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May 4, 2018

Traveling to Southern China

by mikediliberto

I’ve found myself making a few “How to get to Southern China” guides recently, so I thought it would be best to get all of this information in one place.

First and foremost, if this is your first trip to China (or you just need a refresher), I recommend you head over to the China Basics page for some background, as well as this page for some details.

Ok, so assuming you have a visa, global mobile phone plan, and an airline ticket in hand, lets talk about what happens when you hit the ground.


Those of you that know me know that I prefer to fly into Hong Kong.  Generally speaking there are more flight options available into and out of Hong Kong compared to Shenzhen. If possible, avoid connecting in China to another location in China.  You are far more likely to be delayed/miss a connection if you fly from LA to Beijing and then connect in Beijing to Shenzhen. Trust me on this 

Taking the Ferry

By far and away, the ferry is my favorite way of getting to Mainland China, especially if your travels take you to the west side of the city (e.g. Nanshan, Shekou, Baoan).   Catching the ferry is easy:

First, make sure your flight arrives at a time that aligns with the ferry schedule. The ferry runs from 7AM to 9PM, though this is subject to change a bit (e.g. 7:15 changes to 7:30 etc).  The most recent ferry schedule is almost always available on the CKS website.

When taking the ferry from Hong Kong airport, you will not go through immigration or retrieve your bags.  Once you buy a ferry ticket, the airport will transfer your bags to the ferry for you.  Hopefully if we are traveling together you’ve taken my advance and are only carrying on.

Follow the signs for “Ferries to Mainland / Macau”

Follow the signs in the airport to the “Ferries to Mainland / Macau”.  For most arrivals, this means you will follow the signs for immigration, but veer off to the left or right just before you get to the immigration desks.

Once you get to the ticket desks, the desk for Shekou is the furthest to the right as you are looking at the desks.  They take cash (Hong Kong Dollars) as well as credit cards. NOTE HOWEVER: The Shekou port does not yet accept credit cards, though they say this is coming soon every time I ask.  This means that you will need to bring RMB270 in cash when you are ready to depart China. Alternatively you (or, more likely, your Chinese colleagues) can buy a ticket for the ferry on WeChat using the Ferry MiniApp.

Once you have your ticket to the ferry, the entrance is basically behind the ticket counter where you just bought your ticket.  If you are only carrying on baggage, you are likely going to board the next ferry, which sometimes can be departing in ten or fifteen minutes, so be prepared to move fast. If you checked a bag it’s usually an hour wait as they need to grab your bag and move it to the ferry. Once again….Skip checking the bag if you can help it. 

After your ticket is scanned at the ferry check in, head down the escalators to the train.  It’s a quick two minute train ride to the the SkyPier where the ferry docks.  Off the train, go up the escalators and look at the signs to determine from which pier you will depart. There’s a 7-11 and duty free shop up there as well if you need a last minute gift or just to grab a few cans of Asahi and a bag of mixed nuts for the ride over (don’t judge).


The ferry ride is about thirty minutes. Once you dock in Mainland China you’ll head to passport control.  As you approach passport control, there are fingerprinting machines off to the left.  Two things about these:

  1. You only need to be fingerprinted once, then it is tied to your passport so you don’t need to get fingerprinted subsequent trips
  2. The machines work about fifty percent of the time, so don’t be surprised if there is a security guard in front of them telling you not to bother.

Once through passport control you either walk straight to the exit gates or veer left to the baggage claim area. At the exit gates you need to scan your passport face down, picture page at the front.  The instructions are only in Chinese but it’s pretty intuitive.  Assuming all goes well, the gates open and you scan your bags one last time.  There is a metal detector to walk through, but like all metal detectors in China except at airports, it’s not working, and so you don’t need to take anything out of your pockets.

You’ll walk out of the arrivals area into the main foyer of the huge ferry terminal.  There will be lots of scam artists waiting to greet you here by pretending they are your driver, or asking if you need a taxi, etc.  Walk past and don’t make eye contact.

If you’ve arranged a driver from the hotel they will be here but they will have a placard with your name on it; DO NOT follow them if not.


If you haven’t arranged a pickup through the hotel, getting a taxi is relatively easy and A LOT cheaper than a hotel-arranged ride.

Turn to the right when you exit into the main terminal and walk down to the exit (it’s a ways down).  Exit the building and then walk straight across to the escalators going down.  These will bring you to the front of the taxi queue.  If it is late at night there are not likely to be taxis, so you can either wait or use the didi app, which thankfully is now in English and is as easy to use as Uber. If you think that this will be a possibility, it would be best to download the app at home, and set up your credit card, etc, rather than trying to do so while waiting for a cab. The Didi app mostly accepts hotel names in English (thankfully!), yet another reason to use it.

Didi App – iOS 

Didi App – Play Store

Assuming you’re in a regular taxi (not didi) you’ll need to tell them where you are going.  They are unlikely to understand spoken or written english, so do yourself a favor and get the address of your hotel, in Chinese, from the hotel website before you depart for China. Save this as an image in your phone so you can pull it up later. If you google “[NAME OF HOTEL]  Taxi Card Chinese”, you’re almost certain to find what you need.

Getting Back

As always, the return is the reverse of the above, more or less.

The first ferry out of the mainland is usually 7:15 or 8:15 depending upon the day and time of year; again, use the link above to find the schedule.

Generally I like to be at the airport two hours before my flight.  For some reason, the ferry back to Hong Kong always seems to take longer. I allow an hour from departure time to airport arrival.

This means the earliest flight out of Hong Kong that you should consider booking is about 11AM or so.


Thats about it folks; your mileage as always may vary, and if so please let me know in the comments.

Next post: Getting Around Southern China.  Expect the didi app to feature prominently.

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