Unplugged in Beijing: 48 hours without a visa (or social media)

Foreign nationals from 54 countries, including the Philippines, are currently eligible for the 72/144-hour visa-free transit, offering stays of 24, 48, or 144 hours.

Stepping off the plane into Beijing’s bustling airport, I realized I would be disconnected from the digital world for the next 48 hours. Everything is blocked while in Beijing. No social media, no Google searches, no WhatsApp messages, no scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, and certainly no Instagram updates.

This would be about immersing myself in the heart of China’s capital city, relying solely on my instincts and interactions with the world around me. I was prepared. Or so I thought.

One of the perks of traveling to China is the convenience of entering the country visa-free for various purposes, for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit for up to 15 days.

The Imperial City north gate in Beijing.

Foreign nationals from 54 countries are currently eligible for the 72/144-hour transit visa-free, offering stays of 24, 48, or 144 hours without the need for a traditional visa. It’s a hassle-free process upon arrival at the airport, allowing travelers to explore Beijing’s wonders without the burden of paperwork.

Holding a Philippine passport in hand while the rest of my family used Swiss passports, the process was indeed straightforward. However, be prepared for long and slow lines, especially during crowded travel periods. Ultimately, the immigration officer has the authority to decline your entry, but having a return ticket and a confirmed hotel booking made our approval swift. Just ensure that your passport qualifies for this visa category before flying.

First things first, ensure you have enough Chinese Yuan before going anywhere. While major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and Amex are generally accepted in China, many businesses will only accept cash. Unfortunately for us, most of the places we visited didn’t accept our cards, so we predominantly used cash. Foreign bank cards cannot be used in Chinese ATMs and other major establishments, including the Michelin-awarded restaurant we dined at, park entrances, and certain shopping outlets downtown.

Food vendors at the Donghuamen Night Market near the 700-year-old street Wangfujing.
Traditional houses and shops in the old town Nanluoguxiang.

I strongly recommend planning your itinerary with a travel agency located in the airport. They provide private tours and packages, covering everything from transportation to drivers and personalized recommendations for your itinerary. While they can’t guarantee English-speaking drivers, they’ll advise you to download Chinese dialect translator apps, many of which are free and downloadable without Wi-Fi.

With adrenaline pumping and no time to waste, we set out into the city, feeling liberated from our phones. Our first stop was the Beijing Zoo. Given the choice between the great giant pandas and the Great Wall, our daughter’s preference was our priority. Observing the pandas in their outdoor habitat was captivating, a unique experience distinct from our encounter with them at Hong Kong Ocean Park. The pandas can be viewed outdoors in the cold winter weather, much to the delight of all visitors.

Seeking out the best local eateries, from noodle shops to dumpling joints, was an integral part of the trip. Exploring the diverse array of Chinese cuisine, which remains our favorite after Filipino dishes, was an adventure in itself. Glamorous styled chopsticks, real authentic noodles and dumplings—each bite was a revelation.

Sampling traditional Beijing cuisine, wandering through vibrant markets, and marveling at breathtaking architecture around every corner. From the majestic Forbidden City to the awe-inspiring Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square, every step felt like a journey back in time.

The Great Wall of China section near Beijing
Beijing’s modern skyline

Having a car at our beck and call saved us a lot of time navigating the city streets, although we still relied on the occasional help from our friendly driver. We truly maximized our 48-hour adventure. Language barriers was a real struggle at times, but we made it work.

The city’s remarkable cleanliness left an indelible impression on us too. There was not a single piece of trash anywhere. I thought Switzerland was clean, considered it truly the epitome of cleanliness but Beijing definitely surpassed that category.

I felt a sense of gratitude for this rare opportunity to disconnect and reconnect with the world on a deeper level. Forty-eight hours were just the perfect amount of time for a break from my phone—any longer than that in Beijing, and I might not have survived.

China welcomed me once again with open arms, reminiscent of my visit to Shanghai years back. The two cities are incomparable, with Shanghai being far more open than Beijing. However, Beijing offered not only a glimpse into its rich history and culture but also a reminder of the importance of being present in the moment.

Sometimes, the most meaningful experiences can’t be found on a screen—they’re waiting to be discovered in person.

The new lifestyle.