A Beginner’s Guide to Canton Fair.

canton fairComing to Canton Fair is a good way to get a snapshot of just what is possible from China in terms of products. You will literally see every conceivable product here and get a good feel of the quality you can expect. Though you may not actually do any business at the fair – many people I know have never actually bought anything there – you will get the unique chance to “visit” hundreds of factories in the space of a week.

The first fair of the year is always the most exciting and I can see it’s that time of year again from 2 things. The amount of foreigners in my local bar last Saturday and the amount of people emailing me asking how to get to Guangzhou from Hong Kong for Canton Fair.

Getting a Visa for China, Getting from Hong Kong to Guangzhou – the home of the Canton trade fair, finding suitable accommodation here and finally finding a guide can all seem like a huge task from the other side of the world. It’s not too bad really and you should not let all the stress of these things put you off.

What follows here is some pretty boring but essential information on getting around these few little issues to allow you to focus on the purpose of your trip, I would advise anyone who’s not interested in visiting Canton Fair to stop reading this now as it is certainly no thriller.

Frankly there is not a huge deal of information on the internet about these little things, I don’t know why. I think maybe people try making the whole thing of visiting here sound more difficult than it is to put other people off coming? I don’t know but I hope I can dispel some of that mystery here and give a few short pieces of advice to help you along the way.

Firstly the visa. You can apply for one in the UK through various agencies that advertise themselves online. These more often than not involve sending your passport away in the post – not really a great idea pending a long distance trip. Also this can require pretty lengthy lead times. Visiting the embassy in London a pretty solid idea, they will help you there with the seemingly ott paperwork required but again this option is not ideal for someone like me from up North in Darlington.

For me I always get my Visa in Hong Kong from an agency. They are very efficient and more often than not can give me my new visa on the same day it is applied for. I’m sure there is some local trickery that goes on with these places but I have used them 40/50 times now for myself, staff and customers alike always with no issues. If you’re reading this now, have a British passport and you don’t have a Visa this is likely the only feasible option for you for this Aprils fair.
Once flying into Hong Kong Island airport the easiest way for you to do this without getting lost is to go to the visa agency situated at arrivals. It is literally on the desk directly in front of you when you leave the arrivals gate. If you’re stressing about your visa now then nothing will be more comforting than seeing that visa agency sign. Well unless you happen to have a really hot chauffeur standing there holding a sign with your name scrawled across….one day….

If you’re visiting China just for the fair then you will typically need a “single entry tourist visa” which basically means you can enter into mainland China from Hong Kong once. This should be enough for your visit to Canton fair. If not then get a double but it’s going to cost more. The price should range from about 80 – 120 GBP.

It is likely that you will need to stay in HK overnight to wait for the visa unless you arrive there very early on a weekday morning. If this is the case take the MTR service called the airport express into Hong Kong and take in what the city has to offer for a night. For a fun night I recommend visiting Lan Kwai Fong or Wan Chai (both pronounced like you would think). Lots of cool bars and little restaurants there and at this time of year you’re sure to meet other like-minded business people there so can slot in a little bit of networking.

On arrival to Hong Kong you will soon realise that everyone seemingly has a better car than you.

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For a hotel you can use our old friend laterooms.com or the cheap Chinese version ctrip.com but do still expect to pay a premium this time of year.

I really do like Hong Kong, possibly because its reminds me a lot of home due to it being very much westernised with a lot of Brits living there. If you can stay a couple of days there are some great things to see like the Victoria Peak – great to see an awesome view of Hong Kong by day, Stanley – great beach to hang out on, Sky 100 – great to see a breathtaking view of Hong Kong by night. If you’re interested in a few little touristy things please click HERE to see what me and my little brother did last time he visited.

The architecture is a really eclectic mix of seemingly shabby kitsch apartment blocks still worth more than the average semi back home to impressive skyscrapers that loom about 2 weeks old.

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Anyhow – Now you have your Visa you’re ready to head over the border into mainland China, exciting stuff. There are a number of ways to do this but really the easiest way is to take the direct train from Hung Hom to Guangzhou East station. Strangely, not a lot of people actually realise this but Hong Kong is not part of China, hence needing the Visa. This means that each time you travel between the two you need to pass through immigration and customs. This can be very time consuming especially so at peak times. Taking the direct train means that you go through these checks at the station itself before getting onto the train. Overall this can save a couple of hours waiting and makes the whole thing slightly more painless.

Couple of tips – the direct trains usually sell out pretty quick at the actual ticket office so if this is the case just buy one from one of the travel agent desks within the station. Also when you arrive at Guangzhou east station avoid taking a taxi that’s not on the actual rank, yes it avoids the que but if your too fresh faced you’re going to end up paying 4 times over odds or worse.
So now you’re in Guangzhou, you will notice it’s a lot different from HK. Guangzhou was formerly known as Canton hence the name Canton Fair. It’s a great city for business and most products can be found here. Apparently something like 40% of exports from China come from within 200 miles of my office here. That’s pretty epic.

On arrival to Guangzhou you will again become crestfallen as you realise that everyone has a nicer car than you.

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Again ctrip.com is pretty much the best bet for hotels; usually a 5 star here is about 50 quid a night but it’s going to be a lot more during peak season. Chinese hotels on a whole are pretty bad so realistically after a long , and I mean long, day at the fair you need a half decent hotel.

When I first came to Canton fair I took a guide as I assumed no one would speak any English. This is not the case and really I have not taken a guide again since so really I doubt you would need one as such. If you really do feel like you need one expect to pay around 30-50 GBP a day for one. Expensive I know considering my office staff are on an average of 500GBP a month but the type of freelancers that work at the fairs know they can charge a premium at this time of year. You could get a college graduate for a lot less but then you may as well go on your own. I think realistically with a web enabled smart phone and a few choice apps you really don’t need to worry about a guide. My advice – stop off at a local 7/11 corner shop and buy a sim card with enough data allowance to see you through a week of heavy usage- just put 30 quid on it.

To exhibit at Canton fair is very very expensive. I looked into doing it this year for my new carpet underlay factory but I could not justify it. This means that you get a lot of premium big hitters there along with some fly by nights trying their luck. It only takes one westerner to get excited and spend his annual budget with one stand for it to be worth it I guess? Believe me, I have seen this happen plenty of times. Just because someone is exhibiting at the show this by no means certifies that they are a trusted supplier, please still use due diligence and use your better judgment. If you don’t have any better judgement then ask to borrow someone elses.

Guangzhou has a few nice places too, if your staying in the CBD you will find a lot of home comforts, less so in other areas. Probably worth visiting the Canton Tower, its right next to the fair afterall.

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I am usually very busy during this time of year and right now I am in the final stages of a 2 month project opening a new factory but if you send me an email I’m happy to give you some free advice or tell you where might be worth visiting while your here. I can maybe meet you for a beer one night after the fair as I live very close to the main complex. You’re buying right?

I will likely post up an article showing some things I have seen at this years fair, if you see anything cool be sure to share it with us.

So there you go, some of the basics covered, I hope it can be of use to some of you new comers to China. For those of you who are getting long in the tooth with it maybe you have some other tips and advice you can share? Come on, there is enough of China to go around for everyone.

21 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Canton Fair.

  1. Hello Daniel,

    Im just in the process of applying for an invitation, and I wanted to know what the requirements are to attend the fair. Do I need to have a registered business, or can I attend without having this?

    Thanks

    • Hi,

      You should really bring a business card when you sign in but even then you can get by without one if your a charmer. With that in mind maybe bring one just in case :)

      Being foreign seems to be enough to get in these days.

  2. We went this year and it was amazing! such a good experience, would recommend to anyone looking for a real Chinese experience. Even if you are not looking to get into the import trade it is great talking to some of the manufactures.

    • ha ha, in case you have any problems borrowing someones your welcome to lease mine at attractive rates for short periods of time :)

  3. Hi Dan

    As you know we’ve been to Guangzhou a few times. We are heading out again this Saturday.
    My tips to new comers would be, expect to be hassled by the beggars and dealers in the downtown area. And avoid that bar(its name escapes me) we walked into, and then straight back out again!! When Simon and myself went the night before it was nice and chilled out. When we took you and Carla I think everyone in there was either vomiting, bleeding, crying or all three!!

    • Hi James,

      Hope things are going well for you and Simon. He sent me a message saying your coming back over this weekend.

      Yeah some good advice about the beggers, there mostly run by organised gangs – kind of like on slum dog millionaire, so best just to avoid them really or your essentially giving money to organised crime.

      Pretty sad all the same.

      Ill likely see you guys next week, have a safe flight.

  4. Nice Post Dan,

    If you have pictures of the actual fairs and products exhibited that would be pretty cool to see, I have always been intrigued about the Canton Fair. Not there to going over for a visit though.

    Must admit one thing though, you made me depressed, those cars.. just not fair :(

Any comments or questions? I'd love to hear them.