In many ways, Hong Kong is perfectly located to go on weekend jaunts to other places. In other ways, it’s actually one of the most isolated places in Asia. The only border it shares is with gigantic China above, with all other international trips requiring a flight. Of course, having the fourth biggest country in the world on your doorstep ain’t half bad, if it weren’t for the bureaucratic and expensive visa policies of the Mainland. Sometimes it feels like the organisation and cost of arranging a visa for just two days of travel isn’t worth it.
However, the odds were in my favour back in October, since not only were we gifted with a 3 day weekend, but I also learnt of a chink in China’s impenetrable armour. Shopping mecca Shenzhen is literally across the border from Hong Kong. Almost nothing separates them and yet, when you compare life in Hong Kong and China, more or less everything separates them. Whilst getting a conventional Chinese visa from the embassy requires endless queuing and a blow-by-blow account of every single detail of your trip (slight exaggeration), Shenzhen provides a 5 day visa just for the city for certain nationalities, and it can be bought on arrival.
What’s even better is that Shenzhen is connected to Hong Kong via the MTR. Heading North on the East Rail Line will get you to Lo Wu (Luoho on the Shenzhen side), the border crossing for China. Don’t go to Lok Ma Chau which is the other border crossing as the Visa on Arrival can only be bought at the Lo Wu border. After passing through Hong Kong immigration, I looked out for a sign saying ‘Port Visa’ and followed an escalator up to the visa office.
After this, it wasn’t very clear what to do so I just blindly followed the other tourists. First, there’s a machine from which you can get your number, which is your place in the queue. Then, outside the office there is a desk with arrival/departure forms on which need to be filled out. After that, it’s just a waiting game. I was there on a Friday evening on a bank holiday weekend and it took me about half an hour. You go up in three stages – first to hand over your forms/passport, then to pay and then to collect your passport. It’s kind of efficient in a Chinese way. The visa fees depend on your nationality. For Brits, it’s more expensive at 304 CNY. You have to pay in Chinese yuan or by card as they won’t accept HKD.
After I got my shiny new visa, I just headed through Chinese immigration and was into Shenzhen – the Shenzhen MTR station is right there as you leave immigration so it really is a very simple border crossing.
Obviously, you’re only restricted to staying within Shenzhen (I don’t know how they’d monitor that but it’s probably best not to risk deviating from this rule in China) but it’s a handy and hassle-free way to jump over the border and experience the madness of China without having to apply or pay for a full visa (though I hasten to add it’s worth paying for the full visa because China is home to some astounding places). Shenzhen couldn’t be more different to Hong Kong either, which really surprised me. Literally the first thing I saw after crossing the border was a dog carrying a full-on packed lunch in its mouth.
Welcome to China!