Despite the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China in 1997, Hong Kong and China still function as two separate countries. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to traveling between the two.
This unexpected travel roadblock can be overcome by getting a Chinese visa and choosing the right border crossing. Read on for tips on how to make crossing the border easier.
Whereas Hong Kong still offers visa-free access to citizens from the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more countries, China doesn’t.
This means that almost every visitor to China will need a visa.
There are several types of visa available. If you are traveling from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in China, citizens of some countries can get a Shenzhen visa on arrival at the Hong Kong–China border. Similarly, there is also a Guangdong group visa that allows access to a slightly wider region for groups of three or more. Numerous restrictions and rules are applied to both of these visas.
For visits further afield, you’ll need a full Chinese tourist visa. Yes, one can be obtained in Hong Kong. However, on rare occasions, the Chinese government enforces a rule that foreigners must obtain a Chinese tourist visa from the Chinese embassy in their home country. (This can almost always be circumnavigated by using a local travel agency.)
Remember, if you travel to China, return to Hong Kong, and travel back to China again, you’ll need a multiple-entry visa. Macau is separate from the visa rules in Hong Kong and China, and it allows most nationals visa-free access.
Hong Kong and China's transportation options are well-connected.
For Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the train is fastest. Hong Kong and Shenzhen have metro systems that meet at the border whereas Guangzhou is a short two-hour train ride with services running frequently.
Going further: Overnight trains also connect Hong Kong to Beijing and Shanghai, but unless you’re keen on the experience, regular flights are much quicker and often not much more expensive for getting to China’s flagship cities.
From Hong Kong, you can also reach most of China’s other major and mid-size cities thanks to the Guangzhou airport, which offers connections to smaller towns in China. Many budget airlines fly from Hong Kong.
If you want to visit Macau, the only way to get there is by ferry. Ferries between the two special administrative regions (SARs) run frequently and take just an hour. Ferries run less frequently overnight.
Change Your Currency
Hong Kong and China don’t share the same currency, so you’ll need Renminbi or RMB to use in China.
There was a time when stores in nearby Shenzhen would accept the Hong Kong dollar, but currency fluctuations mean that’s no longer true.
In Macau, you’ll need the Macau Pataca, although some places, and almost all casinos, accept Hong Kong dollars.
Using the Internet in China
It might seem like you’re just hopping across the border, but you’re essentially visiting another country where things are different. The most striking difference is that you are leaving the land of the free press in Hong Kong and entering the land of the Great Chinese firewall.
Although it’s not impossible to give the wall the slip and access Facebook, Twitter, and the like, you may want to let everyone know you’re going off the grid before leaving Hong Kong.
Booking a Hotel in China
The hotel market in China is still developing and therefore still affordable, but few hotels, especially those outside larger cities, take online bookings. It can often be easier to find a hotel after you arrive.