How easy is it to get to China from Hong Kong?


It's not that long ago that the notion of just popping across the border into China was unimaginable. And, in fact, many folk tend to leave China off their RTW itinerary – not least because of the difficulty with visas.

Yet liberalisation means that it's surprisingly easy to pop into China nowadays. British nationals flying through Beijing or Shanghai en route to somewhere else can take a 72-hour stopover within the city limits without arranging a visa in advance. Since Beijing's city limits are big enough for a visitor to knock off the Great Wall AND the Forbidden City while in transit, that's certainly not to be sniffed at: do note that the “Transit Without Visa” is for 72 hours, not 73 hours, and certainly not three days.

For folk just looking to dip a toe into mainland China, or tick China off a bucket list of countries, the Chinese government issues five-day visas to the city of Shenzhen, right next door to Hong Kong, at the border. Catch the MTR to Lo Wu; queue up, fill in forms and hand over around 400 Hong Kong dollars (£35 or so); then walk across the border to Shenzhen, and hop onto Shenzhen's metro system at Luohu. And, yes, Luohu and Lo Wu are the same place, and written the same way: Mandarin-speaking mainlanders pronounce it Luohu, while Cantonese-speaking Hong-Kongites call it Lo Wu.

Note that, as with the Beijing and Shanghai transit passes, the 5-day Shenzhen visa restricts you to the Shenzhen city limits, and cannot be extended. If you want to leave Shenzhen, or stay more than five days, you'll need a bona fide tourist visa, which can also be arranged in Hong Kong: overstays can result in anything from a slapped wrist to a £500 fine to a prison sentence with heavy fine depending on how the authorities feel at the time.

Now, there is plenty to do in Shenzhen, from shopping at the thriving fake markets and factory outlets – the city was China's first Special Economic Zone – to art galleries, spas, beer gardens, theme parks, restaurants and museums, including one on an aircraft carrier. And this bustling, warm, relatively Westernised city makes a great, easy introduction to mainland China.

But what if you want to see more than just Shenzhen? A myriad agencies in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) backpacker district can help arrange tourist visas to China for periods from 30 days to 90 days. Many even offer a same-day service, although it's wise to allow three working days in case of problems: most Hong Kong guesthouses have their own favoured visa agent.

Now, it's not always necessary or cost-effective to use an agent to arrange a visa. But spending a little extra cash on a good visa agent in Hong Kong will vastly cut down on the amount of paperwork required to score a Chinese visa. Chinese embassies and consulates overseas have been known to request proof of both confirmed flights and solid hotel reservations for every single night of your itinerary BEFORE they approve your visa: good agencies will typically take just a passport and a form (and, sometimes, copy birth certificates for children).

Whichever visa you go for, opt for the maximum length of time you could possibly need. Arranging a China visa within Hong Kong is easy but extending one in mainland China is hell on earth.



Published by Stuart Lodge