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10 Things You MUST Know about Beijing Layovers

In this article, we list 10 things you need to know about layovers in Beijing Capital International Airport (airport code PEK) that will ease many of your concerns and ensure you make the most of your Beijing stopover.

1. Do I Need a Visa for a Layover in Beijing Airport?

At present, China offers three types of TWOV (Transit Without Visa) policy suited to different passport holders, which will enable you to transit at Beijing Capital International Airport without a travel visa. You can either apply at the airport or apply for one in advance.

All you need are a valid passport, an airplane ticket that displays confirmed seats for your connecting flight, and a completed arrival/departure card, which can be filled out either at the airport or while you're on the airplane. The policies are:

Beijing visa-free policiesBeijing visa-free policies
  • 24-hour visa-free for most countries except the ones listed below: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  • 72-hour visa-free and 144-hour visa-free (6 days) for 53 countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and more. 

So, when does my Beijing visa-free transit period actually start? Your first visa-free hour starts at midnight on the day of your arrival. If you arrive at 5 am local time in Beijing, your visa-free time is activated at midnight on that day, which is 5 hours beforehand.

For more on how to travel in China without a visa, see China Visa Exemptions and China Visa FAQs.

2.Can I Leave Beijing Airport During My Layover?

If you qualify for any of the visa-free policies, you can leave the airport during your transit hours. All you need to do is fill in a Temporary Entry Card at the immigration desk in the airport.

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3. 6 Steps to Leave the Airport During Your Beijing Layover

China Customs in Beijing Capital International AirportChina Customs in Beijing Capital International Airport

If you have a long layover and qualified for one of these visa-free policies, you can plan to leave the airport and explore the city of Beijing (a layover time of 8 hours is needed).

Take advantage of a visa-free policy and visit the magnificent Great Wall of China (a layover time of at least 10 hours is needed).

Step 1. Pass the health/quarantine check. In the rare event of a major international epidemic outbreak or during some special periods, you will be asked to file a health declaration form upon your entry/exit.

Step 2. Pass the immigration inspection. Prepare your passport, your visa (if required), and your departure/arrival card. Before you fly to China, print out the confirmation of your onward flight that takes you out of China.

Step 3. Submit an application to the immigration inspection authority to leave the restricted area. This is a small white and blue form called "Arrival Card for Temporary Entry Foreigners".

Step 4. Claim your luggage. Most Air China airplanes will land at Terminal 3, and there is an APM train to take you from Zone E to Zone C to the baggage claim area.

Step 5. Pass through the China customs inspection and declare your goods. Your luggage has to pass a quarantine and customs inspection.If you have items to declare, please pass through the red lane and fill in the form; if not, just pass through the green lane.

Step 6. Exit the airport!

Please note:

  • The time it takes to pass through immigration and customs is normally 1½ to 2 hours depending on your citizenship and the destination you are flying from/to.
  • Beijing immigration has a separate lane set aside for 24/72/144-hour visa-free stopovers.
  • Make sure you are in the right line as sometimes the lines are long and the signs for each line are not very visible from a distance.
  • If you have booked a layover tour in Beijing and are stuck trying to deal with the visa-free process, you may call your local tour guide who will be waiting for you in the arrival hall and ready to offer any help possible via phone.
  • Having a pen in your pocket is quite handy at this point.

4.If You Do Not Intend to Leave the Airport

In this case, the procedures are similar except there is no need to fill out the temporary entry card. When you have completed the procedures, go straight to the restrictive zone to wait for your next flight.

You will find all sorts of facilities there designed for layover passengers, such as restrooms, charging points, café bars, a smoking room, and a Wi-Fi lounge, etc.

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5.How Far is Beijing Airport to the Great Wall or Beijing City?

First, you need to know that the Great Wall of China is divided into different sections that are located some 70 kilometers north of Beijing city.

Some of them are closer to Beijing, such as the Great Wall at Badaling and the Great Wall at Mutianyu; others, such as the Simatai and Jinshanling sections, are wilder and less touristy although they are located further away.

The former sections take about 1½ hours to drive to from the airport while the latter sections take about 2 to 2½ hours to drive to.

Learn more about which section of the Great Wall is the best one to visit and whether the Badaling or Mutianyu section is better to visit.

Beijing Capital International Airport is located 32 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Beijing's city center. It normally takes about 1 hour to get to the downtown area.

The most comfortable way to travel there is driving in a car rental and there is also an Airport Express operating to the downtown area.

Learn more about how to get to the Great Wall from Beijing and how to get to Beijing City from Beijing airport.

Please note: If you are arriving at the weekend, during Chinese national holidays, or going into the city during the rush hours,the time to get there can be stretched even longer due to the bigger volume of traffic or traffic jams.

6.How to See the Great Wall in a 8–10-Hour Beijing Layover

Great Wall of ChinaGreat Wall of China

If you have a layover of more than 8 hours in Beijing, you have enough time to see the Great Wall.

As the capital city, Beijing has traffic problems like anywhere else in the world, and there is no efficient public bus service that goes to the Great Wall direct from Beijing airport.

Therefore, arrange a layover tour in advance with a private vehicle and an English-speaking guide to save time and any hassle. This is the best way to maximize your Beijing layover time and is quite affordable too.

Below is a simple suggested timeline for visiting the Great Wall during a 10-hour Beijing layover.If you only have 8 hours, the time spent on the Great Wall and for lunch can be shortened slightly to suit your flight schedule:

  • 2 hours: customs and immigration process
  • 1½ hours: drive to the Great Wall at Mutianyu
  • 2 hours: spend this time on the wall; take a cable car to ascend/descend or climb it by foot
  • 1 hour: a quick lunch to taste the local food
  • 1½ hours: drive back to the airport
  • 2 hours: check-in and pass through immigration
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7.How to see Beijing and the Great Wall in a 12-Hour-Plus Beijing Layover

Forbidden CityForbidden City

You can consider adding some city sights into your itinerary, such as the Forbidden City (2–3 hours), when you have a layover of 12 hours or more.

You can also add these optional choices according to your preferences and layover duration: walk through the hutongs to see the Drum and Bell towers (2 hours), visit the Lama Temple (1 hour), or go boating in Beihai Park to relax in the summer (1–2 hours).

Below is a simple suggested timeline for visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City during a 12-hour Beijing layover:

  • 2 hours: customs and immigration process
  • 1½ hours: drive to the Great Wall at Mutianyu
  • 2 hours: spend time on the wall; take a cable car to ascend/descend or climb it by foot
  • 1½ hours: return to the city
  • 1 hour: a quick lunch to taste the local food
  • 2–3 hours: visit Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City
  • 1 hour: drive back to the airport
  • 2 hours: check-in and pass through immigration

Please note:

  • The Great Wall opens from 7:30 am to 5 pm. Therefore, please select your Great Wall tour carefully based on the individual section's opening times.
  • The closing time for the Forbidden City is 5 pm during the peak season and 4:30 pm during the shoulder season. The last entry for tourists is 1 hour before it closes.
  • Both the Forbidden City and the National Museum of China at Tian'anmen Square are closed on Mondays, and you will need your passport to purchase/register for tickets.
  • Beijing's air quality is improving. The Great Wall sections located outside of Beijing's downtown area are not really affected by the city pollution. This means you can relax about the air quality issue and you can expect a bright blue sky during any Great Wall tours on most sunny days.
  • If you arrive in Beijing in winter (December to February), it can be below 0°C and very cold.

Contact us and we can always arrange for your tour guide to bring you a warm jacket and to pick you up at the airport if you want to do more traveling but are not wearing winter clothes. Learn more about Beijing weather.

8. Explore Beijing on Your Own During Beijing Layover

Beijing SubwayBeijing Subway

In this case, going to the Great Wall becomes almost impossible due to taxi arrangements, bargaining, and the language barrier. We have listed a simple 11-hour Beijing layover city sightseeing timeline to help you get a basic idea of what you can do:

  • 2 hours: PEK customs and immigration process
  • 20 minutes: store your luggage at the airport
  • 1 hour 10 minutes: take the Airport Express to Dongzhimen
  • 5 minutes: take Beijing subway Line 2 from Dongzhimen to Jianguomen
  • 5 minutes: take Line 1 from Jianguomen to Tian'anmen East
  • 30–50 minutes: queue for the Forbidden City tickets
  • 30 minutes: queue for Tian'anmen security checks; this takes longer if you arrive on weekends or holidays
  • 1–2 hours: a quick self-guided walk through the Forbidden City
  • 10 minutes: transfer from Line 1 to Line 2
  • 1 hour 10 minutes: take the Airport Express back to PEK
  • 20 minutes: collect your luggage
  • 2 hours: check-in and get ready to board your airplane

You can reduce the time by flagging down taxis both ways as you go to and from the Forbidden City. This will take 50 minutes each way and cost about 150 yuan ($22).

Reasons It Is Not Recommended to Explore on Your Own During a Beijing Layover

Tiananmen Square Beijing Layover TourTiananmen Square Subway Exit
  • 1. Going to the Great Wall during your layover time frame is nearly impossible without an insider's help.
  • 2.Although you can take taxis to the city attractions, the biggest drawback is the potential traffic jams.
  • 3. It is hard to flag a taxi at the Forbidden City, especially when you are desperately trying to get one back to the airport for your onward flight.

This is because the whole area, including Tian'anmen Square, is restricted for parking, so the taxis won't stop unless you can locate the correct place to flag down a taxi from.

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9. What to Do in Less than 8 Hours Beijing Layover 

The first and last 2 hours will be spent dealing with customs and immigration, so you only actually have to kill about 4 hours.

Freshen up: Terminal 3's E Gate has a few free showers that are tucked away in the shopping area. These facilities are convenient and free.

Get some sleep: T3 is recommended to stretch out for a short period of time as it is the most recently built terminal with a larger space and better facilities. You can also go to sleep in one of the capsules or head to the airport business lounges for some rest - an hourly rate is charged for these.

Activity rooms for kids are available if you are traveling with children. They are located at all the terminals and offer toys, games, and cartoons. Comfortable nursing rooms are provided for mothers and kids too.

Get Wi-Fi at the cafés and surf online.

Useful Information about Beijing and Beijing Capital International Airport

10.Can I Sleep in Beijing Airport? Yes


You can sleep in Beijing airport in many ways. There are sleeping capsules and the airlines' business lounges in T3, which are charged at an hourly rate, and hotels for all budgets near PEK for some proper rest.

You don't have to fly first class to enjoy an airline lounge. Many of them are accessible to all travelers.

You can book a single-visit pass online in advance or become a member of some airlines to gain access to several lounges' services - most of them will have shower facilities as well.

Some major airline brands in China, such as Air China, China Southern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines, have comfortable business or VIP lounges located in PEK.

Recommended hotels near PEK:

  • The Hilton (5 stars) near Beijing Capital International Airport provides a free shuttle service that runs every 20 minutes - this hotel is always a classic choice.
  • The CITIC Hotel Beijing Airport (4-star), which has earned quite a good reputation among our customers, is also a nice option. Learn more about the 11 best areas to stay in Beijing.
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Customize a Worry-Free Beijing Layover Tour to Suit your Flight Schedules

Great Wall Layover TourGreat Wall Layover Tour

You can choose the time we pick you up/see you off at the airport and your preferred destination, whether it's the stunning Great Wall or the magnificent Forbidden City. Discover Beijing your way!

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We provide a tailor-made tour to suit your flight schedules to present you with a worry-free and unforgettable Beijing layover experience.

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