, some are simply stricter than others.

Yet they all share commonalities and it’s these standard procedures that we’ll focus on. For more detailed info, you need to research requirements for your specific entry point, both province AND city.

Here’s a general step-by-step overview of how you can travel to China during this pandemic:

  1. Apply for a one-time special entry China visa (do this your recognized China Visa Centre or ask your nearest Chinese Consulate for details. This visa is only valid for 90 days)
  1. Book your one-way flight (make sure the flight is pre-approved by the Chinese authorities. Contact the airline and find out! For reasons which become clear at #4 make sure you book a flight for a Wed/Thurs and Fri only) China Airlines has a pretty handy page that’s constantly updated.
  1. Fill in and submit your Health Declaration Form (downloadable from every Chinese Consulate website, the world over. But here it is, you’re welcome!)
  1. Take a NAT COVID test no more than 2 days before travelling (the test result cannot be more than 48 hours old when you board your flight. Check with your nearest Chinese Consulate, they’ll have a list of acceptable testing places near you. This is why you want to ensure you fly on the above days – do all this during working days!)
  1. Want to make a stop-over on your way to China? Then you’ll need to take YET ANOTHER COVID-19 test in your transit country too Europe’s major air hubs are already coming to the party and setting up ‘same day’ testing services in their airports so it should be relatively easy to have this done. Note this is only needed if it’s a bonafide stop-over and you leave the airport. You do not need to do this just transiting through an airport on the way!
  1. As you check in to your flight TO China, get a QR Code (this is an ‘acceptance’ code issued by the Chinese Government and something you get at the check-in counter. Note that if you are making a stopover (say, in Frankfurt) then that’s where you’ll need to get the code.
  1. On arrival in China, follow local arrival protocols (this is all laid-out for you as you land, don’t worry)
  1. Show your QR Code at customs
  1. Undergo another COVID-19 test at the airport (which now include a blood test as well as swab)
  1. Once you’re processed through, you’ll be transferred to your quarantine hotel (where you will have to stay put for 14 days)
  1. IF you DON’T hear from the authorities (it means your tests are negative and you praise the gods and complete your quarantine for 2 weeks)
  1. IF you DO hear from the authorities (it means you’ve tested positive and you’ll be moved to a health monitoring facility)**

** Here’s the deal: if you do test positive, you will be kept at a medical facility until you test negative and then your 14-day quarantine will restart. ANYONE flying with you (and even the poor passengers who were seated close to you) will have their quarantine EXTENDED.

Yes, this means YOU can have your quarantine extended if someone in your vicinity, on the plane, ended up testing positive.

Chinese centralized quarantine is not very standardized at all. Some people report being put up in luxury hotels that allow all manner of outside deliveries (from food to games and shopping) whilst others are in less-desirable hotels with no services whatsoever, apart from three mediocre meals a day. It really is the luck of the draw! You do not have a choice as to where you end up.

A heads-up for married couples: have a certified copy of your marriage certificate with you and show it at the hotel check-in. This has proven to be effective at being allowed to share one hotel room, as a couple.

Families with children: it’s ALWAYS worth pleading to be allowed to share one larger hotel room but, technically, anyone over the age of 14 should get their own, and kids <14 get to choose which parent to quarantine with. If you have a baby or toddler, though, you’ll be more likely to be allowed to quarantine all together.

One thing that is certain is that you will have pay for your quarantine in China. Fees range between USD 50 and USD 100 per person, per night.

How to prepare for your flight to China

Forget online check-in and be at the airport at least 3 hours prior to flying. You’ll probably have health procedures to undergo, like having your temperature tested

  • Find out if services are restricted and pack as needed (snacks, pillows etc)
  • Pack spare masks (wear one, always) and hand-sanitizing gel
  • Be super patient if everything takes a little longer. Mind you, airports are quieter than they’ve been for a while…
  • Have all your documents ready to be checked (write down the main info on one piece of paper, you’ll be filling in various forms, all asking the same thing – your passport number, QR code, flight number etc)
  • Don’t stress! Airports are staffed by knowledgeable and helpful people; you’ll be just fine!
  • Once your quarantine period is completed, you will be retested (argh!) and, if all is good, given a release letter. This is the letter that will allow you to get back to your city of residence (wherever that may be), book flights, work, rent an apartment and pretty much get on with your life in China.

At China by Teaching, we’re in the business of matching the qualified ESL teachers with their ideal teaching job in China. Our Complete Guide to Teaching in China offers a comprehensive overview of all you need to know about moving to and experiencing this exciting teaching destination.