HKIA is cheaper than Shenzhen airport for flights, but it adds a layer of complexity to the voyage.
Hong Kong is a special region of China; U.S. citizens don’t need a visa for stays of 90 days or less, but that doesn’t apply to mainland. The primary languages spoken are English and Cantonese, whereas Shenzhen is mostly Mandarin. There is a strange tax for arriving in Hong Kong that is automatically added to flights. All of these things make getting from HKIA to Shenzhen and back again… interesting.
There are several options, each with varying prices and time tables, and you can even mix and match:
- Private van
It is possible to take a subway from HKIA to Shenzhen, though it takes roughly 2 1/2 to 3 hours, as the route goes quite a bit around Hong Kong, passing through the city instead of avoiding it and heading directly North. Once you arrive at the border, you have to cross the checkpoint with all your stuff and go through immigration and customs, then catch the subway on the other side. The two are not connected in any way; different currency, different lines, different everything. The tradeoff for the time, though, is ease of use and schedule and price. With so many signs in English, detailed maps, and regular trains, it’s hard to get screwed, and it’s very cheap. The hours for the subway are decent; 7 am-ish to 11 pm-ish. If you’re trying to get an early flight, or you arrive late, this might not be the best option.
The ferry departs directly from HKIA and goes to a couple ports in Shenzhen, including Shekou, which is connected to the subway and very close to most of the expat area of Shenzhen. Additionally, since you never actually go into Hong Kong, you don’t have to go through Hong Kong immigration, so if you have visa problems with Hong Kong, this may be your only option. Further, you get a coupon for recovery of that weird tax that was tacked on to the flight since you never went into Hong Kong. Further still, it’s integrated with the luggage system of the airport, so you check your luggage at the port and it gets transferred to your plane, or if going the other way it goes directly from the plane to the ferry and you don’t have to do anything. It’s also a very quick trip.
If you have a late flight, the ferries might already be closed, so it’s best to check the schedule to see if it’s an option. It’s not cheap, but you get a big discount from that coupon.
There are a variety of coaches that make the trip, and I have to admit I was very confused and didn’t get it right the first time. The bus I took when arriving only went from the airport to the border, and it was the only border of three that wasn’t connected to the subway (Futian and Luohu are the ones with subways). There are some busses that go directly from the airport to some of the Shenzhen hotels, and this is probably what you want. Pick the hotel nearest you and go there. I had planned to do this to return to HKIA, and would have if I didn’t end up bumming from someone in the lobby. The hotel busses are cheap, regular, and fast because they go direct.
Next to the bus counters at the airport are the private van counters. These guys will take you anywhere you want to go. It’s reasonable if your company is paying for you, and they’ll be able to take all the worry and hassle out. If you are going to the airport, the nicer hotels will be able to arrange a van for you at their front desks. Don’t be afraid to use them even if you aren’t staying there.
Taxi is only good for part of the trip. You could take a taxi in Hong Kong between the border and the airport, but it’s not a good idea. It will be expensive and I’ve heard of people getting taken advantage of. Taxis in Shenzhen are fine, though. I’ve never had a problem with them, other than with difficulty communicating where to go. I’ve never been overcharged, and the first night when I arrived in Shenzhen he was able to take me to my destination and waited with me until the person I was supposed to meet showed up. It was great. You definitely need to know where you are going and how to get there and be able to communicate that in a couple ways. Make sure they know where to go before you get in the car, and don’t be afraid to try a few taxis before you get in one. It’s not because they’re dangerous; it’s just that some know the city better and communicate better.
I have to add this option because it happened to me, and it was awesome. I had originally planned to take the coach to the airport, so I took a taxi to the hotel nearby, then in the lobby asked to take the bus. While they were sorting that out, someone else entered the lobby with his luggage. I asked if he was going to Shenzhen airport or Hong Kong airport. He said HKIA, and that he had a private van. I told him I was headed there, too, and he offered me a ride. For the next hour we chatted about manufacturing in China and our stories of crazy. At the end we arrived at the airport, and he told me he wouldn’t take any money because his company was already paying for the van. So I got a great ride for free just by being in the lobby and asking if someone else was going to the same place.