Covid-19 Pandemic,  Guangzhou

Back home – expats share their journey of returning to Guangzhou during pandemic

When the epidemic started in China, many foreigners living in Guangzhou were on holidays or went back in their home country. Now they are returning to their life and work, perhaps for their pets!

I interviewed three foreigners on their experience of returning to Guangzhou, what happened at the airport and how they feel being in home or hotel quarantine.

Fabiola and her husband going to their favorite dumpling shop before starting home quarantine

Fabiola from Canada

Fabiola has been living and working in Guangzhou for 8 years, most of the expat community knows her as one of the co-founders of Global Friendship. She and her husband had flown to Canada for Christmas, then traveled in Mexico. After the holiday and realizing the situation in China, they decided to go back to Canada to assess the situation and what to do about returning to Guangzhou.

“We finally made a decision to return to Guangzhou on the 13th of March. My parents were still hesitant for us to return, but also understood that our life is here. We kept watching the news everyday, and it soon started to see that things were getting better in China, but changing in the rest of the world.”

During their flight from Vancouver to Guangzhou via Beijing, they noticed everyone on the plane was wearing a mask. They also didn’t receive hot meals, but were given snacks instead. Temperature was taken regularly to ensure the safety of everyone on board.

“Upon landing in Guangzhou, those who had traveled from any country outside China had to wait on the plane and let the passengers coming from within China go first. We were told to fill out a medial history form, and luckily Canada was still not on the list of serious affected countries.”

When Fabiola and her husband got out of the airport, they were happy everything had gone rather smoothly. Of course the journey had been really long and tiring, but they were finally back to Guangzhou and going home.

“Once arriving to our garden in Linhecun, Tianhe, we could see the well organized set up that has been put in place outside the gates. The staff asked us where we had come from,and when we replied 加拿大  (Canada) one of the guys said ‘哦不好’ (Oh that’s not good) we kind of chuckled. They then took us to one of the office, and we showed them our passports along with a picture of a permission card sent by our landlord. We were then told that we would be home quarantined for the next 14 days. “

Fabiola shared with me how polite and friendly everyone was when handling their home quarantine. The pandemic is a serious threath in the world now, but here in Guangzhou we are working together ensuring the safety of everyone.

“Life under home quarantined hasn’t been bad at all. Immediately we ordered groceries from GZGrocery store, had water delivered, started planning for our online lessons, and have been in communication with our friends and family. For the meantime we’ll enjoy this quiet period and look forward to going back to a somewhat normal life in our beloved Guangzhou. “

Fabiola and her husband arrived back to Guangzhou on March 15th 2020. Regulations are changing daily so those arriving now might have a different exprience.

Pavlina from Czeck Republic

Pavlina is also an expat working in Guangzhou. In the end of January her company decided to call her back from China and to wait for the epidemic situation to get better in China.

“After 6 weeks, company decided it is no more danger in China than in Europe and advised to return rather earlier than later due to flights being cancelled from many European cities.”

As Pavlina has visited UK during the time in Europe, she decided to wait more days so UK would not be on her 14 previous days travel list. She believed this would affect her when returning to China.

“I was 7 days prior to departure and my country announced a lockdown with its validity from next day to close borders, therefore I knew I can no more use my flight next week to Guangzhou, I found a last flight that day prior to border closing, via Istanbul to Hong Kong, so I booked it. I left Prague 4 hours prior to lockdown, luckily due to my residence permit in China I was allowed to travel as all citizens with Czech passport currently are not allowed to travel.”

When she landed to Hong Kong she cleared the immigration quickly and got to the hotel she had booked. Pavlina then started to find a good way to get back to Guanzhou. Because she had to leave Czeck quickly, it was only 10 days since visiting UK. Worried of hotel quarantine, she decided to wait a few more days before returning to mainland.

“When crossing Shenzhen, I was prepared for anything, hearing in Beijing, all Europeans will be taken to hotel, however my country, Czech republic, was not listed and I was released as green passenger, being checked only with temperature and expectation to self quarantine of course.”

Pavlina took a train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou on her own and arrived to her apartment on March 18th 2020. Her landlord har requested a virus test, but they hadn’t done it for her in Shenzhen. Now she is at home waiting for the test to be taken and her temperature is measured twice a day.

Pavlina returned to Guangzhou March 18th 2020, a day before Hong Kong started to quarantine all arrivals.

Lia from Indonesia

Lia has been living in Guangzhou since 2015. She flew from Jakarta to Hong Kong on March 19th 2020, arriving on the very first day of Hong Kong implementing a 14 day quarantine for all arrivals. If you go through the immigration, you would need to quarantine. When she realized her situation of being stuck in Hong Kong, not knowing how to get back to Guangzhou, she shared her experience on WeChat.

“Hi! I arrived today to Hong Kong and you can’t enter Hong Kong if you don’t go for 14 day quarantine. There are no flights to Guangzhou either. The border to mainland is open, but I can’t get there without going through Hong Kong immigration.”

While waiting at the Hong Kong airport, she felt really confused on what was about to happen. There was a lot of waiting and each worker only knew their own job, no one could explain the whole picture of how Lia could get back to Guangzhou. Finally a special bus was arranged to get people to return to mainland.

“I went through the border and as I have a Indonesian passport, I got a green sticker, but I still can’t go home yet. The whole bus was taken to a hotel, Chinese to one and foreigners to another hotel where the staff can speak some English. The hotel is in my district and I had to pay 500rmb when checking in. They say I need to wait for my virus test for about 24 hours, if it’s negative I can go home.”

It took more than 24 hours from Lia to arrive to Guangzhou from Jakarta. She arrived there at 3am and went straight to bed as no food was given at that time. In the morning she got a simple Chinese breakfast and the regular meals seem to continue as long as she needs to stay there. The meal is left on a chair in front of her door, they knock and leave before you open the door.

“For those returning to Guangzhou, if you really need to come back then do, but be prepared for a long journey and not knowing what will happen. Bring a jacket in case the bus or hotel is cold, bring a lot of snacks as it can take a long time before getting food. Don’t worry too much about the hotel as my room is very big and nice, I also saw families being able to be in the same room together.”

In the morning of March 20th 2020 Lia was added to a WeChat group with other guests who are quarantined in the same hotel, there are over 160 people in the group. The group seems to be used to communicating and some guests are requesting more tea and bread in the group.

Some people in the group say they took the virus test 5 days ago and still are not sure when they can leave the hotel. Even the situation is confusing, Lia says the group is such a huge help for everyone. All the guests can stay in touch with the quarantine staff and each other. An important thing also for the mental health of everyone quarantined alone in their rooms.

The quarantine staff at the hotel has also appointed a translator to help with requests and questions from the guests. They can call the translator and the translator also checks on guests in the morning and afternoon.

Lia arrived to Guangzhou on March 20th 2020, the next day she got her results and was able to go home to finish her quarantine.

Are you living or returning to Guangzhou these days? Feel free to share your story in the comments below.

Useful links for more Guangzhou news in English:

2 Comments

  • Violeta Yao

    I live in the north of China, so my return wasn’t to Guangzhou but I did go through the same process and am currently in hotel quarantine. I agree the most with what Lia wrote… “be prepared for a long journey and not knowing what will happen”. This was, for me, the hardest part of the whole entry process. I knew I was getting tested, I knew I had to do hotel quarantine for 14 days. I was ready for that. I didn’t know all the other unexpected things, and I didn’t know either that along the entire process, no-one will ever tell you what is going on, what is next, or what you should expect. It feels like you are at the complete mercy of someone else, and can’t do anything about it. I, for example, had to do the tests upon arrival in Shenyang in a hotel instead of the airport, where we were given a room and never told if we’d be able to leave on the same day or if we were spending the night (we ended up being called to leave at 1.30 am)… Then, after entry process in Beijing, I was taken to a hospital in the 县城 where I am doing the quarantine, before going to the hotel, to do a second test (nobody had talked about this), and … I had to spend the night at that jail-like hospital cell (again, it’s ok, but it being a surprise makes it so much harder). Especially when the next day suddenly it was like “oh, it might be three days”. Luckily it wasn’t. So… it has been an adventure for sure.
    Stay safe with your baby girl, and am looking forward to read more about you…. I’ve followed your blog since the very beginning, when I came to China for the first time in 2010. Keep the good work, you are an inspiration to many of us (I ended up marrying a Chinese as well *wink/wink*

    admin Reply:

    Hi Violeta, thank you so much for sharing your experience! Sorry to hear it was full of not so pleasant surprises, I agree with you that being prepared for anything is a good advice right now. Of course at this time, most foreigners are not able to return anymore.

    Wow, you have been along for a long time! Fun to hear you married a Chinese as well! ;) I hope your hotel quarantine goes well and you stay healthy!