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Nov 10th, 2022 by David O Connor

Traveling to China During Covid – What You need to Know

Boarding a flight to China and being met with Staff in Hazmat suits

Updated November 15th. Returning to teach in China is still challenging right now, despite the fact that most of the world has come to terms with a new reality of ‘life + COVID’.

At time of writing, here are the basic steps for returning to China:

  • Take one PCR test 48 hours before departure
  • If negative, apply for a health declaration code (HDC)
  • Present your HDC before departure
  • Fly to China
  • Proceed with quarantine requirements

The good news: there are a bunch of European cities offering direct and non-stop flights to China right now. There are even direct flights from the UK! 

Even better news: PCR Tests in transit are no longer required. Up to November 13th, you needed 24-hour and 48 hours PCR tests in your country of origin and any transiting countries. Now you only need a 48 Hour PCR test before the time of departure of your flight to China. This update is really good news for those who fly from countries where it’s very difficult to get direct flights. 

We’re here to guide you every step of the way.

Here is everything this guide will cover:

1.   PCR testing requirements when catching connecting flights

2.   Getting back to China via a connecting flight – sample test

3.   The finer details – what you need to know

4.   How to get your HDC code to enter China

5.   Getting back to China via Hong Kong  (an alternative option!)

1.   PCR testing requirements when catching connecting flights

For the most part, China is still upholding PCR-test regulations for inbound passengers. Before departing, you must take one PCR test.

*The test must be taken within 48 hours of your departure. If you have two flights (transiting), you only need to take the test at your point of departure.  

Once your (hopefully) negative test result arrives in your inbox, you need to apply for an HDC – health declaration code.

To get the HDC code, you will need to fill in an online form and upload scans (screenshots will do). We will get into more detail about this later.

This is the code that customs want to see upon your arrival in China. The airline will also check this code before you fly as they can get fined for allowing people on board without having this code. The same applies if you don’t have the necessary visa.

Without this code, you won’t be allowed on board the plane or into the country if you make it that far.

(Keep reading as we detail how you go about applying for this code)

Until the change in Policy on November 13th, the PCR testing and getting the subsequent HDC code was an absolute nightmare. The new updates are part of China’s optimized anti-epidemic measure. However, the country is still sticking with to ‘ZERO-COVID’ policy as it relaxes some of the world’s strictest virus control measures. 

Chinese officials in Hazmat suits wait for passengers before they board a bus from Shanghai Airport

2.   Getting back to China via a connecting flight – sample test

In September, I took one for the team headed back to China from Ireland, with my wife and newborn bub in tow. As there are no direct flights from Ireland, I chose to connect via Copenhagen.

This meant:

  • two tests + HDC code application* in Ireland, plus
  • two tests + HDC code application* from the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen.

All within the required timeframes.

Thankfully this has changed and now it’s a much-simplified process. One 48-hour test before you leave and off you go!

3. The finer details – what you need to know

Allowed PCR tests – Up until two months ago, tests could only be carried out in testing centers approved by China OR airport testing centers.

The good news is that rules have relaxed a little in the past month. While testing in pharmacies or chemists wasn’t previously permitted, it seems not to be the case anymore. We got our PCR test through a small pharmacy chain. They did have a legitimate laboratory to send it to and most importantly, sent us a laboratory test report.

The Chinese embassies are aware that the request for the HDC codes is time-dependent. Previously the Chinese embassies were on hand to reply within a couple of hours. Since the timeframes were very tight. With the extended timeframe now 48 hours, you will have adequate time to get a response from the local embassy. Response times are not known at this time, so it makes sense to simply get everything done as quickly as possible. 

Workers in Nazmat suits outside a quarantine hotel in Xian China

4.   How to get your HDC code to enter China

To apply for an HDC code, the one thing that will allow you to board your flight to China, you need to submit your  PCR test results to the local Chinese embassy.

You will need to provide copies (screenshots will do) of:

1: Your passport info page

2: Your China visa page (or residency permit page)

3: Your PCR test result (screenshot these to JPGs as the system won’t allow you to upload PDFs)

4: Your flight itinerary 

Since you need to get an HDC code as soon as your results are in, it might be better to fly midweek to ensure you get a response from the Chinese Embassy promptly. Flying on the weekend may affect this. While Chinese embassies are approving codes over the weekend, I think it’s a safer bet to be asking for them during a normal working week.

Oh, and book a late-night flight if possible: those extra daylight hours will be invaluable to getting everything done.

The code is usually released quickly – within a couple of hours of the application. Just go back to the same link to download yours. If you’re transiting through another country, you will likely not be asked for it on your first flight but certainly on the last (connecting) flight into China.

5. Getting back to China via Hong Kong

Hong Kong has traditionally been a very popular transit city for many teachers returning to China.

This used to be the cheapest and easiest option. While given the latest events, this is no longer the case anymore the case anymore.  The sheer increase in the number of flights means a price drop for many destinations in mainland China. Coupling with the new PCR test requirement means many will be looking for a more direct route.

Nonetheless, let’s look at how you can travel to Hong Kong with the aim of transiting through to Mainland China.

Inbound passengers are not required to undergo official PCR tests or quarantine when arriving in Hong Kong.

What Hong Kong does require is a 3-day stint of what they call ‘Amber Code Restrictions protocol’, which is a breeze to follow.

If you are planning to get back to China Hong Kong, then here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need to do:

  1. Book your flight to Hong Kong
  2. Arrange for at least three days (4 nights) accomadation in Hong Kong, wherever you like
  3. Take a rapid antigen test within 24hrs before boarding your flight – this does not have to be an official test. A home self-test will do. HOWEVER I you want to err on the side of caution, some travellers have decided to do an official PCR/RAT test with documentation.
  4. Once you have your negative test result, go to this official website and fill in your inbound and quarantine declaration form – you will then receive your Green Health Declaration QR Code
  5. Keep your QR code – this can be printed, downloaded or screenshot
  6. Present your QR code upon boarding your flight to Hong Kong
  7. Present your QR code again upon arriving in Hong Kong
  8. Once you’ve cleared customs, go to a Test & Go booth at Hong Kong International Airport and undergo a COVID test. You do not need to wait for the test result
  9. Take a taxi or public transport to your pre-arranged accommodation
  10. On days 2 or 3 (with day 0 being your arrival day), go to your nearest official community testing centre for a nucleic test. As above, the tests need to be less than 48 hours before your departure flight to China. 

*Please note that all foreign residents will still need to present their recognised COVID vaccination certificate upon arrival in Hong Kong. If you are on your way back to China, a screenshot of your local health code with immunisation history will do.

*You must spend at least three full days in Hong Kong before leaving for the mainland.

You can read more about Hong Kong’s entry requirements, right here


Amber Code Restrictions:

Under the new and simplified protocol, Hong Kong requires all inbound passengers to undergo three days of ‘partial restrictions’ – this means you must keep away from high-risk activities and places that require key protection (masks and distance) but you can go on about your daily business of taking public transport and shopping.

Doesn’t sound too painful, right?

6. Getting into China from Hong Kong

Once your delightful stay in Hong Kong is over, you can either fly to China or cross the land border at Shenzhen.

Flying into China from Hong Kong

All passengers flying to mainland China from Hong Kong are required to undergo a PCR test at the airport within 8 hours before flying. Here’s where you can book your test slot. The test is free of charge.

There are two further requirements:

  • If you’re flying to Beijing, from Hong Kong, you are required to take one additional CPR test at an approved facility within 7 days before boarding. That means you must take two tests if flying to Beijing!
  • If you’re flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai, Nanjing or Chongqing, you’ll be required to undergo an additional CPR test within 48hrs before boarding, at one of the same approved facilities linked above. Yes, this means you must take two tests: one 48hrs and one 8hrs before departure.

Top Tip: When booking direct flights, don’t book with Travel booking websites like TRIP or Skyscanner as many flights cannot be booked this way. Instead, go directly to ‘Air China’, ‘Cathy Pacific’, etc, to find more options.

Crossing at the land border in Shenzhen

Hong Kong has set up special testing centres for those wishing to cross into mainland China. This PDF document details the step-by-step procedure for getting into China at this busy border. It’s quite the ordeal and a process that’s likely to take the whole day. Fine if Shenzhen is your intended destination but, to save yourself the hassle, it’ll be much easier to fly directly to your city from Hong Kong.

Once in China, all inbound passengers are required to undergo one week of quarantine at a government-designated facility + 3 days of self-monitoring/home quarantining. This last 3-day stint will be dictated by your city officials.

Are you trying to return to China, right now?

Let us know in the comments if we’ve forgotten an important detail!

Some Useful Websites

Buy bus tickets to Zhuhai


Lottery system to cross to Shenzhen


Book a RAT test at Shenzhen Bay


Green Code


Black Code…


Blue Code https://cobnut-g02iceqn.pai.tcloudbas…

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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