Okay, this is a tad out of the context of my usual content but it will make sense. I am currently on holidays in Hong Kong and the other day it dawned on me – I can train it to Shenzhen and buy cool Arduino like stuff! So I began attempting to research the activity. Turns out there is little information available to help travelers with this crossing so after deciding to wing it, learn from it and blog about it. I hope I can help others!
Step zero – Preparation.
Important! China blocks everything Google. This means no Google search, no Google Maps, no GMail, no Google Hangouts, etc. They also block Snapchat, Facebook and a few others. Ensure that you have all your information that you need stored already on your phone or printed out. Download an alternate map provider if you’re on Android (Apple users can keep using Apple Maps) such as Bing maps. You can use Yahoo, Bing or China’s own search provider “Baidu” to search rather than Google whilst in China.
You can combat this by paying for a VPN provider that says it bypasses China’s firewall however this can be hit and miss. I have built my own OpenVPN server on AWS for my trip and this worked on every internet connection I tried except China Unicom which was hit and miss and when it did manage to connect it would only last a few minutes before being detected and terminated (apparently they can determine the difference between regular SSL traffic and a SSL VPN). There are things you can do to get around this but we will talk about this in another article.
Here is a perhaps slightly over the top but sure to be ok checklist to make your border crossing really easy!
- Bring a pen, in fact bring two. This simple little thing may leave you stranded in the void between HK and SZ – you don’t want this.
- Bring 10RMB in 1 RMB coins, 10 RMB in $5 notes for the Shenzhen Metro (sometimes the machines only accept one or the other).
- Bring the appropriate amount of RMB for your visa application if you are doing a 5 day Shenzhen visa application on arrival (I will put together a list of countries and how much when possible, but for all the usual suspects its 168 RMB)
- Ensure you have enough HKD on your MTR card to get to and from LoWu and your home HK MTR station.
- Download the HK MTR application from Google Play or the App Store and/or check out the map here (http://www.mtr.com.hk/en/customer/services/system_map.html)
- Download the SZ Metro application from Google Play or the App Store and/or check out the map here (http://shenzen.it/metromap.html)
- Create a SZ Metro travel plan to your initial destination in advance! (Trust me you don’t want to stand around in Lohu).
- Make the appropriate arrangements for your loss of Google, Facebook, Gmail etc access whilst in China (Hotel reservation details, contact details, notes, etc).
- Practice going to “your happy place” on queue before departing.
From your home Hong Kong MTR station to getting on your Shenzhen Metro train you should expect around 2-4 hours before you arrive (depending on time of day / day of week you go and how many other people are planning to do the same as you at the exact same time).
Step One – Get to LoWu.
This is the easiest step in the whole process. Grab your MTR card with around $120 HKD loaded on it (its about $50-$60 each way to Lohu depending on where you are originating from on the MTR system in HK), check out a map in Step Zero or use the MTR app (links are also located in Step Zero) The HK MTR offer a discount on the trip by 50% currently if you commence your travel after 10am. This is because the trains and boarder are just too crazy before this time and they want to encourage more evenly spread load throughout the day. It’s up to you but its worth leaving a little later in my opinion after not doing exactly this as it is an approx 90 minute trip in a very squishy (and sometimes smelly) environment whilst standing up!
Step Two – From LoWu to HK Immigration
Once you exit the train, follow the horde! Eventually you will enter the hall for HK customs, look to your left, grab a yellow departure / arrival card and fill it all (both departure and arrival) in. The flight number / vessel is just “MTR” in case you are worried what to put here! Head to the line appropriate for your passport (there is a HK Resident line, a China Resident line and an everyone else line, which is awesome because there is usually very few “everyone elses” in the line). This is the usual process you would experience in any immigration process; be sure you have your little 2.5cm square visa slip for your entry to HK previously handy with your passport open to the photo page and the departure card inserted. HK customs are really nice people and be sure to say “mm goy!” as you leave and press the button for very satisfactory service!
Step Three – The Void
This is where things get… fun. It’s not unlike the scenes you see on TV with the crowds rushing into the stores on Black Friday. It’s total chaos. Just follow the horde whilst looking up at the ceiling until you see a sign saying “Port Visa”. Follow this sign until you can see the Chinese immigration cattle gates and then choose your adventure:
If you wish to use the visa you already have for China and see how you go, proceed to Step 5.
If you wish to go on a quest for a 5 day Shenzhen Visa, take a deep breath and proceed to Step 4.
Step Four – 5 Day Visa Adventure
A quick note regarding Chinese Immigration: They might seem mean and cold, but they deal with undesirable people all day. Chances are reader that you’re a respectable person who treats everyone in the world fairly and nicely, but they don’t know you and they just assume you’re going to be a problem. Just be nice, smile and get everything ready taking everything in your stride and you will make it through OK.
Where you can see the cattle gates for the Chinese immigration checkpoint for foreigners, if you look up about 10 meters back from this you will see a sign saying “Port Visa”, and to the right of this side and slightly around the corner (if facing the cattle gates) you will see some escalators going up to another level, head up there. At the top you will see a table to the left with forms, and chains (where pens used to be attached – see step zero). Grab a form and one of your pens and start filling out the super simple questions, grab a queue ticket from the machine and then wait for your number to be called in the waiting room. See the picture below for how it looks with your back to the cattle gates (sorry its not a great picture because you’re not really allowed to take photos here – the escalators are there on the right of the pic).
When you enter the waiting room you will see 5 desks, 1, 2 and 3 are all applications desks. This is your first stop in the journey and you go up to whichever one of these calls your number without haste! They will want your visa application form and your passport. Sometimes they will ask for your 2.5cm visa slip for HK. I dunno why just have it ready. They don’t care about your arrival / departure card so don’t hand it over right away or in my experience it will be thrown back at you. However none of this is an exact science so still have it with you – you never know. The final 2 desks are for payment and for collection respectively, we will talk about these in a sec.
Let’s say your number is #52. You should stand up from the chairs (if you were lucky to get a seat) when you hear #49 and stand to the side. If they call your number and they don’t see a body immediately coming to the counter then they will call the next number and you will have to get another ticket and wait for your new number to come up. Yep its very brutal here. In their defense, is so ridiculously common for numbers to be called and no one to stand up and head to the desk. No one knows where these people went, one can only assume they are in the same land that is home to all my missing socks.
Once you are done at one of the first 3 counters for applications, return to the seating side of the room but do not sit down, prepare to run to the payment desk as soon as they call your number. When you arrive make sure you have the money for your visa ready to go. I highly recommend that you have it as RMB and as exact as possible. If this means you have to exchange your currency and lose $10 in the process before you leave HK then let that be so. It’s worth it just to have one less problem to deal with – trust me!
Then once again return to the seating side but do not sit down. If you did everything correct and did not mess anything up you should hear your number called for the last counter and you can receive your passport. Be sure to thank the person with a “XieXieNi” before you leave then bail before they change their minds and head back down the same escalators to the Chinese immigration cattle gates for the line appropriate to your passport.
Step Five – The Chinese Immigration Checkpoint
This is the last step and is pretty easy, just prepare the usual. A passport open to the passport page, the arrival/departure card slipped into the page with your visa and a smile with no hat or sunglasses on, greet with NiHao and thank with XieXieNi. Run away just like before with a purpose just in case someone changes their mind.
Step Six – Escape from LoHu
Congrats you made it into Shenzhen and you’re in Lohu. Now you have to get out before you’re swamped by people trying to sell you stuff or put you into their friend’s taxi. If you leaving by anything other than the SZ Metro you’re asking for trouble. Take your SZ Metro Travel Plan and Cash you prepared in Step Zero and head to the nearest exit / entry for the SZ Metro which will probably be “Exit C”. Find the ticket machine and use the cash you prepared earlier for your SZ Metro tickets as appropriate for the notes that machine accepts (some only accept $5 notes, some $5 and $10, some are just broken and some are well who knows. If you’re stuck there will be a booth with a Train employee somewhere that will give you correct change). You will notice that at every train station in SZ you will have to put your bags through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector. Be smart, take your watch, wallet etc and put it in your bag, secure the zip and do so well before you go through or the men with shotguns in uniform will be annoyed that you’re holding things up. My observations so far is that they don’t actually care if the metal detector goes off but that one time they do and you have to “break the system” by going back taking stuff off and putting it through the x-ray as individual items with 500 people trying to push past you will not be worth it.
Welcome to Shenzhen.