Shenzhen, in the far south of China near Hong Kong, is an exciting face of the development that has been taking place throughout China over the past decade or so.
Take it from me as someone who first set foot on mainland China 15 years ago… this place is reinventing itself into a world that’s remaining true to its Eastern thinking, culture, architecture, and language… while embracing much that the West has to offer, as well.
In cooking, we’d call what’s going on here in Shenzhen “fusion.”
In the market for a latte from Starbucks, a minimalist living room set from Ikea, a combo meal from your favorite fast-food restaurant, or a chance to stream the latest Hollywood blockbuster? Consider it done in Shenzhen. And, thanks to Uber Eats, you don’t even have to leave your pad to enjoy that Whopper from Burger King if that’s your thing.
Yes, all of those creature comforts that in the past you may have taken for granted in your homeland until you weren’t able to find them in your adopted country are at hand here in Shenzhen.
However, I didn’t fly halfway around the world to eat a burger I could have gotten anywhere back in California. That’s why I’m happy to report that Shenzhen has not been Westernized… not really. The beauty in living here lies in the fact that this city is the best of both worlds all in one place.
How Long Can I Stay?
If you are reading this, you’re likely living in an English-speaking country. As far as the Chinese are concerned, we English-speakers are all more or less the same. The United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, etc., tend to be lumped together by Chinese immigration authorities.
And we all need a visa to visit China.
I have discovered, though, that Hong Kong, although officially part of China as of 1997, still lives under a system more aligned with the U.K.’s way of doing things. For example, you can stay in Hong Kong for 90 days visa-free if you are from one of the above-mentioned countries according to your passport.
However, if you wish to remain on the other side of the border in mainland China, you will need a visa issued by the consulate in your home country. A few types of visas are available depending on the nature of your planned stay. The two most common are the residency (that is, Z) and visitor visas.
The Z (residency) visa is what you need if you want to live and work in China. It requires a lot of footwork prior to arriving and hinges on a Chinese company issuing you an invitation or worker contract to establish you as a “foreign expert”… meaning you are able to do work a local could not.
After you have obtained that letter, the process is straightforward. You take the letter and any supporting documents (such as notarized and apostilled degrees, certificates, and licenses) to be authenticated at the Chinese consulate in your home country… where, after review and approval, your visa and permit are affixed in your passport.
You’ll receive your resident card when you arrive in mainland China.
The process can take up to eight weeks start to finish.
Visitors traveling to the country for business or tourism are issued 60-day multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years from the date of issue. The cost is US$140, a good investment if you only want to live here part-time.
The visitor visa is easily obtained. You fill out an application, show a round-trip ticket, and pay the fee.
Many foreigners wanting to stay indefinitely in mainland China opt for the “Hong Kong Shuffle.” That involves taking a day trip to Hong Kong each time your 60-day validity is winding down to extend your stay for another 60 days. It’s not for everyone and we don’t recommend it… but those with the time and budget to support this strategy seem to enjoy the freedom and sense of adventure it brings.
Here I Am In China… Now What?
First thing, buy a local SIM card for your phone. The phone number you use in China becomes central to many other services you can obtain while living here, so this step is crucial.
Next, register with the local police station. You must do this within 24 hours of arrival as a visitor or within 30 days as a resident. When you register, you’ll receive what’s called a Registration Form Of Temporary Residence. You’ll need to provide a passport photo to attach to this sheet, so bring one with you to the station.
This document is a photo ID that can be used to open a local bank account. I went to the ICBC branch by my apartment to open a checking account. What impressed me most was their friendliness toward foreigners. Even tourist visa holders can open accounts with this group. Try that in today’s overly regulated Western financial markets.
With a local phone number and bank account you can use social media and payment apps to pay for anything and everything through your phone. It’s online banking on steroids.
In Shenzhen and other big cities in China you can receive a QR code that can be scanned to send and receive money. WeChat Pay and Alipay hold the duopoly on this service, and 98% of people in Shenzhen use it either sometimes or exclusively.
So now you’re connected (with your local phone number) and you’re in business (thanks to your local bank account).
But where are you going to spend the night?
Ziroom and similar apps can help with that.
Or, if you know some Mandarin or have local friends or family who speak the language, you could also enlist the help of a real estate agent to show you places in the area where you’re interested in living. Real estate agent offices are plentiful and typically nearby the buildings they manage. If you see a building you want to check out, look for the closest property agency.
You’ll need to put up first and last month’s rent, but the process of renting an apartment can be quick and painless. Furnished rentals are common, so you can be moved in within a few days.
The closer to downtown, the higher your rent. The average downtown rent is about US$900 a month, but a little farther out from the center of the city you can cut that in half.
Now that you’re settled in, how will you fill your days?
Where to start…
This is a tier-one city. I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of life here, but I can tell you that this place has won me over completely.
I’ve lived in North America and in Latin America and I’ve traveled considerably. I’m awfully happy to be calling Shenzhen home right now.
Matthew E. Pond