China Flights: A Guide for Foreign Visitors on Flying to and Within China


As global travel continues to evolve, China, with its unique cultural charm and rapidly expanding modern cities, has become an increasingly popular destination for foreign visitors. For those planning to step onto this ancient yet vibrant land for the first time, “China Flights” is not just a journey across borders but also a gateway to exploring the endless possibilities within China. This guide aims to provide you with a detailed strategy for your aerial journey to and within China, helping you from the preparation phase to every step after landing, ensuring a smooth and convenient experience.

Whether you dream of traversing the historical flow of ancient empires or experiencing the pulse of modern civilization in bustling cities, understanding how to navigate “China Flights” will fill your journey to China with confidence and anticipation. China’s extensive aviation network closely connects countless beautiful landscapes and cultural heritages both domestically and internationally. From the mysterious Dunhuang Mogao Caves to the modern Bund in Shanghai, from the magnificent Great Wall to the enchanting ancient town of Lijiang, China awaits your discovery.

China Flights: The International Flight Boarding Process

According to the “Notice on Further Implementation of Real-Name Management Work for Foreigners Taking Domestic Transportation Tools” (Guo Yi Fa [2022] No. 4) issued by the People’s Republic of China, all civil aviation passenger flights within China implement real-name management. Passengers must provide valid identity documents (ID) when purchasing flight tickets and checking in. They are required to cooperate with information collection and registration and accept real-name verification.

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Essential Documentation for Foreign Travelers on China Flights:

  • Passports, diplomatic identity cards issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for diplomatic staff in China, and foreigner’s permanent residence cards.
  • Foreign nationals without the aforementioned documents can use the foreigner’s entry and exit permit. Foreign nationals undergoing document replacement due to expiration, loss, or damage should hold the acceptance receipt of foreign visa documents issued by the Public Security Bureau’s entry-exit administration departments, a passport loss report, or a temporary international travel document issued by consulates of their respective countries in China (with a valid visa or stay permit issued by entry-exit administration departments).

Detailed Overview for China Flights: Required Steps for Foreign Passengers:

  1. If you are a foreigner visiting Mainland China for the first time:
    • Customs Inspection: Passengers with items to declare should go through the red channel for further customs inspection; otherwise, please use the green channel.
    • Luggage Check-in and Boarding Pass Issuance: With your ticket and valid ID, passengers can check in and check luggage at designated counters and receive boarding passes. Keep your passport, visa, and travel documents on you, not in checked luggage.
    • Border Inspection: Ensure your departure card is filled out (not required for Chinese passengers) and submit it along with your passport and visa for inspection.
    • Security Check: For flight safety, passengers and carry-on luggage must undergo a security check.
  2. About Transfers: China Flights

Airlines generally provide transfer services at transit airports, categorized as domestic-to-domestic, domestic-to-international, international-to-domestic, and international-to-international transfers.

  • Domestic-to-Domestic: Passengers with through check-in or baggage consignment do not need to retrieve checked luggage.
  • Domestic-to-International/International-to-Domestic: Must go through border exit, customs declaration, and inspection procedures. Even with through check-in or baggage consignment, passengers need to retrieve and recheck luggage.
  • International-to-International: Passengers must complete border transit procedures but do not need to go through customs declaration and inspection. No need to retrieve checked luggage for through check-in or baggage consignment.
  1. Ticket Changes

For changes due to personal reasons, such as flight, date, or class, a ticket change can be requested, subject to a change fee and fare difference. Note that some promotional tickets may not allow voluntary changes. For changes due to flight cancellation, delay, or overbooking not caused by passengers:

  • If changes are made not due to the airline’s fault, the airline or its agent should process according to applicable transportation terms and ticket usage conditions.
  • If changes are due to the airline’s fault, the airline or its agent should arrange rebooking or endorsement (changing airlines) without charging a change fee, given available seats or consent from the transferring airline.
  1. Refunds

For refunds requested for personal reasons, a cancellation fee may apply, and some promotional tickets may only refund aviation development funds and taxes.

For refunds due to flight cancellation, delay, or overbooking not caused by passengers, the airline or its agent should not charge a cancellation fee.

Refunds are generally processed within seven working days from the application date.

  1. Can foreigners use a permanent residence ID to purchase flight tickets?

A foreigner’s permanent residence ID is equivalent to a valid ID in China, granting the same rights as Chinese citizens, including purchasing flight tickets, train tickets, and hotel check-ins. It also allows handling financial and insurance services in China, with unrestricted domestic residence.

However, there are cases where a permanent residence ID cannot be used to purchase flight tickets, such as when the ID is detained, expired, invalid, or when the planned destination country restricts Chinese citizens’ entry.

  1. For foreign passengers on international flights, after arriving at the destination, besides retrieving luggage, they must go through border, customs, and other inspections as required.
  2. Do foreigners get discounts on plane tickets in China?

Currently, all Chinese airlines offer consistent refund policies to all customers, provided correct customer identity information is given. Regardless of the ticket type—full fare, discounted, or promotional—airlines treat all passengers equally, whether they are domestic or international.


  • Foreign passengers purchasing international flight tickets should check the validity of their passports and visas in advance to ensure they meet the destination’s requirements, avoiding unnecessary travel complications.

China Flights: Flying Within Mainland China

Once you’ve arrived in Mainland China and are well-rested, you might consider flying to other cities. Don’t forget to download the key apps for this purpose: Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.

Preparing for Boarding as a Visitor to China:

  1. Prepare Valid Identification Before Your Flight

Before heading to a Chinese airport, make sure to carry all necessary documents to avoid any mishaps. Foreigners need to carry a valid passport, seaman’s book, or permanent residence permit. The identity information used when purchasing the ticket should match the passport. For domestic flights, just carrying a passport and visa should suffice for ticket collection and boarding.

  1. Foreigners Should Arrive at the Airport Early

The process of taking a flight in China can be complex, involving multiple security checks, luggage check-ins, etc., especially during peak times when each step may involve waiting in line. To avoid delays, it’s generally advised to arrive at the city airport 2-3 hours in advance.

Foreigners Checking In:

  1. Collecting Your Boarding Pass

Many foreign friends think boarding a plane is as simple as boarding a train with just a ticket; however, this is not the case. A boarding pass is needed to board a plane. After arriving at the airport, first head to the airline’s counter with your ID to process the boarding pass.

The boarding pass is a critical document for flying, containing important information such as name, flight number, boarding date, gate location, boarding time, seat number, class, origin, and destination.


  • Boarding gates close 10 minutes (or 15 minutes, depending on the airline) before the flight’s departure. This means that passengers must board the plane within the specified time listed on the boarding pass to ensure a smooth journey.
  1. Checking Luggage (If Necessary)

At this point, you may opt for luggage check-in. Most airlines allow carry-on for luggage sizes up to 20 inches; anything larger needs to be checked in. However, some airlines have specific size requirements for carry-on, so it’s important to check luggage requirements when purchasing tickets.

  1. Security Check

After processing your boarding pass and luggage check-in, head to the security checkpoint indicated on your boarding pass. Present the passenger copy of the ticket, boarding pass, and ID to the security officer. Upon clearance, the officer will stamp your boarding pass.

  1. Waiting and Boarding

After security, proceed to the waiting area near your boarding gate. Waiting areas usually have screens displaying flight and boarding times, along with boarding announcements.

Upon boarding, locate your seat as indicated on the boarding pass, store your luggage in the overhead bin, and call for assistance if needed.

  1. Arrival

For foreign passengers on domestic flights, head directly to the luggage claim area upon landing to retrieve checked baggage, ensuring to match the flight number with the corresponding luggage carousel or area.

Given the variations in airport facilities and procedures, the cut-off time for check-in varies. Passengers are encouraged to inquire with airlines or airports ahead of time to avoid missing their flights.


  • According to the “Civil Aviation Security Check Rules,” passengers taking domestic flights and handling ticket purchase, check-in, and security procedures must use the same valid identity document. It’s crucial to verify and confirm the accuracy of the provided document at the time of purchase. Always carry the document used for ticket purchase to complete check-in, security, and boarding procedures smoothly, preventing any issues with mismatched ticket and ID information.


As we conclude our guide on navigating China flights, GWBMA is committed to offering further assistance to foreign business clients, whether it’s your first visit or you are looking to optimize your business travel in China. We understand the unique challenges foreign business travelers face and pledge to provide personalized solutions to meet your specific needs.

GWBMA is your trusted partner for planning your business ventures in China. Welcome to China, and let GWBMA guide you towards a successful and memorable business journey.

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