…was the thought stuck in my mind on day 1 of my arrival in mid April 2021, after an 11 hour flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai. So if you’re about to go through quarantine in China and are scrambling to get ready, hopefully my full 3 weeks of experience will help you feel more at-ease and prepared.
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Preparation for Quarantine in China
(All basics, skip if you have already booked a flight, have your travel/relevant Visa and made PCR & IgM test appointments)
I flew in from Germany so my experience may be different from others flying in from other countries, but my guess is most requirements are similar.
- Book a flight: Get a direct flight. If you fly, for example, from Germany to France for transit, all the testing that was mandatory in Germany (see 3.), will need to be repeated in France. Shanghai and Chengdu are most common international “arrival cities” and no matter where you want to go after, this is where you will be quarantined. Keep that in mind.
- Get your Visa. You either need a valid Visa (from before you had last left China) or a new one with a PU letter.
- PCR and IgM test. (PCR is a RNA detection test to check if there is a current infection, done with a nose swab; IgM is an antibody test to check for a previous cured infection, done with a blood sample) You need to take both tests within 48 hours before lift-off. I scheduled the test in Frankfurt (Fraport Medical Center) to have enough time reserved. 6 hours until results, then upload (see 4.).
- Upload info, get QR code. You need to create an account here: Health Declaration Code Online Form. When you have the test results you can fill in the online form. Took about an hour until I had my “Green” Health Declaration Code. (For travel itinerary they want your flight confirmation slip)
- Install WeChat on your phone and create an account. Make sure it’s working properly before you leave your home country.
“GREEN” Health Declaration Code
Pack your bags and get (mentally) ready
Other than the basics that you would bring on any normal trip, I will mention my life savers during the trip while you scroll through my journey. But feel free to jump all the way to the bottom of the page for my aggregated list with some additional and helpful items for quarantine in china.
After check-in, the staff member on the counter gave me another code to scan (with WeChat). After entering all my info I got another QR code. This second QR code is the “Health Declaration ID” (Different from the Health Declaration code you get after uploading your test results online). Upon scanning, the result should show a “Red” QR code (This “ID” code is valid if it’s red. Kind of confusing, but it works.) if everything checks out.
“RED” Health Declaration ID
The airport was extremely empty for me, and everything was closed except for duty-free shops. Boarding started 1 hour before departure and followed the boarding order from the end of the plane to front (e.g. seats 65-45 went first). This situation could differ, but in my case, a few of my fellow flight guests were sent back to the waiting area when they tried boarding out of order. I was one of the last to board, which I didn’t mind at all, since the queue was very long due to everybody keeping their distance as ordered, very nice.
Did I mention that my flight was very full? Even though the airport was empty, economy was completely booked, since April marked the end of many university’s semesters, and students were headed back home for break. I didn’t regret upgrading to Premium Economy (cost for the upgrade for this Air China Flight = 200 EUR) since each seat had a free seat next to it. Note that the empty seat was only due to the unpopularity of the Premium Economy class, rather than it being an actual rule. Expect the flight to be as packed as it possibly can be.Everyone aboard was wearing a N95 mask and they needed to stay on for the entire flight. Here and there I’d see goggles or face shields. The flight attendant crew was in complete protective gear: white suit, gloves, shoe covers, face shield and mask. There were no drinks served on the flight, but I did have two bottles of water prepared at my seat. Food was served in a carton box, alike snack boxes during short distance flights. Inside of my meal box was a sweet bun, some chocolate bars, yoghurt and fruit. I was not allowed to bring any fresh food on board, but muesli bars or similar were ok.
The crew really had to work hard under these conditions. For example, there was always one member of the crew ready to go with disinfectant and wipes after every single use of the lavatory. With about 150 people on board, that was a lot of disinfecting during 11 hours.
ARRIVAL & SCREENING
Registration Process [1pm, Sunday]
Upon landing, it took a bit longer than usual until I was able to leave the plane, but other than that, the process was as usual. However, after leaving the plane I was sent on a one-way street of barcodes, registrations and nose & throat swabs, all the way until I arrived on my bus to my quarantine hotel. Throughout this process, I was strictly guided through so there was no way to get lost.
- Checkpoint 1 Needed: Passport , flight ticket and the screenshot of the “Green” Health Declaration Code (and/or the “Receipt” from the airline with signature that was used during check-in).
- Registration 1 Needed: “Red” Health Declaration ID QR code. Holding it over a scanner to get to the next step. (If you didn’t get your “Red” Health Declaration ID yet, there’s another chance to scan the barcode on the big banner next to the scanner to enter your info and get it)
- Registration 2 After scanning successfully I was sat down with a service person that checked my Passport, Flight Ticket, “Green” Health Declaration Code and PCR&IgM results. I then got a tube with my name on it that was needed later during the PCR test.
- Checkpoint 2 Needed: Passport, Flight Ticket and “Red” Health Declaration ID. After the check the staff member gave me a piece of paper that basically is the “Agreement” to do the PCR test (Here’s where my Chinese had failed me, at least this was my educated guess).
The nurse asked to remove the mask from the nose but keep the mouth covered to administer the PCR test. The general rule-of-thumb for the nurse is to rotate the swab once to the left and once to the right, followed by leaving the swab inside of your nose for 10 seconds and then end it with a few more rotations. I didn’t get the “等待10秒” at first, so I was a bit irritated sitting there with the swab stuck in my nose while the nurse moved away to grab something else. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be like that.
Overall it’s not that bad but if you’ve been tested and are sensitive, better start prepping your mind for it.
From this point, I packed up my things and hurried on, walking past a young woman laying on the floor crying and frantically shouting into her phone while covering her face with her other hand. She definitely was a bit more sensitive with the swabbing situation.
But honestly, everyone else I saw made it through just fine and it’s very well organized. So nothing to worry about.
Everything is fenced, can’t get “lost”
- Checkpoint 3 After I made my way back from the containers, my temperature was taken by an infrared camera at a control station. Temperature levels were fine and I could then hand over the stamped “Agreement” paper to the person in the control station.
- Customs Business as usual. Passport and filled in arrival card needed.
- Baggage Claim Completely normal, just that your bags will likely already be ready to be picked up.
Registration for Quarantine Hotel
While we queued up, I scanned the barcode (another one) on the banner (one of the many banners next to our queue) with WeChat and filled in my info. I received a barcode with my info that was needed a few minutes later. Depending on where you stand in line, you will be asked to step into the closest area, in my case, area D. The areas are all separated and filled with about 15-20 people each.
Every person in the square had to hand over their passport and show the new barcode in order to be registered. A sticker is printed out with that barcode and name and affixed on the passport. The Group Leader did keep all passports (you will get it back when you check into your hotel).
We began to be herded down another fenced windy road through the airport. A few points in the process, there were people at the airport who snapped a few photos of us at Arrivals. At this point, this was also the first time I saw a person spraying disinfectant in our area “D” after we had left, with legit spray guns always shown on the news.
Note: There is no point at which you can ask for a choice of hotel or hotel level. They’re randomly assigned.
My bus went from Pudong Airport to the South-West, which was a ride of around 1.5 hours. My hotel was about 25km out of the city center.
QUARANTINE in china
Day 1, Arrival at the hotel [5.30pm, Sunday]
A well covered employee came onboard and informed everyone of the rules during quarantine (more on that later). After that, we departed the bus in groups to enter a container outside of the hotel for check-in. In the container, I was handed disinfection material to bring to my room and a few pages with additional information. In my case, I was given sheets with helpful English translations (If your Chinese reading level is not great, best to have a translation app like Pleco ready). There were also 4 different documents to sign for me to declare that I will abide by all laws and regulations with regard to quarantine. At this point you should also be given back your passport.
Hotel parking lot with Check-In container
From here, we were able to grab our (wet) luggage and were accompanied into our rooms. The staff member handed me a bag of toiletries aaaaaaand the door to the outside world was closed…!
The thing is, after a long flight, all the registration processes and probably a little headache creeping up, the last thing I wanted to do was to clean my entire room. In my case, very understandably, the hotel wanted these rooms to be extremely safe and disinfected. So they used a spray gun after each guest to wet the entire room with disinfectant. The issue with that is, the disinfectant would then be combined with dust and hair (among other things) and build this visible white coating on the floor, furniture and wall. And.. it’s sticky.
Seeing this upon stepping into my room, I couldn’t even think of showering or going to bed — cleaning was first. Only option to clean, at this point, were my disinfectant wipes. It took me about 2 hours but it made enough of a difference. I highly recommend bringing cleaning rags and cleaning agents. Better, if you have the app, order some on eleme right away when you arrive.
The following morning, I got a mop and everything else needed from Jingkelong via app. After another 2 hours of cleaning, I was finally set in my room. Now, everyone has a different standard of preferred cleanliness. I wouldn’t say I am an incredibly sensitive person but at least the cleaning made a big difference for me during my stay.
Other than the white coat, the room was fine. It had a standard king size bed, desk, TV and en suite bathroom. There was a water boiler but due to the unique situation, there were no tea bags or other snacks provided.
Waimai, Taobao, JD Orders:
Things that are not allowed to be brought into your room (kept at the front desk or being thrown away)
- Alcohol & Cigarettes
- Disinfection fluids (worried of ingestion)
- Food that goes bad within 1 month at room temperature
- Soda Water
These restrictions are basically to prevent any other health issue from emerging from bad food for example. Since any sign of sickness will lengthen your quarantine time.
The delivery person in my case knew this particular quarantine hotel already. So he also knew the drill and just handed over the goods to the guard at the entrance. No extra calls or guidance required.
Day 2-13, Daily Hotel Routine & Food
Every day of the 14 days, the same routine will be executed, to the minute. The organization and precision was very impressive actually. Let me give you an example:
7.30am Breakfast time
Every morning, no matter which day, two staff members in full protective gear brought breakfast for the whole floor. The food was placed on a little table in front of the door (door will need to stay closed). We had about 20 rooms on my floor.
After the food was placed, a staff member walked down the aisle, knocked, rang the bell and screamed “你好，吃早饭了！”. Basically “Hello, Breakfast is ready!”. After his/her call, you could open your door, pick up the food, close the door, and eat.
But you might think “I don’t want breakfast today” or “I’ll continue to sleep and grab it later.” Yeah.. good luck with that. In my case, the nice lady staff member, in a very friendly but firm way, would continue to ring the bell and knock until I got up and took in my food. Understandably though!
8.30am Temperature check
Every morning I had to measure my temperature and call a hotel number to report it. Together with the disinfectant, we did receive an old school mercury thermometer.
If I failed to report until 9am, a staff member came to my door and measured from in front of my door with an infrared thermometer.
11.00am Lunch time
Basically, the same procedure as breakfast. I got 3 chlorine-soaked wipes as well. With the wipes, I was supposed to clean surfaces in the bathroom and the living room on a daily basis.
1.00pm Temperature check
Second report, same as the morning one.
5.00pm Dinner time
Again, same procedure as breakfast.
7.00pm “Well Being” check This was the last call for the day from a staff member to check if I was feeling ok “你好， 你没有什么不舒服的吗?“ “没有!”. That’s it, free time until the next cycle tomorrow at 7.30am, sharp.
During my quarantine in China, beside the mandatory routine, I found the days were actually quite easy to manage. I was able to get through the day with work, calls with family and friends, workout and so on. My Wifi was not very stable and the TV in the room didn’t work. If you’re looking to pass time with shows or movies, best to make sure you have them on a hard drive or other ways offline.
My additional note to the food
The staff were very helpful, though, when it came to increasing the rice portion, for example. In my case, they helped to prepare a “non-meat” option. My elementary Chinese got me the fish & chicken only variant, since not having “肉” was interpreted as beef/pork.
I am a bit particular when it comes to breakfast, so I had prepared a whole lot of cereal and Oatly in my luggage, since I wasn’t sure if I could get Waimai. It definitely was a good decision for the mornings. If you’re a bit sensitive with your meals, make sure to have some choices in your luggage. Also, the three meals prepared are all quite similar in taste and can become a bit dull during the 14 days (speaking as a German guy, if you’re a big fan of Chinese food, should not be a problem.) If you want some other flavours in between, definitely bring some packed soups, instant noodles or snack bars.
What’s left of my food corner after week one
Since alcohol is not allowed to be ordered via Waimai, I was relieved that I had purchased a bottle of whiskey from the duty-free shop in Frankfurt. Again, personal preference, but definitely made my first week a lot more bearable.
In my case, it didn’t work. A WeChat contact needed to be added from the hotel, to which the screenshot of the barcode needed to be sent to. The WeChat contact helped me with entry through the PC from the contact’s end. The staff member also asked me through WeChat where I would go after my quarantine in detail with temporary address, flight/train number and final address.
The regulations change pretty frequently. In April and May 2021, the 14+7+7 system (also may differ in other locations than Shanghai) was still in place. This means the 14 day hotel quarantine, followed by 7 days of free movement in the city you took the quarantine in (and stay at chosen hotel or home address), followed by 7 days in which you can travel around China but will be closely digitally monitored.
How-To fill in the Health App
Second PCR test [2.30pm, Saturday]
On day 13, I got a visit from a nurse to take a second PCR test in order to confirm that I’d leave quarantine with a negative result. It was done in the doorway with me turning my side to the nurse. Same routine as before, quick and simple.
The hotel also informed me to have my bags packed and be ready to go the next day before leaving time.
Day 14, leaving the quarantine hotel [2.30pm, Sunday]
Everyone who had finished quarantine lined up at the same container we did the check-in in 14 days ago. After my temperature was taken, I returned the mercury thermometer and received my paper that certified the completion of quarantine.
A short chat with my direct neighbour for the last 14 days confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who felt it wasn’t that bad. We ordered our Didi’s for pick-up and said our good byes to each other and the hotel.
And just like that I was free to go…well, within the limits of Shanghai.
Note on the first +7 days
Big Tourist groups with iconic pennant holding leaders and visitors from all over China were pushing through the roads. It was quite a contrast to the 14 days of isolation I had just gone through. If you should have a 7 day layover in Shanghai like me, I’d definitely recommend booking a hotel in a more quiet area to make the transition back to normal life easier :).
Now that you’re out of quarantine, you will need only one new barcode that has to be renewed though every time you enter a Hotel, Mall or Train Station (also regulations differ from place to place). It works quite well if you have your data within either WeChat or Alipay. I heard of people having issues but for me I simply scanned the codes and I got my qualified result.
What to bring?
If you’re about to go through quarantine in china, bring the largest luggage you have, an onboard luggage and a backpack. Maximize on packing space!
If you still need inspiration for a huge suitcase, this one worked well for me!
Everything you’d normally bring when you pack for a trip.
You’d want comfortable clothes for the two weeks in quarantine and all of your basic hygiene products. Of course don’t forget the essentials – Passport, Money and so on…
Digital readiness before flight
Since you can’t work 24/7 and friends and family will want a break from your hourly call-in reports after day 5, definitely pack up on things you can do for hours without getting bored. My Wifi broke down on the 2nd day, so don’t bank on having a permanent (VPN) internet connection for movies and news.
You will have a water boiler in your room, but that’s it! (I was lucky to have a mini fridge)
If you have Eleme, Taobao, etc you can order these things after arrival. But make sure you bring the minimum, you’ll never know.
Collection of all the notes and tips in each section of the article.
I hope this collection of my whole experience can help you become less stressed about the upcoming quarantine or help you better prepare. I will try and update the page with notes at the top in case regulations change dramatically. Please feel free to leave a comment if your experience was similar or completely different, and I will try to implement any additional helpful tips and notes.