Shenzhen calling, but not for American me…

I see Shenzhen like Sarah Palin sees Russia. Squint through the smog and you can see building outlines. (No, I don’t really live in the Hong Kong Wetland Park where this photo was taken.)

Shenzhen, a classic border town, full of shopping, prostitutes, and taxi scams. It’s no “Venice of the East,” but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a tasty inexpensive meal followed by a foot massage and a chance to use my rusty Mandarin.

Only a few MTR stops away, I can almost see Shenzhen from my house and I’m always breathing its major contribution to the Pearl River Delta: air pollution. But I can’t get there. At least I can’t get there without first applying for and paying (dearly) for a proper visa.

The reason is because I’m an American.

British, Irish, Dutch, other EU-types, Australians, Kiwis, and even Canadians, can get a quick visa at the border to visit Shenzhen. But China is “eye for an eye” about visa and other political issues, so they make it harder and much more expensive for Americans. To be fair, they also stick it to people from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Yes, in terms of Chinese visa-policy America is lumped with Somalia, a government-less country run by war lords.

The only saving bit of Schadenfreude is that they stick it to the Brits in terms of costs. British citizens must pay RMB 469 (USD 74) while the other lucky day-trippers pay a mere RMB 168 (USD 27).

I see you Shenzhen and I am coming, but tit for tat bureaucracy calls first.

(More information: Actual details on Shenzhen border visas available here and here. Please note that getting information from an official Chinese government website on this topic is inexplicably impossible. So check these sites for updates or talk to a Hong Kong-based travel agent in the know.)

Update (9/2013): I have heard a rumor that Americans can now also get visas at the Shenzhen border. But please check with a knowledgable, local travel agent before giving it a go as these things are always, always changing!

18 responses to “Shenzhen calling, but not for American me…

  1. The tit for tat is pretty costly overall. Believe it or not – Chinese visitors going to the Philippines have higher visa prices than to the US. Some day perhaps Asia will turn “border-less” but for the time being – pretty pricey!

    • Borderless Asia sounds like a beautiful, but distant dream …

      I just got my proper China visa back. Annoyingly they only gave me a double entry this time around. Fingers crossed for a multi-entry next time. So hard being so close, and yet so far away in many ways.

      • The next time you go back to the States you should apply for the multi-entry. My understanding is that as an American in HK – it’s much tougher to get a multi-entry there but back stateside it’s easier.

      • actually from my understanding, you can’t get multiple entry visas stateside. This is according to a PRC consultate official based out of SFO. only way is to apply at the Chinese consulate in HK.

      • Interesting. I didn’t end up applying for a new PRC visa while in America. When I do apply in HK next month, maybe there is still hope for a multi-entry… One (possible) silver lining.

  2. Just curious – Do you need visa or paid entry fee for Macu visit if you have US passport or HK residence card?

    I was also annoyed for not being allowed to check bags at the Airport Express terminal at Kowloon station flying back to the US. This restriction only applies to US city destinations and I had to lug my heavy suitcases on the train and all the way to the airport to check in. I’m not sure if this was some sort of payback or one of our overreaching policies imposing on other nations. This might have changed since as I didn’t bother to try again for a few years.

    • If you have a US passport you can visit Macau without a visa (same as Hong Kong). Easy-peasy. If you also have a HKID card then the queues are much faster since you can use the e-channel.

      Rather annoying about the Airport Express luggage issue. I suspect it’s because the US security people required it…

      • Thanks for the info! I was only a little kid when I was there with my parents ages ago. Life was a lot simpler then. I’m sure I won’t recognize the city anymore with all that glitter 🙂

  3. I’m new to China (currently living in Guangzhou, not far from Shenzhen) and was really surprised to learn about the strict visa policies, which have actually become even more so in the last year or two. I’m eager to hear/read whether Shenzhen is worth a visit or not!

    • If you already live in Guangzhou then Shenzhen may not be so attractive (but I’m sure there are some Shenzhen lovers out there who would disagree). Lots of markets and shopping of the sort you already have in Guangzhou, but probably with slightly less selection and slightly more hassles. I used to visit Shenzhen from time to time back when we lived in Zhuhai and I preferred Guangzhou.

  4. At least when you get your visa (I’ve only ever gotten maximum double entries in HK, after three tries) you can proudly use the HKID on the border. I just recently obtained echannel permission, though it only ever seems really time-saving upon arrival at HKG. But, it is valid until the passport expires.

    Do you know if Hung Hom station has the echannel up and running?

    • I was positively giddy the first time I used my HKID card to get in and out of Macau. Passing the giant groups of Mainland tourists queueing in matching baseball caps (after many years of being behind them) was pure joy.

      I can’t speak personally about Hung Hom, but I believe the e-channel is supposed to be up and running at every Hong Kong immigration check-point.

  5. Pingback: Chinese not welcome: brushing up against America’s ugly past | Expat Lingo·

  6. Just found your blog today – fabulous. As a former Tai Po (Beverly Hills) resident, I truly enjoyed the post regarding the real estate ads! We called ourselves the “Beverly Hillbillies” when we lived there for three years.
    Anyway, just wanted to add to your addendum – US Passport holders CANNOT get a visa at the border. The sign at the visa office in Lo Wu says USA but it is not accurate. Still need to shlep to Wan Chai.

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