Why It’s Hard to Leave China to Visit Family Abroad Amid Pandemic

“When are you coming home?”

Recently, my family asked if I might return to the US sometime later this year, as the pandemic situation improves.

My heart sank a little at the mention of this, since I already knew my answer would be disappointing — that at least for now, I can’t make any plans to return home during the pandemic.

Obviously, it’s hard enough to make plans with the uncertainties of the pandemic itself — where a sudden surge in case numbers can quickly turn a country or region into a health disaster.

But there are also other issues that come into play — things family and friends might not even be aware of, which add to the challenges of overseas travel amid the pandemic.

Here are 3 other factors, besides health concerns, that make it difficult to leave China to visit family and friends abroad amid the pandemic:

Confusing border regulations that prompt worries of being stranded abroad

In online chat groups, I regularly see posts from individuals still stuck overseas who are desperate to return to China — but unclear about when they’ll be allowed back.

The regulations for foreigners entering China have changed a lot over the past year, and while some individuals with certain visas have gotten the green light to come back, even then you hear the occasional report of someone being unable to get a necessary certification or, worse, others stopped at the gate, just as they were about to board that flight.

My entire livelihood revolves around being here in Beijing. The last thing I’d ever want is to become another one of these cautionary tales of yet another foreigner trapped abroad, putting my work and life over here into serious jeopardy. Why chance it?

Sky-high pricing for awful plane tickets

Once upon a time, $5,000 would nab you a plush seat on a plane. But $5,000 was what a friend of mine had to plunk down for an economy class ticket, one way, from the US to Beijing.

Compare that to the nearly $500 I paid in 2019 for a round trip ticket between China and the US.

Nowadays it’s luxury pricing for a decidedly non-luxurious journey — one destined to clean out your bank account.

And did I mention that the itineraries often require days on the road? A recent check on a one-way flight from Beijing to Seattle would need 50 hours of travel and three stops.

Pre-pandemic, the long-haul flights we had to endure between Asia and North America were bad enough, sometimes with 24 hours of travel and at least one stop. But who wants to be stuck in transit over two days and in and out of three cities?

The itineraries are also such a nightmare because they constantly get canceled and changed as well. A coworker of mine who had hoped to quit his job and travel home gave up because his itinerary kept getting juggled around, forcing him to transit through some rather risky countries.

Pandemic culture shock

My home country of the US leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, and the past year was dubbed one of the deadliest on record, underscoring just how much this virus has ravaged the country. While the vaccinations have certainly delivered a great shot of hope, the situation on the ground still remains fraught with challenges, including the drastically different ways that states or even local areas have chosen to respond.

Meanwhile, in China, there’s uniform guidance for prevention and control of the pandemic no matter where you go, and any sudden local outbreaks of cases are quickly contained. Even before vaccinations began rolling out here, most people around the country, like myself, could enjoy a relatively safe “new normal” — with masks and health-related apps.

A friend of mine who moved from China back to the US last year admitted to having a rough case of reverse culture shock because of how the US was handling COVID so differently from China. I’m certain I would surely experience the same!

What do you think?

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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  1. Oh yes. And for me it’s even worse: I would have a toddler with me. Quarantine? 50 hours? Being not certain if you can come back ? Being sure that China is safer? It’s all bad enough for an adult. And yet I’ve got a lot of people telling awful things about me, cause I’ve decided not to go back home with my daughter…

  2. And 27 states have rising covid rates this week. Michigan has a 50% increase. Have you been able to get a vaccine in China? Stay healthy.

    1. Thanks for the comment Deborah. Yes, I’ve noticed the uptick in cases — quite alarming. My employer is currently working to arrange vaccinations for us, so we expect to get one soon.

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