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China: Health QR Code Now Required for Foreigners Flying to China

(Dec. 14, 2020) On November 23, 2020, the Chinese Embassy in the United States published a notice requiring non-Chinese citizens to obtain a QR code marked “HDC” (Health Declaration Code) in order to board flights to China. The new requirement entered into effect on December 1, 2020.

According to the notice, foreign passengers can apply for the code by logging on to a designated website via computers or smart phones. To receive the code they need to submit personal information; make a declaration of their health status; and upload negative COVID-19 test certificates, passports, itinerary, and other required documents. “Foreign passengers must present the electronic or printed code, and follow the procedures for inspection by relevant airlines during boarding,” the notice said.

Both Chinese citizens and noncitizen travelers flying to China must take an IgM antibody test in addition to the previously required nucleic acid test within 48 hours of boarding their flights, according to another notice issued by the Chinese Embassy in the United States on October 29, 2020, which took effect on November 6, 2020. Travelers must test negative in both tests to receive the Health Declaration Code.

Chinese citizens have been required to obtain a green health code marked “HS” (he suan, nucleic acid) by submitting required information through a WeChat mini app to board flights returning to China. Foreign citizens were previously required to obtain a stamped Health Declaration Form (HDF) from Chinese embassies or consulates through emails. Effective December 1, 2020, the HDF will no longer be issued, although previously issued HDFs are still valid, according to the November 23 notice.

Chinese cities have used color-based health code apps to help combat the spread of COVID-19 since February 2020. The use of the apps has raised data privacy concerns because the apps reportedly rely on a combination of user-submitted information, including travel history and contact with infected persons, as well as data held by other sources, including airlines, railways, telecom carriers, and banks.

According to the November 23 notice, the announcement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Immigration Administration on March 26, 2020, which prevented most foreigners from entering China, is still valid. Since September 28, 2020, foreigners holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters, and family reunification have been allowed to enter China.