Transit at Shanghai (PVG): I Signed Up for It, But I Probably Would Not Do It Again

After 14 hours flying over the Pacific, my American Airlines flight arrived in Shanghai around 4 in the afternoon. I love a long haul flight — Long enough for me to eat and sleep, unlike those transatlantic flights. But morning departure out of Los Angeles feels a bit odd for me because I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep on the flight.

Transiting at this airport wasn’t that straightforward because it doesn’t have a proper airside transit area for connecting passengers, without formally entering China. However, China allows certain nationalities to transit without a visa (TWOV) as long as they hold a confirmed onward ticket to the third country within a specific window. In my case, I was allowed to transit without obtaining any visa in advance for up to 24 hours.

Instead of remaining in the transit (sterile) area, I had to clear the passport control — practically entering China. The instruction was unclear, and here is my experience:

  • The sign says I need to get my fingerprints taken if I intended to enter China. Since I was a transit passenger, and the agent told me that fingerprinting wasn’t necessary for my case.
  • I then queued up to clear passport control. Meanwhile, I asked another agent for clarification, and he told me to go back to the transit hall to look for a transfer desk. But I was already checked-in for my next flight and had the boarding pass for my connecting flight in hand.
  • When I finally reached the transit desk, it took a while until a staff to show up. But then the staff told me to go back to immigration and proceed. I started to get annoyed.
  • Before queuing the immigration line again, I stopped by the fingerprint kiosks to reconfirm that I really don’t need my fingerprints taken. A different agent told me it wasn’t necessary since I was only transiting. So I queued up again for a good 30 minutes.
  • Finally, when it was my turn, the immigration officer told me I was on the wrong line. The transit-only line is located at the end of the immigration hall. Well, it was contrary to what the sign says.
  • As instructed, I walked over to the transit-only line — I hoped I was right this time. I then asked a person behind me if I really needed to get my fingerprints taken. She said yes, and of course, I had to go back and get my fingerprints taken. At this point, I was super annoyed.

I eventually got through immigration nearly two hours after I arrived.

PS: The officer wasn’t convinced that I was a legit transit passenger. She flipped my passport pages back and forth for quite some time. She even asked her colleague to take a second look. After a while, they finally stamped my passport and let me in. I guess it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time when your passport is full of stamps from exotic places.

Conclusion

I’ve been to China before, and I had an unpleasant experience at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). My mom and I arrived 3 hours before our flight, and we were among the first passengers to check-in. That said, We reached the gate right when the boarding process commenced.

I had a second thought about transiting in Shanghai. But it was the only option where I could confirm my upgrade at the time of booking, which was pretty much a price I had to pay. I expected my experience wouldn’t be far off from my previous visit to China, and this time was no exception. I learned my lesson.

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