France and China ease visa rules - and leaders exchange presents

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a two-day state visit to France to mark 60 years of bilateral relations between the countries

The countries’ two presidents announced measures to facilitate visa applications and travel between China and France

France and China are to make it easier for each other’s nationals to get visas, it was announced on the first day of a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to France as part of celebrations of 60 years of bilateral relations between the countries. 

President Jinping arrived on Sunday, May 5 for a two-day visit and spoke alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at a press conference at the Elysée Palace. Both outlined plans to facilitate the granting of visas.

To honour the visit, Mr Macron offered several iconic French gifts to his Chinese counterpart, in a bid to showcase French luxury products and culture. These included:

  • A bottle of Hennessy Cognac - in a nod to China’s decision not to add customs taxes to French cognac

  • A Louis XIII decanter from Rémy Martin

  • A Chanel handbag

  • Vintage editions of poetry books by Victor Hugo

  • A Chinese translation of the book Notre-Dame de Paris

  • A glass vase from the Amboise glassworks factory (Indre-et-Loire), as a tribute to China from French glassblower Pierre Gallou

  • The ‘first-ever known’ French-Chinese translation dictionary, first published in 1742

Talking about the glass vase, Mr Macron said: “This town in western France has had this culture of vases, coloured glass painting, and ceramic painting since the 1970s." He also mentioned the Notre-Dame de Paris book, as an opportunity to reiterate that doors to the restored Paris cathedral are set to reopen on December 8.

China also handed gifts to France, including books, paintings, and a representation of ‘an anchiornis’, a small feathered dinosaur that lived in China in prehistoric times.

Visa simplification

As for visas, the stated new rules mean that Chinese nationals with a visa will be able to enter and leave France for multiple trade fairs or business events without having to apply for a new visa every time. Similarly, the government wants to reduce the processing time of Chinese visa applications from the current average of six weeks, to a few days.

The prime minister’s office is set to confirm this “facilitation of visas” and discuss the issue at a comité interministériel du tourisme meeting today (Tuesday, May 7), which Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is scheduled to attend.

Discussions are underway with the France-Visas programme to better identify these visa applications, the PM’s office added. From 2025, the France-Visas platform will also facilitate the entry and processing of visa applications from Chinese tourist groups, it said.

In 2023, Paris processed 180,000 Chinese tourist visa applications and 60,000 business visa applications.

As part of plans to facilitate applications, France is now set to recruit more consular staff and open around 15 new visa application centres in China. Visa application forms are also set to be simplified, especially for Chinese tourist groups.

Regular business travellers will also soon be able to use a new ‘fast track’ system, which will aim to speed up applications for people who visit France regularly. It will be trialled from next year.

While France is still keen to maintain some control over the Chinese nationals who enter the country, it strongly wants to encourage visitors - and their wallets. In 2019, before Covid, more than two million Chinese visitors came to France, and spent more than €3.5 billion.

These figures have not yet recovered post-pandemic; only a quarter of that number visited France in 2023, with a spend closer to €1 billion.

French visitors to China

China has also announced measures to facilitate travel between the two countries. 

On May 6, President Jinping said that China would extend the short-stay tourist visa exemption for French nationals for a year, until the end of 2025. 

This measure - first announced on an ‘experimental basis’ last year - allows French citizens (as well as citizens from another 11 countries) to visit China without a visa, for tourist purposes, for stays under 15 days.

China is hoping to attract foreign tourists back to its country after suffering a considerable shock to its image during the Covid pandemic. Over the past year, China has announced several visa exemption measures for tourists from countries across Asia and Europe, including Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Millions of tourists

Back in France, another meeting to discuss visa applications during the Olympic and Paralympic Games is set to take place his week. Around 16 million tourists are expected to visit France during the Games, which will run from July 26 to August 11 this year.

The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) states that France is the world’s leading tourist destination. More than 100 million people visited last year (2023), spending a record €63.5 billion.

Prior to Covid in 2019, more than 154 million Chinese people visited other countries annually, making them the leading tourists worldwide. They also spent the most, at €255 billion globally each year, more than 17% of the global tourist spend, the WTO said.