Chinese students stuck in Groningen due to sky-high ticket prices and strict Covid rules

Soaring ticket prices and unrelenting Covid restrictions make it almost impossible for hundreds of Chinese students to get home this summer. 

A ticket to China, one way from Schiphol to Guangzhou, costs 4,345 euros, according to ticket booking agencies. A ticket to Hangzhou for a flight in September costs 6,932 euros.

Earlier this year, prices were even crazier. Thirty-year-old PhD student Wang arrived in Groningen in February to prepare for the defence of his second dissertation. He soon found that his plan to return to China within six months was out of touch with reality. ‘I checked the price of a flight back home and it came to almost 100,000 yuan, about 14,000 euros, which I couldn’t possibly afford.’

A ticket to neighbouring countries, Japan for example, only costs a fraction of the price – 500 euros to Tokyo. 

And so going home for summer to see your family has become next to impossible for Chinese students.

Cancelled flights

Under the flight control policy imposed by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in 2020, each airline from each country can only fly one route to and from China per week, which has severely curtailed passenger traffic and sent airfares soaring. This policy has been in place for more than two years and there is still no end in sight.

In addition, if there are more than five confirmed cases of Covid on a flight, the airline is forbidden from flying that route for two weeks. That makes for a very unpredictable situation for both the airline and passengers who have purchased tickets for subsequent flights.

Covid outbreaks in several Chinese cities, including Shanghai this spring, caused the Chinese government to step up its control efforts even more. When Russia closed its airspace to many airlines after its invasion of Ukraine, the number of flights was reduced further still. 

Quarantine

But getting to China isn’t the only problem. Once in the country, a ten-day quarantine awaits: a week in a hotel that you have to pay for yourself, then three days at home. Up until recently, that was two weeks and one week, respectively.

Rong Sun, a first-year media studies student, has decided to take the leap anyway. She plans to go home by the end of this month. ‘I need to have my wisdom teeth removed and my night lenses replaced’, she says. ‘I bought my ticket in March and it cost about 38,000 yuan or 5,400 euros. My parents wanted to pay for it because they miss me, so I don’t feel too bad about spending their money.’

However, even those who have been able to buy a ticket aren’t guaranteed a smooth trip. A passenger who wants to travel to China needs to undergo two PCR tests at designated testing facilities within 48 hours prior to boarding, and another rapid antigen test within 12 hours prior to boarding.

PCR tests

If anything goes wrong with any of these tests, you’ll be in trouble immediately. One Chinese graduate student who had a ticket for a flight on June 10 failed the PCR test at the airport. She had to self-quarantine at home. Then her second flight was cancelled. 

She was lucky to still have a home in Groningen to return to, because many graduates like her have already ended their rental contracts in preparation for their return. 

‘You need to count on spending at least 60,000 yuan, about 8,500 euros’, Sun says. ‘Most of which is for the plane tickets. The rest is for the PCR tests, the cost of the quarantine hotel and so on.’

Change of plans

Others that did manage to go home at an earlier time found that the cost of coming back to the Netherlands was too high and had to ask friends to help them sort out their belongings and send them back to China.

As a result of all this, many Chinese students are planning to stay in the Netherlands for longer or are moving to another country to continue their work or studies. ‘It’s hard to find people who actually go home. Everyone has changed their plans’, one Chinese student says.

Wang, too, is staying in Groningen. He talked with his supervisor and has had his contract at the UMCG extended. ‘One of my senior colleagues graduated in March this year, but was unable to return home as planned for a position at a university’, he says. ‘It was a real struggle, and she ended up going to work for a company in the Netherlands.’

Nederlands

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