China Trip Spring 2023 – logistics

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(Update 04-28-2023) Please note the airlines no longer ask/need #COVID #testing from April 29: 4月29日起飞往中国不再需要核酸检测,自测抗原即可。登机前航空公司不再查验检测证明,只需海关健康申报二维码。source: #flychina || This is good news 🙂

(Original) I have a twitter thread here, and quite a few YouTube shorts or videos on this trip (hashtag: #ChinaTrip2023).

But I think it’s probably worth an article or two for me to put down the life cycle of the trip, from planning, buying the tickets, to execution (the trip itself, flights, transfers, and entering/leaving borders etc.), as those tips may be helpful for overseas Chinese or some other international friends to visit China. I think it maybe helpful for me to refresh my memory too, for example, today at #STL I forgot where should I wait for #Lyft or Uber: the Lyft app itself says where, btw. I had to admit that I haven’t flew for a while: I believe my last trip via STL is the PVG trip before pandemic (Nov/Dec 2019). Another example, related matter, I forgot the allowance of luggage is one, and I have to pay either 10,000 miles (Delta Skymiles) or $100 (United Airlines) for the 2nd luggage.

Air Tickets

I bought mine at on Jan 29, 2023. Other good place to buy/check ticket is I flew from my city to DTW, waited for 12+ hours, and from there flew to PVG (direct, no more stop at Korea/Seoul Incheon (ICN) ). On the way back, I took UA 858 that’s PVG to SFO, and later transferred at ORD(a redeye flight from SFO to ORD), before coming home. There was some hiccup in terms of changes and posting the miles to the frequent flyer miles. I believe after I booked the United Airlines Mar 29 flight from PVG to SFO, United likely added number of flight per week, thus making the Mar 29 departure flight no longer available. That’s why I moved to Mar 30 departure date, and have the SFO to ORD redeye flight. The change process in the United Airlines website was relatively smooth. Another small issue was it was long time ago that I bought air ticket on, and unfortunately I still had the old United frequent flyer number on Expedia, as you may know United adopted the Continental frequent flyer number post merger (which I have in my United account). Long story short, as of now, we can claim the miles via this web page. The miles were posted for me immediately after I submit the form 🙂 Update 04-10-2023 NYTimes has an article explains the air ticket shortage situation – China Has Reopened to Tourists. The Hard Part Is Getting There.

Get a China SIM card

(04-04-2023) I am reporting back: this card is decent. It worked on my iPhone 5 (initially I put the new sim card in this old phone), after I turned it off and back on when the airplane just landed. I quickly swap it into my iPhone 12 on the subway (Metro line 2 from PVG to SHA, and I stayed at hotel near SHA, Hongqiao Hub). A student with Tufts U was able to make call to her dad as her sim card was expired. This card is called 蜗牛移动 4G in China (a resller of China Unicom 中国联通). I am guessing it’s small reseller: the idea here is similar to MintMobile vs T-Mobile in the US (mintMobile is a reseller of T-mobile). There was one glitch when I was trying to get 随申码(英语:Shanghai QR Code) at SJTU Minghang campus. The guard said probably my internet on the phone was too slow. It took me quote a few tries to get it work. There are one glitch: no caller ID (and I don’t know how to fix it). Another tip is don’t worry about the “warning message” in Chinese regarding data usage. It will ask one to 充值,I did not read the descriptions on Amazon. But I just trust the title or subject that says 30 days 3G data. So I just ignore the periodically message asking me to refill. As I don’t see the internet stop working after the “data used up” message.

Amazon associate link for the China Unicom 中国联通 sim 30 day card

Mandatory paperwork to enter China

Mainly we need the PCR test and also the health code (2D or QR code, commonly called 海关指尖码 in Chinese) via WeChat mini-program called “Customs Pocket Declaration“ or in Chinese: 海关旅客指尖服务. In order to fill out the form, one will need the flight number and seat number. This code has a an expiration time, but can be updated. Again make sure you have a smart phone and ideally the phone can get to Internet via cellular data, because WiFi sometimes is not very reliable at airports, and you don’t have to make this your weakest link for your carefully planned trip to see “long time no see” family and friends.  

Check in at my local airport and get boarding pass at DTW

My local airport agent asked for all the paperwork, but she still has trouble check in my luggages all the way to PVG. Her senior colleague (who looks like a Japanese descent) was able to fix. I also tried to get boarding pass for DL389 at the Delta Helpdesk: it was a fun experience for the two agents there as they don’t usually do that job. It’s usually the DTW DL389 (DTW to PVG) gate agent’s job. The latter gate agent talks a lot about the PCR tests and the health code before departure. They actually check all the relevant documents including the PCR test, before put a “checked” sticker on the passport. The boarding identity verification is done by facial recognition, btw, which surprised a senior Chinese citizen a bit. More on facial recognization latter.

Entering China

Show the QR code the 海关指尖码, then proceed to border agent. After that it seems pretty smooth, and I only saw the customs people check a (I assume) service dog.

Leaving China

Boarding pass plane open at 4:30 pm for UA 858 for 9:05 pm departing time. An older gentleman asked my help (borrow my Visa credit card) to pay the $100 extra bag fee (they don’t take cash or Chinese credit card). Note one still need to do a new health code (2D or QR code, aka 海关指尖码) and scan the code when entering the international boarding gate. The United gate agents checked in some carryons free of charge as they worry the overhead bin space is not enough for all the carryons. Similar thing happened to me (my carryon) for my SFO to ORD flight (in my case, once checked in, it goes to final destination without my intervention). So make sure you take out essentials (paperwork, phone, battery park, water bottle etc.) as you will need them for the remaining of the flights/journey.

Re-entering the US

One only need to show green card (for permanent resident), and their camera look at the face, as well as some finger printing scan. The agent who serviced me was not nice though. Note for those hold B and F visa, they will need to show the vaccination records when getting the boarding pass. This is not required for US citizens and GC holders.

Tips for travel in China

Mobile phone with data plan, here is one possibility to get a local number (Amazon Associate Link).

Apps nice to have: WeChat (and WeChat Pay 微信支付) or Alipay 支付宝。#高德地图 (GaoDe Map) for navigation and get #网约车which is similar to Uber/Lyft in the states. I know WeChat and Alipay can get the 网约车too, similar for #滴滴出行。All those apps will need a mobile phone (likely with a Chinese cell phone number) as well as identity verification (not sure how it works for a US passport holder).

Useful links and resources

回国机票价格表和检测规定: (in Chinese).

Also look at 美国-中国 直飞航班专区 section: right now there are direct flights between 6 US cities and mainland China (note the flights are not daily, the most frequent one seems to be the SFO to PVG flights, 5 times a week). The 6 US cities are: LAX (Los Angles), JFK (New York), SEA (Seattle-Tacoma), DTW (Detroit), DFW (Dallas Forworth), and SFO (San Francisco).

If you live in or near those 6 cities, consider yourself lucky. Because the connection time for people from other cities can be long, and number of connections are usually more than compared to 2019: e.g., I usually transfer at ORD Chicago O’here before pandemic because both AA and UA offered daily flights to PVG. In fact, now I recall I took the United Airlines flight last minute in Mar 2007 to see my then girlfriend (now my wife, I have an old blog post dedicated to this). Did you notice anything interesting regarding the blog post’s published date 🙂

What’s next and upcoming

I think I will write up some of my observations and thoughts for my trip as well, e.g., the emergence of EV which is much more than just Tesla here. Or to be more precise, I understand it’s Tesla plus a few more here, such as Polestar, Ford Mach E, Lucid, Rivian and Ford F-150 lightning, but in China, it’s BYD (Build Your Dream) in the leading position, with Tesla following, and followed by Nio/Xiao Peng/Li Xiang (all 3 companies stocks listed in the US, they are $NIO, $XPEV and $LI), as well as many players such as 零跑汽车(Leap Motor, it’s traded in HKSE as HKEX: 09863): their C11 is very impressive, btw, I would trade my Sienna with it in a second. Too bad I live in a country there is really two choices: model 3 and model Y (I hate model X’s funky doors). What I really want is something like Leap Motor’s C11 (small SUV with 600 km which is about 400 miles range 🙂 || Incidentally I came across this article abut China EV industry – China auto show highlights intense electric car competition.

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