Make the Most of Your Layovers

When booking my return flight from Japan I had to choose between a 3-hour layover or a 22-hour layover in Beijing.  I had never been to Beijing and I really wanted to see the Great Wall and Forbidden City.  So – I chose the 22-hour layover.  Just like that, a whole new country for free! 

Before the layover I had to do my research on Chinas laws regarding visas and entry into their country. I found you must get a visa free permit if you plan on leaving the airport and coming back.  I will list the steps to get that document below.  While researching, I also found that there are tons of companies who specialize in layover tours. My original plan was to navigate on my own but since my destinations were at least an hour out from the airport, I felt safer doing a tour. I ended up choosing Beijing Layover Tour and did a private tour of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square.


It was a bit pricey at $240 however, I didn’t have to worry about safety or getting back to the airport, especially since I was by myself.  Plus, I had my own guide who explained the history of the sights we visited which was important to me.  Since I didn’t book a separate flight to Beijing or purchase any accommodations – I figured I’d splurge on the tour.  

My flight landed in Beijing in the evening and I slept on a Starbucks couch in the airport until morning.  My tour guide picked me up at 7am and we hit all our destinations and made it back to the airport by 4:30pm.  Their company is great because you can customize your tours. There’s also group options that are cheaper ($90) but most only go to the Great Wall and back. 

I felt way safer booking a tour through them then anyone at the airport. The tour company told me there are many illegal drivers at the airport who might lie and say they’re with a professional company.  They gave specific instructions so that I knew which guide was legit. They also gave instructions on how to receive the visa free permit which I’ll detail below. Beijing Layover Tour was very thorough, and I enjoyed my day in Beijing! 

If you can choose a long layover – make the most of it! 


Steps to receive visa free permit in Beijing: 

  1. When getting off plane, follow signs for “Exit, baggage claim” (do not pass through the inspection line yet) and keep walking until you see a desk that says “24/144-hour International Transfer (Apply for Leaving Airport).”  It is across from boarding gate E11
  2. Fill out the “Arrival Card for Temporary Entry Foreigners” and obtain the “visa-free permit stamp.” 
  3. After you get the stamp, turn left and walk through the “China Inspection and Quarantine” portion in the “Foreigners” line to get through immigration. 

  4. Take the escalator down and get on the train to take you to T3C

  5. You can hang out here if you’re waiting overnight or this is where you’ll catch a ride