The U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for citizens traveling to China starting in 2019 and continuing into 2020. The message was simple: exercise increased caution as you plan your trip to China. But what exactly does a travel advisory mean, and how could it affect your scheduled trip to China? Let me share with you a few thoughts.
Travel Advisory 2020 Update
Due to recent events, this China travel advisory has been increased to Level 4. Instead of updating this entire article, I recommend you read this update on China travel due to the coronavirus.
First of all, it should be noted that travel advisories are a dime-a-dozen. They’re issued all the time and the U.S. State Department lists literally hundreds of them on their travel advisories page.
But what about a “Level 2”? Isn’t that serious?
Let’s start by examining how the U.S. State Department breaks down their travel advisories:
- Level 1 Advisory: Exercise Normal Precautions
- Level 2 Advisory: Exercise Increased Caution
- Level 3 Advisory: Reconsider Travel
- Level 4 Advisory: Do Not Travel
While we should certainly take notice of this new China travel advisory, you might be surprised to learn that the level 2 travel advisory isn’t uncommon. Other countries that hold this status include:
- The United Kingdom
I doubt travel to any of these countries would be particularly dangerous for travelers, would you?
So that leaves us with one question I want to discuss today:
What is happening in China right now that warrants a Level 2 Travel Advisory and should I still continue with my travel plans?
What Does the China Travel Advisory Mean?
Per the email sent by the U.S. State Department in early 2019 and again in 2020, a China travel advisory was issued because of the following:
China has begun arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.
That sounds serious – and it is – but this is something that specifically affects two groups of people:
- US citizens of Chinese descent as well as…
- Expats/Business people.
The average tourist is not affected by this China travel advisory.
It may not come as a surprise to some, but China is very petty when it comes to international politics. The slightest bit of shame caused by another country makes China “offended” and they have been known to retaliate against expats living in their country by interrogating them, harassing them or giving them exit bans.
Tourists are rarely caught up in all of this.
Travelers are seen as a boost to the local economy and are welcomed for short periods of time. The only exception to this are the tourists that do something stupid, such as breaking a law, engaging in a brawl, or trying to start a protest.
Of course, there is a whole different set of rules for one particular group of people.
Special Attention: US Citizens of Chinese Descent
Whether you’re a U.S.-born citizen or you hold U.S.-China dual citizenship, those travelers of Chinese descent should heed a special warning.
Here’s the deal.
As a mostly homogeneous country, China has a hard time separating ethnicity from citizenship. In some ways, if you’re of Chinese descent, they think you belong to China.
It doesn’t matter what passport you hold.
This isn’t to say that you should walk around in fear if you look like a Chinese person. You should, however, exercise a much higher level of caution. This is especially true if you plan to travel to sensitive regions such as Tibet or Xinjiang.
Don’t put too much faith in your passport.
China has become such a big world power that they’re not very intimidated by the fact that you’re a legal citizens of another country. The majority of the time China does nothing more than question and release the people it detains, but one thing has become clear:
Your State Department will be powerless to do much to help you.
As a US citizen of Chinese decent, this China travel advisory is slightly more impactful. It’s a word of caution, though, not a major red flag.
Takeaway: What Should You Do?
I want to be transparent with you about the risks associated with travel, but I know that in doing so, I also run the risk of scaring you out of visiting China altogether. Let me reassure you.
If we step back and look at the China travel advisory levels again, you see that the second level really isn’t that scary.
The State Department isn’t asking you to reconsider your travel or telling you not to travel, they’re telling you to exercise caution.
And guess what...you should be exercising caution as you travel no matter where in the world you are!
You’re more likely to be a victim of theft than a victim of police harassment in China. For this reason, I recommend you review these 8 China travel safety tips as well as this list of common travel mistakes that most people make.
Oh yea…and use common sense. Don’t steal from a store; refrain from punching somebody in the face; don’t take pictures of the police.
Just relax, don’t freak out about this China travel advisory and enjoy your trip 🙂
Jeffrey Rafferty says
GOod stuff. I’ve been to China 5 times starting in 2012. Many things have changed, some for the better some for the worse. It’s a great country, i love it! I would not hesitate to travel there tomorrow. I THINK china is not for a novice traveler. It has gotten more difficult, exchanging money accessing money. But i see more street signs in England, even in the eastern provinces.
Michael Colton II says
Great info Thanks! More relaxed for future trips
DAVID DEREYNA says
Good article Josh, thanks for the info. I agree with your findings completely. my wife is Chinese and we own a home in Tieling in N.E. China. There are not many foreigners that come to Tieling and when I am there at 6′-2″ tall “I stand out in the crowd” . The local Police office is just a block away from our home, at times it can be frustrating, but they have been very courteous to me and as helpful as possible. I hold a Q2 visa which allows me to stay in china for up to 180 days at a time. I always carry my marriage booklet and I have my home address saved to my cell phone in Chinese, this has always been handy clearing immigration when I enter the country. My wife and I have traveled extensively thru china and my only recommendation is to make sure you understand the rules so to speak and follow them. Once again Josh thanks for the info. I very much enjoy your articles. Happy new Year and have a great Spring Festival.
Josh Summers says
Thanks, David! I appreciate hearing your experience and I’m glad the articles have been helpful 🙂
Thanks for sharing your take on the current mood. I did travel to China this year. It was an amazing experience and would encourage others to consider China a destination. With the understanding of the country’s rules and customs as you outlined.
I came home with a greater sense of appreciation for the people and the landscapes and treasures of an ancient civilization amongst the hustle of modern day.
Also wanted to thank you for your tips and info you sent to me prior to my trip. I wish you Happy New Year and safe travels to you and your family for 2019!
Josh Summers says
Thank you, Judy! So glad you had a good experience in China 🙂
Hello Josh, thank you for this article it helps a lot considering we are scheduled to fly into Beijing this April with the whole family (3 Kids). The wife was worried when she saw the travel advisory but this DEFINITELY put her at ease. Question for you. We will be taking advantage of the 144 Hr Free visa exception when we get there and would like to see what your thoughts about that is. Should i just get the full blown visa to avoid possible MISUNDERSTANDINGS? We certainly qualify for the 144 hr free visa but I feel nervous. Thanks and Great job with the page
Josh Summers says
Thanks, Chester! I’m glad this was helpful for your wife. Concerning your thoughts on the 144-hr transit visa, I think you should be fine, but if you have any misgivings whatsoever, the safe bet is to get a traditional visa. I can’t make that call for you, unfortunately, but I can say that there have been some people who have been surprised with problems trying to get the transit visa.
Cindy k. says
Hi Josh, I was born in america and feel very american, but my parents were born in china and, of course, I look quite chinese. My husband is peruvian, and one of my children looks chinese, while one looks more indistinct. I was planning to travel to china this june 2019, but i am worried about the travel advisory and whether the chinese officials would harrass us or prevent us from leaving the country. plus, because we are a mixed race couple, i am not sure how that would come across. we were planning to do a tour with china discovery so the plan is to have a tour guide with us the whole time, but i am about to call the whole thing off because i am worried about the travel advisory. what do you think about my situation? should we call off our travel plans?
Josh Summers says
Hi Cindy, I appreciate your concern but I don’t believe you have anything to worry about. Mixed race marriages are still somewhat new in China but it’s becoming more and more accepted. If you’re in the big cities as a tourist, I don’t think you’ll notice any extra attention.
As for being of Chinese descent, as long as your parents haven’t broken the law and you don’t plan to break the law, the Chinese have no reason to detain you for even a minute.
AngIe c says
this is a well informed artiCle and i thank you for it. My husband and i will be traveling to china in the up coming wEeks with my father and brother. It caused My husband some conceRn when the advisory went in effect back in january. As we are of chinese descent. We will be in guangzhou one of the bigger cities. My dad says there’s nothing to worry abOut, we’ll be visiting a few of my Dads friends while over there.
Thank you for the ARTICLE…it has put my mind at ease a bit. My husband and i along with our adult children are PLANNING on taking our 14 year Old adopted chinese daughter back to china for a Heritage Tour with China Ties program. Do you BELIEVE we’ll encounter any issues as our daughter is Chinese and has US citizenship and has US passport. She dOes not have dual citizenship.
Josh Summers says
No, she should not have any issues while traveling with you. Enjoy your trip and don’t forget to grab a copy of my China travel handbook!