My Issues with Chinese Immigration

When I got to Beijing, I had high hopes for the city. I hurried off of the airplane to beat the lines at immigration. All passengers were shuttled into the same queue. After some time, I finally approached the immigration officer. She punched some keys on the computer, looked puzzled, and asked me for my visa. I explained that I was connecting to Singapore and that I did not have a visa.

She instructed me to go to ‘left’ and they would give me boarding passes and a day visa. I walked left and came upon the international transfer desks.

Beijing 24 hour transit
24 hour transit

The agent again looked puzzled. He handed my documents over and instructed me to keep walking to the right. I asked him what to look for since there were no signs.

He stated that the transfer ticket counter was a short walk away. After asking another officer, I finally made it to the transfer desk. There were three agents, but only two were occupied. I approached the agent and was sent to the next station over for the 24 hour visa.

United Airlines provided a yellow landing card but the officer at the visa desk would not take it. She made me fill out a blue card with same information. I finally had a stamp. Whoooooo.

I went back to the international transfer counter and was sent away. Since the United agent in Boston only checked my bag to Beijing, I had to get back in the original immigration line. It had doubled in size.

After about 20 more minutes, I was through immigration. I walked downstairs to catch the train or automated people mover to Terminal 3C to retrieve my bag. I grabbed my bag and got into another long queue. This time it was customs.

I made my way to the front. At this point, I put my bag through a machine and that was it. I was free to exit the sanitized area. The entire process took me 90 minutes. Damn.

I figured that I would be able to catch an Uber or at the very least a taxi into the city.  Beijing’s complimentary WiFi was terrible. I could not access some sites and the ones that I could were very slow. I tried to use my roaming data to access my Uber application but that proved to be fruitless as well.

Finally, I decided to follow the signs to the ‘taxi’ area. Once outside, taxis would drop off passengers, but none would pick anyone up. I was approached by a local and all he said was, ‘taxi’? Yeah sure, I need a taxi, but where is you car? He motioned me to follow him to the other side of the driving lanes. I followed to see where this would lead. It lead to a black, unmarked Nissan Teana.

Nissan Teana
Nissan Teana

I asked for his taxi certificate, to which he presented a business card. Not today, I have seen too many movies and received too many safety briefings for this. I retrieved my bag and returned to the terminal to wait for my flight.

After bumming around in the terminal all day, it was finally time to check in for my flight to Singapore. I dreaded clearing security and immigrations because of the lengthy ordeal earlier in the day.

Airlines used shared counters in Beijing. The Singapore Airlines signage was wheeled out on a cart 10 minutes prior to check in opening (all counters open three prior to scheduled take off). I was the second business class passenger in the queue.

I decided to check my bag because I had been dragging it around the airport all day. There was an acknowledgement sheet (think along the lines of a school attendance roster) that I had to sign saying that I did not have any of the prohibited items. That was definitely a first.

I quickly made my way through the electronic gate with a scan of my boarding pass. I then had to make my way downstairs to catch the train to terminal E. At Terminal E, I cleared immigrations and made my way to the security checkpoint. I removed my laptop and jacket to make it easier when it was my turn to process. Well, that did not work out. The officer asked for my laptop charger to be placed in the bin. He then saw that I had a camera, extra lense, and even more chargers. He said, ‘why didn’t you tell me that you had those items’? My response, because I did not know. He instructed me to put all of the items in a separate bin. Before I could go through the medical detector, another officer motioned me over to the additional search area. I stood on a small box and he proceeded to wand. Then I received a pat down…and then a search of my belt line. My wallet was even run through the machine. You would think that would be the end of it, nope. Another officer asked what I had in my bag. I responded hand cream, change of clothes, etc. He said flatly, ‘take it all out’. I took everything out and put it all in another bin. He put everything through the machine again. A few minutes, the officer came over to say that I could go and to be sure to grab all of my items.

Here is what I learned during this:

1. insist that the agent at your origin check your bags to your destination, even if flying different airlines.
2. If #1 fails, only bring a carry on. This is something that I live by, but I felt that I was saving myself time.
3. Remain calm, getting upset only makes things worse.

This was definitely one of my most frustrating travel experiences.

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